05 March 2009


Friday, 06 March 2009

“Tip-Toe Through The Tulips With Me,” released in 1968 by Tiny Tim—the quirky ukulele-strumming off-key singer, just may be the inspiration behind President Obama’s cautious two-step addressing the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—one amongst sundry “tulips” testing our President’s resolve, finesse, and fancy footwork.

During his romp around the country during the presidential campaign Obama—stomping wherever he pleased without worry of “tulips”—promised to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Now that he’s the President he has to do something. But Obama had to have known then—when promises were as easy to make as sweet potato pie—and is saying so now, in so many words, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a contentious issue and will require as much delicacy, if not more, as tip-toeing through tulips.

In the event you have been living in a hole for the past sixteen years, “Don't ask, don't tell” is plainspeak for federal law addressing homosexuality and military service. In short, the policy, first introduced in 1993 under President Clinton, prohibits anyone who “demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces of the United States. For the record, it was Clinton who attempted to allow homosexuals to serve openly. To his surprise, the plan fractured the Democratic Party and afforded Republicans a chance to attack him as a social liberal completely out of touch with the military—an allegation that became more and more substantive throughout his presidency. For Clinton, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a compromise position rationalized on the grounds that homosexuals serving openly would weaken high standards of morale, disrupt good order and discipline, and degrade unit cohesion—core elements for U. S. military effectiveness and efficiency.

As enacted and to this day, “Don't ask, don't tell” prohibits homosexuals (and bisexuals) from disclosing sexual preference or from speaking about homosexual relationships, of any type, while serving in the military. “Don't ask” directs commanders not to initiate investigation of a servicemember's sexual orientation in the absence of prohibited behaviors. However, suspicion of homosexual behavior can be the basis for investigation. “Don’t tell” means exactly that—if you’re homosexual, be quiet and discreet.

There is no shortage of influential players weighing in on the issue. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili, U. S. Army (Retired) spoke publicly against “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” In January 2007, he wrote, “I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces…our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.” One can only wonder what his position was while sitting as Chairman and to what degree the all volunteer force plays in his current stance. Former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (R, ME), who also served under Clinton, has likewise been outspoken against the policy.

In December 2007, more than two dozen retired flag officers—generals and admirals—aligned to urge Congress to repeal the policy. They supported their position with data indicating there were more than 60,000 homosexuals—men and women—currently serving in the armed forces, and over a million homosexual veterans. No need here to address the manner or validity of the data collection or raise the matter of the senior officers respective positions while in uniform. No doubt there is much more to the story.

Former Chief of Naval Operations and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, does not come across as quite so enthusiastic about repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Comments during Senate confirmation and replying to a cadet’s question reveal a man who has learned to expertly navigate turbulent waters—and agilely tip-toe through “tulips.” During his Senate confirmation hearing in 2007, Mullen opined, “I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that's appropriate...I'd love to have Congress make its own decisions,” when it comes to considering repeal. Then in May 2008, while addressing soon-to-be second lieutenants at West Point, a cadet asked Mullen what would happen if the next administration were supportive of homosexuals openly serving, and he offered, “Congress, and not the military, is responsible for the ‘Don't ask, don't tell’ law banning openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service.” Translation—we will follow orders. That is what men and women who wear a United States of America military uniform—regardless of rank—do.

Now a statement released by the White House this week—Tuesday, March 3rd –said the President had begun consulting with his top defense advisors—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen—on how to lift the ban of gays openly serving in the military. The statement went on to offer a group of experts may be commissioned to study the issue in-depth—an approach suggested by some Democrats—to include House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), a far left loon who supports repeal. Why would she not? She supports everything else nonsensical. Wisely, the White House’s statement was sufficiently vague to say “we’re working on it.” After all, why—at this time, seriously tinker with something that’s not broken while in the midst of two wars, an economy in shambles and on the verge of collapse, an angry citizenry, a healthcare system in chaos, and unstable relations with adversaries and potentially hostile countries around the globe. And that’s just the top five. No question Obama’s prudent approach is not going to please those who expected him to wave his healing hand and recklessly repeal the policy on day one in office. But there are far more critical “tulips” to sidestep and this one will just have to wait.

