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
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."
It is therefore disappointing to report that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has lost its ideological bearings and is adrift on a range-of-the-moment sea of issues without context. Specifically, the December 10 EFF News contained a condemnation of the Prodigy online service for "censorship."
Prodigy, a joint venture of Sears and IBM, is an electronic shopping mall. When some subscribers attempted to hold Christian-vs.-gay debates, they were curtailed. Prodigy system operators interfered with other ideological messages and electronic mail.
In a flurry of ideological confusion, EFF News said the Prodigy experience "illustrates the fallacy that 'pure' market forces always can be relied upon to move manufacturers and service providers in the direction of open communications. A better solution, we believe, is a national network-access policy that, at the very least, encourages private providers to generate the kind of open and unrestricted network and mail services that the growing computer-literate public clearly wants."
Who will, define this "national policy"? And more important, who will enforce it? How will system operators be "encouraged" to provide "unrestricted…services"?
The failure of the EFF to maintain its integrity does not invalidate its original efforts. But by the same token, Mitch Kapor 's heroism in defending hackers does not excuse this apparent plunge into whimsy.
Michael E. Marotta
ID Check There were two small inaccuracies in the otherwise instructive article by Steven Carlson on the difficult problem of taking books and other printed material to Romania ("Black Books," Feb.). First, the name of the founder and director of the Hungarian Press of Transylvania is not Janos Arakovacs but Attila Ara-Kovacs; and, second, the parliamentarian elected as a member of the Alliance of Free Democrats is not M.G. Tamas but Gaspar Miklos-Tamas, or G.M. Tamas.
Juliana Germ Pilon
Rush Accusation Jacob Sullum's review of Kim Wozencraft's novel Rush ("Lines of Duty," Jan.) left me hoping that Mr. Sullum will someday look a little more deeply into the procedures used by law enforcement in general and narcotics investigators in particular. He seems far too willing to assume that a work of fiction is an accurate portrayal of the profession.
Ms. Wozencraft's story is, indeed, interesting reading. It may in fact closely parallel her own experiences as a cop, but, since she has written fiction, we will never know how closely. Perhaps what she has described did happen, in a "small Texas city." Maybe she really was driven by an egomaniacal chief and a partner with an addiction. Maybe two inept cops, unable to make a case any other way, really did resort to using drugs and perjury to please their chief. But then again, maybe Kristen and Jim were just a couple of liars and cheats who happened to get jobs with a police department.
I have been a cop in Los Angeles County for more than 20 years. During that time I have spent over five years as a narcotics investigator. I have bought drugs of all sorts in quantities that would dazzle Kristen, Jim, and maybe even Ms. Wozencraft. I have consorted with dealers and users, partied with them, laughed with them, gained their confidence, convinced them I was one of them. Never, not even once, did I find it necessary to do other than simulate the use of drugs. Neither have I, in two decades with a major law enforcement agency, known or heard of another cop who had to use drugs to make a case.
I am happy to hear that Ms. Wozencraft has cleaned up her drug dependency problem and has become wealthy as a result of it. I am sorry, though, that Mr. Sullum is so willing to believe that this is the way the job is done and, on the basis of one work of fiction by a reformed junkie, indict an entire profession.
Lt. Steven L. Switzer
L.A. County Sheriffs Department
Los Angeles, CA
Mr. Sullum replies: Regardless of how many narcotics officers use drugs, the fact remains that by purchasing drugs, they violate the prohibitions they are supposed to be enforcing. This double standard is inherent in any effort to suppress victimless crimes. So is the routine betrayal that Lt. Switzer seems proud of, but which I find far more troubling than an occasional snort of coke.
In Defense of the ACLU Although I admit bias (I've been a director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California since 1979), I continue to believe that those who don't appreciate the ACLU simply don't understand the vast, vital, and consistent role the organization has played in safeguarding our personal liberties since its inception in 1920. Charles Oliver's article ("The First Shall Be Last?," Oct.) reinforces that belief.
The article glosses over much of the important work the ACLU continues to do, including involvement in more than 500 Supreme Court cases. It's interesting to note that the ACLU has assisted several prominent people who probably consider the organization unnecessary at best. For example, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Oliver North, whose defense was based on so-called legal technicalities. The ACLU has also made public statements on behalf of Edwin Meese III.
A weakness the article highlights—that the ACLU is not a homogenized group—is, in my view, one of its strengths. Samuel Walker's In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU points out that the organization has overcome periods of internal strife that, on several occasions, came close to tearing it apart. The constant debating and bickering while reacting to our fluid world is a great strength.
Mr. Oliver does bring out some issues that concern me and others, such as the definition of free speech. But the ACLU never was absolutist on free speech. It's well accepted that there are and should be limits to free speech; hence the illegality of slandering someone or yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater.
Any organization as big and as complicated as the ACLU has issues at both ends of its decision continuum over which good people disagree. It's a shame that a writer as obviously talented as Mr. Oliver would suggest that those ends are the essence.
Santa Monica, CA