The current haste to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy at a time when our front line combat forces are engaged in a shooting war by using the last dying gasps of a "lame duck" Congress to enact it is a cause for real alarm.
Particularly disturbing is the opposition to repeal voiced by the service chiefs of the Army and the Marine Corps, the commanding generals of the units actually engaged in close combat — at "the pointy end of the spear" so to speak. Further, when nearly 60 percent of Marines and Soldiers in combat units (infantry/special operations) believe that openly gay troops will pose strong potential for disruption at the small unit (platoon/squad/fire team) level, a red flag is warranted.
For those who question that judgment, that is precisely the level at which wars are waged — up close and personal by maneuver units of Marines and Soldiers led by corporals, sergeants and lieutenants. Ges. James Amos (Marine commandant) and George Casey (Army chief of staff) testified that repeal during wartime would necessarily "divert leadership away from the almost singular focus of preparing troops for combat."
Perhaps it is time to invoke the analogy "can't see the forest for the trees" for those so passionately involved with the details as to lose sight of the larger issue. That issue is none other than that of understanding the mission of the armed forces: "To fight and win our Nation's wars by providing prompt and sustained land, air and sea dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders."
That mission is accomplished by executing Title 10 U.S. Code directives to include organizing, training and equipping forces for operations as directed by the president, secretary of defense and combat commanders. The U.S. armed forces are organized to protect us from our enemies by fighting and winning our wars or, attributed to George Orwell: "Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
The very notion that many in leadership positions — in Congress, the courts and the executive branch — stand ready instead to ignore the judgment of those who actually engage in those combat operations in the name of "social engineering" is absurd beyond belief. Combat units are built on cohesiveness, trust and a mystique of brotherhood, any risk that mars the combat effectiveness of our armed forces will naturally result in endangering the mission and a greater loss of life.
Yes, it is an open secret that gays have and continue to serve honorably in the U.S. military. However, they serve as Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen and not as "gay" Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. In 30-plus years of commanding Marines in both combat and peacetime venues, I neither observed a need nor benefit in the overt advertisement of one's sexual orientation — nor do either exist.
Those leading the procession to repeal don't ask, don't tell, from President Barack Obama, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin to our own Sen. Claire McCaskill to Lady Gaga have one thing in common — they have never served nor will they ever be called upon to do so. Those in support include decorated Marine officer and Sen.ator James Webb, and former prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain, and the retiring chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ike Skelton.
There is no inherent right to serve in the military; it is a privilege extended only to those who are physically, mentally and morally fit. To those who decry "unfair" discrimination against gays, the services also discriminate against the too weak, the too fat, alcoholics, drug users and felons. And, as a matter of interest, it is significant to note that four times as many servicemen and women are discharged for being overweight as those for being gay, according to a report compiled by the Department of Defense and the Congressional Research Service.
Despite the inherent litigious nature of the pro repeal faction, this is not a matter for the courts. The issue must be decided jointly by the president as commander in chief and Congress in its duty to raise armies and with the recommendations of the service chiefs. The Marine commandant stated the obvious, despite the potential for disruption of success in combat, the Marines would carry out a policy change voted in Congress.
That the U.S. military is subordinate to civilian authority is unquestioned. However, when a majority of the service chiefs along with a similar majority of those who engage in close combat, believe that openly gay troops pose a disruption to the good order, trust and discipline necessary for combat readiness/effectiveness, should their misgivings be ignored? Political correctness and social equality are not chapters in Sun Tzu's "Art of War" nor Carl von Clausewitz's "On War" — nor are they relevant on the battlefield.
Finally, I know of the polling procedure identifying 70 percent of the military as either ambivalent or open to serving with gays and lesbians. But the military in which I served for 30-plus years was not governed by opinion polls.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.