While at a town hall meeting last night, when asked by an Air Force Major about gays serving openly in the military, Hillary Clinton spoke her mind about what kind of policy she would hew to if she were Commander-in-Chief.
"I feel strongly that if someone wants to serve their country, if they’re a patriot, if they comply with the code of military justice and they have the appropriate behavior, they shouldn’t be disqualified from serving simply because they’re gay," Mrs. Clinton said to applause.
The Air Force major, Gary Mathis of Cedar Rapids, said afterward that he appreciated Mrs. Clinton’s points about conduct, but that she had side-stepped his question about privacy – specifically, what she would do to ensure the privacy of male soldiers who shower, sleep and work out in the gym alongside other male soldiers.
"I don’t think her answer fully recognized the day-to-day realities of military life," Major Mathis said. "You could extend her argument and say that you don’t need any separate facilities for men and women because as long as their conduct is appropriate with one another, there is no privacy concern."
Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards blog had a snappy reply for the Major–"Who the hell cares? If a soldier or Marine is so freaked out by the thought that he's taking a shower next to another man who happens to be gay, then he's too psychologically fragile to be a soldier or Marine."
Now, I don’t know this for certain, but I suspect Mr. ab Hugh has never served in the military.
The problem is that most people who have never been in the military really have no concept of what military life is like. So let me explain what it was like for me in the Marine Corps some four decades ago. Maybe things have changed. I don’t know. I doubt it’s changed much.
If you’re low ranking enlisted, you don’t have any privacy, and very few rights. You have to follow orders, and you are constantly reminded of the pecking order that is rigidly enforced, based on rank. Your immediate superiors can make life miserable for you, and if you’re in a combat situation, they hold the power of life and death over you.
The solution, of course, is to gain rank by being promoted. Consequently, there’s a lot of butt kissing and brown nosing that goes on (in the figurative, not the literal sense) simply because of the facts of life in a close knit group confined to close quarters with limited opportunities for promotion.
It’s well known that if a member of a squad is perceived as a trouble maker or uncooperative, NCOs will make their displeasure known by giving all the crap details to those individuals, while more cooperative "good" soldiers get the easier, more pleasant assignments. Promotions are based on how your immediate superiors perceive your performance, and that perception isn’t always based on how well you do your job. NCOs are large frogs in small ponds, and unfortunately, many are not above abusing their power by taking unfair advantage of those in lower ranks.
Now here’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one seems to be willing to talk about; let’s throw a gay squad leader or a gay platoon sergeant into the mix, and things get a lot more complicated. If a gay NCO is not above abusing his authority by seeking sexual favors in exchange for easier assignments or consideration for promotion, it will have a direct effect on morale and discipline. In a combat situation, if a soldier perceives that his survival depends as much on his willingness to couple with his squad leader as it does on his ability as a competent soldier, morale and discipline is likely to become the first casualty of any conflict. It’s an additional burden that no soldier should have to endure. If this were a widespread phenomenon, it could adversely effect the morale and effectiveness of our entire armed forces.
We can all agree, I’m sure, that no female soldier should have to endure sexual harassment or a hostile environment. I suppose it’s only right that homosexual soldiers, if they’re allowed to serve openly, should be afforded the same guarantees. But is it going to be a two way street? Are heterosexual soldiers serving under the command of homosexual superiors going to have the same assurances? Or will homosexual soldiers be immune to prosecution for sexual harassment because they’ll be given special status as a protected class? I don’t think I’m out of order by asking that question.
Now let me say, as a heterosexual male, that the thought of another male inserting his erect penis up my rectum is a ghastly, horrible thought. Saying that doesn’t make me psychologically fragile, nor does it say I’m a homophobe, Mr ab Hugh’s opinion notwithstanding. I’m sure it’s a fairly typical heterosexual attitude. It’s the same attitude shared by the vast majority of Marines I served with. Having a heterosexual orientation or preference is not equivalent to having a racially or religiously bigoted philosophy.
I remember an incident that occurred in the M.P. barracks at Camp Elmore in Norfolk, Va. in 1969 or ‘70. A Marine was awakened late at night to find another man trying to get into bed with him. He responded violently and beat the man up. It wasn’t hard to do because the poor fellow was so drunk he couldn’t defend himself. He had come home drunk and wandered into the wrong cubicle in the dark, had gotten undressed and tried to go to bed, not realizing the rack was occupied. At least that was his story. I’m afraid he didn’t get much sympathy from his fellow Marines, myself included. But the truth is, that’s probably all there was to it. I can’t remember what the final outcome of this case was. I only remember that there was a lot of discussion among ourselves, and we all agreed, if you come home late, drunk or not, make sure the rack is unoccupied before you get in.
And I think the Major asked a valid question. How do you protect the privacy of heterosexual members of the armed forces if you’re going to allow gays to serve openly in the military? How far is the military establishment expected to go in order to accommodate gay members, and will heterosexuals be afforded the same considerations, or will gays be given special protected status as they are in the civilian milieu?