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Don't Frighten The Horses

J. D. Pendry

It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you don't do it in public and frighten the horses. - Mrs. Patrick Campbell

In a few months, we'll have a new Commander in Chief. One candidate for the job tells us he will follow the don't ask don't tell rule and the other says he will have homosexuals openly serving in the military. I took a tongue-in-cheek look at this issue once before (Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Giggle...) but now, a more serious contemplation is required.

There are two basic arguments usually brought forth on this matter. The first is that problems, perceived or real, concerning open service by homosexuals do not differ from the problems, perceived or real, of integration of minorities and women into the branches of the services. The logic of that argument is fundamentally flawed. A person does not have a choice about race or gender when placed on this earth. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is a sexual preference. Unlike race or gender it's a lifestyle choice made by the men and women who practice it. It's an unnatural act and considered by many as immoral. Therefore, it's not possible to make a sound argument for open service by homosexuals by comparing it to minority and gender integration.

The next argument generally put forth is that homosexuals have always served and some of them with distinction. Because of that, we must consider an individual's impact on the service based on his or her ability and performance not his or her sexual preference. Both of those statements are quite true on the surface. However, to consider them fully it must be with the knowledge that these individuals served with distinction without public knowledge of their sexual preference. People first filter their reactions to others through their own values then through their knowledge of the person. If a person is a known thief, you become very conscious of your belongings when he is around. Your reactions to the thief depend on how your value system deals with the act of thievery and the knowledge that the person is a thief.

Some Questions To Ponder

Knowing the zeal with which the military carries out the social programming desires of our leadership we need to wonder about some things. If open service happens, how long is it before we have an affirmative action plan for gays? How long before we must observe a gay history week during which we learn about gay contributions to society and the gay culture? Will there be an entire new category for equal opportunity and sexual harassment complaints? If we accept open service of homosexuals, does that also mean we accept same sex marriages? If the answer is yes, do they have the same benefits as heterosexual couples? Family housing and medical benefits for example. Are we prepared to answer the questions of our children regarding the couple next door? How do soldiers react when the commander shows up at the unit ball escorting his or her same sex partner?

These are legitimate questions and I do not ask them sarcastically. There are, however, other serious questions to answer.

Most discussions I've been privy to on this topic deal with the impact it may have on soldiers serving in units. What's more important, is what impact will it have on a leader's ability to lead effectively? A short story. A commander departed command without having the opportunity to get all of his personal belongings inventoried, packed and shipped. A NCO inventoried what amounted to hold baggage before shipping it. He made a special trip by my office at the end of the day to tell me about the collection of sex toys, videos and other sexually oriented paraphernalia that he'd discovered during the inventory. Do you think that public knowledge about the commander's sexual preferences would have had an adverse effect on his ability to command? What consenting adults practice in private is their business, but once knowledge of those practices becomes public, it does make a difference in how others see and react to them.

All of our services profess core values. Most of those values point toward morality. How does a homosexual leader, who is supposed to be the example of values, hence morality, stand as a role model for the led? When answering this question, consider that the socialization of most people causes them to accept that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral. The led are asked to accept something that may be completely opposite of their social conditioning. Is it wise to ask a soldier to follow a leader into life-threatening situations when the leader's professed lifestyle contradicts the soldier's social upbringing and possibly his religious conviction? Isn't it even more dangerous to expect the led not to filter orders from such a leader through those convictions before following them? Is this good in a world where hesitation can be fatal? This of course raises the other side of the question - will it affect a subordinate's willingness to follow or obey? Will open service adversely affect discipline and unit cohesiveness? Will gays be assigned to all types of units or will there be restrictions? Will soldiers accept the professional development guidance of openly gay leaders? Will a soldier be at ease during counseling by a gay leader? Moreover, the most basic question is will the soldier have the necessary trust and confidence in the leader?

If homosexuals serve openly, we will have openly homosexual leaders. The most critical intangible for any military service is leadership.

There are many questions about this issue and there are as many variations to the answers as there are people to ask. We must insist on the right answer and not a socially acceptable, politically correct one.

Our country has seriously lacked moral leadership for sometime now. Our military has even faced it's own moral dilemmas in recent history. I suggest our Commander in Chief contenders ask many serious questions about the future of the military before making a decision that may frighten the horses.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry