Yesterday was a special day in the perverse annals of military lunacy. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by the estimable Senator Carl Levin, former NATO commander (in the 1990s), retired U.S. Marine General John Sheehan, said that the inclusion of gays in the Dutch military was one of the reasons that Dutch troops had failed to prevent the genocidal slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. Strangely, this view does not reflect any serious opinion in The Netherlands, where the country’s tarnished image might easily have been expected to find some refuge in such an interpretation.
The idea that allowing gays in the Dutch military was a cause of this terrible massacre is a homophobic fantasy that Sheehan tried, rather vaguely, to attribute to Dutch informants. Hence, this curious exchange between the retired general –who wore his former uniform to the hearing– and Levin:
LEVIN: “And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?”?
SHEEHAN: “It was a combination…”?
LEVIN: “Did they tell you [that gay soldiers were to blame], that is my question.”?
LEVIN: “They did?”
SHEEHAN: “They included that as part of the problem.”
Dutch military officials were more than surprised to hear this, with Roger van de Wetering, a spokesman for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, saying that Sheehan’s views were “total nonsense.”
General Sheehan retired from the Marine Corps on September 24, 1997 and, a year later, joined Bechtel International, the 5th-largest privately owned company in the U.S., as a Senior Vice President. For those of you who don’t keep track of these things, Bechtel has long been intimately connected to the highest reaches of our government. Originally incorporated in 1925 as the W.A. Bechtel Company, it merged a dozen years later with the engineering company of John McCone to form an engineering/construction firm called the Bechtel-McCone Company. After World War Two, Bechtel bought out McCone’s share and incorporated the company as the Bechtel Corporation, while McCone went on to head the Atomic Energy Commission, followed by a stint as head of the CIA. Meanwhile, Bechtel went on, in 1981, to buy a controlling interest in the Wall Street investment bank, Dillon, Read, which had an established record of placing high-ranking executives in powerful government positions, including James Forrestal as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense and Douglas Dillon as Kennedy’s Secretary of the Treasury. But, the process worked both ways. George Schultz, who had been Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury and then president of Bechtel from1974 to 1982, joined Dillon Read’s board on behalf of Bechtel.
In recent years, Bechtel has become especially well known for its role in the famous Cochabamba water wars. In September, 1999, with Bolivia under pressure from the World Bank to privatize its municipal water systems, the company effectively took over the water supply of Cochabamba, the country’s third largest city, when a privatization contract was awarded to Aguas del Tunari, a consortium in which Bechtel held a 27.5 percent interest. Soon after, water rates in Cochabamba rose by an average of about 50 percent, despite the fact that Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 104 out of 174 countries in the 2002 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program. It was a year after Sheehan joined Bechtel that it took over the water system of Cochabamba.
If Sheehan’s career after he retired from the armed forces gives some insight into his dismal sensitivities, his comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee reveal another side of the heartless worldview with which he commanded our forces. This worldview is probably not so rare among his former colleagues and it has undoubtedly helped to lead us into our present moral quagmire in the Middle East. But, here’s the telling point: when Roger van de Wetering, on behalf of the Dutch government, rejected Sheehan’s inexplicable claim about the problem of gay soldiers among their forces at Srebrenica, he said: “It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense.” Maybe it is his “stature” that should be questioned. If so, then the real problem with the U.S. military is hardly the sexual orientation of its soldiers.
[reprinted from The Porcupine]