Officers supporting anti-gay policy are 'lemmings': ex-Army Sec.
David Edwards and Rachel Oswald
Published: Friday April 3, 2009

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President Jimmy Carter's former Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander, issued a stinging rebuke Thursday of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy when he called it a form of bigotry and an overall "inconsistent, foolish policy."

Alexander told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that the policy, which prohibits gays in the military from being open about their sexuality, was "a little bit like having a bowl of bigotry surrounded by a curtain of silk. It takes the basic integrity of a person and says 'you must forget it.' It turns people into liars."

He added, "Would we ask ... for a Muslim to act like a Jew when he was in the service? Would we ask a Buddhist to act like a Catholic? It's the same kind of thing. Every individual should be judged according to their skills, not their sexual preference, not their race, not their religion. {Don't Ask, Don't Tell] should have been thrown out a long time ago."

The suggested repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell already faces opposition from many retired military leaders. On Tuesday, more than 1,000 retired military officers issued a statement that called for the policy to be kept in place.

The statement, via The Associated Press, says that passage of a bill repealing the policy, "would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."

Alexander called the officers' statement "nonsense" and said the officers were "like lemmings to the sea" and "those who would sign a petition like this without evidence are acting without facts."

Mitchell noted that 12,000 servicemembers have lost their jobs in the military since the policy was instituted, including a number of valuable Arabic-translators who are in short supply already.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the policy, which he helped write in 1993, was a “pretty good solution for the moment.”

When asked directly by Maddow if he would support repealing the policy, Powell said, “If Congress decided to get rid of the policy and if the military leaders of the armed forces are a part of that, of course I would. And if the president decided to do it, I would support the president.”

Powell added, that the views of “senior military leaders” need to be considered “about the effect of a change in the law would have on the force.”

“And if they came forward and said, ‘Let's do away with it,’ or, ‘Let's modify it or change it,’ that would mean a lot to me in terms of my point of view,” Powell said. “But ultimately it's going to have to go before the Congress as a law to be changed, not a policy to be changed.”

Secretary of State Robert Gates has said he supports repealing the policy but that "I think the president and I feel like we've got a lot on our plates right now and let's push that one down the road."

Noting the cultural changes that have taken place since 1993 and the growing acceptance of homosexuality by many Americans, Powell said, “A lot has changed. Attitudes have changed. And so I think this is a time to review that policy and review it before congressional committees to see if a change of law is now appropriate.”

Alexander, however, disagreed with Gates' and Powell's assessment of the situation and said people needed to "get over the nonsense of, 'let's study it.' We can walk and chew gum at the same time. It is possible to look at this with some kind of urgency."

Responding to the retired officers’ statement, Brandon Friedman of the liberal veterans’ organization, VoteVets, writes (by way of The Washington Independent,) “The fact that 1,000 long-retired generals are frightened of gay people is not the modern military’s problem. Their antiquated homophobia is theirs and theirs alone…With two wars raging, as long as you can shoot straight–or speak Arabic or Pashto–it’s shouldn’t matter whether or not you are straight.”

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Apr. 2, 2009.

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