Retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf told a packed congressional hearing Tuesday that the U.S. military would become “a second-class armed force” if President Clinton lifts the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, and a highly visible Marine, in riveting testimony, said he would fear for his gay son’s life if the young man joined the Marines.
In a new phase of hearings on the emotion-charged issue, Schwarzkopf, the officer who led allied troops to victory in the Persian Gulf War, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military must not be made an “instrument of social experimentation” and warned that its ability to fight and win the nation’s wars would be compromised by a shift in policy that would allow homosexuals to serve openly.
“The military Establishment is not fragile, but in my mind, (the lifting of the ban) would be seriously overloading their plate,” Schwarzkopf said. Military officers “will faithfully try and execute the orders of their civilian leaders, but their hearts simply won’t be in it. To me, they will be just like many of the Iraqi troops who sat in the deserts of Kuwait, forced to execute orders they didn’t believe in.”
Painting a dire picture of the military if the ban is lifted, Schwarzkopf said: “I think in fact we will wind up with a second-class armed force for quite some time in the future. Are we really ready to . . . risk a possible decrease in our nation’s ability to defend itself?”
Marine Col. Fred Peck, familiar to many Americans as the spokesman for U.S. forces in Somalia, described his oldest son, Scott, as a military recruiter’s dream: a strapping, studious senior at the University of Maryland. But Scott is a homosexual, Peck said, and his life “would be hell” if he joined the Marines.
“I love him. I love him as much as I do any of my sons. But I don’t think he should serve in the military,” Peck told lawmakers. In combat, Peck said he would be “very fearful” that his son’s life would be in jeopardy from his own troops. “I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I’m saying that’s the way it is.”
The testimony of Schwarzkopf and Peck came a day after Senate Armed Services Committee members visited the Navy’s sprawling Norfolk, Va., naval complex and invited more than a dozen sailors and Marines to testify about the lifting of the ban.
After weeks of presiding over a relatively sober dissection of the gays-in-the-military issue, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate defense panel, has steered the hearings into a new, more emotional phase, in which military professionals, who are broadly opposed to a change in policy, and gay service members ejected from the armed forces have testified.
Nunn has been an outspoken critic of Clinton’s vow to reverse a longstanding Pentagon policy banning gay men and lesbians from the military, and this week’s proceedings have been heavily weighted to showcase the arguments against a change in policy.
In Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, the views of those who oppose the admission of openly gay men and lesbians into the service have been given vastly greater prominence than those who favor a change in policy.
After several hours of testimony Tuesday by Schwarzkopf, Peck and others, Nunn called in former service members forced out of the military because of their homosexuality. Among them was Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, chief nurse of the Washington Army National Guard, who was ejected from the military after admitting during a security clearance review that she is a lesbian.
According to a Times Poll conducted in February, slightly more than one in four military enlistees favor a change in policy to allow homosexuals to serve in the military. But beyond Cammermeyer and two gay naval officers, only one of the military witnesses that have come before Nunn’s panel has testified in favor of lifting the ban.
On Tuesday, that witness, Navy Chief Petty Officer Stevens Amidon, who is not homosexual, contradicted a welter of testimony in which professors and soldiers alike have argued that the presence of an openly gay man or lesbian would disrupt the camaraderie of a military unit and degrade the unit’s effectiveness in combat.
During his work on submarines, Amidon said he supervised two homosexuals and “neither sailor in any way disrupted the ship’s mission.”
“I for one do not want to be a member of a military composed of goose-stepping Prussian clones, nor do I believe America would be well served by such a military,” Amidon said.
Earlier in Tuesday’s hearings, Schwarzkopf told senators: “Whether we like it or not, in my years of military service, I’ve experienced the fact that the introduction of an open homosexual into a small unit immediately polarizes that unit and destroys the very bonding that is so important for the unit’s survival in time of war.”
Peck, repeating an argument invoked by many other military witnesses, said that the military has many standards that discriminate against certain groups of people and that gays have been excluded for good reasons from the military.
“We’re not saying that because people are too short or too tall or mentally deficient or physically deficient somehow or another that their personal worth is something less,” Peck said. “We’re just saying they don’t fit in. And if you want to start breaking down those barriers and trying to make people fit in where I don’t think they belong, you’re going to hurt the United States military.”
The Campaign for Military Service, a coalition of groups agitating to lift the ban, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing Peck for his dramatic testimony revealing his son’s homosexuality and his fears for the young man’s safety.
Prejudice, the campaign statement said, motivated Peck to “sell out his own son to the ignorance and fear.”
In a Times Poll of more than 2,300 military enlistees, 81% said they believed it was likely that homosexuals would be subject to physical violence at the hands of comrades. That number was highest among Marines responding to the poll--91% reported that gays would likely be attacked.
Peck on Tuesday offered a dramatic testimony to those fears.
“Fraggings didn’t, let me tell you, begin or end in Vietnam,” said Peck of the practice of soldiers killing their own comrades in combat situations. “Fratricide is something that exists out there, and there are people who would put my son’s life at risk in our own armed forces.”