After the 9/11 attacks, cultural bloviators fell all over themselves in their rush to declare that irony was now dead. That sounded thoughtful, intellectual, serious yet catchy, perfect for our anointed big thinkers, who nodded solemnly in unison. Yes. "The death of irony." Perfect. Soon the death of irony was raging like a prairie fire across opinion columns in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.
Certainly irony was alive and well on Capitol Hill last Wednesday. In the morning political heavyweights gathered in the Rotunda to honor the 60th anniversary of President Truman's executive order that ended racial discrimination in the armed forces. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in her statement, "The American story is filled with paradoxes, but none more tragic than the tale of African Americans who fought for our nation at a time when our nation was not fighting for them. We must not only acknowledge this injustice today, but rededicate ourselves to redeeming our Constitution's promise of equal rights for every American." Noble sentiments with which any fair-minded person would agree.
Colin Powell, who was able to become a four-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs because of Truman's Executive Order, told the group beneath that majestic dome, "We must make sure the American military continues to be a great engine of progress and equality."
I couldn't agree more with either Speaker Pelosi or General Powell. But I wonder if General Powell, at least, agrees with me. Fifteen years ago he fought very hard to keep another form of discrimination alive and well in the military. Homosexuals could not be integrated into the military without serious consequences for "unit cohesion" and all that. No "progress and equality" there.
The absurdity of those old arguments was fully demonstrated that same day in the Rayburn Office Building where the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel was meeting to discuss for the first time in fifteen years the subject of gays serving openly in the military.
The very same arguments that were made in 1948 against mingling the races in the military were made Wednesday against mixing homosexuals and heterosexuals the way they mix, for example, in the real world. As I said, "unit cohesion," not to mention "group showers" and all that. But there was a major difference: this time the two witnesses testifying to the hotbed of sexual license that our armed forces would instantly become should homosexuals be allowed to romp freely through the barracks looked, to put it charitably, foolish. Advocates for lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military couldn't have asked for two better opponents.
Elaine Donnelly raised the spectre of lesbians photographing women in the showers, of a "sexualized atmosphere," of "exotic forms of sexual expression," etc., etc. Terrifying. Imagine the nightmares such thoughts must give her!
Ms. Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness, "has been working for years to protect our fighting forces from the malign influence of women," as Dana Milbank wrote in a memorable column in the Washington Post. No one would accuse her of being a feminist. She worked with Phyllis Schlafly to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. She's been fighting hard for about the same length of time to keep our military free of homosexuals and their insidious agenda.
The other witness testifying against that agenda was retired Army Sergeant Major Brian Jones. Because there were three witnesses testifying for repeal of the ban, each of whom was allotted five minutes for an opening statement, in the interests of equal time, the two opposing witnesses were given fifteen minutes. I'm sorry they couldn't have more. Twenty minutes would have finished them off.
Sergeant Major Jones worried about roving gangs of lesbians, although I don't believe he was speaking from his own experience. His own experience was more interesting. He told the hearing about being so cold that "the only way to keep from freezing at night was to get as close as possible for body heat -- which means skin to skin." One would have thought if it had been so cold they would have kept their clothes on in the huddle, but perhaps Sergeant Jones did things differently in the Rangers. Jones retired from the Army Rangers and is now CEO of Adventure Training Concepts when he isn't doing Department of Defense work in Iraq where he serves with, yes, you guessed it, gay civilian contractors, one of whom is a former client of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." No, I am not making this up.
I wrote about the three witnesses for equality here in my last post. I won't repeat myself. Let's just say that open service advocates couldn't have had five better witnesses. There were the three who were fighting for "our nation when our nation was not fighting for them," to use Speaker Pelosi's words, and who could hardly have been more impressive. And then the committee had the two on the other side. They couldn't have been better, either. Better for common sense and justice, I mean. Thank you, Elaine and Brian. You really gave the members of the subcommittee something to think about. And please, do come back.