Ret. General John J. Sheehan, former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), arguing against repeal. Sheehan argued that repeal should not occur unless the review of the policy shows that a change would improve the U.S. military with no net-negative consequences.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked Sheehan whether he had heard any complaints about unit cohesion or morale in his experience with NATO allies who have integrated forces. Sheehan not only said that he did, but he said that having openly gay men and women serve could affect combat cohesion. Singling out the Dutch military’s response to the Srebrenica genocide by the Serbs in 1995, Sheehan said that the Netherlands’ allowance of gay men and women to serve openly actually played a role in the massacre:
SHEEHAN: The case in point that I’m referring to was when the Dutch were required to defend Sbrenecia against the Serbs, the battalion was understrength, poorly led. And the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.
LEVIN: And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?
SHEEHAN: It was a combination –
LEVIN: Did they tell you that?
LEVIN: That’s my question.
SHEEHAN: They included that as part of the problem.
LEVIN: That there were gay soldiers among the Dutch force.
SHEEHAN: The combination was the liberalization of the military, the net effect of basically social engineering.
Later in the hearing, former Air Force Major Michael Almy — who had been discharged because of DADT — cited his experience with the Dutch army, describing their integration of openly gay soldiers as a “non-issue.” Levin also disputed Sheehan’s charge that gay men and women were not great fighters and contributed to the genocide:
LEVIN: I think we all remember Srebrenica. But I think that any effort to connect the failure on the part of Dutch to the fact that they have homosexuals or did allow homosexuals I think is totally off target. And I’ve seen no suggestion of that, I’ve seen the failures that you talk about general, that their training being peacekeeping and not being trained to do the combat work that needed to be done is accurate. In terms of any attribution to the fact that they have allowed gays in the military is no more on point than the fact that they may have allowed Dutch Africans or women, if there were women. […]
They were trained to be peacekeepers, not peace enforcers. I totally agree with that. But to slip over, slide over from that into a suggestion that it had something to do with the fact that homosexuals were allowed in the Dutch army suggests that somehow or other homosexuals are not great fighters. And I think that’s totally wrong.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) also disputed Sheehan’s argument that integrated foreign militaries were somehow less combat ready, citing the British force, which has served alongside U.S. servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Srebrenica genocide was the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. In July 1995, over 7,000 Bosnian Muslims by the Bosnian Serb Army. A force of 450 Dutch soldiers, serving as U.N. peacekeepers, were unable to prevent the massacre, but that had nothing to do with the fact that their force was integrated.