From the Op-Ed page in today's New York Times (2/1/93)...


By Lucian K. Truscott IV (a West Point graduate, author of "Dress Gray." His two grandfathers (a four-star general and a colonel) and father (a colonel) were career soldiers.)

Los Angeles -- Isn't it paradoxical that on the day President Clinton and Vice President Gore attended the funeral service for Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Clinton found himself in the situation Harry S Truman occupied in 1948 in the months leading up to his executive order integrating the military?

I grew up in the integrated Army. One day, schools, housing -- the Army itself -- were segregated; the next day they weren't. Six years would pass before Thurgood Marshall successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court. Ten more years would be wasted before Congress found the courage to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But in July 1948, the courage of one man, Truman, ended the decades of dishonor represented by a segregated military in a democratic society. That February, he announced that he had ordered the Secretary of Defense to eliminate discrimination in the armed forces as soon as possible. A storm of protest, especially from Southern Congressmen, ensued: There would be a potential for violence. Whites didn't want to live in the same barracks with blacks.

The day after Truman issued his order, Gen. Omar N. Bradley, the Army Chief of Staff, reportedly said: "The Army is not out to make any social reform. The Army will not put men of different races in the same companies. It will change that policy when the nation as a whole changes it." That rebellion went nowhere.

Others raised questions: Would a white take orders from a black sergeant or lieutenant? What about bathroom facilities? Would -- gasp! -- whites and blacks share toilets, showers and sinks? What about the feelings of white families who might not want their boys living with blacks? Wouldn't this hurt the retention of soldiers and damage recruitment?

Oh, it was admitted that black units had served with distinction in World War II and before. So long as the black units remained separate but equal, things would be fine, it was said. It was the mixing that would damage the Army: blacks serving side by side with whites would be detrimental to good order and discipline, and destructive of morale.

Substitute "gays" for "blacks," and you've pretty much got the situation facing President Clinton. The same chorus of protest, resistance to change, fear of the unknown.

The idea of segregating gay soldiers in barracks and combat, now under study in the Pentagon, is as anathema as segregating black soldiers. Whether in the military or in schools, separate but equal is inherently unequal.

Reading the reactions of senior military officials, especially that of Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you would think time had stopped, that Truman's courageous stand never happened.

Opponents of gays in the military say smugly that these two things are not analogous, because integration of the military dealt with skin color, and allowing gays in deals with a "life- style choice." Specious hogwash! Discrimination and segregation based on sexual preference are as unacceptable and plain stupid as the treatment of blacks before Truman.

It may take Congress, the national headquarters of risk aversion, years to pass the gay rights equivalent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the principle is the very one Truman faced, and Clinton knows this.

"The issue is whether men and women who can and have served with real distinction should be excluded from military service solely on the basis of their status, and I believe they should not," Mr. Clinton said Friday when he announced the July 15 deadline to draft an order allowing gays to serve in the military.

He will face stiff Capitol Hill opposition. Congressmen who make antebellum noises about this issue should be ashamed, and Mr. Clinton should tell them so. But integration will happen, perhaps beginning in July. Straight soldiers will learn to serve next to, catnap with, sleep near and use the same restrooms as gay soldiers. Officers who resist carrying out the order should be fired.

The equality Truman ordered was inevitable; so is the equality Bill Clinton wants for gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and women.

As my father told me, it doesn't matter what color they are, what sex they are or what their sexual preference is. The only thing that counts is whether or not they can soldier.