Pace Says the Unsayable

Yesterday's news cycle brought us the story of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying that the military could not condone homosexuality and adultery. You'd think that would be self evident. But by today's standards, Peter Pace's remarks were all but heretical. The media jumped on the remark and built out their standard story line of "gays in the military" as a human rights issue. The gnashing of teeth from Harvard Yard could be heard all the way down here below the Mason-Dixon Line.

On National Pretentious Radio (NPR) a host of former military homosexuals were put on parade, while sympathetic interviewers compared their plight to African Americans in the pre-Civil Rights South. Somber music and hushed voices created the requisite tones for discussing this disgrace to American honor. Of course the other side of the issue was never addressed, as if it doesn't exist. No military person was interviewed to bring light to the military's position. As far as NPR was concerned, the issue seems to exist in some kind of theoretical vacuum.

But in fact it doesn't. There are very real and practical reasons that the military does not want to deal with openly practicing homosexuals. It has little to do with morality, which is why Pace finds himself at odds with the Pentagon's civilian leadership. It has more to do with the practical issues of controlling testosterone driven urges in young people housed in close quarters. And it has a lot to do with a calculation that Don't Ask, Don't tell is the policy that brings the least publicity to the issue.

When I was a young second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, I was confronted with this issue as directly as anyone could ever be. One day my assistant, a very attractive African American lance corporal asked for a private meeting. She was a bright, hard working and exceedingly capable young woman. I was honored to be her boss. But on this day, she seemed frightened, upset, and angry. I asked her what the problem was and was horrified to hear that she was being threatened and potentially molested by a number of lesbians in her quarters.

Apparently, every night in her squad bay (the open living facility for enlisted Marines), a group of aggressive lesbians was conducting open sex parties and threatening those who did not participate. She was disgusted by the whole thing, frightened by the threats, and was demanding that her responsible officer do something about it.

I went to my company commander and told him the story. After a couple of weeks nothing changed, so I went to my battalion commander. Again nothing. Finally, I went to the regimental commander and demanded that something be done. At that point, I started getting blow back. These were the days of Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and any and all issues relating to women in the military were highly sensitive. Press attention to such matters could be career ending and all those tough Marine commanders ran like frightened kittens from any problems involving women in the ranks. The last thing they wanted was a "lesbian story" on their hands.

Eventually, using senior enlisted channels, I was able to get my young assistant reassigned to other living quarters. But I'm sure the sex parties continued well after that day. No one ever publicly or privately addressed the issue of lesbians in the regiment, let alone forced them out of the service. The regimental women's softball team continued to display a contingent of openly homosexual women. For all intents and purposes, they flaunted their sexuality.

(It is my understanding that today the military is less fearful of lesbians, and that this situation does not exist as it did in my day. But if there were no recourse, and open homosexuality were allowed, there is no doubt in my mind this type of thing would return in both its female and male form.)

The people commenting on yesterday's news have little or no idea of the impact that sexual promiscuity has on the good order and discipline of the military. Allowing a situation where bedding a fellow soldier in an open squad bay is even a remote possibility is just not tolerable. In such close quarters problems related to sex and relationships are magnified in a way that does not exist in the civilian world. There is no such thing as privacy, or a private life. Everything done is done in public. It is ridiculous to think that openly practicing homosexuals living in such close quarters would not succumb to temptation. Any twenty something, sexually active person would.

Our media elites, most of whom have no experience with military life, are incapable of comprehending the impact of the policies that they advocate. They continue to frame the "gays in the military" as a human rights issue and refuse to address the practicalities involved. For those in the military, the matter is infinitely more complicated.

We have seen what happened when women were first put aboard Navy ships in unsupervised situations. Out of wedlock pregnancy rates skyrocketed, requiring a large number of of female sailors to leave the Navy early with their contracts unfulfilled. The impact of these policies was successfully ignored by the press and the politicians who originally advocated such loose standards. The Navy was left to deal with the fallout. Only after the press got bored with the issue did the Pentagon have the latitude to implement policies that successfully dealt with the problem.

Homosexuals have served effectively and honorably throughout history. But all militaries have recognized the need to moderate the impact sexuality on young men (and now women) in a variety of ways. Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been the de facto policy of militaries for all of time. Giving young men and women greater latitude is a prescription for mayhem. Imagine trying to manage the fallout of homosexuality in the barracks. The military just doesn't have the resources to confront that kind of thing.

If you think this is overstated, be reminded of how the press treats the military. Imagine a post-Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy where the military tries to prosecute two young homosexuals for engaging in open sexual relations in the public shower facility of a squad bay. Is there any question how the media would spin that story? Is there any question it would produce an anti-military witch hunt, wrecking the careers of many fine officers?

If you think not, let me remind you of the Kelly Flynn case. Here was a woman who by any estimation broke every rule in the book, many times over. The military, always sensitive to the "woman" factor, gave her every chance to change her ways. Yet when they finally had to prosecute her, the press and the politicians turned the whole thing upside down until the facts of the case were virtually unrecognizable.

