Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pace's moral compass needs to be degaussed

I actually have a reasonable amount of respect for US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace. His recent outburst, however, is the reason I try to steer completely away from identifying any living, serving senior member of a military as a hero. Too often they develop clay feet.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday he considers homosexuality to be immoral and the military should not condone it by allowing gay personnel to serve openly, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace likened homosexuality to adultery, which he said was also immoral, the newspaper reported on its Web site.

"I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way," Pace told the newspaper in a wide-ranging interview.

Alright, that's the personal view of the US top military leader and highest ranking marine. It's a serious problem if it weren't for the fact that he still supports the Clinton-era policy of "Don't ask; Don't tell".

However, this is the dinosaur coming out in Pace. The "Don't ask; Don't tell" policy has not prevented some 10,000 US troops from being discharged for being homosexuals. There is already legislation before the US House of Representatives to repeal the ban on openly homosexual men and women serving in the US military.

Pace may find the thought of homosexual behaviour distasteful in his own mind but we can be thankful that he didn't resort to previous arguments against gays and lesbians serving in the military. The very same arguments that, in the past, have been used to deny other groups the ability to serve. Blacks, women, and language and religious groups have all, at one time or another, been denied the right to participate, (some still are), in unrestricted military service based on this fallacious premise: The presence of those people destroys morale and undermines unit cohesion.

There has never been any credible evidence to support that assertion. In fact, many other western militaries have successfully rolled-back their service policies to make it an offence for the government to ask the sexual orientation of a potential recruit or an inducted member.

Pace said his comments were based on his upbringing. That's fine, I suppose, but it is an attitude that cannot survive. I was once at a briefing by a Canadian admiral, (who went on to become a member of parliament and cabinet minister). He was presenting the organizational changes which would see women allowed to enter the service in any and all occupations. There was some squirming about that idea at the time, but he decided to give everyone a laugh when he said, "The women are here. We just have to keep the queers out." A senior petty officer sitting next to me wasn't amused. I knew he was gay, we all did, and he kept it private. His sex life was different from that of most people in the room, but it had no effect on his ability to perform his duties. He was as good a sailor as the best in the room.

Pace's "morality" position is difficult. Military forces have morality codes which would apply regardless of sexual orientation. Fraternization regulations exist across all services. The US Marine Corps fraternization rules (Article 1100-4) are similar to those that exist elsewhere and are designed, not to restrict behaviour based on sexual orientation, but to prevent a degradation of rank and leadership roles.

His associating the "morality" of homosexuality with that of adultery is a stretch. The US military has prosecuted its members in the past for adultery but Pace made it sound like any act of adultery was an offence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice - and it's not. There is no specific article in the UCMJ which makes adultery an offence. Instead charges are brought under Article 134, General Article, which states:

Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.
In short, it's the same catch-all charge that exists in most modern military forces fielded by democracies. Rod Powers provides a good explanation of how adultery in the service is dealt with and how difficult it is to prosecute.

The truth is, Pace is basing his statement on anything except regulations and the written word of military law. What he said is not blanket policy. Policy, under those regulations, would suggest that two men or two women engaged in a consensual sexual relationship outside the confines of a military establishment and where their relationship does not impact the good order and discipline of the military unit are not committing an offence. The same would apply to an adulterous heterosexual marine if an such acts had no impact on unit.

The catch, (of course there's a catch), is Article 125. That makes it an offence for one person to engage in "unnatural carnal copulation" with another person, whether of the same or opposite sex. Under that article, if a heterosexual married couple engage in consensual anal sex, the military member can face a court-martial. Oh yes, the article goes on to say, "Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense."

The defence, of course, is "What constitutes unnatural."

Pace's statements on the immorality of both homosexuality and adultery are hard to reconcile with other personnel policies. How is recruiting persons convicted of serious criminal offences moral? How is filling the ranks of the US Army with gang members moral? How is the employment of mercenaries in theatres of operations moral?

And, while we're at it, we might ask how invading Iraq ranks on the morality scale.

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