Thursday, April 01, 2010

What They Say!

I read something this week that gives new meaning to the phrase "raising the bar". A couple of years ago, one of the nearby high schools had a girl pole vaulter who was one of the state's best. She's still at it, competing for one of the large state universities in another part of the state. But what made my eyes pop was reading that she had given birth to a baby during the time in between. I'm not sure I can think of two activities less alike. Who was it that said that life sometimes can interfere? Oh yes, it was me. My best wishes go to both the vaulter/mom and her little son. If he has her athletic genes, well, the sky's the limit.

One of the issues being reconsidered these days is a leftover from the Clinton administration. It's the practice which says in effect, that our armed forces still prohibit gays or lesbians from serving, but that the services won't go out of their way to find out this little piece of information. It's known by its less formal name, "Don't ask. Don't tell".
A change requires the consent of Congress, who have called hearings to question those "in the know" as to whether we should change or keep the policy. We have allies on both sides..
I think I know the arguments here, but after centuries of warfare accompanied by at least as many centuries of gay individuals, shouldn't there be some solid evidence somewhere supporting the theory that inclusion of gay soldiers makes some kind of difference? Wouldn't this be especially true if the policy clearly hurt the troops' effectiveness? And wouldn't the lack of such evidence argue for a change in policy towards greater inclusion?
Enter retired U.S. Army General John J. Sheehan, called on to answer just these kinds of questions by Congress. Our country has many retired generals, but Sheehan not that long ago was involved in running NATO, a job you just don't get without being a formidable guy. At any rate, Sheehan gave it as his opinion that having gay soldiers is a bad idea.
And he had an example to cite. During the European conflicts of the 1990's involving the former Yugoslav republics, a detachment of Dutch soldiers was assigned to protect the city of Srebrenica. In the war's greatest bloodletting, the Dutch were outnumbered and forced to stand aside as the Serbian forces simply slaughtered all the Muslim men they could find. This tragedy was laid by General Sheehan directly at the feet of the Dutch army's practice of including "gays and liberals".
Well, there it is. No proof, statistical OR anecdotal, just a flat accusation which, by the way, the government of the Netherlands, who've been part of NATO now for a long time, did not take well. It boggles the mind what Sheehan as military supervisor would have done to set straight any subordinate willing to leap to such conclusions without some kind of evidence. Someone must have concluded that his audience, though members of Congress, wouldn't be as demanding in looking for the truth as he himself would have been.
Of course, Sheehan now is a private citizen and can say whatever he wants without being concerned about losing what must be a sizable pension. Does he feel that making this kind of statement makes him better known in this country? He could be right. Is it possible that his speaking fees just took a large leap up? Could be, since he no doubt thinks of himself as a better speaker than, say, Sarah Palin or Karl Rove. It could be that he just concluded that a little push back from the media would serve his cause well, as long as he and his potential audiences regard the news media as an enemy.


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