John Shalikashvili

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton says the nation has “evolved” enough so that openly homosexual men and women should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military now.

The present policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a useful “speed bump” to allow tempers to cool and the culture to evolve, but it is now time to move on, according to John Shalikashvili, who wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times.

The policy was implemented by Clinton after he had promised during his campaign to remove military bans on homosexuals in the ranks but then was faced with overwhelming opposition after his election.

An estimated 10,000 service members who violated the policy – not by being homosexual but by somehow making that a public issue – have been removed from the service since the policy was instituted in 1993, officials estimate.

“I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces,” Shalikashvili wrote. “Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.”

He served four years, from 1993-1997, as the nation’s top military officer before retiring. He now concludes – following a series of meetings with military service members who apparently talked with him about their homosexuality – that the time for change is now.

“Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew,” the retired general wrote. “These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.”

Shalikashvili said during his time at the Pentagon, when Americans last debated the question of homosexuals in the military, he supported the current policy.

“I believed that implementing a change in the rules at that time would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders. I still believe that to have been true,” he said.

“The concern among many in the military was that given the longstanding view that homosexuality was incompatible with service, letting people who were openly gay serve would lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion.”

But the times have changed and the nation has evolved, he went on.

“The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration. Much evidence suggests that it has,” he said, noting 24 other nations including allies in the fight against terrorism let homosexuals serve openly.

He said his comments were prompted by plans announced by President Bush to increase the size of the armed forces, and plans in the new Congress to introduce a bill next year to repeal the policy.

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