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Hold the celebrations. Congress’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a victory for civil rights. But it’s only the start of what are likely to be difficult, even tortured, months or even years, as the military struggles to adapt to the new law. One of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s arguments in favor of congressional repeal was that he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, he warned, whereas a Congressional repeal would, he hoped, allow time for the military to adapt. The legislation shepherded to victory by the cross-party alliance of Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins gives Gates the time he wanted. Adjustment is unlikely to be easy or swift, though.
The most immediate question concerns the future of the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Amos. Alone among the service chiefs, Amos has spoken out repeatedly and passionately against a repeal of DADT. The review that Gates cannily put in hand included opinions about gays among the serving military, which found that some 70 percent thought repeal would have little or no effect. But the Marines’ combat units were warier: 58 percent thought gays openly serving in their units would adversely affect cohesion. “I have to listen to that.” Amos said at the Pentagon appearance 10 days ago.
Amos is haunted by a vision: “I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marine that I’m visiting at Bethesda [naval hospital] with no legs be the result of any distraction.” Amos’s vision may be overwrought. He may, understandably, be influenced by his own views as a committed Christian. As the first aviator to become commandant — he took over only in October — he may also feel he has to demonstrate solidarity with the kids on the front lines. He is also subject to peer pressures other service chiefs are spared. The Marines are different from the other services: once a Marine, always a Marine; it’s a brotherhood for life. Amos is doing no more than his job if he listens to the views of long-retired members of that brotherhood.
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