Although respected military figures such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. Colin Powell have spoken out in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), opponents are still insisting that most military commanders believe that gay men and women serving openly in the military would have disastrous consequences.
One of the reports these opponents hide behind is by “Flag and General Officers for the Military.” It’s a letter signed by 1,000 “distinguished retired military leaders” who all say they oppose DADT repeal: “Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, and overall military readiness.” On Feb. 2, for example, a “cranky” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “Well, I hope you’ll pay attention to the views of over a thousand retired and flag general officers” when considering whether to repeal DADT. Frank Gaffney, president of conservative Center for Security Policy, cited the letter in a Washington Times op-ed that same day.
However, a new Servicemembers United report obtained in advance by DC Agenda severely undermines the legitimacy of this letter. Some of the problems:
– The average age of the officers is 74. The “oldest living signer is 98, and several signers died in the time since the document was published.” Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson added that only “a small fraction of these officers have even served in the military during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period, much less in the 21st century military,” so it’s hard to believe that they “know how accepting and tolerant 18- and 21-year-olds are today.”
– “At least one signer, Gen. Louis Menetrey, was deceased when the letter was published and didn’t sign the document himself. According to a footnote on the letter, his wife signed the document for him after his death using power of attorney — six years after Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of the ability to communicate.”
– One signatory said that they “no longer want to be a part of the letter, writing to the organization, ‘I do not wish to be on any list regarding this issue.‘”
– Multiple generals said they “never agreed” to sign the letter in the first place, writing “I never agreed. To represent either side of this issue” and “I do not remember being asked about this issue.”
– At least seven officers “were involved in scandals tarnishing their careers.” Gen. Carl Mundy, for instance, gained negative publicity when he told CBS’s 60 Minutes that “minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities.”
In June 2009, a PBS’s Ray Suarez also did a report on the letter, reporting, “The NewsHour contacted a number of four-star officers requesting an interview for this story. However, none agreed to speak to us on camera. One general expressed surprise his name was even on the list, since he says he had never agreed to sign the letter, and at least three officers listed as signatories are dead.”