News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

December 23, 2010

Stephanie Salter: A little history of mandated intermingling among U.S. troops

TERRE HAUTE — Back in July 1948, when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, predictions for its effect on the U.S. military were dire. Sen. Richard Brevard Russell Jr. of Georgia echoed the sentiments of millions of Americans in an address from the Senate floor.

“The mandatory intermingling of the races throughout the services will be a terrific blow to the efficiency and fighting power of the armed services,” he said.

Some 62 years later, the source of anxiety over the efficiency and fighting power of the military is no longer black troops among white, but the dire predictions are the same. In his address from the Senate floor earlier this month, John McCain invoked images of “gold stars in windows” and of amputee Marines already lying in Bethesda Naval Hospital and “at Walter Reed with no limbs.”

“There’ll be additional sacrifice,” the senator from Arizona warned of the open intermingling of gay and straight troops. Likely, McCain said, the practice “will harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”

Russell, whose name now adorns the main Senate office building in Washington, was specific in his case against desegregation of troops. “It is sure to increase the numbers of men who will be disabled through communicable diseases,” he said. “It will increase the rate of crime committed by servicemen.”

That grotesque theory detracts considerably from Russell’s insistence that he had nothing against blacks. In his Senate speech, he said, “I am proud to claim many of them as my friends. I know many Negroes who are as law abiding as any white man. Many of them are models of cleanliness. The moral and spiritual life of numbers of Negroes is above suspicion.”

The problem for Russell and most Americans was, you couldn’t guarantee that the models of cleanliness and lawful behavior would end up next to white G.I.’s in barracks, latrines, mess halls and foxholes. Thus, the worst stereotypes — “the Negro’s” presumed penchant for communicable disease and crime — dictated preferred policy.

Other than the extreme Christian right — whose adherents now predict rampant AIDS among U.S. troops, and the wholesale cashiering of Leviticus-quoting military chaplains — few opponents of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” cite a fear of disease or increased crime. The problem with gay men and lesbians serving openly alongside straight men and women is “distraction,” particularly in close combat quarters.

For McCain and the other 30 senators and 175 House members who voted against the repeal, the danger is not in the presence of homosexuals in foxholes, barracks and latrines; they’ve been there for centuries. It is in heterosexuals knowing for certain that homosexuals are among them.

Marines, especially, who restrict open combat duty to males, have become the poster boys for the distraction argument. In the Pentagon’s massive survey of troop attitudes toward “don’t ask, don’t tell,” 58 percent of Marines in combat units predicted that acknowledged gay men would endanger the overall sense of cohesion. Forty-eight percent among Army combat units agreed, while 30 percent of total U.S. troops foresaw such a problem.

Significantly, 69 percent of the troops who answered the survey (115,000 of 400,000 queried, a stunningly successful sample by any survey standard) said they already knew or suspected they were serving with gay comrades.

In Richard Russell’s day, black men were good enough to fight and die for their country, but not to share bunk space, mess halls or combat units. When Truman drafted his executive order, there were four black Naval officers, 310 black Air Force officers and 1,306 black Army officers; all served in blacks-only units.

At that time, the majority of Americans (more than 85 percent) and most of Truman’s military advisers opposed the intermingling of the races. Actual desegregation of the military would take years of incremental, hard-fought gains by blacks and their civil rights supporters.

In contrast, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which President Obama signed into law yesterday, is supported by the majority of Americans and most of the president’s military advisers. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, consistently has referred to repeal as “the right thing to do.” A timetable for implementation of the new policy is expected to take six months to a year.

But just as pernicious stereotypes were employed against black G.I.s in 1948, so they are being employed against gay and lesbian G.I.s in 2010. Ground zero is shared tents, side-by-side sleeping in the field and communal showers. Gay men, especially, are presumed to be incapable of inhabiting such spaces as anything but sexually aroused or secretly predatory beings. Doomsayers seem to envision Gay Pride parades amid firefights instead of trained combat troops laboring to keep one another alive.

Today, that attitude is just as offensive — and ignorant — as Russell’s argument about disease and crime. Anyone who buys into it cannot claim with credibility that he or she is not homophobic.

Earlier this week, the New York Times’ James Dao reported on interviews conducted of Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Camp Pendleton in California. The men’s opinions on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” varied, but inclined toward the skeptical. One 18-year-old private at Camp Lejeune said openly gay troops would not be accepted because “[b]eing gay means you are kind of girly. The Marines are, you know, macho.”

The naiveté of that young man is not untypical. As the Marines’ commandant, Gen. James Amos, informed Congress earlier this year, 60 percent of Marines are under the age of 21. “So we’re not sure what the impact is going to be,” he said of the repeal.

A far more moderate, thoughtful (and respectful) critic of repeal than John McCain, Amos refrained from hyperbole after the Senate vote Dec. 18. While McCain called it a “sad day” and relegated the long struggle to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” to “liberal bastions of America … elite schools that ban military recruiters from campus … the salons of Georgetown” and talk show hosts “who never served in the military,” Amos reacted like a military professional.

He praised his young charges as the best of the best and said of the new policy of acknowledging reality, “the Marine Corps will get into step and do it smartly.”

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • RONN MOTT: Spring activities settle into northside park

    Some say young love blossoms like the flowers in the spring. It must be spring, because we witnessed the first wedding ceremony performed in the Collett Park gazebo on a recent Saturday.

