February 02, 2010
Switching sides on gays in military
Posted by: Chris
I wrote my first column about gay rights back in 1996 -- now buried somewhere in the archives of Southern Voice newspaper -- about the glaring contraditions in the life and accomplishments of Colin Powell. It seemed irreconciable to me that someone who had benefited so much from President Truman's courageous order to integrate the U.S. armed forces along racial lines, Gen. Powell nonetheless stood in the proverbial schoolhouse door as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and blocked President Clinton in 1993 from ending the ban on gays in the military.
The occasion then was Powell's 1996 autobiography, "An American Journey," and even then the first African American to serve in the nation's top uniformed military post hinted he knew that he would ultimately wind up on the wrong side of history on this issue. It didn't take that long for history to prove him correct.
Today in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the current Joint Chiefs chairman, threw his full support behind President Obama's pledge to repeal the infamous Don't Ask Don't Tell compromise and allow gays to serve openly in the military:
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said it was his personal belief that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”
This wasn't just a military man and his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, following marching orders from the president. Their testimony would have looked very different, focusing entirely on the logistics of removing the ban on servive by openly gay soldiers and sailors.
Instead, conservatives in Congress who slammed Clinton for not listening to the Pentagon on this issue were forced like John McCain today to switch sides themselves and whine about how the military brass was acting like it knew better than the politicians.
“I’m deeply disappointed with your statement, Secretary Gates,” McCain said. … “Your statement obviously is one that is clearly biased without the view of Congress being taken into consideration. … I’m happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States to repeal 'don’t ask don’t tell,' despite your efforts to repeal it in many respects by fiat.”
This was the same John McCain, just four years ago, promising to defer to the military brass:
[T]he day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.
If congressional Democrats can summon a minimum of backbone, still something of an open question, than McCain and his ilk will be consigned to the same dustbin of bigotry as those who opposed racial integration of the military.
(Does anyone in politics today more personify the angry old man grousing at anyone and everyone, already on the wrong side of history even within their own lifetime? If the current leadership of Log Cabin wishes to maintain even a modicum of self-respect among the rest of us, they need to redeem their endorsement of McCain for president by bringing a full court press against Susan Collins and other moderate Republicans to overcome the inevitable GOP filibuster.)
You don't have to be a bigot to back Don't Ask Don't Tell, certainly, but you do have to cater to the bigotry of those who would only serve alongside a gay service member if they don't know their sexual orientation.
"Unit cohesion" has always been the dressed up name for such cowardly conduct, which Admiral Mullen confirmed again today is unbecoming of our military.
(Photo of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen via Washington Post)
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