Gulf war hero opposes gays: General Schwarzkopf tells senators military is 'not the place for social experimentation'

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The Independent Online
Bill Clinton's quandary over lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military grows ever deeper. Yesterday it was the turn of America's most famous fighting man to come out in flat opposition to such an executive order, which the White House still plans to issue before the end of July.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Operation Desert Storm and victor of the Gulf war, told a Senate Committee that his belief the ban should stay was based 'not on moral outrage', but on the impact it would have on the armed forces' mission. The military was 'not the place for social experimentation', its first duty was 'to fight our nation's wars, and to win those wars'.

According to Gen Schwarzkopf, the presence of avowed homosexuals in the services would have a devastating effect on 'unit cohesion', which he called 'the single most important factor' in combat effectiveness.

The introduction of open homosexuals into a unit immediately polarised it. 'Violence sometimes follows, while morale breaks down and unit effectiveness suffers. That has been my experience during 40 years of army service,' said the general. He predicted that large numbers of high- quality servicemen would leave if the ban were removed.

Yesterday's testimony, 24 hours after Armed Services Committee members visited Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, makes it more probable than ever that a majority of the committee will recommend the existing de facto situation continues to operate, of a formal ban coupled with tolerance of men who hide their homosexuality.

As they toured the cramped living conditions on board naval vessels, the senators heard much the same message in Norfolk as they have now done from Gen Schwarzkopf and most top Pentagon officials.

The President faces an unenviable choice. As shouted questions during his trip to Cleveland on Monday made plain, the issue of the ban simply will not go away. Within the next two months he must decide whether to ditch a campaign promise to an important constituency, or further antagonise a military establishment unhappy at both his planned defence cuts, and his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War.

As the gays row continues to dog him, Mr Clinton yesterday showed signs of willingness to compromise on other fronts - this time to save his economic plans. The President is reportedly ready to drop an investment tax credit for industry, and to reduce the proposed corporate income tax to 35 per cent from 36 per cent, compared with the current 34 per cent. He is also said to be offering substantial changes in his proposed energy tax.