Wilkerson on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The Time Has Come


pompeii_art_alexander_great.jpgThis is a guest note by Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (USA, ret) who for sixteen years was assistant to General Colin Powell and who served as Chief of Staff of the Department of State during Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State. Wilkerson now teaches as the Pamela Harriman Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the College of William & Mary and also chairs the 21st Century US-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation.
(I am particularly indebted to Col. Wilkerson who upon hearing the words of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace that homosexuality was “immoral” while we were traveling together to Havana, Cuba in March 2007 brought a bottle of rum over and apologized to me for Pace’s behavior and the entire Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell policy. — Steve Clemons)

The Time Has Come
In early 1993 Colin Powell and I had an intriguing conversation. In the midst of the controversy President Clinton had started about gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I talked about the Companions.
The Companions were Alexander the Great’s praetorian guard, his extra special troops, his “shock and awe” cavalry. About 300 men at any given time in the Royal Squadron, they were the very best warriors this thirty-year old, world-conquering Greek soldier-king had at his side, always.
History tells us–or at least those historians such as Plutarch, Mary Renault, and Robin Lane Fox whom we trust–these Companions were sworn to Alexander’s protection and that they never faltered. As did Alexander himself, they often rode directly into the teeth of a battle and fought like wildcats.
Many of these stalwart soldiers were gay. I dare say–again, if history’s recorders are to be trusted–that many were bisexual, as apparently was Alexander himself, but to a man they probably had had at one time or another sexual relations with other men. As the Thebans, another Greek outfit of enormous prowess, used to theorize, perhaps these relationships even made them fiercer warriors.
Now, it could be argued that most Republicans and Tea Party members are not like Powell and me; that is they have never read a history book. Their actions routinely seem to corroborate this fact. Moreover, many of those who flock to this issue of opposing gays and lesbians serving openly in the Armed Forces–like that hero of heroes, Rush Limbaugh–have never served in the armed forces themselves and so could be called anything but fierce. Devious, manipulating, power-hungry, corrupt, unchristian, and a host of other epithets, but not fierce.
So, is it jealousy or envy that causes them to be do dead-set against gays and lesbians serving openly in the Armed Forces? It could hardly be anything else given the example of Alexander and his Companions. Or, for that matter, the example of the many gays and lesbians who have served honorably and well in the U.S. Armed Forces since our Revolutionary War, however covertly.
As to lesbians in particular, in those days of Powell’s chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I–and I assume he as well since he had access to the same research data as did I–had even more reason to believe they would make fine soldiers.
In fact, our records demonstrated that if you categorized soldiers by sexual inclination and then checked all the factors of good soldiership against those categories, the very best peacetime soldier was a female who was a lesbian. Fewer absences-without-leave, fewer disciplinary actions in general, faster riser in the ranks, and totally dedicated to the job.
Oh yes, and incidentally, she was more apt to stay with the same partner over time than even a heterosexual soldier who was married. How interesting, we thought at the time.
In his office that day, as Powell and I concluded our early 1993 conversation about Alexander the Great and his Companions, I asked the Chairman if he thought President Clinton would win out in his attempt to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Armed Forces.
Powell thought for a moment and then turned to me and said: “No, the Congress probably won’t allow it.”
Knowing that there were members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who were almost violently opposed to such service, I didn’t choose to pursue the matter with Powell any further and turned to leave his office.
He wasn’t finished with me yet however.
He sat back at his desk and said to me: “Some day, though, perhaps 10 or 20 years from now, it won’t even be an issue.”
It has been 17 years since that conversation in the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and it is high time that we did the right thing and let gays and lesbians continue to serve honorably and now openly in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
— Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (USA, ret)


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