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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pace's Morality

You may have read recently that the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, has said that homosexuality is immoral and therefore the military should not allow gays to serve openly. What ever happen to the claims about it destroying unit cohesiveness? I thought that was the rationale? I suppose someone finally spilled the beans on the real thinking behind this policy - not much to our surprise I think.

According to a recent AP article, Pace compared homosexuality to adultery, which he said was also immoral. He said, "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way." General Pace is probably a good man and means well according to his upbringing, but it seems his upbringing wasn't sufficient in the area of ethics.

When General Pace said the U.S. was not well served by a policy saying it is OK to be immoral "in any way", he sets up a condition that is impossible to fulfill. This, because there are many 'ways' in which things can be said to be immoral or not, and many opinions regarding morality. Some people believe that eating pork is immoral. Does the military serve pork in its lunch lines? And what about allowing Wiccan chaplains on base - something the army is doing which evangelical Christians consider highly immoral, if not blasphemous. Then there's that thing about all the killing, which pure pacifists would find immoral under any conditions.

What if I believe that it is immoral to oppress or ostracize people simply because of which consenting adults they choose to have intimate relationships with? Well, he might say, I am not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Pace's morality is one of simplistic authoritarianism: a matter of obedience to a code etched in stone. This is a cheap immature stand-in for real ethical understanding that so many people are stuck in. This is why his notion of what is immoral includes victimless actions between consenting adults and why he can't see the distinction between homosexuality and adultery, where there is a person who is being betrayed and harmed. Morality is not about following dictates under threat of punishment (eternal or otherwise) - it is about human beings working together, living and acting responsibly and compassionately toward one another for their own wellbeing and the betterment of all.

Pace's notion of morality is not only primitive and misguided, but it is woefully insufficient for dealing with a modern diverse society with a variety of specific religious beliefs. Pace is not an instructor at a private school or the head of a private company - he is an official in a government that is the property of all of the people who pay his salary: straights, gays, men, women, blacks, whites, latinos, asians, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Humanists, Wiccans, and more.

Note, for example, Pace's analogy of homosexuality to adultery. Pace said he "supports the don't ask, don't tell policy" where gays are allowed to serve if they keep their homosexuality private. Can you imagine the military having a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy about adultery? Can you imagine the chairman saying that, as long as they keep their adultery secret they can serve in the military? This points out the hypocrisy such a ridiculous ethical system encourages.

Pace finds himself in a precarious position within a world that is rapidly changing around him. Such a simplistic childlike notion of morality may have worked back in his home town as a growing boy but he, like so many others with such notions, will find their authoritarian outlook increasingly divisive and incompatible with the real world. Only a broader more mature understanding of ethics and morality will be consistent with a peaceful, prosperous, and secure society - something I'd think the military should be interested in.


  1. The comparison to adultery is quite interesting. It's a shame none of the reporters asked him what he would think about introducing a policy throwing soldiers out if they're ever committed adultery. Any answer he could even try to give would betray how irrational he really is.

  2. JS,
    That policy already exists. Officers can and do get court martialed and drummed out of the service for adultery.

    As an aside, it's important to remember that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," is not a policy created by the military, but rather by Congress and the President.