One of the things you learn in the military is the importance of moral authority. Moral authority matters because it helps to check the abuse of power by those with legal or statutory authority.
This is especially important in hierarchical and bureaucratic organization such as the U.S. military. While serving in Iraq, for instance, I saw Marine Corps captains and majors defer to more junior corporals and sergeants.
The captains and majors, obviously, had controlling legal authority; and no one, least of all the Marine corporals and sergeants, ever doubted or questioned this. But everyone recognized that, because of their combat experience and savvy, the corporals and sergeants had a certain moral authority which had to be acknowledged and respected.
I was reminded of this point yesterday while watching Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Augustine Giunta receive the Congressional Medal of Honor: Because although policymakers certainly have the legal authority to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I'm not sure that they have the moral authority to do so.
And that is why, I think, Senator McCain has wisely decided to oppose (at least for now) any attempt to summarily force the military -- and especially the combat arms -- to accommodate open homosexuality within the ranks.
"I agree," McCain said Sunday on Meet the Press. "The President and the Secretary of Defense have all come out for repeal. But I really would --
I was in an outpost near Kandahar. Army Master Sergeant, 19 years in, fifth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, says to me: "Senator McCain, we live, eat, sleep and fight together at close proximity. I'm concerned about the repeal. I'd like to know more about it." That's the view that I got from chief petty officers and sergeants all over Afghanistan.
My own military experience is quite modest and certainly in no way comparable or analogous to that of Sen. McCain's and Staff Sergeant Giunta's.
I did, however, serve in Iraq (as a Marine) with the First Battalion, Fourth Marine Infantry Regiment. And I can tell you that the non-commissioned officer corps -- the same chief petty officers and sergeants whom Sen. McCain alludes to -- are almost all completely against open homosexuality within the ranks.
They oppose openly gay service because they recognize that the introduction of an overt sexual dynamic into small-scale military units is inherently disruptive and problematic. They also recognize that morale and esprit de corps are dependent upon a shared sense of manhood that simply does not allow for same-sex attraction and allure.
Yet all too often their voices -- the voices of our NCO corps, the voices of the men (and yes, they're men, not women) doing the fighting and dying on our behalf -- are disregarded altogether in the debate over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." These men are treated as mindless sheep who can and should be herded into submission by the officer corps.
I'm sorry, but that's not right; it's wrong. What makes our military singularly unique, after all, is its non-commissioned officers. These are highly trained warriors who command great responsibility (and respect), exhibit great leadership, and demonstrate great initiative. And without them, we would fail militarily.
So it behooves us to listen to them and to heed their concerns. The NCOs may not have legal authority to enforce their will over a more politically correct officer corps and the Pentagon desk jockeys. They do, however, possess tremendous moral authority by virtue of having seen combat for most of the past decade.
I really don't know whether Staff Sergeant Giunta favors openly gay service. Certainly, he is under no obligation to enter this debate. He owes us absolutely nothing. We are forever in his debt for his awe-inspiring courage and gallantry under fire.
But I do know that many warriors like Giunta absolutely are opposed to sexualizing and feminizing the combat arms.
I also know that our ruling class elites and the popular culture have done their best to bully and intimidate our warriors into silent submission and acquiescence. This, as I say, is wrong and unconscionable.
Like all of us, Sen. McCain surely has made many mistakes in his life. But one mistake that he has never made, even in his darkest and most nightmarish days at the Hanoi Hilton, is to abandon his brothers-in-arms.
That is why he has willingly suffered the slings and arrows of Hollywood and our ruling class elites to protect the cultural viability and integrity of the American armed forces.
I don't know whether and for how long Sen. McCain will be able to withstand the tremendous pressure he is under to submit to the far Left. But I do know that, once again, he has shown great courage and resolve. And he has given America's warriors reason to hope that, on another distant battlefield in Washington, D.C., they might yet prevail once again, thanks to their moral authority and moral courage.