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Posted on Mar 22, 2010 Print this Article

Senate Testimony: European Militaries Are Not Role Models for U.S.

At a March 18 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, two former service members who had been discharged for homosexuality focused their testimony on their own personal stories. The third witness, retired Marine General John Sheehan, came across as a credible grown-up with more serious concerns on his mind.

Having served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and as Commander-in-Chief for the U.S. Atlantic Command (1994-1997), Gen. Sheehan was uniquely qualified to provide strong testimony that weakened the claims of civilian gay activists who want America’s military to be more like European forces.

Referring to the military officials from nations that Sheehan led as NATO commander, Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asked whether the general had discussed the issue with them. “Did they tell you that they had unit cohesion or morale problems?”  Much to Levin’s surprise, Sheehan answered “Yes”  and proceeded to provide details.

After the Soviet Union dissolved, Sheehan said, European nations began focusing on peacekeeping because "they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back."  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and other European nations came to believe that there was no longer a need for an active combat capability in the militaries. "They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military - that included the unionization of their militaries; it included open homosexuality.”

He continued,

“That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I am referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the [Bosnian] Muslims off, and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."  1

Chairman Levin asked whether Dutch leaders had told the general that the inclusion of homosexuals had contributed to the military debacle. Unlike some news reports' descriptions, Gen. Sheehan chose his words carefully, saying that commanders he had spoken to “included that as part of the problem…. [T]he combination was the liberalization of the military, a net effect, basically of social engineering.”  2

Confronted again by the red-faced Sen. Levin, Sheehan cited a personal conversation with the former chief of staff of the Dutch Army. Levin tried to do damage control later in the hearing by promising, “We’ll check into that,” and by adding a sound-bite accusing the general of being “off-target.”  (Levin did not challenge anything said by the other witnesses.)

The hearing transcript reveals that Gen. Sheehan's most insightful points about military culture went right over the head of Senator Levin and others present at the hearing. When Dutch officials decided to embrace peacekeeping as the primary mission of their military, embracing unionism and social goals more suited to a civilian institution, combat effectiveness suffered. Then and now, this issue is all about priorities. 3

Gen. Sheehan warned against a similar transformation of America’s military. “Our enemies, especially the extremists, do not care how enlightened or progressive our culture may be. The only thing that matters is the effectiveness on the battlefield.”

Levin changed the subject to inquire why homosexuals should not be as free as heterosexuals to announce that they are gay. Sheehan responded, “I think the issue, Senator, that we’re talking about, really hasn’t a lot to do with individuals. It has to do with the nature of combat. Combat is not about individuals. It’s about units.”  Asked whether the law should change, Sheehan said, “My recommendation is no.”

Rene Jones-Bos, the Dutch ambassador to the United States, issued a statement taking issue with Gen. Sheehan's testimony and expressing pride in the gays and lesbians who serve in the Dutch military. Her comment missed the general’s point.

Once a military force puts liberalization above military effectiveness, hallmarks of "success" only relate to social goals, not military effectiveness. By this inadequate standard, all foreign militaries will continue to declare their experience with homosexuals to be completely successful. This is why militaries with priorities skewed by social goals should not be considered role models for the U.S. military. 4

The general’s unequivocal observations about cultural change that weakened the liberalized Dutch military scored a direct hit on the credibility of gay activists who keep citing 25 mostly-European militaries as examples that the United States should emulate.

Gen. Sheehan also drew upon his experience as an infantry officer in Vietnamto counter the notion that disciplinary proceedings and courts-martial are sufficient to handle all problems involving homosexual misconduct in deployed units.

Ranking member Sen. John McCain drew out details of an incident that occurred in Vietnam when Sheehan was an infantry company commander with the 9th Marines, west of DaNang, on a night when the North Vietnamese were expected to attack. Sheehan testified,

“About 1 o’clock in the morning, a fight broke out in a bunker because [a] young Marine was being molested by his squad leader. To the right of that fox hole there was a machine gun section that opened up and almost killed the combat patrol that was out in the front.”

The well-liked sergeant who attacked the PFC denied sexual assault, causing sharp division between his supporters and the junior Marine, who was new to the unit. When the young man was not believed he lost faith in his chain of command. Everyone took sides, and unit cohesion suffered greatly. The situation remained unresolved until three days later, when the sergeant molested another young Marine and was quickly removed from the unit.

The incident, said Sheehan, explains why judicial proceedings and courts-martial cannot be relied upon to prevent demoralizing sexual misconduct in deployed units. He also brought the issue forward to the present by quoting the newly-released 2010 Department of Defense Annual Sexual Assault Responses and Prevention Report (SAPR).

According to a March 16 news release from the SAPR office, in FY 2009 a total of 3,230 reports of sexual assault involving service members were filed—an 11 percent increase from FY 2008. Of these, 87% were male-on-female, but 7% of the cases (about 226) involved male-on-male assaults. 5  Several of the 2009 cases were male-on-male assaults similar to the incident that destroyed unit cohesion in John Sheehan’s Marine company when he was serving in Vietnam.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman(I-CT), who is sponsoring legislation to repeal the 1993 law, did not get the general’s point. Lieberman expressed confidence that existing disciplinary rules would be sufficient to deal with problems of sexual misconduct, but Sheehan answered,

“If we're talking about the 7 percent male-on-male type of a problem, and, as you say, the remainder is male-on-female, and we put that whole group into a combat environment, I think those numbers would significantly increase. That's my speculation, based on my experience.”

