Why gays shouldn't serve

By David Horowitz


Salon Staff
June 27, 2001 12:00PM (UTC)

Read the story.

I am a heterosexual male with a wife and four children. I spent 12 years in the United States Marine Corps. In that time I served with three men and eight women I know of who were gay. None of them were ever discipline problems and all but two were promoted at least one rank meritoriously. Three of these fine Marines were given "good of the service" discharges when their orientation became known -- in one case after almost eight years of service.

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David Horowitz makes much of the integration of minorities in 1947 but does not mention that that integration was the result of a presidential order and most military commanders fought it tooth and nail. He also makes much of women in the military, and I have reservations about women in combat myself. But the defining point is that a gay man is still a man, and more importantly, a soldier or Marine.

The problem with the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is that it doesn't go far enough. President Clinton, like President Truman before him, should simply have given the order to integrate. Men and women in the armed forces are used to overcoming obstacles far greater than mere personal prejudices and would, I am certain, rise to the challenge.

-- Kelly McCune

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In his column arguing that military people who oppose gays in the fighting forces do so for good reasons besides prejudice, David Horowitz is quick to disclaim that he's no military expert.

Indeed. "Suppose two men in a five-man unit are sexual partners," he writes, noting that such a situation could threaten unit cohesion. Of course it could -- which is why the military has strict rules against fraternization, the violation of which is punishable by court-martial.

The point fails logically as well. If Horowitz is so quick to dismiss the rule of law within the military as ineffective, then he should call for single-man fighting units. After all, what if two soldiers in a unit, both heterosexual, developed a strong dislike for each other? That would surely threaten cohesion as well -- unless we're willing to concede that the military operates under rule of law, and that it's the best system we can achieve.

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Finally, Horowitz decries women's involvement in the military because when women soldiers get pregnant with other soldiers, the "military looks the other way." I haven't gathered systematic data on this, but I used to report on naval courts-martial for the San Diego Reader, coincidentally not long after the Gulf War that Horowitz implies the U.S. almost lost because of all the pregnant soldiers. The majority of trials I witnessed were the usual drug-related ones and male-female fraternization cases.

Perhaps Horowitz should step out past those armed bodyguards he's so proud of and do some reporting.

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-- Jeff Sharlet

"Unit cohesion" is the basis of your argument that gays and women do not belong in the military. I then ask: Is there proof that both women and gay men are more likely to develop close relationships with peers than heterosexual men? Because that is the sole assertion of your argument: that when gay men and women are added to the military, there will be a higher percentage of people who care about one another -- and that caring compromises the "fighting machine."

-- Keith Fredericks

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Horowitz writes, "To avoid such breaches of military discipline, military policy does not allow family members to fight in the same unit."

The reason the military does not allow family members to serve in the same unit is so there will be no repeat of the horrors of the Civil War generally, and what happened to the Sullivan brothers during World War II. In the former conflict, whole families of men would evaporate in a single fusillade of canister fire, let alone in a single battle. And much of the almost unbelievable courage and valor of those troops is now recognized as having arisen from there being family and close friends in one's unit; a soldier was less likely to fail in his duty when surrounded by such intimates.

When all five of the Sullivan brothers were killed when their ship went down during World War II, the military made a decision to ensure that family members were scattered among different units.

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And Horowitz's offhandedly homophobic assumption that gay men are unable to control themselves sexually is infuriating. Horowitz implicitly states that being gay somehow automatically equals being extravagantly irresponsible regarding sex. This is patent nonsense.

The hostility of the U.S. military toward openly homosexual men and women in the armed forces has to do with violent homophobia. That hatred, however much Horowitz may wish to deny it, is not a valid reason to disallow gays and lesbians from openly serving their country.

-- Rob Anderson

Has David Horowitz seen any of the studies of militaries that have integrated gays with no problem whatsoever? It has been a total nonissue when it has been done. I don't understand why Salon is promoting bad journalism. If Horowitz is going to sound off about an issue like this, where so much research has been done, is it too much to ask of him to look at the research and mention it? Or is he just all hyperbole? I have to say, Horowitz is just starting to annoy me.

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-- Philippe Gagnon

I typically enjoy Horowitz's attacks on political correctness. However, his latest article regarding gays in the military seems less about thinking outside the boxes of political correctness and more about automatically thinking in opposition to these matrices.

