June 21, 2008

President Honors General Who Exposed DADT’s Real Roots

Posted at 12:53 pm (Pacific Time)

Bush congratulates PaceOn Thursday, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to General Peter Pace, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for his steadfast leadership, his selfless devotion to keeping Americans safe, and his great courage.”

The award was greeted with widespread criticism because of remarks made by Gen. Pace last year about homosexuality and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy.

In a March 12, 2007, interview with the Chicago Tribune, he likened homosexuality to adultery and asserted, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts…. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way.”

His remarks sparked outrage among congressional Democrats and gay advocacy groups. According to a National Public Radio report, senior Pentagon officials privately disclosed that the Secretary of Defense summoned Pace to his office after the comments were made public and demanded that he issue a statement. The following day, the Pentagon released the General’s statement, in which he downplayed the importance of his own moral views, but did not apologize for his remarks:

I made two points in support of the policy during the interview. One, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” allows individuals to serve this nation; and two, it does not make a judgment about the morality of individual acts. In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.

Six months later, shortly before retiring, Gen. Pace reiterated his sentiments at a September Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Saying he sought to clarify his earlier remarks, Pace noted that there are “wonderful Americans who happen to be homosexual serving in the military.” He continued:

We need to be very precise then, about what I said wearing my stars and being very conscious of it…. And that is, very simply, that we should respect those who want to serve the nation but not through the law of the land, condone activity that, in my upbringing, is counter to God’s law.

*          *          *          *          *

In response to Pres. Bush’s decision to award Gen. Pace with Presidential Medal of Freedom this week, Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network (SLDN) said:

Honoring General Pace with the country’s highest civilian award is outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops currently serving on active duty in the armed forces. Our men and women in uniform are making tremendous sacrifices for our country and are looking for the President to recognize leaders who offer them praise and vision, not condemnation and scorn.

Mr. Sarvis makes a valid point, but perhaps we should actually be grateful to Gen. Pace. After all, most previous attempts to defend DADT have tried to justify the policy with spurious claims — for example:

  • that the presence of openly gay and lesbian military personnel would damage unit cohesion and impair the military’s ability to complete its mission
  • that sharing living quarters with gay and lesbian personnel would intrude unacceptably on the privacy of heterosexual personnel
  • that allowing sexual minority personnel to serve openly would damage the military’s reputation and reduce reenlistment rates.

However, empirical research has consistently failed to support these assertions. A few examples:

  • A 2006 Zogby poll conducted with active-duty personnel and veterans indicated that DADT isn’t strongly supported by combat personnel and veterans, and that allowing openly gay and lesbian personnel to serve is unlikely to reduce reenlistment or impair future recruitment. In addition, the poll showed that many military personnel know or suspect that their unit includes gay or lesbian members, and that most of those who knew for certain that their unit included one or more gay members did not believe that the latter’s presence affected either the respondent’s personal morale or the morale of the unit. Based on these and other data, Prof. Belkin argues in a paper recently published in Armed Forces & Society that the policy actually harms the military’s reputation.

*          *          *          *          *

Rather than trying to justify DADT on bogus factual grounds, Gen. Pace gave the world a refreshingly honest account of the real reasons why the US government still clings to the policy. By highlighting the moral worldview on which it is based, he showed that the policy is mainly about religious beliefs and longstanding prejudices, not the laundry list of concerns about the practical impact of a policy change that are routinely cited by DADT defenders.

Of course, it may not have been Gen. Pace’s intention to provide such clarity about the real roots of DADT. But perhaps he nevertheless deserves recognition for it.

And, since past Medal of Freedom awardees from within the Bush administration have included former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, and Gen. Tommy Franks — all of whom have been strongly criticized for their roles in the current Administration’s early Iraq decisionmaking and policies — perhaps Gen. Pace is in the right company.

*          *          *          *          *

For further discussions of social science research relevant to DADT, consult the “Publications” page on the Michael D. Palm Center website at the University of California, Santa Barbara

For more information about DADT, consult the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network website.

Copyright ©
Fatal error: Call to undefined function post_year() in /home/gmherek/herek.net/blog/wp-content/themes/ocadia/index.php on line 22