Gays in the Military: What General Washington Had to Say
Conservative columnist Star Parker has written a provocative article asking what the nation's first general would think of allowing homosexuals in military service. In her article "Gays in the Military: What Would George Washington Think?", Parker laments that the values of our nation are being diminished. Citing the public's growing acceptance of gays in the military, Parker writes:
The culture war is like the recipe for boiling a frog. If you drop it in hot water, it jumps out. But if you drop it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, you get frog soup.
Concession by concession, traditional values are being pushed, inexorably, to the margins of America.
It's a sign of this moral war of attrition that each battle is fought with less and less attention to what it means to the overall war.
Many, of course, see no problem with America's increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians (and their lifestyle). Parker wonders what General George Washington would think or say. Fortunately, the answer is available, for those willing to confront it.
First, let's set aside the ridiculous claims (by some) that George Washington was himself gay. There is no scholarly basis for these claims. They are (at best) attempts to associate a beloved figure with a controversial lifestyle in order to advance its acceptance. At worst, it is historical revisionism deserving of no more respect than graffiti on a bathroom wall. While there is strong, circumstancial evidence that George Washington was sterile, there is no evidence that he was anything but heterosexual.
What about gays in the Continental Army? What would General Washington have to say about that?
In March 1778, Lieut. Frederick Gotthold Enslin was courtmartialed and dismissed from the Continental Army for "attempting to commit sodomy, with John Monhort a soldier" and "for Perjury in swearing to false Accounts."
In a report dictated apparently by Washington and copied out by his staff, the general's feelings are made clear. "His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieutt. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning..."
It is remotely possible that General Washington only "detested" Lieutenant Enslin's aggressiveness or breach of military protocol, but this is unlikely. It's more reasonable to assume that Washington's finding of Enslin's behavior as "detestable" was in keeping with mainstream opinion of that day. Virtually all the colonies and later states had laws on the books against sodomy until the mid-twentieth century, when they began to be phased out or challenged in court. Finally, in 2003, the US Supreme Court invalidated all remaining anti-homosexuality statutes.
Some historians have argued that the Baron de Von Steuben was gay. Would General Washington have forfeited the services of von Steuben if this were true and his homosexuality were known? It is hard to say, since the Prussian drillmaster was indispensable to the training and strengthening of the Continental Army.
It is reasonable, in my opinion, to assume that General Washington found homosexual conduct unnatural, distasteful, and immoral. But it's also possible that, given the right circumstances, he would be amenable to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on the books currently for our armed services.