In arguing against gays in the military, he not only ignores the vast spectrum of military duties outside wartime combat but does not allow for a truly merit-based system, rewarding the specific soldiers who perform with distinction. Such a system as he supports seems perfectly in line with supporters of affirmative action who judge candidates by superficial qualities. That does not seem to be un-p.c. to me, but rather a case of Horowitz poorly playing devil's advocate.

-- Erick Gjerdingen

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Horowitz states that during Desert Storm 10 percent of the women en route to battle aboard one particular ship "got pregnant." The women got pregnant? On their own? Some men aboard that ship were equally responsible for the pregnancies that resulted from these relationships.

The military shouldn't exclude citizens simply based on their propensity to have sexual relations with others in their unit. Instead, the military should enforce existing rules about such conduct (on both female and male enlistees -- not only those who get pregnant) and introduce new rules that would ban sexual relations of any kind between two members of a given unit.

In regard to Horowitz's comments on unit cohesion, two men within a unit could easily become close friends -- even like "brothers." Would this not similarly have the potential to hinder their ability to consider the unit above individual concerns? The military should be honest about its discrimination instead of developing scenarios of homosexual lust. The threat to unit cohesion it's really talking about is dealing with the homophobic attitudes of the heterosexual soldiers who consider their individual biases before the needs of the unit.

-- Kathryn Ensch Kamm

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I served in the U.S. Air Force and can testify to the absurdity of our policy toward gays in the military.

I believe that the military must get its house in order before questioning the morality of those who practice "alternative lifestyles." If a few flamboyant gays bring into question their ability to serve, imagine the ability to do so of young servicemen and servicewomen who engage in the kind of escapades that betray their uniform.

It all begins in basic training, when recruits are segregated by gender. The mere presence of the opposite sex creates a scenario that is not very pretty when town passes are issued!

After basic training, the upstanding, straight basic training grads attend technical school to prepare for their career fields. The school is supposed to have a collegiate atmosphere that fosters academic growth (along with a lot of marching). Instead, I remember living in an "Animal House." Many trainees failed their classes because they studied sex education and drinking education.

One marriage broke up during my 12-week course and another hit the skids soon after. Are we going to share foxholes with someone who is sticking it to our spouse?

The whole gender/sexual orientation dynamic in the military must be reformed!

-- John Meeks Jr.

I am troubled in many ways by the manner in which America conducts public discourse on this difficult topic, both by politically correct advocates of reform and the right-wing punditocracy.

I served in the Army for five years, mostly with the 25th Infantry Division (Light), ending in 1998. As a military journalist, I covered a range of sensitive topics, including the role of women in combat and -- tangentially -- the role of gays in the service.

I find myself increasingly disturbed by the common unfamiliarity in the press with military issues, and particularly with the mind of a soldier. The arms-length distance of commentators and pundits from those who serve has led to stereotypical presumptions about the nature of military service and the nature of the service person.

Like most public policy arguments these days, the gays-in-service debate has been reduced to the extremes of chance and circumstance: two gay soldiers, lovers, on the battlefield under fire, abandoning duty to preserve each other.

Nuts. It's the wrong example, and it misses the point.

There is no front line in combat anymore. In fact, the line between combatant and noncombatant has been blurring with the increasing presence of terrorism, nonconventional arms, the targeting of nonmilitary buildings and areas and ethnic warfare drawing civilians into conflict zones.

The duty of a real soldier is to accept risk to spare others, to paint a bull's-eye on one's back to draw fire away from civilians. "Combat" or "support" distinctions are becoming less relevant. And service people understand that.

I will not attribute qualities of superhuman, robotic discipline to American soldiers -- I don't think it fits with our concept of service and I don't think it breeds a better service person. But I've known few groups of people anywhere outside of the military with a better sense of how to perform professionally in a crisis under bad circumstances. Emergency rooms, maybe. Fire departments, perhaps. Military decision makers increasingly grow shy of risk, but those who serve today can accept it as a consequence of the profession.

The idea of any soldier, for any reason, abandoning his or her post in combat to aid a bed buddy is outrageous to professional soldiers. It presumes the widespread presence of basic immaturity and character flaws. I know of damned few soldiers with such flawed personal priorities who would not be washed out of the service in short order for other reasons.