The Senate committee also received testimony from former Lieutenant Junior Grade Jenny L. Kopfstein, a Naval Academy graduate who served in the Navy for three years before revealing herself to be a lesbian, and former Air Force Major Michael D. Almy, who was deployed many times during his 13 year career before his discharge for homosexuality in 2006.

The two witnesses’ testimony focused on their personal circumstances, with few comments on the mission of the military as a whole.

Vietnam veteran Sen. James Webb (D-VA) downplayed the value of personal stories, suggesting that the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) should conduct a comprehensive survey to find out what active-duty military people think of the issue. “We've had a lot of anecdotal comments today,”  said the former Marine, “And they're valuable, in terms of understanding the issue."  Webb continued,

“But we need the data. We need to be able to see, not in a political way, and not simply as to how this policy would be implemented, but in a way that we can understand the attitudinal characteristics in play, by age, by officer/enlisted, by service; in many cases, I think, by occupational specialties, so you would truly have a matrix, here, in terms of understanding attitudes in the military.”

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Levin kept pushing for a “ready, fire, aim” approach to repealing the 1993 law. Several times Levin pushed for a "moratorium" on discharges that would be tantamount to outright repeal:

“I also believe it’s unconscionable when the Commander- in-Chief and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs have both said we should repeal a policy for us to continue to discharge people solely because of their sexual orientation, during a period when there's a study going on as to how to implement that policy─not whether to implement it.”

Really? When did President Barack Obama and Adm. Mike Mullen--or the Secretary of Defense issuing guidelines for the Pentagon working group--get the unilateral power to repeal duly-enacted laws? As Senator McCain noted at a previous hearing, radical change should not be imposed by “fiat,”  and we have a Congress for a reason.

Once again, Democrats and gay activists attempted and failed to obscure the debate with anecdotal, individual stories and arguments assuming a “right” to military service. Gen. Sheehan expressed the belief that everyone should serve our country in some way, but “not everybody is qualified or eligible to serve in the military for a variety of reasons, including age, health, education, and so on."  He added,

“I can acknowledge that the popular culture has changed in many ways. However, the nature and requirements of military life have changed very little. Military culture is deliberately developed and structured to mold individuals into a coherent group…In fact, the cohesion of a unit is predicated in part on the lack of individuality of its members…To the degree possible, we try to make Marines interchangeable. This makes the military a unique institution in the broader American society that asks─no, it really demands─that individuals put aside individual interest and behavior for the good of the unit. Self-sacrifice is the cornerstone of the unit cohesion that builds effective combat organizations.”

The uniqueness of our military’s culture separates our armed forces from those of our politically correct, socially liberal allies. America values these nations’ friendship and support, but their militaries should be following the lead of the United States Armed Forces---not the other way around.


1 Approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys were transported to remote areas where they were killed--their bodies dumped into unmarked graves. See Time, “Anatomy of a Massacre,” Apr. 21, 2002.

2 Ironically, the latest report from the Michael D. Palm Center, titled Gays in Foreign Militaries 2010: a Global Primer, quotes a similar contemporaneous comment from another retired officer who commanded U.N. forces in Bosnia. “[He] recalled that when he had two gay soldiers in his battalion, he ‘had extreme difficulty in controlling the remainder of the soldiers because they fundamentally wanted to lynch them.’ ”(February 2010, p. 9)

3 Report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Services, November 15, 1992. The commission’s work focused on women in combat, but questions about priorities remain the same. As stated in the commission’s report, “A Danish military briefer stated that combat readiness is not an over-arching concern of the Danish military,” and “The Danes are not overly concerned if there are disparities in the relative physical capabilities of individual soldiers in a combat unit.” Furthermore, “The Danes tested all-female units and concluded that they were less efficient than mixed-gender units.” (Findings 1.104A, 1.106, and 1.107, pp. C-61-62) Canadian briefers told the commission that “In a 1989 decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, all combat positions in the Canadian Forces (CF) except submarines were opened to women. The primary consideration was equal opportunity. No attempts were made to consider the impact on operational readiness or unit effectiveness.”(Finding 1.129, p. C-67)

4 The 1992 Presidential Commission reported, “Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal, acting on several complaints of discrimination, ordered that tests to evaluate combat units in which women were serving with men be stopped….” (Commissioner Generated Finding #5, p. C-133) The practice of ceasing objective reports on the results of social experiments should be a matter of concern in the current debate about another social issue, gays in the military.

5 Elizabeth Bumiller, New York Times, “Sex Assault Reports Rise in Military,” March 16, 2010. The 2009 report defined sexual assault as “rape, sodomy and other sexual contact, including touching of private body parts.” The 2008 SAPR noted that 123 or 5.4% of 2,265 cases involved male-on-male sexual assault.

Posted on Mar 22, 2010 Print this Article