This will be an interesting issue to watch unfold. Just who will comprise the panel of experts? Will it be a balance of proponents and opponents? Or will the panel be a cherry-picked group of Obama faithful who will dutifully spit out the “right answer”—a plan to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” The language in the White House statement, “…so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security,” sure implies the decision, void academic analysis and spirited discourse, is a foregone conclusion.

For as many as there is supporting open homosexuality in the armed forces there are just as many, actually more, opposed arguing compromise and disruption to: maintaining the public’s positive perception of military service; recruiting and retention; morale and good order and discipline; the integrity of the system of rank and command; mutual trust and confidence among personnel; deployment worldwide especially under conditions of close living and working spaces that allows little privacy; and national security. All are valid points.

Forget college behavioral psychology labs. There is no greater venue for social engineering experimentation in the United States than our country’s armed forces. Ever the guinea pig, time and again the military has served as the proving grounds for taking on America’s divisive social issues. It's the near perfect lab because our countrymen in uniform are, by law and order, duty bound to obey the orders of the President; their Commander in Chief. Failure to comply can result in devastating and life-ruining disciplinary action and punishment—even for breaches not considered crimes in the civilian world. So, for the most part, the uniformed masses go about their business by going-along to get-along—even if compliance conflicts with personal beliefs. Yet overt compliance does not mean one’s beliefs and value system change.

An “expert” on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” I am not but I can sure speak with some authority from experience while in uniform. Though several situations surrounding homosexuals come to mind one is especially clear. As a young officer embarked aboard a Navy amphibious ship deployed to the Mediterranean, I was a spectator to the scary aftermath of a homosexual encounter. Two Marine corporals—talented and respected for their warfighting skills and members of the embarked infantry battalion, were caught, by a Staff Sergeant, in a lewd act in troop berthing. Assessing the tryst and subsequent actions to handle the incident as an ugly situation is an understatement. The immediate response by their Marine shipmates was anger, rage, and then hostility—to include death threats. The Marines felt their trust and good order had been violated. They were irate. For the personal safety of the corporals they were moved to officer country and, for their own protection, placed under guard. As I recall, order was restored but there was a tense atmosphere aboard ship during the two or three days it took to disembark the corporals. Once off the ship they were flown back to home base in the States where they were formally charged, court-martialed, and dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps—all before our return from deployment.

During my early years in the Marine Corps homosexuals were not permitted to serve—when discovered they were charged, punished, and discharged. Case closed. Then about half way through my career the rules changed to, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Frankly, during the course of a 26 year plus career, I do not recall all that much difference as to the perception of and handling of homosexuals. Homosexual conduct was, and still is, considered disruptive to morale and good order and discipline and a hindrance to unit cohesion and readiness. Therefore, deemed incompatible with military service, homosexuals were, and continue to be, discharged.

Though today homosexuals and the gay lifestyle are much more visible and tolerated in our society than 25 or 30 years ago, strong sentiments against homosexuals openly serving in the military remain. Like it or not, homosexuality is, by the majority of America, viewed as an aberration—looked upon by many with suspicion and disgust and behavior that violates fundamental moral and religious beliefs. That is reality. In the words of Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879-1958), American author and essayist, “To force opinion is like pushing the magnetized needle round by brute strength until it points to where we wish the North Star stood, rather than to where it really is.” To the chagrin of the majority it appears our military is about to, once again, become the proving grounds for radical experimentation. Tearing down the proverbial closet door is ripe for a plethora of negative unintended consequences and downright disaster. Such would be malfeasance. Careful where you step, Mr. President—watch that “tulip”!

Post Script: In June 1993 the U. S. Government Accounting Office submitted a report to Senator John W. Warner (R, VA) about foreign countries that permitted homosexuals to openly serve in the military. At the time, 25 countries permitted such though the report focused on only four: Canada, Germany, Israel, and Sweden. Though the 52 page report is entertaining reading, there is hardly any relevance. The countries and the power and global role of each respective military alone make comparison with the U. S. and its armed forces impossible. Not to mention the huge cultural differences—civilian and military. Will Obama’s “experts” cite this document in support of their plan? We shall see.

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