March Straight

Jacob Sullum reports how the Army mishandled the case of a homosexual sergeant (“The Gay Bar,” Jan.) but then draws the wrong conclusions. He believes the Army should reverse its unjust and irrational policy and retain homosexuals in its ranks. He may think of units in a peacetime garrison and see personnel in an office environment shuffling papers between the “in” and “out” boxes. He may forget what the Army looks like in the field.

The homosexual problem may be surmountable outside the Army-in some units of the fleet arm of the Navy and in the Air Force-and also in Army support branches. But not in the combat branches. And least of all in infantry units, whether Army or Marine Corps.

Take a rifle platoon in the front line with the enemy on the next hill. No privacy, no free time, no dating in the nearby town. The unit is held together and survives through the loyalty between the soldiers. Patrols are sent out on dangerous missions, and risky assignments of a type unknown elsewhere are continually made. The unit functions only so long as these hazardous missions are perceived to be rotated fairly.

Introduce the opposite sex, or a third sex, and disruptive entanglements develop. Then, when the dangerous missions are assigned, there will be the suspicion that someone is being either shielded or targeted. The trust is broken and so is the unit.

Would Sullum have a homosexual command a unit of male soldiers in the field? That would not be far from having a heterosexual male command an all-female unit. Return to Earth, Jacob Sullum!

Presumably, the Army prefers a rule applicable to all of its branches that simplifies the design of career ladders and favors fair promotions. Perhaps a change would still be workable in some sectors, but not in the infantry. Its business is too serious to justify a reduction in effectiveness in order to admit a disruptive element. The Army is not the place for equal employment opportunity; it has to function.

Bo Thott Cutler, Cutler, ME

JACOB SULLUM PRESENTS the case of Sgt. Watkins as an example of the Army’s hypocrisy because from 1967 to 1982 the sergeant was allowed to serve and then was released because of his avowed homosexuality.

No mention is made of the circumstances surrounding the Watkins case. Too many people forget that prior to 1972 homosexuality was considered a “pathological condition” by no less than the American Psychiatric Association. Twenty years ago, a good soldier with Watkins’s proclivities would not raise eyebrows or cause problems if they were part of his “private” life.

But in the early 1980s the closet door was opened, and homosexuality was no longer considered a vice. It became an alternative lifestyle to be trumpeted as perfectly acceptable. This is probably what caused the U.S. Army to take another look at an exemplary soldier. It is one thing to have proclivities the majority does not condone. It is quite another to brag about them.

To give homosexuality the same status as being black is to neglect to separate the action from the person. The innocent black person is disadvantaged as a person because of the color of his skin. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is not a problem unless the person is acting in that manner. Proclaiming sexual proclivities that the majority of people do not consider sane, healthy, or worthwhile does not afford one the status of an innocent minority who by no action on his part is discriminated against.

Francis M. Reps, Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Sullum replies: As I noted in my editorial, Army rules target sexual preference per se, not just sexual behavior. Under the regulations, homosexuality is a status crime; anyone with homosexual tendencies, whether or not he or she acts upon them, is barred from serving. To follow the course recommended by Mr. Reps, gay soldiers would have to violate regulations by lying when asked about their orientation.

Mild Prodigy Greg Costikyan’s “Closing the Net” (Jan.) was an excellent summary of Operation Sun Devil. Mitch Kapor is to be congratulated for his insight and courage. He and John Perry Barlowe have extended our understanding of computers with their paradigm, the “electronic frontier.”

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