Hate is Not an Army Core Value
After General Peter Pace said in an interview a few weeks ago that homosexuality is “immoral,” I posted a comment to this post over at Lawyers, Guns and Money expressing my view that integrating homosexuals into military service is really a leadership problem:
Those who argue that some citizens should be excluded from military service because their presence would hurt “unit cohesion” are saying that current soldiers should be able to decide with whom they serve. This is bravo sierra–the military is not a country club whose members should be able to blackball undesirables.
As a tank platoon sergeant I faced a variety of obstacles to unit cohesion, including affairs and arguments over women, unpaid gambling debts, racism, gang membership, laziness, and simple personality conflicts. The biggest one was the constant squabble between single junior enlisted troops who lived constricted lives in the barracks (daily inspections, etc), and the married soldiers who lived off post and lived much more freely (and also got time off for things like sick family members).
The point is that conflicts will always arise among any group of people large enough to complete a destructive military mission, and leaders–like General Pace–have the mission of solving these problems. This turns out to be easier than one might think, since most soldiers, even when slighted, know when they are being treated fairly and when they are not, and they know good leaders when they see them. Good leaders can create cohesive, effective units from diverse raw materials. Saying that military units cannot integrate homosexuals into cohesive units is the same as saying that our armed services have too few effective leaders.
What strikes me as most interesting is not that General Pace is comfortable classifying a non-trivial number of his own troops as immoral. It is that there is a mission that he can’t or won’t complete because of morality or ethics, but this mission has nothing to do with killing thousands of innocent civilians or breaking the Marine Corps he leads. It regards instead his refusal to validate sexual preferences his religion demonizes.
Who is the immoral one?
In other words, I argue that sexual orientation is simply another aspect of human behavior that unit leaders must address when integrating citizens from diverse backgrounds into military organizations of every size. It is no different on a moral scale than disputes between single and married people or soldiers of various religious faiths or ethnic backgrounds. Soldiers of different backgrounds will disagree with this view, as they will about whether ethnic background matters, but the state should not exclude any group from service because current members resent them. Moreover, leaders like General Pace have more important moral conundrums to think about than some private’s sexual preferences. At any rate, Professor Lemieux at LGM thought this comment interesting enough to post it on the front page of his blog.
This weekend I read Kathleen Parker’s take on recent stories about female soldiers who claimed they had been sexually harassed or raped by their own leaders and fellow soldiers while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (the link is to Townhall.com, but I originally saw the column in the local paper here in Richmond, Virginia). Parker thinks the problem is resentment: “…male soldiers and officers have confided that many men resent women because they’ve been forced to pretend that women are equals, and men know they are not.” According to Parker, “the lie breeds contempt,” and develops in male soldiers a “simmering rage” they express in aggression toward female soldiers. For what it’s worth, I find the suggestion that sexual assault on female soldiers has its roots in anything but the failure of some men to meet minimum standards of civilized behavior beneath contempt.
(For more on the issue itself, see: “The Women’s War,” New York Times, March 18, 2007.)
Leaving aside for the moment the silliness of debating the generic “equality” of men and women—every individual has his or her own unique talents and limitations—this sounds a lot like the “unit cohesion/good order and discipline” complaint many have with homosexuality in the military. In both cases, we have male soldiers resisting service with people they deem unworthy and unqualified (notice that women rarely express these views). They resent it, and they express their resentment by behaving aggressively toward fellow soldiers whom they would prefer not to have in their units. It makes me think of a bunch of four-year-olds crying because their parents invited that weird kid to their birthday party. I think they should look at the sign behind the First Sergeant’s desk—the one that says “No Whining”—and learn to suck it up and do their jobs.
The problem here is not that some gay guy will lust after his tank commander or crew chief in the shower. People everywhere have to deal with unwanted physical and emotional attraction, whether gay or straight—men generally, and male soldiers specifically, need to learn to do the same thing. If they are as big and bad as they say they are, they’ll get over the fact that they can’t control everything around them. It’s also not that women in military units will not be able to pull their weight. I managed to deal with a lot of men who had that problem—both wannabees without the skills and just plain shirkers. Good leaders can deal with both of these issues.
The problem is not qualification or suitability for service—the problem is unit leaders from the squad to the service component level who overtly or tacitly condone prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination against some members of American society. They look the other way when subordinates express hate against gays or contempt for female soldiers. Arguing that gays or women should not serve in the US Armed Forces—or should serve only under restrictive conditions—is the same as saying that prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination is sometimes appropriate. Those who argue that we should use our military forces for national defense, and not for social engineering, should look in the mirror—they are guilty of doing the same thing.
The fact is that American society is changing and evolving, as it has throughout our history. Many conservatives argue that this change in unnatural, and driven by social groups with an agenda for remaking society in their image. They complain that entertainment media, homosexual and women’s groups, and even profit-making businesses generate products and services with the goal of breaking down traditional social orders. Television, movies, games, and political organizations, they say, glorify ways of life in a purposive attack on religion, marriage, and virtue.
Not so. Social changes are driven by fundamental evolution in our definitions of human dignity. I believe that growing interaction among diverse groups is the driving force—and certainly expanded portrayal of this in the media and the trend toward closer proximity with our fellow man are aspects of this interaction. But I would argue that our society mirrors this change, it does not drive it. “Will and Grace” was not popular because it forced viewers to face down their own fundamental beliefs and change them—that is ridiculous on its face, if you give it more than cursory thought. It was popular because we saw a bit of ourselves in it.
Some will argue that shows like “Will and Grace” legitimize behavior previously considered taboo—it makes young people feel comfortable with a lifestyle that people with “traditional values” consider shameful. Let me say in response that television shows that become ratings leaders, and films that generate millions in box office receipts, are by definition mainstream. We are already comfortable with it.
If mainstream society is changing our military forces must reflect this change. This is true not only because every citizen shares an obligation to our political system, to both protect it from threats and change it when threatening. It is true because if our military establishment does not reflect the social order, it becomes a threat to it. The United States is either based on the idea that “all men (and women) are created equal,” or it isn’t. Our military must either support the dignity of each citizen or it is a threat to that dignity. Resistance to this must be seen as an effort to create a sector of society that depends on an anachronistic social structure. By suggesting that homosexual and women’s equality is not appropriate for military organizations, opponents are trying to preserve a social order they prefer. Worse, this amounts to rejection of gays and women as stakeholders in the state itself.
Leaders must understand this, and military leaders instinctively do—this is why they developed and teach a set of core values (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) rooted in the importance of responsibility to the organization and respect for the value and dignity of each individual soldier, regardless of social group. Click on the links and take a look at all the big words in these lists—words like honor, integrity, commitment, and duty. As a former Army NCO and combat unit leader, I see no place in these values for judging or hating others, holding prejudice or discriminating against others, or committing violence against compatriots or fellow citizens.
For good or ill, all of the social forces that interact in civilian society will express themselves no less in military organizations. Leaders who want to avoid social engineering in military organizations should stop taking sides in these debates and think about the health of our national security infrastructure and how best to defend the nation. Maximizing our ability to defend the US requires finding the best qualified citizens who want to serve and placing them where they can best do so. Shutting out entire groups in the name of preserving a preferred social order is not the answer—integrating the diverse mix of qualified recruits into cohesive military units is. This is the job of military leaders, and we should make them complete this mission or find new leaders.