Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fareed Zakaria questions Colin Powell on "don't ask don't tell"

Today (Sunday, Dec. 14) Fareed Zakaria on CNN GPS interviewed Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on gays in the military in 1993. Very quickly, Fareed asked Powell if he supported lifting “don’t ask don’t tell” now.

Powell answered that the social climate has changed since 1993, and that it was indeed time to revisit the law. He insisted that military leaders be consulted first, however. He said that the military is still very “different.” Zakaria asked if the example of other militaries, like Britain and Israel, matters, and Powell said that their experience is relevant – it “counts” – but it’s not necessarily decisive.

Powell did elaborate on the special circumstances of military life. “Your commander can decide whether you live,” he said. “You don’t get to choose where you live.” No one mentioned how important the military is as a source of employment, especially for minorities or for those raised with economic disadvantage. It's also a source for paying college tuition (leading to the recoupment issue).

We’ve heard that before (Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos back in 1993). It’s true about the military. It’s even true that the military imposes restrictions on its members that would not be acceptable in civilian life. But there is a spillover into civilian life.

There are ways that “forced intimacy” can occur in many other areas, like law enforcement, fire departments (especially), various other potential national service areas, and even teaching (as with handicapped or severely disabled students). And, particularly with the latter, there have been attempts to ban gays before, as in California in 1978 (the Briggs Initiative, covered in the recent film “Milk”). I pointed this out on my website when working as a substitute teacher, and the fallout when schools discovered it became a factor in my having to stop.

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