The fact is that Don't Ask, Don't Tell works quite well for the military and they don't want to change it. Gays are allowed to serve, so the press can't demagogue the issue too much. The military can pretty much ignore those gay people who are in their midst. And UCMJ still has the power to get rid of people who don't restrain themselves, which offers an adequate deterrent for inappropriate behavior.

Maybe someday NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post will try to understand the "gays in the military issue" with more nuance and understanding than their present ham handed approach. But frankly, I don't see a whole lot of hope for that. Meanwhile, I have a lot more faith in the average American, who knows, to paraphrase Mark Steyn, that you can't run the military "like a gay weekend pad. It just doesn't add up."



10:00 PM

It's late and I'm tired. Just read this one, Jake, and read it quickly. Too quickly to comment in a responsible way. So consider this a first draft of a comment to follow. Pace was quoted as saying homosexuality is immoral. Your story about the lesbian parties is very, very interesting, especially given what Pace just said. The behavior of the specific homosexuals about which you wrote was, as far as I'm concerned, as immoral as it gets. The lack of leadership ( I'm not talking about you; you seem to have done all the right things ) was appalling.
There's a disconnect here and now. Now we have a leader, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, taking a stand on the general ( no pun intended ) " problem. " Yet I'm willing to bet, those specific cases,like the one you had experience with, aren't being talked about and addressed.

( Shades of Building #18 on the Walter Reed campus? )

What's wrong here? What's worse? The behavior, potential and otherwise, of the homosexuals in the military? Or the lack of leadership among those higher up in the chain of command?

I went to a military college and served four years in the Air Force. I shared barracks space with a lot of young guys in that time. Not once did I see, hear about or perceive any homosexual activity. Heterosexual activity on the other hand, sneaking young women into the barracks, etc. That's another story.

I'm talking years of experience eating, working, sleeping in a military environment. Odds are there were a lot of homosexuals eating, working and sleeping near me. Who among the military men I shared space were gay? I have no idea.

This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. If there were cadres of partying gay men and lesbians serving with me, I think I would have known about it. I think my superiors would have known about it, and done something about it.

Your story is an amazing one, and says much about the military culture of which you were a part.

Boys will be boys. Partying predatory lesbians will be partying lesbians. If leaders turn their backs on the responsibility of dealing with the bad apples.

Pace spoke in general terms. I'm wondering: Is there more to this story than meets the eye?

Your story suggests there might be.

Thought provoking post, Jake!


1:33 PM

The part of the story that is "more than meets the eye" is the SecDef's response. He just wanted the whole thing to go away, because the military likes the status quo. It keeps the press off their backs to an adequate extent, yet allows them a deterrent to outrageous behavior. It is a nice compromise.

The other thing worth mentioning is something that VD Hanson said the other day. He mentioned that is probably not appropriate for any military person to mention the moral standards of the military in a civilian environment. OK to the military folks, not to the civilians. This is because civilians generally comprehend that the moral standards of the services HAVE to be different from the civilian world. Trying to explain that to your average man on the street is just too difficult. Unfortunately, the people of the press try to comment on military mores, something that they are not equipped to do. But the fact remains that there it is appropriate to maintain a "wall" between what is said in public and what it said to military folks.

As for your experience in the military and not having exposure to homosexuality, my experience was quite different. As an officer I ran across it as described in the post. (There was also the sad case of one of my fellow officers in my battalion who tested positive for HIV and was put out of the Marines on the spot. It was the worst example of bad leadership I ever experienced in the military. But that's another story for another day.) As an enlisted man, I was approached by several people during my short enlistment. One fellow was very persistent, but at the time, I was too damn dumb to figure out what he was doing (it took some ribbing from other guys before dawn broke over Marblehead, as they say). Another guy who was quite a good friend in the Marines I ran across years later in a bar. He had come out and was living the gay life. There is no doubt in my mind that if he had not been deterred from acting out his preferred life style, he would have done so in the Marines.

In any case, it is more than necessary for the military to maintain things as they are and I wish two things. That the people like Peter Pace had the forethought to just keep his mouth shut, and that the press would recognize that they don't know what the hell they are talking about. In the first case, I'm sure my wish will be fulfilled. In the second, I equally sure that it will not.


3:41 PM

I keep thinking about the Jack Nicholson character's tirade near the tail end of " A Few Good Men. " Best explanation I've heard of the role of the military, i.e. having to have different moral standards in order to protect the lifestyles of the civilians way way behind the lines. I'm gonna Google the screenplay to get the exact words, but boiled down to its essence it was something like civvies expect marines et al to fight their battles and expect them to do it in a squeaky clean Dudley Do Right manner and that ain't the way it works in the real world of a soldier. I'm not doing it justice. On to Google. By the way, on a trivial note. I've heard that the Tom Cruise character in the play the movie was based on is one of the eight U.S. Attorneys targeted by the Dept. of Justice. Ignatius is his name.


3:45 PM

Didn't mean to post that comment anonymously. The last one was me, Terry #2