15 September 2009

Kennedy: Byrd Invoked Rome to Argue Vs. Gays in the Military

Monday's posthumous publication of True Compass: A Memoir, by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has revealed an anecdote about Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and one his favorite scholarly subjects.

Several have picked up on the passage, including Politico. Kennedy was recounting a meeting at the Clinton White House, where the then-president asked Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee for their opinions about gays in the military.

The last senator to speak was Robert Byrd, and he came up with a new one on all of us. ... He informed us, with many ornate flourishes, that there had been a terrible problem in ancient Rome with young military boys turned into sex slaves. I don’t remember the exact details, but I think the story involved Tiberius Julius Caesar being captured and abused and used as a sex slave. He escaped and then years later he sought vengeance and killed his captors.

Anyway, it was something like that. The room fell silent. The senator continued. Then President Clinton stood up. His response was short and sweet. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Moses went up to the mountain, and he came back with the tablets and there were ten commandments on those tablets. I’ve read those commandments. I know what they say, just like I know you do. And nowhere in those ten commandments will you find anything about homosexuality. Thank y’all for coming.’ He ended the meeting and walked out of the room.”
(Nerdy footnote: Kennedy's recollection may be at fault, but the incident more likely involved Gaius Julius Caesar, of crossing the Rubicon fame (and not Augustus' successor as emperor).

The anecdote appears to confuse/conflate Caesar's alleged affair with the king of a potential Roman ally with his brief capture at the hands of Cilician pirates, both from early in his career.

Presumably, invoking the Sacred Band of Thebes would not have supported the argument. Pederasty, on the other hand, does appear to have been a recurring issue in ancient military life for both Rome and the Greek city-states. )


Anonymous said...

One would assume that Senator Byrd would also be concerned about the sexual exploitation of women in the services, an ongoing problem. In both cases, the issue is the abuse of power, not of orientation. And one which is not solved in either case by banning people from serving.

El Cabrero said...

Awesome classical digression! The Spartans weren't too troubled by this issue. I think it was kind of mandatory.