The colonel may know killing but not life

MICHAEL OLESKER

May 13, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the process of embracing his homosexual son in front of the entire nation, Marine Col. Fred Peck has inadvertently called heterosexuals a bunch of slobs. Or maybe it wasn't so inadvertent. Maybe Colonel Peck has simply been paying attention to heterosexuals.

On Tuesday, Colonel Peck urged a U.S. Senate committee to scratch all notions of ending the military ban on gays. You've heard about war being hell? According to the colonel, so is sexuality. He envisions American soldiers killing each other over it.

Because his son Scott, a senior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is gay, life in the military would be "hell" for him if he joined up, Colonel Peck declared. In fact, he said, he wouldn't be surprised if Scott's own troops were to fire on him once they discovered he wasn't interested in women.

You thought we used to have escalation in the arms race? How about the escalation of language? When the issue of gays in the military heated up in the last presidential campaign, opponents zTC talked most emotionally about discomfort in the showers.

Isn't that interesting? In a gathering of young, overwhelmingly heterosexual young people who have been trained to kill, they're worried about a gay man or a lesbian making an unwanted sexual advance? When the shower argument seemed to wash out, the talk turned to homicide. Engaged in combat, Colonel Peck said, heterosexual American soldiers might use a chaotic moment to kill a compatriot whose bedroom habits they deem inappropriate.

In emotional testimony before the Senate committee, Colonel Peck, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said he'd only learned of his 24-year old son's sexual preference the previous day. Scott Peck knew his father would be testifying against allowing gays in the military and told him in order to protect him from any possible embarrassment.

"I love him," Colonel Peck told the committee. "I love him as much as I do any of my sons. But he should not serve in the military."

It is touching to hear such a father -- a professional tough guy, a military lifer, a confirmed heterosexual -- speak with such tenderness. But it's puzzling why Colonel Peck thinks other heterosexuals, particularly those in the military, aren't capable of the same kind of sensitivity.

The quick answer: He's heard about the Tailhook scandal, about sexual indiscretions at the U.S. Naval Academy, about the sexual scandals in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties -- heterosexual abuse, every time.

Oops: Are we stereotyping heterosexuals with such a salacious list?

Absolutely -- and absolutely unfairly. Just as we have a history of sexually stereotyping gays, we are now unfairly putting all heterosexuals in a single lump. In the issue of gays in the military, we are declaring heterosexuals to be too insensitive, too unsophisticated, too immature to accept gays for the things that unite us all, instead of rejecting them for the things they do differently.

Given the chance, people thrown together do not judge each other strictly on the basis of a single characteristic. If they did, then the continuing social experiment called America could never have been attempted.

When Americans haul out the great platitudes about ourselves, we revel in our diversity. Then we tend to back off when the talk gets too specific. That's what's happening now. But the military is one of this country's great melting pot success stories. The armed forces racially integrated at a time when the rest of the country was still dealing with segregationist laws. Today, they're more fully racially integrated than most aspects of civilian life.

If they can do it with skin color, so clear and so overt and so woven with historic antagonisms, why should there be a problem with something as private as sexual preference? In fact, why is it necessary to ask about sexual preference in the first place?

If unwanted advances were to be made by gays, then they should be punished. Heterosexuals in the military should know how to do that, having had so much practice. But, beyond that, it's nobody's business what any people do in the privacy of their beds.

Colonel Peck showed a father's love for a son the other day. While he was at it, he should have shown more of an officer's faith in his troops. The son may be stronger than the father knows. The troops may be more mature than he suspects.

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