A Former JCS Chairman's Change of Heart

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Former JCS Chairman's Change of Heart

A few weeks ago, the Bush administration announced long-term plans to significantly increase the size of the U.S. military. In this op-ed, John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Clinton, reveals he has had a change of heart on a related issue.

Shalikashvili writes:
When I was chairman of [JCS], I supported the current policy because I believed that implementing a change in the rules at that time would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders. I still believe that to have been true.

The concern among many in the military was that given the longstanding view that homosexuality was incompatible with service, letting people who were openly gay serve would lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion.

... The compromise that came to be known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” was thus a useful speed bump that allowed temperatures to cool for a period of time while the culture continued to evolve.

The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration. Much evidence suggests that it has.

Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.

This perception is supported by a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain ... let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.

I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.
I don't agree with his "useful speed bump" analogy, but I'm glad to see his opinion has changed.

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