That Horowitz would parenthetically insert the phrase "men will instinctively sacrifice their tactical missions to protect the women" is telling. He doesn't know. He's guessing. Most journalists are, because the overwhelming majority have not served, and lack the personal context to judge.

I do not advocate including gays in service solely for politically correct reasons of "diversity." I detest the idea of introducing identity politics to the military. But I am equally convinced that wildly improbable presumptions of potential trouble on the battlefield should not be enough to eliminate a committed citizen from the right and the duty to serve. And as a former soldier I believe unnecessarily narrowing our pool of talent introduces greater combat risks than those raised by allowing gays and lesbians to serve.

-- George Chidi

The premise of Horowitz's argument rests on the fact that if gay men, who already serve in large numbers, were able to come out and not face a dishonorable discharge for admitting their sexual orientation, unit cohesion and morale would be irreparably harmed. If gays already serve in large numbers, how would allowing them to serve honestly, without fear of punitive, unjustifiable reprisals, erode unit cohesion and morale more than the present policy? Surely Horowitz doesn't think that allowing gays to serve openly would throw back the gates to thousands of young queers looking for romance? Thrill seekers hoping for some Army barracks shower action?

Horowitz also fails to address the institutional weaknesses inherent in the military's hypocritical discrimination. Not allowing gay men to serve openly, but allowing them to serve closeted, makes absolutely no sense from a logical, "real world" standpoint. Unless, of course, one is inordinately afraid of the gay man, a condition called "homophobia." Of course, once words like that get thrown around, apologists like Horowitz start talking about "the real world" as if it were an excuse for denying gay men equal rights.

After all, aren't gays already serving in all four of the armed service branches? What would change? Would there suddenly be romances complete with heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and flowers on the front? Given the "killing machine" mentality of the armed forces, it hardly seems likely that allowing gays to openly and honorably serve their country would result in endless missions botched, wars lost and free republics enslaved because of a few thousand crying sissies who suddenly fell in love and could no longer follow orders or fight capably.

That's the worst thing about Horowitz's article: It pretends to take the high road, sneering at the failure of the politically correct idiots to take "real life" into account, while at the same time it insinuates that gay men are incapable of the same honor, stoicism and intelligence that straight men possess. Horowitz denies the reality that gay men have not compromised missions in any greater numbers than have straight men. Instead, he falls back on the same old tired stereotypes in an attempt to justify what he admits is blatant discrimination. Gay men, at least, don't go around impregnating female soldiers or sexually harassing them. Nor are straight men, one presumes, tempted to impregnate gay men.

So what's the problem?

-- Andrew Roth

Horowitz argues that sexual relationships between gay men within the ranks could reduce military cohesion and response. However, he ignores the fact that, even if he is correct, current policy allows this problem to fester under the radar. Gays in the military now presumably form relationships, but those relationships are "in the closet." Therefore, the sub rosa nature of the relationships prevents the military from preventing this danger.

If gays were allowed to openly serve in the military, then individuals could be prohibited from having relationships with others in their unit. That would solve Horowitz's argument without barring individuals who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of their country from participating in the armed forces.

I do appreciate Horowitz for trying to actually make an argument in favor of exclusion, but like most critics on this point he fails to recognize that gays are serving and that it is a disservice for our nation to turn a blind eye toward them.

-- Michael Dickler

I am interested in purchasing the film rights to Horowitz's fact-filled article. The hellish story of two gay lovers single-handedly collapsing the Great American Army with their cohesion-busting sexual passion is one I'm convinced the whole world would pay big money to see.

Imagine the havoc they'll wreak kissing on the battlefield! The horror as they turn their love-struck backs on their fellow soldiers when the chips are down! Oh, what deliciously powerful villains they'll make! For the climactic courtroom scene in which the lovers are finally brought to justice, tell him I promise to portray their whiny weapon of choice as "political correctness." Audiences will root and cheer their demise, for the world well knows that compassion is futile, equality is for sissies and change is impossible.

Oh, and if you would, ask him to forward the names of any actual soldiers his hypothesis might be based on. I would love to secure their rights too.

-- John Rodgers

Your argument of "unit cohesion" is the same one used to undermine and delay integration of black and white troops. It is no more valid today regarding gays than it was in our past regarding blacks.

