Gays In The Military: “The Antithesis Of The Successful War-Fighting Culture”?

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Mark Thompson has a Time.com piece today about the coming high-noon showdown in the Senate over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, when both Secretary Bob Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen are expected to endorse a move towards allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. About half way through the story, you come upon this quote from Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council.

The sexual environment the President is seeking to impose upon the young men and women who serve this country is the antithesis of the successful war-fighting culture, and as such should be rejected.

Let us first acknowledge that Perkins vision of the new “sexual environment” is a bit overblown. As it now stands, men and women in the same unit are not permitted to engage in sexual relations with each other, and gays and lesbians are allowed to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual preferences a secret. The proposal expected to be put forward by Mullen and Gates would continue to strictly ban relations between any two soldiers in a unit, regardless of gender, but allow those gays and lesbians who now serve in secret to publicly admit their sexual preference.

I am most interested in Perkins definition of the “successful war-fighting culture” as an inherently anti-homosexual environment, or at least a strictly heterosexual one. Throughout Western civilization, it has not always been thus. This is how Plato saw it in Ancient Greece:

Our own tyrants learned this lesson through bitter experience, when the love between Aristogiton and Harmodius grew so strong that it shattered their power. Wherever, therefore, it has been established that it is shameful to be involved in sexual relationships with men, this is due to evil on the part of the rulers, and to cowardice in the part of the governed.

Plutarch wrote of the “Sacred Band of Thebes,” an elite army unit made up of male couples.

For when the going gets tough, tribesmen don’t give much thought for their fellow tribesmen, nor clansmen for their fellow clansmen. But a battalion joined together by erotic love cannot be destroyed or broken: its members stand firm beside one another in times of danger, lovers and beloveds alike. . .

Suffice it to say, this Theban tradition did not continue through the centuries. But the non-sexual, emotional bond between men has long been much more the thesis than the antithesis of the war-fighting culture. In fact, initial training in the U.S. Army is focused on fostering this emotional commitment. As one recent publication from the U.S. Army War College noted,

[A] study of combat motivation among U.S. Infantrymen and Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom concludes that “cohesion, or the strong emotional bonds between soldiers, continues to be a critical factor in combat motivation.”

For those who still don’t believe that the ancient Greek traditions live on in a different form in the current war-fighting culture, I would suggest that you rent Top Gun or 300. This is not to say that the successful war-fighting culture is inherently homosexual. It’s not. But neither is the antithesis of a successful war-fighting culture to be found in a man being able to admit to the other men in his unit that he is gay.

For more on the history of gays in the military, and getting kicked out of the military, see here.

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