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June 3, 2010
I hope that Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska and his liberal colleagues slow down the “Gay Rights Congressional Express” long enough to catch up with a story which appeared on the front page of the liberal New York Times last Saturday.
The headline read: “As ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ fades, technical concerns start to arise.”
The story started with a reference to (1) the House of Representatives vote for ending the 17-year-old policy allowing military service for homosexuals and lesbians as long as there is no overt display of their sexual preferences and (2) a Senate Armed Services 14-10 vote to allow gays to serve without any longer any Congressionally-imposed restrictions.
Senator Nelson (who in his 2000 campaign said he considered same-sex relations immoral) cast what was described as a specially significant committee vote for removing any restrictions on gays serving in the military.
After Congressional votes described a “major victory” for gay rights activists, the Times story continued: “But now they are girding for what may be an equally difficult task: the transition to a force where straight and openly gay servicemen and women live, work and fight alongside one another.”
The story continued: “Some homosexuals in the military say they are worried about how that process will work and whether they will be treated differently if they publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Some raise concerns about being harassed, assigned to separate barracks or shunned by colleagues who had been friendly before.”
A 29-year-old lesbian in the Army National Guard told The Times: “…The policy actually allowed for a lot of protections. Getting rid of it completely without modifying it is kind of worrisome. The number of incidents against gays in the military is going to increase.”
The Times story said both opponents and supporters of “don’t ask/don’t tell” say a host of thorny practical questions will face the Pentagon if Congress gives final approval to legislation placing no restrictions on military service by homosexuals and lesbians.
“Will gay service members be placed in separate housing, as the commandant of the Marine Corps has advocated?” The Times story asked. “Will all military units be required to treat homosexuals the same? And what training will heterosexual officers and enlisted troops receive to prepare them to serve with openly gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
Are you listening, Senator Nelson and like-minded advocates of a repeal of a policy under which thousands of homosexuals and lesbians have served and are currently serving in the armed forces?
Have you evidence that repeal of “don’t ask/don’t tell” will actually benefit gays serving in the armed forces and—this is the key, of course—in no respect diminish the military effectiveness of the armed forces? Forces which, after all, have primarily a military mission, not a social-reform mission.
So the unfolding story has a new chapter, one hardly touched on at all in the debate to date: Would repeal of “don’t ask/don’t tell” make life better or worse for gays in the military? Would it encourage or discourage homosexuals or lesbians to enlist?
Another important aspect of the controversy. It is simply irrational, irresponsible and egregiously unfair for Nelson and his colleagues to rush to passage repeal of the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy while the chiefs of the military services are conducting a study as to the potential impact on the military’s readiness to serve and on the morale of the troops and their families. That study is to be finished by December 1.
Rushing to beat the possibility that a Republican majority might be elected to the House of Representatives in November—which predictably would doom the gay activist effort to win repeal of “don’t ask/don’t tell”—Nebraska’s Nelson and like-minded colleagues are seriously—they sound serious, at least—arguing that it is fair to the military to pass repeal legislation this summer but delay implementation of repeal until after December 1 when the study results will be known.
Leaders of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines all have asked that enactment of the new policy be delayed until their impact studies are completed.
Marine Corps Commandant James Conway put it this way: “The value of surveying the thoughts of Marines and their families is that it signals to my Marines that their opinions matter.”
But the military faces this prospective Congressional decision: “Here’s an important issue for possible legislative action. You study it and let us know how it would affect the mission for which you are responsible. In the meantime, we’ll put the new policy in place, but you don’t have to enforce it until the results of your study are known.”
There have been a good many zany, irrational, Alice-in-Wonderland positions taken by public officeholders down through the years. But I can recall nothing more irrational than the liberal/gay rights coalition in Congress, with backing from the White House, rushing to impose a controversial policy on the United States military while military leaders are still studying the potential impact of that policy.
* * *
It hasn’t been a good month or so for the image of the nation’s 44th president. Consider:
Arizona passes law designed to help offset the effect of illegal Hispanic immigrants pouring across our border with Mexico. Obama predictably joins in liberal criticism of the Arizona law.
But Obama then very quickly orders National Guard troops to try to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants—a step which can certainly be interpreted as indicating that the Arizona Legislature had a point and its criticized action was a wakeup call for Obama.
Consider also the Gulf of Mexico oil pollution crisis. On the 39th day of the uncontrolled spewing of millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf—it has been called the worst oil spill disaster in history—the president pays a short visit to the scene and flies home. A day earlier, the president had taken total responsibility for direction of the effort to stop the oil spill and said he was in charge from the first day.
So a president who takes responsibility for leadership from the first day visits the site of the disaster on Day 39? This is leadership?
Even some in the liberal media—CNN commentators, for example—were critical.
Then there is the matter of the White House—at least at the level of Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—being forced to admit that former President Bill Clinton had been asked to suggest that Congressman Joe Sestak drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic senatorial primary for Arlen Specter in his effort to win the Democratic nomination on his way to possible election to a sixth term in the Senate, having switched parties after serving five terms as a Republican.
Sestak, a former Navy admiral who seems clearly a more attractive Senatorial candidate than the 80-year-old Republican-turned-Democrat Specter, was offered a non-paying appointment to some federal position or other if he would agree to continue his career in the House.
The question of whether President Obama was aware of the proposed deal was left unanswered, but clearly his chief of staff was involved. Democrats describe this as simply politics as usual, as practiced by both parties. But as the Associated Press observed, the White House’s previously unpublicized pitch to Sestak “called into question Obama’s repeated promises to run an open government that is above backroom deals.”
* * *
Today, a different kind of upbeat ending for my weekly column.
Upbeat in my praise of a superb piece of newspaper journalism—The Omaha World-Herald’s 12-page Memorial Day special section entitled “KOREA: FORGOTTEN NO MORE” published to recognize the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.
And upbeat, too, in terms of my admiration and respect and gratitude for the veterans—mostly from Omaha but also from other towns in Nebraska and Iowa—whose Korean War service was spotlighted in the special section.
The service of those mostly young Midlanders helped in a mission which, as the special section pointed out, demonstrated that the United States of America was ready and able to respond effectively when the forces of tyranny threatened the cause of freedom, as in Korea.
Putting together the 12-page section had to be a monumental journalistic job—for example, gathering the dozens of pictures and biographical information that came from the family albums of veterans who survived and, in other cases, from the families of those who died. And there were the moving, beautifully written accounts by World-Herald staff members David Hendee and Matthew Hansen.
The front page was dominated by a black and white photograph of what appeared to be a bronze statuary image representing the face of a soldier. No color picture, however enhanced by graphic artwork, could have been more effective.
On the back page appeared the only three color pictures in the 12 pages. All three were small. Appearing with perhaps the most moving story in the entire 12-page section was a color picture of about eight square inches showing Omahan George Russell paying his monthly visit to the grave of Marine Pfc. Donald Milan Drakulich at Omaha’s Graceland Park Cemetery. The longtime friends served together in Korea until Don’s death in 1951.
Russell, a retired Omaha fireman, told World-Herald staff writer Matthew Hansen in regard to his monthly visits to his buddy’s grave: “I’ll do it until the day I die.”
The moving story ended with these words: “I don’t want this to be about me. This is about Don,” George said. “Any Marine will tell you that the biggest fear is letting his buddy down. Even more so than dying. I know that’s how I felt.”
When a newspaper account of dramatic stories can move you to tears—or very close to it—primarily with words, you have print journalism at its very best, as I see it. My compliments and my thanks to The World-Herald, David Hendee and Matthew Hansen and any other staff members who contributed to that remarkable special section.
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