The Tweet Heard Round the World
News about one of the biggest changes for the modern U.S. military circulated around the world this week at the speed of light - and in fewer than 140 characters.
In case there was any doubt, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen - America's highest-ranking service member - put himself on the record for millions of Internet users with an update to his Twitter account that reaffirmed what he told lawmakers earlier Tuesday: He supports letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military.
Tweeted Mullen: "Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity." He elaborated on his views Wednesday with a statement on the Pentagon's Web site.
Within moments of appearing, Mullen's Twitter post was picked up and passed along - "retweeted," in user-parlance - countless times by countless users across the globe. Perhaps the most prominent user to give him an "RT" was the account of President Barack Obama, adding an endorsement for Mullen's stance from the commander-in-chief (or at least one of his aides).
The online world has grown accustomed to breaking stories that flash across social networks like summer lightning, as when Twitter carried updates from democracy protests in Iran or news that a US Airways jetliner had to ditch in New York's Hudson River. But Mullen's tweet was a novel instance in which an important person made news, then reported and disseminated it all by himself.
Mullen told Senate lawmakers about his position Tuesday in more than the maximum 140 numbers or letters permitted in a Twitter post: Essentially, the ban on open service means soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can't be truthful in order to serve the U.S., and honorable service must be based on the truth, Mullen said.
"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," Mullen said. "For me, it comes down to integrity - theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
Support for open service by Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is seen as critical for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." In the past, opponents have pointed to objections by the top brass as a main reason for keeping the ban.
The Twitter version of Mullen's comment continues circulating on the Web and down all the arteries that branch off from Twitter's main Web site, including desktop applications and mobile phones.
Many users are simply passing along Mullen's comment. Others, constrained by the space-limits on how much they can respond or elaborate, are adding simple words of encouragement.
"Thank you for your integrity," wrote user Annq13. "Let's hold them to this," posted matropolis. "Big step forward!" wrote lilboidancer.
Other users responded in complete posts of their own, as with Snugglegoth, who wrote: "Alexander the Great, Theban Sacred Band and Emperors such as Hadrian and Trajan dispel myth that gays aren't brave in battle."
Although most of the recent responses to Mullen's tweet praised him and his decision, there were also dissenters.
"So you want (gays) walking around bases and doing military work using gay lisps? What's next, you want them smoking pot on base?" user JaqobJackson responded.
User bangpound rejected the notion that Mullen had any moral high ground, citing a litany of recent Pentagon scandals and missteps: "I won't be lectured by @thejointstaff about integrity. Hamdania, Ishaqi, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mahmudiyah, Mukaradeeb, MWD unit hazing(hellip)" he wrote.