Unit cohesion in the military is typically formed in boot camp, where all recruits are stripped of their personality and individuality to become cogs in an efficient killing machine. It is irrelevant whether a person is gay or straight, white or black, rich or poor when they are put through this process.

A more reasonable debate instead of whether gays should be allowed to serve (obviously they should, especially when recruitment rates are consistently dropping) is whether we need an efficient killing machine like today's military at all.

-- Ken Olson

My regards to David Horowitz for an incisive and precise piece on the dishonesty of politically correct thought. His words resounded with my own disdain for tautological or otherwise fraudulent arguments, and I felt compelled to share my observations as a young heterosexual military officer.

I appreciate the necessary light Horowitz sheds on the insidious way in which political correctness lingers on in American discourse. He, as he relates, is certainly familiar with the frustration it engenders in its targets. Thus I hope that he will accept criticisms of him that arise from objection to his logic, or assumptions, as opposed to those that proceed from ideological blindness.

Horowitz's argument is predicated on an inaccurate understanding of the function of the military and the experience of military service, as well as a certain failure of inductive logic.

The first error, and most apparent to discerning members of the military forces, is the inaccurate belief that the sole purpose of the military is "to develop the most efficient killing machine that money can buy and intelligence can devise." Members of the civilian and military worlds alike are now cognizant of the fact that the military has come to serve an indispensable cultural, economic and social function as well, one that is no longer merely a byproduct of the perpetuated existence of a standing army.

The military provides both immediate jobs and long-term careers to people of all kinds, particularly people from underprivileged families who lack either the finances or the interest to attend college. It also provides a relatively stable, if not excessively controlled, environment for individuals whose behavioral inclinations might otherwise run a course that results in injury to both the individual and society. The military continues, of course, to satisfy a somewhat intangible and culturally determined desire to "serve one's country," a desire that is often linked to one's sense of family history.

Certainly it would be a confused culture that made policy decisions based on an understanding of the military that it didn't really accept. The fact is that the military is not, irrespective of the status of homosexuals in service, a pragmatic institution with anything other than a purely rhetorical "singularity of purpose." This is reflected in the variety of missions facing the U.S. armed forces today, though it has been understood in armies of past societies as well.

The most glaring and unfortunate error in Horowitz's piece is his romanticized rhetoric about "unit cohesion." Not that unit cohesion is a negligible element of either the experience of military service or strategic considerations. It is, rather, of utmost importance, as he points out. Yet Horowitz manages to malign the most often repeated and well-understood truth of combat: Men serve, and die, only for their fellow men.

Commanders in today's "values-based" military have taken to underscoring training sessions on the meaning of, for instance, the Seven Army Values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage), with the confession that men are motivated in times of fear, pain and confusion by their love for their shipmates, airmen or trench mates. That is the basis of "unit" cohesion.

It is confusing that Horowitz fails to address this, instead merely asking rhetorical questions about the dangers to man's innate concern for his fellows posed by an exclusive love shared between two particular men. It has been my experience that an exclusive love shared between two men would only pose a problem to "unit cohesion" if the other members of the unit were intolerant of that relationship. If anything, it seems more likely that the conditions of war invite men to transcend those barriers, and indeed, they often do. A tremendous body of literature attests to this, particularly the British soldiers of World War I (Robert Graves and Willfred Owen not the least of them).

Horowitz's personal unfamiliarity with military service is again on display when he inadequately responds to an adequate counterargument: the successful inclusion of women in service. Women are not allowed in combat units in the U.S. forces, and as such present very limited detriments to what is termed "combat readiness" or "combat effectiveness."

In my experience the inadequate compromise instituted with the "fraternization policy" has been more problematic than the mere presence of women in the military. This mirrors the problems faced by gays, who suffer more from the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy than they would from either outright exclusion or the harassment they would suffer in a fully inclusive military.

Gays suffer undeservedly from the ambiguities of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, as well as from the institutionalized bigotry of the military. Horowitz has, unfortunately, not done a passable job of convincing me that the bigotry and the policy are unrelated. Perhaps this is because he presents an argument that he admits "may not be a sound argument." This kind of argument, it seems, may serve well in a superficial ideological scuffle, but is otherwise worthless.

-- Daric Desautel


Salon Staff

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