Have you heard all the political hooey resulting from comments made last week by the Pentagon’s top general about gays in the military? Responding to a question about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he thought the policy should stay in place and added, “I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe that the armed forces of the United States are well served by saying through our policies that it's OK to be immoral in any way.” Oy. I think Pace is so insulated from the culture that he didn’t even realize what troubled waters he was wading into. The military’s historic justification for its anti-gay policy has been that gays in the military would hurt morale and negatively effect the “cohesion” of the troops. There was none of that in Pace’s remarks, it was just bigotry, pure and simple.
I couldn’t agree less with the general’s views about homosexuality but I was glad he didn’t bow to pressure to “apologize” for his comments. Why should he? That’s obviously what he believes so to apologize for having espoused those views would, in my opinion, be the height of hypocrisy. On the other hand, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was correct when she said about the military, “we need patriotic Americans who exist across the board in our population. We don’t need moral judgment from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.” Pace issued a statement the following day that concurred. “I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”
The real feeding frenzy came not from Pace’s revealing remarks but from how the politicos reacted, especially the current roster of Presidential hopefuls. Little of the discussion was focused on what these individuals really think about the issue, it was all about how their reactions would affect their loyal base of voters.
President Lame Duck didn’t bother kowtowing to his religious right-wingers for once but still managed to strike an irritating tone with his doubletalk. In response to Pace’s comments, spokesman Tony Snow claimed that President Bush “has always said that the most important thing is that we ought not to prejudge one another. But when it comes to government policy, it's been in place for a long time and we will continue to execute it according to the letter of the law.” How’s that for a political non-response?
Remember how gay marriage was such a galvanizing factor in the 2004 elections? Some Republican Presidential candidates seemed thrilled with a new opportunity to curry favor with the fundamentalists. Senator Sam Brownback, looking to stand apart from the more moderate Republican hopefuls, announced that he was writing President Bush a letter in support of General Pace and his comments. “We should not expect someone as qualified, accomplished and articulate as General Pace to lack personal views on important moral issues," Brownback said. "In fact, we should expect that anyone entrusted with such great responsibility will have strong moral views.” Brownback did a classic reverse flip when asked if he agreed with Pace’s views. “I do not believe being a homosexual is immoral, but I do believe homosexual acts are. I'm a Catholic and the church has clear teachings on this.” Nice volley, Sam. I think I get it—why don’t we just change the name of the policy to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Fuck.”
Senator John McCain said that General Pace should be given a chance to explain himself. Huh? Asked about his own views of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he said it has been successful and should be maintained. Um, exactly how are you defining success, John?
This policy is one of the biggest stains on the Clinton administration and the worst example of Clinton’s buckling on a campaign promise. It’s unbelievable to me how such a discriminatory statute has survived for almost 15 years. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military—and of course they ARE currently serving, in no small numbers. But let’s just pretend otherwise, shall we? Several attempts have been made to repeal the policy but it’s still considered too much of a political hot potato. While many men and women have been discharged since the policy was enacted when they admitted or were accused of being gay, the numbers have been going down for the past several years. Good news? No. With more fodder needed for the war in Iraq, a regulation was passed that allowed for the deployment of Reservists or National Guard troops who say they are gay, the sole purpose being to prevent such people from escaping combat. Excellent, let’s openly discriminate against gays when it’s politically expedient to do so, but then quietly send them into harm’s way when we need more bodies.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were roundly criticized for initially sidestepping the controversy. When asked the next day whether she believed homosexuality was immoral, Clinton said “I am going to leave that to others to conclude.” Oh come on, Hillary. Obama simply refused to comment on the issue at first but following loud complaints by many folks whose support both candidates desperately need, they have since condemned the general’s statements.
“Well, I've heard from a number of my friends and I've certainly clarified with them any misunderstanding that anyone had, because I disagree with General Pace completely,” Clinton said the day after her dodge. “I do not think homosexuality is immoral. But the point I was trying to make is that this policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not working. I have been against it for many years because I think it does a grave injustice to patriotic Americans who want to serve their country.” Missed opportunity to mention that it was her hubby who put the damn policy in place. She could have talked openly about the pressures faced by politicians in 1994 and now regarding this issue.
Obama, clearly afraid of alienating those among his supporters who are squeamish about gays, finally offered this comment on Wednesday when asked if he thought same-sex relationships were immoral. “I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman has restricted his public comments to military matters. That's probably a good tradition to follow.”
John Edwards addressed Pace’s remarks a little more explicitly. When asked by Wolf Blitzer whether he considered homosexuality immoral, Edwards replied, “I don’t. I don’t share that view. And I would go further than that, Wolf. I think Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not working. And as President of the United States I would change that policy…I think what it’s done, effectively, is kept us from having some of the most talented people we could have in our military. It’s caused more problems than it’s solved. And it ought to be changed.”
