Entry from April 16, 2009

In the “PostPartisan” pages of today’s washingtonpost.com, Jonathan Capeheart answers yesterday’s op. ed. by James J. Lindsay, Jerome Johnson and E.G., “Buck” Shuler, Jr. on why it would be a bad idea to repeal, as it has been suggested the Obama administration intends to do, Section 654 of U.S. Code Title 10, which bans openly gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from serving in the American armed services. The three, all retired military officers, had written that, “in our experience, and that of more than 1,000 retired flag and general officers who have joined us in signing an open letter to President Obama and Congress, repeal of this law would prompt many dedicated people to leave the military.”

Mr Capeheart doesn’t bother answering the central point of the op. ed. — the one about the numbers who would leave the service if forced to serve with gay comrades — but instead attacks what he calls their “antiquated arguments against gays serving openly in the military.” What, I wonder, is an “antiquated argument” exactly? Is it good or bad, right or wrong? Such questions seem not to arise — at least not to Mr Capeheart — if you can describe it as “antiquated,” a word which suggests that it was once (maybe) good but is now, by the unspoken but self-evident hypothesis of progressivism, irrelevant merely by virtue of its age. Later he refers to the “worn out rationales for excluding gays in the military” — as if, like dollar bills, rationales became unusable, “unfit for purpose” as the British say, simply by being used repeatedly.

Here is the “worn out rationale,” according to Mr Capeheart:

“Team cohesion and concentration on missions would suffer,” [the Post’s three officers] wrote, “if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them.” Their argument presumes that every homosexual in the armed forces is on the make. As if!

But the damage to team cohesion and concentration does not at all depend on the assumption that “every homosexual in the armed forces is on the make” — only that neither straights nor gays would know one way or the other, and that their concentration would accordingly suffer, if being on the make were not grounds for dismissal from the service.

Mr Capeheart concludes, in part:

Sirs, gay men and lesbians are serving in the United States military right now. They wear the uniform because, to paraphrase paragraph 5 of Section 654 of U.S. Code Title 10, they want “to make extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense.”

But, if so, and if they demand to be “out” as well as gay, then “the ultimate sacrifice” is not really the ultimate sacrifice for them, is it? The ultimate sacrifice is the one they are not willing to make, namely that of their public sexual identity. That strikes me as reason enough by itself not to let them in, since it casts doubt on their willingness to make other sacrifices. Insisting on the right to be openly gay is a form of that inappropriate nursing of one’s individuality which it is precisely the first task of military training to break up and break down.

But is there, then, a case to be made for allowing gays, like women, into the services but not in combat roles? The three op ed columnists, by focusing on combat, seem to leave this possibility open. If so, could we then expect the gays to team up with the feminists to overturn that other ban, which is in some ways an even more precarious survival under a progressive administration? Or, rather, could it be that the price of admission into military service for gays might be the recognition of the right of the military to draw a bright line prohibiting service in combat for both gays and women — and for the same reason, which is that their presence in situations of extreme danger would be a dangerous distraction? I suspect that that is another “ultimate sacrifice” they are likely to be unwilling to make.


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