Steve Chapman

Does that line of argument sound familiar? It should. It's exactly what the military has said whenever it has been presented with a new requirement proposed by elected officials dissatisfied with existing policy.

In 1941, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall advised that efforts to bring about racial integration "are fraught with danger to efficiency, discipline or morale." Adm. Chester Nimitz agreed that segregation was essential to "harmony and efficiency aboard ship."

The brass took the same view of admitting women to the service academies. In 1974, Air Force Academy Supt. Lt. Gen. Albert Clark said that "the introduction of female cadets will inevitably erode this vital atmosphere." When the idea of putting women on Navy ships arose, a survey of sailors found most thought it would have "a negative impact on discipline."

We got a reprise of this critique whenever anyone mentioned allowing gays in the military. During the 2010 debate in Congress, more than 1,000 former generals and admirals signed a letter saying the ban was needed to "protect good order, discipline and morale."

But somehow our military managed to survive putting blacks and whites in the same billets. Somehow it became the most powerful fighting force on Earth following the intrusion of females. A year after gays were admitted, Amos said, "I'm very pleased with how this turned out."

The people in charge of the services may have the best of intentions in dealing with sexual assault. But they have a habit of rejecting reasonable changes on the basis of fears that turn out to be unfounded.

The Gillibrand bill aims at curbing sexual assault through impartial treatment of violent predators. That would be good for women -- and for the military they serve. She grasps what the Pentagon apparently does not: When you're trying to promote order and discipline, sexual assaults can really get in the way.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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