4,200 midshipmen hear top general Powell explores lifting of ban on gays

January 12, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

If a military ban on homosexuals is lifted, officers will have to conform to the new policy or resign their commissions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, an opponent of ending the ban, told midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis that if President-elect Bill Clinton follows through on his campaign pledge, "We must conform to that policy. The debate will be over."

But in response to a midshipman who said he believes that homosexuality is immoral, General Powell added, "If it strikes at the heart of your moral beliefs, then you have to resign."

"This will be one of the most difficult issues the armed forces has faced," he said, adding that he believes the presence of homosexuals will be detrimental to the military.

"Homosexuality is not a benign behavioral characteristic such as skin color. It goes to the core of the most fundamental aspect of human behavior," the general said.

He made his remarks last night before 4,200 midshipmen, bringing them to their feet several times during a speech that touched on leadership and preserving military strength in the post-Cold War era.

Noting that he is nearing the end of his military career as the midshipmen are beginning theirs, he noted that they will be the first set of officers to enter the military after the end of the Cold War.

"For my 35 years, from second lieutenant to chairman, I could count on a single strategic framework called the Cold War," he said. "The Cold War was always there, reminding us of why we had an armed forces here."

But he warned against complacency, and urged the president-elect to scale back military spending carefully, maintaining forces in Europe while ensuring a strong U.S. military. "We have got to do it carefully," he said. "This is not the time to withdraw back to fortress America, not the time to forget the lessons of history as we have done so often in the past.

"Above all, in this still dangerous world of nuclear weapons, do not abandon our ability [to destroy weapons].

"You can't demobilize us the way we did after World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam."

He told midshipmen that he already has talked with Mr. Clinton and Les Aspin, the president-elect's nominee for secretary of defense, about the dangers facing the world and the need for a strong military to meet the challenge.

"I have been very, very gratified with the response I have gotten from both of these leaders," the general said.

Asked about the role of women in the military, General Powell said that fundamental changes must be made to "open up more roles for women."

"I believe we must hold the line with regard to ground combat and combat artillery," he said.

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