Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a startling statement in congressional testimony last week. When asked if allowing open homosexuals into the U.S. military would lead to a mass exodus of troops from active service, he boldly declared that they can “find another place to work.”
Such a cavalier response to a U.S. senator’s serious inquiry may play well in the press and in the current commander-in-chief’s office, but it illuminates a deeply misguided commitment to political correctness and foreshadows serious adverse consequences for our national security. If tens of thousands of troops now serving in the finest military force the world has ever known vote with their feet in the midst of a war, we’re all in deep trouble.
At issue is a pending vote in the Senate on repealing Section 654 of Title X of the U.S. Code. This law, on the books since 1993, states: “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
President Obama describes this “ban on gays” as “unfair” and has vowed, as he put it, to “end ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’” Though nothing has happened in the last 17 years to mitigate the “unacceptable risk” to our military, he is supported in this quest to fulfill a campaign promise by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Admiral Mullen. The House of Representatives has already voted to repeal Section 654. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to consider the question.
For the record, the phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell” appears nowhere in the actual law. It’s simply a policy adopted by the Clinton administration as a way of avoiding a confrontation with Congress — and a public-relations disaster with the far-left wing of the American body politic. Repeal by the present lame-duck Congress would overturn not just the informal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but the statutory prohibition on open homosexual men and lesbians in the ranks.
According to Messrs. Obama, Gates, and Mullen — and “GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered] rights” activists — the Report of the Comprehensive Review Working Group, released by the Pentagon on November 30, finds that there is “low risk” to unit cohesion and military readiness in immediately repealing the law. But a careful reading of the report suggests otherwise.
The authors acknowledge that 67 percent of all Marines, more than 60 percent of special-operations personnel, and 57 percent of soldiers in Army combat units believe changing the law would hurt military efficiency, unit cohesion, readiness, and retention. Overall, 35 percent of service members deployed overseas said that changing the law in current circumstances would have a negative impact on combat effectiveness. And, perhaps most telling, nearly one-third of all those who are now part of the best-educated, best-trained, and most-combat-experienced military in history will consider “getting out” rather than serve side by side with openly homosexual men or lesbians.
Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, and other proponents of changing the law have concluded that “limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention” is “an acceptable risk” — even in the midst of a long and bloody war. They claim that any problems arising from repealing the ban will somehow be ameliorated by “careful planning, training and good leadership.” What they cannot do is explain how the possibility of losing even 20 percent of today’s active-duty military — more than 250,000 troops — could be anything but an unacceptable risk.
In nine years of covering every theater of this global war for Fox News and in writing American Heroes in Special Operations, I have never met a single senior non-commissioned officer in any service who said to me anything like: “We need some homosexuals and lesbians out here to help us accomplish our mission.” What they do worry about is the prospect that thousands of our finest, most effective non-commissioned officers will leave the service at the end of their current enlistment and there won’t be anyone around to train the next batch of replacements — assuming they can be recruited.
The report dismisses as a “short-term problem” the overwhelming moral and religious opposition expressed by military chaplains of every denomination. The SecDef’s “implementation plan” insists that “misperceptions” and “stereotypes” about living in close quarters with “openly gay service members” will be overcome by “revised standards of conduct” and “new regulations.” Yet he also wants to “legalize consensual sodomy,” prohibit “separate berthing, billeting or bathroom facilities based on sexual orientation,” and deny honorable discharges to those who have a conscientious objection to living with a homosexual. Try explaining all that to the God-fearing, church-going parents of a 17-year-old prospective recruit.
None of this has to happen. And it won’t — if the U.S. Senate simply refuses to repeal Section 654, Title X, USC. But that means at least 41 senators have to have enough courage not to dismantle the U.S. armed forces.
Our all-volunteer military, particularly the Marines, Army combat arms, and special-operations forces — and their families at home — are making extraordinary sacrifices to protect us from an implacable enemy. The young Americans I see on the battlefields of Mesopotamia and in the shadow of the Hindu Kush are warriors in the crucible of mortal combat. They deserve better than to be treated like lab rats in Mr. Obama’s radical social experiment.
— Lt. Col. Oliver North, USMC (Ret.), is the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, author of the New York Times–bestselling American Heroes in Special Operations, and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.