Thursday, November 29, 2007

Held in Low Esteem

For the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-California) has a remarkably low opinion of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military.

During the CNN/YouTube-sponsored Republican presidential candidates' debate in Florida Wednesday night, Hunter was asked by a retired Army general whether he believes "American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians." The point of Hunter's long-winded answer was essentially "yes, they are not professional enough."

Here is Hunter's full response:

General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.

The reason for that, even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives.

They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them. I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion.
Substitute "Negroes" for "homosexuals" in Hunter's statement and you have a near-duplicate of the argument used against desegregation of the military during the Truman administration.

At that time, Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall wrote to Clark Clifford (then an advisor to President Truman, later Secretary of Defense under Lyndon Johnson), attaching a copy of testimony about the Army's "Negro problem," about which he explained to Clifford:
I am trying to give it no large circulation as it would be unwise to have it get to the press...
(Apparently, even in the 1940s, politicians knew that it would reflect badly on them to announce they favored policies based on bigotry.)

A portion of Royall's testimony about Negroes in the military in the 1940s (culled by Average Gay Joe at GayPatriot, who deserves a hat tip) has an uncanny resemblance to what politicians like Duncan Hunter have to say about gays in the military today:
At the outset I want to make it clear that in my opinion the policies which should be applied to the use of all Army personnel, regardless of race, are those policies which best promote a sound national defense. Our basic mission is to win battles and to establish an organization capable of winning battles.

Specifically the Army is not an instrument for social evolution. It is not the Army’s job either to favor or to impede the social doctrines, no matter how progressive they may be – it is not for us to lead or to lag behind the civilian procession except to the extent that the national defense is affected…

Another – and an important – factor to be considered on the question of segregation is the morale of the troops as a whole – their satisfaction with Army life, and the spirit with which they perform Army tasks. In war, when the chips are down, this morale factor may well be the difference between victory and defeat.

We must remember that soldiers are not mere bodies that can be moved and handled as trucks and guns. They are individuals who came from civilian life and often return thereto. They are subject to all the emotions, prejudices, ideals, ambitions and inhibitions that encumber our civil population throughout the country.

Solders live and work closely together. They are not only on the same drill field also in the same living and eating quarters. From the standpoint both of morale and of efficiency it is important in peace and in war that the barracks and the unit areas be so attractive to them that they will devote not only their duty time but a reasonable part of their optional time at the post – that they will not be watching the clock for a chance to get away.

In war it is even more important that they have confidence both in their leaders and in the men that are to fight by their sides. Effective comradeship in battle calls for a warm and close personal relationship within a unit…

In this connection we must remember that a large part of the volunteers in the Army are Southerners – usually a larger proportion than from any other part of the country. Whether properly or not, it is a well known fact that close personal association with Negroes is distasteful to large percentage of Southern whites.

A total abandonment of – or a substantial and sudden change in – the Army’s partial segregation policy would in my opinion adversely affect enlistments and reenlistments not only in the South but in many other parts of the country, probably making peacetime selective service necessary. And a change in our policy would adversely affect the morale of many Southern soldiers and other soldiers now serving…

[I]n my opinion – and I believe in the opinion of a great majority of the experienced Army men and officers – it would be most difficult – and unwise from the standpoint of national defense – to require any substantial proportion of white soldiers – whether from the South or from other sections of the country – to serve under Negro officers or particularly under Negro non-commissioned officers.
It's almost like Duncan Hunter does the same sort of "research" for his speeches that Joe Biden did during his 1988 presidential campaign.

While Hunter did not directly respond to the question posed to him, it is clear from his overall remarks that he thinks most men and women in the military are inbred yahoos who lack the capacity to live and work with people who might be different from them -- people who have different backgrounds or different values, different experiences and different aspirations.

Yet Hunter severely underestimates the capability of the average soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine to be tolerant of differences and to look beyond the surface, creating cohesion even within diversity. (What's that slogan? "E pluribus unum"?) Our men and women in uniform are far better people than Hunter thinks they are.

Zogby International conducted a poll of U.S. troops who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, which was released in December 2006. Among its findings:
Three-quarters of those surveyed stated that they felt comfortable around gays and lesbians and four-in-five (78%) noted that they would join the military regardless of their open inclusion. Additionally, a majority (52%) reports having received some form of anti-gay harassment training, with Air Force personnel representing the highest level of training (62%) and the Marine Corps the lowest (34%)....

Of those who were certain that a member of their unit was gay or lesbian, two thirds did not believe that their presence created an impact on either their personal morale (66%) or the morale of their unit (64%). Approximately one-quarter of that group believed there to be a negative impact to both.

In contrast, of those who do not suspect the presence of gays or lesbians within their unit, only half (49%) perceive no impact on personal morale, and only less than one third (26%) feel there would be no impact on their unit’s morale. Regarding their unit’s morale, a majority of this group (58%) believes if there were gays or lesbians within their unit, there would be a negative impact.
Put another way, those soldiers who know someone gay also know there is no deleterious effect on morale or unit cohesion. Those who think they do not know someone gay think otherwise.

That is the price of ignorance.

In a separate answer to the same question, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said during the St. Petersburg debate that he thinks the current "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy "seems to have worked." (Of course, Romney earlier opposed DADT, but he is such a weasel that it is impossible to know if what he says has any relationship to what he thinks -- or if he thinks at all.)

Has DADT worked? Has it worked for the thousands of men and women who were expelled from the military, having their careers disrupted? Has it worked for the taxpayers, who paid to train these men and women, only to lose their services? Has it worked for the highly-valued, scarce translators of languages like Arabic, Farsi, and Korean, who were forced to leave the armed forces simply because they were gay?

Those questions answer themselves.

I understand that Duncan Hunter is the only active GOP presidential candidate who will appear in person at the Straw Poll being held at the Republican Party of Virginia Advance this weekend in Arlington. I hope that someone there has an opportunity to ask him why he thinks American soldiers are such boobs.

Members of our armed forces deserve much more respect than what Congressman Hunter seems willing to accord them. He should be ashamed of himself.

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