Marines are a direct lot, not much given to subtlety. Their simple nature enables them to spot a ruse from the 500-meter line, and, on the issue of sodomites, they have quickly identified as nonsense Mr. Clinton’s doublespeak about “status” and “conduct.” Marines, well known for advertising their “status” by their “conduct,” know that the two are by no means separable. Still, it is not Mr. Clinton’s equivocation that upsets them. They expect as much from a man many view as a liar, a dope-smoker, and a draft-dodger. What disappoints the men of the Corps is their betrayal by the senior officers of the Armed Forces who are attempting to pacify the legions while satisfying their Commander-in-Chief.
Knowing in their hearts that ultimately they cannot do both, the ranking officers in Washington have made it clear that they have chosen the path of political expedience. A “Message for All Marines” from the Commandant, packed with such phrases as “diverse walks of life,” “privately held preferences,” and “respect for human dignity,” can only be interpreted as an effort, thin as it is, to pave the way for the inevitable. A Christmas card from a colonel at the Pentagon suggested that the moment Clinton was elected, the staff there began planning how best to lift the ban on homosexuals. Advancing the inherently dishonest “don’t ask, don’t tell” scheme to permit homosexuals to serve openly in the Armed Forces will be easy. The courts are aptly doing so today. But selling the President’s policy to the men in the trenches will be impossible.
Sadly, many officers will try, and in so doing will fail, to exhibit moral courage and will sacrifice their credibility as they attempt to conceal their spinelessness with talk of “status versus conduct,” “loyalty to one’s commander,” “soldierly obedience,” “diversity,” and “preference.” Talk of this kind reveals the worst form of coward. It not only shows an unwillingness to stand up for what is right; it also exposes a hollow effort to justify inaction by appealing to inferior or irrelevant “virtues.” Some Marines will be fooled, most will not be, and another strand of the fraternal rope that binds all Marines will be broken.
Marines are the last group to whom one should suggest that “status” and “conduct” are separable. To Marines they are identical. Marines are fighters, drinkers, and fornicators, behaviors for which they not only make no excuses but which they wear on their sleeves. How do you convince a man who bases his reputation on last night’s exploits that a homosexual is not going to pursue his inclinations with equivalent vigor? Good luck.
Although appeals to loyalty will be more successful than the “status versus conduct” mumbo-jumbo, they also will fail because loyalty runs both ways. Officers must constantly guard against viewing loyalty only as something due them. The loyalty of their Marines is something for which they must work daily, yet the greater loyalty, and the one less spoken of, is that which proceeds downwards, from officers to men. A self-absorbed politician may not understand this simple precept of leadership, but could it be that the Commandant of the Marine Corps, once an enlisted man himself, has forgotten so critical a principle? Marines will be enjoined to be loyal to their Commander-in-Chief. In fact, they must be loyal to the office but not to the destructive silliness of the occupant. Loyalty to their Republic requires them to make the distinction.
Where loyalty treads so does obedience, but like loyalty, obedience must be merited even as it is expected. The claim that the ultimate course of a good warrior is to accept orders, salute smartly, and continue to march assumes that the orders merit such obedience. Marines love obedience. They learn to love it at boot camp, and if they are well led they grow in their appreciation for it. However, if their obedience is abused by foolish orders, they soon grow resentful and skeptical. A good officer quickly learns that if his orders are wise and just, he will earn the trust of his Marines, so that when the shrapnel flies, they will not doubt but obey. An officer with a reputation for unreasonable or unjust orders might be tolerated in garrison but will be ignored under fire. In his heart, the Commandant must know these things. Has his head been so filled with the inverse truths of politics that he not only accepts them, but also believes that he can persuade his Marines to accept them, too?
His method suggests that he does. He employs the already tired rhetoric that has replaced the precise language of natural law. Where once we read “deviance” we now read “diversity.” “Preference” has replaced “profligacy.” Marines, however, have a strong sense of natural law. They know that sodomy is wrong and see right through the Commandant’s transparent words. The responses from Marines range from a lance corporal’s “I’m unhappy with the Commandant’s stance on homosexuals. . . . He seems to have backed off from his original position. . . . I hope Congress will be stronger” to a sergeant’s “Sir, this is bull–t!”
Politics should not be the business of any Marine. Some of the greatest heroes of our Corps are well known for the contempt they harbored for politicians. Does the Commandant think Chesty Puller would have penned a message like his? Who can imagine Dan Daly agonizing over how best to integrate sodomites into the Corps? These men thought about war and how to win it.
The most tragic casualty of a peacetime military is the abandonment of moral courage. It is in peace that we need courage most, for it is the virtue that prevents the political culture from intruding too deeply into the military culture. Because the military is the violent arm of the Republic, it must never become corrupted by politics. The military, more than any other organization, must resist change until the case is compellingly made that the change is good. Once progressive sociology invades the military sphere, an institution where tradition has practical value, it renders the military no longer warlike but confused and weak. The conspicuous absence of moral courage today has landed the Corps behind the soup line in Somalia and has cost the lives of 240 Marines in Beirut.
The Commandant writes, “The greatest contribution our Corps has made to this Nation, or will ever make, is not that we win wars, but that we make Marines.” A cleverly veiled lie. That the Marine Corps produces disciplined patriots well equipped to shoulder leadership in American society is to its eternal credit. Marines don’t get to “guard the streets of heaven” simply because they are vigilant warriors. They earn that right because they are good men. Nevertheless, once the Corps is no longer recognized principally for its unequaled ability to vanquish our enemies on the battlefield, but is instead praised as a factory for producing good citizens, the sociologists have taken over.
Does the Commandant imply that he can take a queer and make him a Marine? Should the Corps turn in its cannons and open a charm school? Perhaps such a plan is one of the alternate uses of the Armed Forces that the administration is considering. I, for one, refuse to support any such agenda. I did not accept a commission from the Marine Corps, nor did those officers with whom I served, to advance the agenda of homosexuals, anymore than we did to rebuild homes in Dade County or to subordinate the pursuit of success under fire to the career aspirations of feminists.
But mine is a small voice. Surely, there must be one man among the senior officers of the Corps who will muster the courage to say, “I will not count myself among those who allowed sodomites to wear the Eagle Globe and Anchor and will do all in my power to resist so wretched an indignity.” Though he may lose his career and his pension, he will preserve his credibility and self-respect. Do not hope for such a man, however. After all, only one English bishop stood up to Henry VIII, well aware he had more at stake than his pension.
The Commandant concludes his message with this plea: “It is not characteristic of Marines to quit their posts, either under fire or when things are not to their liking. Those of you whose pride in the Corps, sense of duty, honor, and personal moral values run so deep, are exactly the ones needed to remain on watch to provide a steady hand.” Understanding quite clearly what the Corps’ position on the issue of sodomites is to be, I wonder which of my “personal moral values” still interest the Commandant.