Wednesday, December 22, 2010
DADT Repealed - So much more left to do...
Just watched President Obama sign the bill ending the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that was instituted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton who, shoved up against the political wall by a new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate--notably Sam Nunn of Georgia, and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina--opted for the absurdity of requiring Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen to lie, something that the honor codes of the five service academies (West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine) would ipso facto qualify as an offense requiring expulsion. But--and herein lies the absurdity--gay/lesbian service members were required, beginning in 1993, to lie about their personal lives.
Writing more than a decade ago (the more things change…), I observed that: After hearing that with the new Republican majority in the United States Congress, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina would most likely head the Armed Services Committee where the Don't Ask,Don't Tell policy was given a difficult and ugly birth, I recalled watching a portion of those hearings on T.V. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was testifying before Sam Nunn of Georgia and Strom Thurmond. Nunn and Kerry were debating the probability that if openly gay soldiers were to remain in the military, then the section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“Military justice is to justice as Military music is to music.” Georges Clemenceau), dealing with sodomy would have to be revised. At one point, Strom Thurmond–looking like the weathered, ancient, evil, Father of all Beasts that he is–asked “Senator Kerry I have one and only one question for you. Do homosexuals commit sodomy?” Kerry stammered a bit, saying that some homosexuals probably do commit sodomy but that some heterosexuals commit sodomy, also. “Just answer my question, Senator,” Thurmond shouted. “Do homosexuals commit sodomy?” Kerry stammered again and Thurmond announced that the military was not the place for “…sodomites. There’s only one place for sodomites and that’s in jail,” he said.
The polemic is clear. The lines have been drawn. What surely seems to denude the honor from the gay or lesbian soldier’s service in the minds of the anti-homosexualists is the manner in which those homosexuals make love or have made love or might make love sometime in the future. How absurd this shibboleth should frighten the bejesus out of the brass-plated bastions of what is probably the most masculine institution in this country. But, it does. And, as politically correct as Bill Clinton may have been in proposing an end to the ban, it is unfortunate that his motivation was political correctness rather than heartfelt commitment. There is a difference.
It was, I suppose, quite enough for Bill Clinton–of all people!–to have been the drum major for ending the ban on gays in the military. Drum majors strut. And, they’re supposed to strut at the head of the band until the parade is over. What seems to have occurred, however, is that our drum major crapped out at the point it was clear the band was not playing the kind of music the crowd wanted to hear.
There is something desperately wrong with the American military’s obsessive paranoia with regard to the homosexuals amongst them. Randy Shilt’s study of homosexuals in the American military (and the categorical dispossession of the military careers of those homosexuals), Conduct Unbecoming, is not read so much as something factual but as something you can’t quite believe; something like standing upon the autumn grass at Gettysburg and not quite believing that seven-thousand men once lay dead and forty-thousand lay wounded upon the gentle slopes of those quiet Pennsylvania hills. Did this horror really happen here? Did our country really do this to itself?
I served honorably in the United States Army. I was a soldier. Not a gay soldier or a white soldier or a Colorado soldier. Just a soldier. Period. That was, after all, why I was there. But, that was only for two years. What about the career soldier who happens to be gay or lesbian? What about them? Does being a soldier necessarily preclude that that soldier may also be a human being? No, for heterosexual soldiers it doesn’t. But, what about us? What about the gay or lesbian soldier who is willing–and has and will continue–to die for their country? What about them, Strom?
There is so much that needs to be addressed with regard to this new place and time where Don't Ask, Don't Tell will be shoved off the table into the ignoble dustbin of this nation's history.
I recall from my novel, "Big Diehl - The Road Home," some haunting words that seem to crystallize only one aspect of what needs to be addressed by the American military as Don't Ask, Don't Tell is stripped of its legitimacy: "Occurred to Diehl he had made it. Since returning from Iraq, he'd never thought much about it. Why? So many dead, maimed. So many coming back in a box, the Stars and Stripes an honor bestowed on the dead, folded according to regulation, tight corners, handed cold from the coffin to widows, mothers, fathers. Wondered who he'd want to take the flag? Tony? Maddie and Chris? All three? Hell, wouldn't make a difference to the Army. They'd give it to his daddy. No queers in the Army. No need to ask the question: 'Who did this soldier love? To whom would this flag have meaning?'"
P.S. Yes, that's me in the pic at Fort Polk, Louisiana...becoming a man, becoming a Soldier.