Marine general: Repeal of 'don't ask' would endanger lives
The Marine Corps' top general suggested Tuesday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because their presence on the battlefield would pose "a distraction."
"When your life hangs on the line," said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, "you don't want anything distracting. . . . Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines' lives."
In an interview with newspaper and wire service reporters at the Pentagon, Amos was vague when asked to clarify how the presence of gays would distract or disrupt Marine combat units during a firefight. But he cited a recent Defense Department survey in which a large number of Marine combat veterans predicted that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law would harm "unit cohesion" and military effectiveness.
"So the Marines came back and they said, 'Look, anything that's going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,' " he said. "I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I'll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] hospital . . . Marines are up there with no legs, none. We've got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs."
Amos has previously said that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could cause "distractions" and "risks" for combat units. But his remarks Tuesday were the first time that a senior military leader has publicly suggested that repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" law could endanger troops and lead to more battlefield casualties.
The Marine Corps -- which prides itself on its macho image -- and its leaders have been more resistant than other branches of the armed services to overturning the law.
The Defense Department survey, released last month, found that 58 percent of those in Marine combat arms units predicted that repeal would negatively affect their ability to "work together to get the job done." In comparison, 48 percent of those in Army combat units felt the same way.
Amos has been outspoken in his opposition to repealing the law since he was confirmed by the Senate as commandant in September. He repeated his opposition to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 3, saying that changing the rules during wartime would be ill-advised.
"Right now is a very intense period of time for a pretty healthy slice of the United States Marine Corps. This is not training," he told reporters Tuesday. "This is what I call the real deal. And the forces that wear this uniform, that are in the middle of what I call the real deal, came back and told their commandant of the Marine Corps they have concerns.
"That's all I need. I don't need a staff study. I don't need to hire three PhDs to tell me what to interpret it. I've got Marines that came back to me as their commandant and said, we have concerns. So if they have concerns, I do, too. It's as simple as that."
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