Billy, Do You Like Movies About Gladiators?

Today's New York Times has a long op-ed by retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak arguing for keeping the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in place, and it's an interesting document. McPeak isn't some Republican war-monger -- he opposed the Iraq War and endorsed Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries. But his argument here shows how hollow the defenses of DADT are growing.

McPeak makes a lot of detailed and not particularly persuasive points about how many gay people have been tossed from the armed services (essentially arguing that it's really not that big a deal in terms of money spent and talent lost), then addresses the comparison to Harry Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces in a way I haven't seen before. "No doubt Truman’s action was a landmark in the civil rights struggle," McPeak writes. "However, the order was not actually sufficient inducement for the armed forces to do the right thing." He goes on to explain that the Army and Navy slow-walked integration, and thus it took some time to take effect. Why this is an argument against getting rid of DADT, it's hard to tell. Then McPeak writes something revealing:

Thus allowing an openly gay presence in ranks will be very difficult until we have committed leadership for it. I certainly had trouble figuring out how to provide such leadership in 1993. While I believed all people are created equal, I did not believe such equality extended to all ideas or all cultures. And since I didn’t know how to advocate the assimilation of this particular form of diversity, I saw no way to prevent it from undermining unit cohesion.

This amounts to, "I find these homosexuals strange and frightening." This is, after all, coming from a 76-year-old man who spent his entire career in the military and retired 15 years ago. I'm reminded of how Justice Lewis Powell, discussing the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case which upheld laws against sodomy, remarked to one of his law clerks, "I don't believe I've ever met a homosexual." The clerk was gay, as were some of Powell's previous clerks.

Finally, McPeak says, "We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone." And why would "male bonding" be at risk if there were gay people around? Is McPeak concerned that actual gay people might make the frisson of homoeroticism present in so much male bonding a little unsettling?

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

-- Paul Waldman

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