It is a sad, and potentially fatal, fact that most Americans know virtually nothing about the United States military. That astounding reality is all the more incredible given that our very survival ultimately depends on the men and women in uniform who defend this country.
Such ignorance is, ironically, a testament to the success of what is known as the all volunteer force. It is also a national defect, one that may soon be the undoing of a system based on the willingness of a few to protect the rest of us at great risk to themselves.
Since conscription was ended as the Vietnam War wound down, the American military has been rebuilt — most especially by Ronald Reagan — around extraordinary people who sacrifice normal lives (the creature comforts civilians take for granted in America, the quality time with their families, watching children grow up, witnessing births and birthdays, the ability to decide where they will be and what they will do at any given time, etc.). Even more remarkable, in every case, they are offering to sacrifice life itself, for their country and for us.
But fewer and fewer of us have anything to do with such people. There are a fraction of the bases around this country that there were after World War II or even 20 years ago. The workforce associated with what a generation of Americans were encouraged to revile as the "military-industrial complex" has contracted dramatically.
Most of us only come into contact with servicemen and women, if at all, as they transit through airports, trains, or bus stations on their way to a base or a deployment. All too infrequently are they even acknowledged, let alone thanked, for their service.
Now, President Obama is hoping to capitalize on our ignorance of these folks and the reality of their lives in uniform — notably, the phenomenon known as "forced intimacy" that is inherent in communal bunkrooms, showers, latrines, shipboard sleeping compartments, and foxholes.
He is insisting that the United States Senate accede during the post-Thanksgiving lame-duck session to his demand for the repeal of a 1993 law prohibiting homosexuals from openly serving in the armed forces.
In 2010 civilian America, the idea of self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals being entitled to equal job opportunities and social treatment has become widely accepted. Polls are endlessly cited that suggest most civilians are sympathetic when LGBT activists demand that the military must conform to this practice.
How many of our servicemen and women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?
Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week — after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin.
After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.
Team Obama's line is that "most" in uniform think there will be no problem, or at least "mixed" good and bad repercussions. But if even an estimated 10 percent choose to leave the service — let alone 40 percent of Marines who, according to the leakers, think repeal will cause problems — the effect will be traumatic, and possibly devastating for the U.S. armed forces.
If tens of thousands choose not to submit and "vote with their feet," as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has called on them to do, it may become impossible to rely only on volunteers to staff our military.
Our elected representatives, who often know little more than their constituents about our military, should refrain from imposing hardships on those who keep us safe and free — especially in a lame-duck session that leaves no opportunity for deliberation and debate about the predictable, real and toxic repercussions of such actions.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio, heard in Washington weeknights at 9:00 p.m. on WRC 1260 AM.
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