It's comforting to see that in the critical first weeks following his election, Bill Clinton is being forced to grapple with the most serious problem facing this nation:
Whether to allow gays in the military.
Personally, I don't see why gays want to get in the military.
If I were gay, I'd much rather get into the White House or the board room of General Motors than into Fort Bragg.
But I understand the symbolism involved. The only country clubs I'd ever fight to join are the ones that discriminate against me.
Just what is the objection to gays in the military?
,.5l When you cut through all the verbiage, you find out our military men have two basic fears:
* A gay guy will see them naked in the shower.
* A gay guy will see them in the barracks in their underwear.
You would think that a military that vanquished Nazi Germany and crushed Imperial Japan would be able to deal with this, but so far our generals and admirals have been baffled.
I have two solutions:
Solution to Problem One: In the last 10 years, our government has spent $500 million tracking down gays in the military. Over the next 10 years, we should take half that amount and buy shower curtains.
Solution to Problem Two: You don't want a gay guy to see you in the barracks in your underwear? Put your pants on.
But not so fast, the generals say. There are other problems. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complains that gays will undermine the "good order and discipline" that currently exist in the military.
This, I guess, is the same good order and discipline that was demonstrated at the Navy's Tailhook Convention when heterosexual male officers sexually assaulted and abused female officers and civilians.
But Norman Schwarzkopf, retired hero of the Persian Gulf War, comes up with another problem. He says that having gays in the military will ruin the esprit de corps.
This, I admit, is a knotty problem. And should we ever need another cavalry charge up San Juan Hill, we might have to worry about it.
But these days I am not sure how much esprit de corps is actually needed to push the button on a Tomahawk missile.
Not that pride and patriotism are unimportant. They are two of the reasons, along with economics, that people join the military.
But pride and patriotism are the same motivations that cause gays to want to join the military. And there is no study to suggest that they perform their duties any differently.
The standard for gays and straights in the military should be the same: behavior. In other words, it doesn't matter what you are, it matters what you do.
If you sneak away from guard duty to roll in the hay with somebody, you should be court martialed. And it doesn't matter if the rollee or the roller was gay or straight.
Similarly, if you sexually harass someone, you should be punished. And it doesn't matter if you are a straight sailor abusing a woman on board ship or a gay sailor abusing a man aboard ship. (And you can work out the other combinations.)
Nobody should be sanctioned for his or her sexual orientation. Instead, they should be sanctioned for improper sexual conduct.
The military does not now follow this standard. Currently, you are drummed out of the military for being gay even if you have never engaged in a homosexual act.
I saw a young woman interviewed on TV who was kicked out of the Navy after she said she was a lesbian.
"I had not had sexual relations with a woman," the woman said, "but I felt I had to tell them [i.e. her superior officers] how I felt I was."
Bill Clinton is talking about injecting a little common sense into this situation. (Which is probably why the military is so upset. Nothing destroys esprit de corps faster than common sense.)
As Clinton says, there have always been gays in the military and all he wants to do is free them from having to lie about it.
Allowing people to achieve their goals without lying is a worthy cause.
And if it works in the military, maybe we could someday try it in presidential campaigns.