During an interview in 2007, Marine Corps General Robert Magnus addressed what it was like having to deal with intolerance and bigotry in the ranks during the 1970s:
When asked if being Jewish was ever a liability in his expansive military career, Magnus’ answer is matter-of-fact: It has not. More pointedly, when asked about anti-Semitism, he recalls only one incident, years ago, when as a captain someone foolishly called him a "Jew boy." His response: "I punched him in the face."
Ironically, the now-retired General Magnus--whose own career was enabled by the tolerance of those not like him--is now actively working to prevent gays from serving openly in the military.
This is hypocrisy.
When it was announced on Tuesday that over 1,000 flag and general officers had signed a letter urging President Obama to continue barring gays from serving openly in the military, General Magnus was among them.
Now, this one general’s hypocrisy aside, the whole thing struck me as a bit odd. When I read the letter to President Obama, I became even more perplexed by the language:
Our experience as military leaders leads us to have great concern about the impact that repeal of [the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law] would have on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, and overall military readiness. We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.
Break the all-volunteer force? For one, that type of overwhelming homophobia just isn’t representative of the military I knew during my time in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wondered why so many senior leaders--men who’d sacrificed so much in their own rights on behalf of the nation--would suddenly come out against a repeal of the outdated policy.
With that in mind, I decided I’d do some critical analysis of the list of those who’d signed the letter. I wanted to know who these military leaders were. But because the list is so huge, I knew I couldn’t quickly compile information on each officer. So I decided to look at the first--and most senior--group of signers: The 47 four-star generals and admirals on the list.
What I found wasn’t surprising at all. If the 47 senior officers on the list are representative of the other thousand, then the letter has been signed by exactly what I suspected: A large group of distinguished, older, retired military officers who entered the service between World War Two and Vietnam--and who largely left the service prior to the 21st century and the modern military era.
As it turns out, no four-star officer on the list entered the military after 1969--over three decades before I led my own infantry platoon into combat in Afghanistan as a young lieutenant. In fact, all but four of the officers were in the service before Vietnam even started. Eight of the 47 joined the military during World War Two--at the same time as my grandparents. And the remaining 35 joined between the end of WWII and the beginning of Vietnam--in an era not known for its receptiveness to homosexuality, especially in the military.
But, more important than the fact that these officers entered the service over 40 years ago--in the middle of the 20th century--is the reality that the vast majority never served with troops of the modern era. Fully two-thirds of the four-stars on the list retired before the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law was even enacted in 1993. 41 of the 47 on the list never wore a uniform during this century, and only four of the 47 retired four-star generals--Magnus included--were still in the service on 9/11.
The fact is, while they’ve certainly earned the right to express their opinions, this group of older, retired officers is largely out of touch with current cultural norms and what constitutes "mainstream" in 2009--and they certainly don’t speak for those who’ve served overseas in the years since 9/11. While many are combat heroes themselves, their experiences range from Korea to Desert Storm. But not one of the 47 four-stars on that list has ever served in Iraq or Afghanistan with today’s military, much less had to depend on one of the 58 gay Arabic translators fired in 2007 alone. These officers were brought up in a draft military at a time when open homosexuality was typically viewed as deviant--unlike today, when 81 percent of Americans think gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
Ultimately, the point is this: Linguists, surgeons, seasoned counterinsurgents, intelligence experts, and other skilled professionals are absolutely vital to our own national security. At a time when our all-volunteer military is more strained than it has ever been--and despite the complaints of an older generation of officers whose wars ended decades ago--we have neither the time nor the luxury of finding replacements for these individuals who were fired on account of their personal relationships.
The fact that 1,000 long-retired generals are frightened of gay people is not the modern military’s problem. Their antiquated homophobia is theirs and theirs alone. As I’ve said before, with two wars raging, as long as you can shoot straight--or speak Arabic or Pashto--it's shouldn't matter whether or not you are straight. Leaders like General Magnus should know that better than anyone.
Here is the list of signing four-star flag and general officers by years of service:
Retired in the 1970s
General E. E. Anderson, USMC (Ret.) 1940 – 1975
General John W. Vogt, USAF (Ret.) 1941 – 1975
General John R. Deane, Jr., USA (Ret.) 1942 – 1977
Retired in the 1980s
General Volney F. Warner, USA (Ret.) 1944 – 1981
Admiral Thomas B. Hayward, USN (Ret.) 1948 – 1982
General Frederick J. Kroesen, USA (Ret.) 1943 – 1983
General Edward C. Meyer, USA (Ret.) 1951 – 1983
General Paul F. Gorman, USA (Ret.) 1950 – 1985
General Wallace H. Nutting, USA (Ret.) 1950 – 1985
General John K. Davis, USMC (Ret.) 1945 – 1986
General Robert W. Bazley, USAF (Ret.) 1943 – 1987
General P. X. Kelley, USMC (Ret.) 1950 – 1987
Admiral James A. "Ace" Lyons, Jr., USN (Ret.) 1951 – 1987
General Lawrence A. Skantze, USAF (Ret.) 1946 – 1987
General Richard H. Thompson, USA (Ret.) 1944 – 1987
General John A. Wickham, Jr., USA (Ret.) 1950 – 1987
Admiral Ronald J. Hays, USN (Ret.) 1950 – 1988
General Thomas R. Morgan, USMC (Ret.) 1952 – 1988
General Glenn K. Otis, USA (Ret.) 1946 – 1988
General Arthur E. Brown, Jr., USA (Ret.) 1953 – 1989
General William L. Kirk, USAF (Ret.) 1951 – 1989
General Joseph T. Palastra, Jr., USA (Ret.) 1954 – 1989
General Louis C. Wagner, Jr., USA (Ret.) 1954 – 1989
Retired in the 1990s
General Michael J. Dugan, USAF (Ret.) 1958 – 1990
General James J. Lindsay, USA (Ret.) 1952 – 1990
General Louis C. Menetrey, USA (Ret.) 1953 – 1990
General Joseph J. Went, USMC (Ret.) 1952 – 1990
General John W. Foss, USA (Ret.) 1950 – 1991
General John R. Dailey, USMC (Ret.) 1956 – 1992
Admiral Jerome L. Johnson, USN (Ret.) 1956 – 1992
General Crosbie E. Saint, USA (Ret.) 1958 - 1992
General Edwin H. Burba Jr., USA (Ret.) 1959 – 1993
General James B. Davis, USAF (Ret.) 1958 – 1993
General Carl W. Stiner, USA (Ret.) 1958 – 1993
General Walter E. Boomer, USMC (Ret.) 1960 – 1994
General C. A. Horner, USAF (Ret.) 1958 – 1994
Admiral Henry H. Mauz, Jr., USN (Ret.) 1959 – 1994
General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., USMC (Ret.) 1953 – 1995
Admiral Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith, USN (Ret.) 1962 - 1996
General Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF (Ret.) 1963 – 1997
General Richard E. Hawley, USAF (Ret.) 1964 – 1999
Retired in the 2000s
General Terrence R. Dake, USMC (Ret.) 1966 – 2000
General Charles E. Wilhelm, USMC (Ret.) 1964 – 2000
General Henry H. Shelton, USA (Ret.) 1963 – 2001
General Carlton W. Fulford, Jr., USMC (Ret.) 1966 – 2002
General William F. Kernan, USA (Ret.) 1968 – 2002
General Robert Magnus, USMC (Ret.) 1969 – 2008
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