It’s possible in the constant churn of pessimistic news and recession-era self doubt to forget just how enduring and remarkable many of our civic institutions are.
One of the most extraordinary is the professionalism and loyalty of the US military, which has supported and embraced the concept of civilian rule from the moment George Washington first set aside his own claims on power.
In this case, the test that we confronted as a society was the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the armed forces.
It was clear from the beginning that top brass in the Marine Corps were particularly uncomfortable with the idea of repealing don’t ask don’t tell.
That law required gay service members to remain closeted, hiding the truth about their personal lives from fellow service-members and their officers.
General James Amos, the four star general who serves as the Corps’ commandant, made it plain publicly that he considered repeal to be misguided and perhaps even morally wrong, especially in a time of war.
But Congress and President Barack Obama, serving in his capacity as commander in chief, overruled reluctant military leaders. DADT was struck down.
Gen. Amos’s reaction is typical of the military’s behavior over the last two centuries, drawing on an ethos of professionalism, strict loyalty to the rule of law, and defense of democracy.
Remember that this is a military leadership being asked to do something that it doesn’t think is right, during a time of war and intense institutional stress.
Many other societies, from Rome’s empire to the European democracies in the 1930s, failed to navigate this kind of divide.
Yet Gen. Amos makes it clear that the larger principles at stake are far more important, even more sacred.
When our elected officials bicker and fail to find needed compromise, they should watch this video to see just what leadership in a democracy looks like.