Ironically, the most sincere-sounding response to Pace was from Republican Senator John Warner, himself a military expert and former Navy secretary. “I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral.” Good for him. Maybe it was all those years with former wife Elizabeth Taylor that gave him a different view of gay people.
There has been much in the news this year that proves that homophobia is alive and well in this country despite a strong desire to think it’s behind us. Still, it’s interesting to look back at our government’s earlier attitudes for some perspective on how far we’ve come. The other day I was doing some research in the trusty Los Angeles Times archives when a small article from June 1950 caught my eye. Called “Delicate Touch,” the article detailed the progress of a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Clyde Hoey (D-NC) that was set up to root out homosexuals in government (with nods to Senator McCarthy’s simultaneous attempts at finding those pesky Commies). The language in this piece of journalism is shocking to our modern ears:
The subcommittee will not try to establish any relationship between perversion and subversion, but will simply take it for granted. The effort will be to get the names of homosexuals from local police records, from hospitals and psychiatrists, from the intelligence services of the Army, Navy and Air Force and from other “informants.”
Horrifying, but my eyes widened the most at the attempts to get psychiatrists to inform on their patients. Was there no doctor-patient privilege in 1950?
The article talks about the 561 resignations that occurred in late 1947 after President Truman announced that all Federal workers had to be fingerprinted for the loyalty program. Much larger numbers were anticipated as a result of Hoey’s hearings.
Any substantial exodus of suspected perverts will cut down the subcommittee’s work. More than 3500 persons are expected to leave the government service because of the probe, voluntarily or otherwise.
The journalist, Holmes Alexander, expresses frustration that up to now, it’s been hard to deal with this problem.
For many years now the FBI has been giving the names of moral delinquents to the Civil Service Commission. The CSC has been passing these names down the line to the department or agency where the delinquent works. But what happens? According to a good source in the CSC:
If the person who gets reported happens to be an office boy or file clerk, he’s fired. But if he’s one of the ranking officials, he stays on. There is no way to force the dismissal of the homosexualist, alcoholic, dope fiend or petty gambler. His case is entirely up to the head of the department or agency.
Yikes, even with Pace comparing homosexual acts to the sins of adultery, he still sounds like a gay rights activist compared to these guys.
Everyone’s favorite witch hunter, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was originally part of Hoey’s subcommittee but ultimately “felt obliged to withdraw.” Why? Because he was too hard on gays! Can you imagine how bad he must have been to scare these 1950 homophobes? As the article states:
McCarthy on at least two public occasions has used some earthy language when referring to perverts. This sort of plain speaking, while not out of character for an ex-marine, does not fit into the high seriousness of the investigation.
Sen. Hoey, a party Democrat and a gentleman of the Old South, can be expected to accomplish his present mission without fear or favor. This is one investigation which can be counted upon to clean up an unpleasant subject and then write finis.
Well, it’s 57 years later and no one has written “finis” yet about this “unpleasant subject.” But it has been written for Clyde Hoey. On May 12, 1954, Hoey, the son of a Confederate Army captain, keeled over at his desk and dropped dead of a massive stroke. His sudden demise was announced by Senate leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas and the Senate promptly adjourned out of respect.
In a situation evoking recent news, Hoey’s death left 47 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and 1 Independent in the Senate. So who was appointed to replace Senator Hoey in 1954 and tip the balance back to one party? None other than Sam J. Ervin, seen in this photo being sworn in by Vice President Richard Nixon, of all people. 20 years later, Sam Ervin became the chairman of the Watergate Hearings which resulted in Nixon being the only President to resign from office.
As I wrote in here the week that the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed, I so admired Sam Ervin when I was a kid that I joined his official fan club! I have no idea what Sam Ervin’s feelings were about homosexuality, but, unlike many of our politicians today, he sure as hell didn’t hesitate to speak his mind. Just before his death at the age of 88, he wrote a letter to President Reagan that began, “Dear Mr. President: The Constitution is the wisest instrument of government the earth has ever known. If America is to endure as a free Republic as ordained by it, Presidents, Supreme Court justices and other public officers must do what they have sworn to do, that is, support it. Despite my admiration for you, I am constrained by my duty to our country to assert that what you say and advocate, in respect for religion, shows that you do not understand the religious clauses of the First Amendment, and how obedience to them is essential to the preservation of religious freedom they are designed to secure to all Americans of all faiths.”
Could not the same letter be sent to General Pace? Newsweek reported today that during a 2005 speech, Pace offered this pearl about gays in the military: “The U.S. military mission fundamentally rests on the trust, confidence and cooperation amongst its members. And the homosexual lifestyle does not comport with that kind of trust and confidence.” Hideous. And yet, if I had to bestow the 2007 Sam Ervin Award to the one individual in this fracas who had the gumption to say what he or she really believed and not restrict pubic comments to what was politically wise, I’d have to bypass Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and give that honor to General Peter Pace.