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Clinton sees Marines as a family unit

WASHINGTON - When the White House learned late on Wednesday that a new edict had been issued excluding married men from enlisting with the US Marines, it reacted with remarkable haste. That would have been a controversy too far, writes David Usborne.

By the time of the main evening news bulletins, the policy, announced by General Carl Mundy, the Marine Commandant, was history. It had not been approved in advance by President Bill Clinton or his Defense Secretary, Les Aspin. Once they had learned of it, both were appalled.

The President, according to his spokeswoman, had been 'caught completely flatfooted' by the announcement, which had come in the form of a written policy notice from Gen Mundy.

Mr Aspin soon saw to it that the Mundy edict was buried. 'When the Secretary learned of this, he responded very promptly and very sharply,' a Pentagon spokesman commented. 'The Services have the authority to put out specific policies like that, but this particular Secretary sees family issues as sufficiently important they require his review.'

The general's initiative would have gradually introduced a practice of accepting only unmarried recruits to the Marines. The general claims that unacceptable numbers of married marines who serve long tours abroad fail to re-enlist. In his note, the general also suggested that an inordinate proportion of marriages among marines break up. 'Eventually the weight of family-related problems can disrupt the individual's concentration level, result in decreased performance and require command attention,' he wrote.

But with the fracas over Mr Clinton's efforts to allow homosexuals in the military barely subsided, the initiative seemed at best, politically unwise. It would have meant new marines could not have been married but could have been homosexual - as long as they did not practise or display their sexuality.

Pat Shroeder, a Democrat congresswoman, summed up the absurdity: 'If they are not allowed to be homosexuals and they're not allowed to be married, what are they supposed to do, take cold showers?'