    April 18, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Get smart with 911

    Worst-case scenarios when emergency service are needed are not things people like to think about. But focused attention on details in advance could make a life-changing, even life-saving, difference in the future.

    April 17, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: Heading in the wrong direction

    A study released last week by the Tax Foundation reported Indiana taxpayers saw one of the sharpest increases in tax burden since 2001. Dig deeper and the numbers are more alarming.

    April 17, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: They didn’t make it!

    The “One and Dones” done went and didn’t! (I know this is grammatically incorrect, but I want those folks down in Kentucky to read it.)

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • tstribunestar EDITORIAL: Dealing with eroded trust

    Our neighbors in Putnam County are understandably concerned, even outraged, over problems in their sheriff’s department. People have a right to expect their chief law-enforcement agency — one of the most important public institutions in any community — to operate professionally and effectively.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Readers’ Forum: April 17, 2014

    • A blessing from our young folks

    • Confidence in judge candidate

    April 16, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Preparing for voting changes

    The primary election, during which Hoosiers will traipse to their polling places to select party candidates to fill the ballot for the general election, is now three weeks away.

    April 15, 2014

  • Readers’ forum: April 16, 2014

    • Mott’s rant on global warming

    • Salvation through the Indian way

    April 15, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Royce Waltman

    In recent days the papers have been full of good things about Royce Waltman. Not a lot of puffery, but more like Royce himself… straight, true and right at you.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Not much peace since war to end all wars

    My jaw dropped the other day when I read that this year, 2014, marks 100 years since the start of World War I. No, you wise guys, I wasn’t there personally.

    April 14, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: April 15, 2014

    Sound choice for county judge
    Giving your car the care it needs
    Park restrooms should be open

    April 14, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news (Honors for outstanding women)

    Honors for outstanding women
    Sprucing up around the wetlands
    You can say that again
    Reader Poll results

    April 13, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: April 14, 2014

    Alternatives to ‘injustice’

    April 13, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Teaming up to fight the ugliness of graffiti

    Graffiti hurts the Terre Haute community. It deflates property values and local pride. It literally paints an image of carelessness on the city.

    April 12, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: It’s (Not) So Easy

    Arctic air bled into the Wabash Avenue post-hippie-era diner-pub every time the wooden door swung open.

    April 12, 2014

  • ERIC SCHANSBERG: The 1040 tax form turns 100

    The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution brought us the federal income tax in 1913. A year later, the 1040 tax form was born.

    April 12, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: April 13, 2014

    • An attack of hypocrisy

    • New jail not a good idea

    • Thinking about the next election

    • Being positive a tremendous asset

    • Work status a matter of value

    April 12, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: Time to fix government

    In 1965, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, brought legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid to the floor of the U.S. House. That was my first year in Congress, and I remember vividly the moment when Mills came to the Democratic caucus to explain his plans.

    April 12, 2014

  • Death Notice: April 13, 2014

    Phillip Herman

    April 12, 2014

  • GUEST EDITORIAL: Despite high court ruling, big money may not guarantee election success

    The Supreme Court has taken the predictable next step in the wake of its 2010 Citizens United decision in which it lifted the limit on donations wealthy donors can make to certain political entities.

    April 11, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Pondering our planet’s future

    I watched a TV show recently and the subject was global warming.

    April 11, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts for Waltman

    When Royce Waltman left Indiana State University as its head basketball coach in 2007, there was a sense of disappointment in the community that covered a broad spectrum.

    April 11, 2014

  • Readers' Forum: April 11, 2014

    • An appeal for organic farming

    • Kesler best choice for judge position

    April 11, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Bits & Pieces

    I don’t know about you, but I get a total sense of helplessness when I realize 239 people died in one airplane crash. And to make it worse, if that is possible, the loved ones left behind can’t close. Maybe this week.

    April 10, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Road work season requires motorists’ undivided attention

    Spring’s budding flowers, trees and grasses are not the only colorful eye candy popping up on the west-central Indiana landscape. Those orange barrels and pylons common to construction areas are appearing as well.

    April 9, 2014

  • Readers' Forum: April 10, 2014

    • Appreciation for writer’s views

    • Amazed by policy on birth control

    April 9, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Dangers lurking among us

    Hardly a week goes by without multiple stories being published in this newspaper detailing the arrests, court proceedings, convictions or sentencings of individuals involved in sex crimes against children or young teens. It’s a disturbing trend that underscores the ever-present dangers that exist where we may least expect them.

    April 9, 2014 1 Story

  • Readers' Forum: April 9, 2014

    April 9, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Basketball and Done

    I guess I’m going to have to change my mind about the “One and Done” rule. It would seem the future professionals wearing university uniforms — national runner-up Kentucky is an example — has proven me a fool. Why should I care about the education they are getting, or not getting?

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Angling for a mate not fond of fishing

    While many little girls daydream about the dream man they hope to find, it seems to me that they concentrate on all the wrong things. I can’t discount the appeal of beauty, brains and virtue, but my dream man was one who was not dedicated to fishing.

    April 7, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Today in History for April 18th Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster
NDN Video
Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station My name is Cocaine Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday Don't Be A Tattletale: Bad Bullying Tips For Students The trillest thoughts on marijuana "RHOA" Star Charged With Battery Grizzly Bears Get Snowy Birthday Party Weatherman draws forecast when another technical glitch strikes WGN
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity