Any way you look at them, the comments
made by Ret. Gen. John “Jack” Sheehan, which blame gays in the Dutch military for a 1995 massacre in Serbia, invoke some impossible logical gymnastics.
But before we set about dissecting the absurdity, here’s the backdrop: Yesterday, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sheehan, who commanded Atlantic-based NATO forces in the 1990s, blamed the “socialization” of European militaries for various failures. When asked by Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) how gay soldiers factor into this, Sheehan had this response:
“They (the European commanders) included that as part of the problem. ... A combination of the liberalization of the military -- a net effect, basically, of social engineering.”
So the line of reasoning is this: because gays serving in the military is a symptom of liberalization, and liberalization is bad, being gay must translate to some sort of inherent incompetence. Makes sense, right?
Well no, not really at all. There’s actually no evidence to suggest that sexual preference has any bearing on a soldier’s effectiveness. Toward the end of the hearing, Levin highlighted this main problem with Sheehan’s reasoning (via the Navy Times
“I think we all remember Srebrenica,” Levin said. “Any effort to connect that failure on the part of the Dutch to the fact that they had homosexuals ... is totally off target. I see no suggestion of that. It’s no more on point than the fact that they may have allowed African or Dutch-African or women” to serve.
“My comment was that the liberalization ... ” Sheehan said.
Levin interrupted. “I agree with that,” he said. “They weren’t good in that respect. They were trained to be peacekeepers, not peace enforcers. ... But to slide over from that into a suggestion that it had something to do with the fact that homosexuals were allowed in the Dutch army suggests that somehow or other homosexuals are not great fighters. ... I think that is totally wrong.”
Before everyone starts bashing Sheehan, it’s worth thinking about who may be pulling his strings. Would a retired general come out of the woodwork, present an immensely controversial viewpoint, and get heckled simply because it's fun? Maybe, but doubtful. There’s a better chance that higher-ups in the military are striving hard to keep their homophobic ideals in place, even as they seem to crumble. Bringing in “experts” like Sheehan could be a way of doing that without stepping forward themselves.