The US has begun the long process of overturning law that required gay soldiers to lie about their sexual orientation. But overturning the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy promises to be a nasty, dirty fight

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been a policy devised by US politicians who have not had the guts to do what is right because of the potential electoral consequences. At long last it has been outed as such.

It may have been a motto that its founding Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton preferred to live his own life by, but it has been an insult to soldiers brave enough to step up and put their lives on the line for their country.

Good enough to die, only if they lie.

In an extraordinary move this week the US top brass fronted to the Senate Armed Services Committee to tell them the military fully intend to now do the right thing by all their troops, irrespective of a soldier’s sexual orientation.

And so begins the process that will fulfill another of Obama’s election promises, but make no mistake, as Obama himself seems to always say, this will not be easy. Oh really. Just a few minutes searching online and reading letters to editors and reactions from certain politicians reveal an ugly, boorish, ignorant and prejudiced underbelly of homophobes and gay bashers who fully intend to be very, very loud on this issue.

The military is no more immune from homophobes than it is from homosexuals, and testimony from gay soldiers who have been fired once outed, or fled to Canada in fear of their lives, indicates there’s going to be a lot of work to do within the forces.

The ultimate decision will be that of the Congress, and will be some time off. In the meantime however, Admiral Mike Mullen and Defence Secretary Robert Gates say they are going to start making moves to allow openly gay people to serve in the military. This is likely to include a moratorium on discharges until a full review of the 16-year-old law has been completed.

Essentially that means pre-empting a law change which may not eventuate. In so doing the military’s announcement of working towards a new policy opens huge legal issues for those who may be outed from now on. How can the military comply with its current law and discharge a soldier when that soldier now has such strong evidence that his or her top commanders don’t agree with the policy anymore, that they are going to “do the right thing” and are already working to change it?

It possibly has even more implications for the estimated 13,000 men and women who have already been discharged because they have been outed.

Or what about soldiers like Private Bethany Smith who deserted and fled to Canada because she was in fear of her life? After a fellow soldier saw her holding hands with another woman at a mall near base, she received hate mail, death threats and constant bullying. Hightailing it to Canada came when despite alleged verbal and physical abuse she was still going to be deployed to Afghanistan with her abusers. The paperwork for her discharge on the basis of being known to be gay was to be sorted out after. After what?

Of course this points to two major issues.

It shows the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy was not being strictly enforced when it didn’t suit and it gives a glimpse into the sort of education issues that confront the military when they do change the law.

It also makes a huge joke of the rather specious and blatantly convenient claims justifying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as being concerned with the “rights” of Iraqi and Afghan women. It seems the rights of a woman soldier prepared to put her life on the line for her country don’t matter much if she’s gay. She is expected to serve all the while fearing she’d be suffocated in her sleep by her fellow soldiers. How could you trust them to cover you in the field?

In the testimony Admiral Mullen made to the Committee when explaining the proposed law changes he admonished the military for devaluing able and committed soldiers by forcing them to lie about who they really are.

It is finally being openly stated that these soldiers live not only with the daily threat of being taken out by the enemy, but of losing their careers if they failed to be dishonest with their own bosses. Honesty, it seems, has been too tricky for the Armed Forces. Pretending is good, especially if recruitment is down.

And then there’s Senator John McCain. War hero. The former Presidential Candidate once said he was happy with the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ business unless the top brass came to him and said it was time to change. Well that’s what they have now done, but of course it is not particularly convenient timing for McCain. He’s busy trying to be a Republican leader and would prefer, it seems from his tirade against Gates and Mullen, to find next tier top brass who object to any change in line with conservative ‘values’.

Such values amount to tolerating people pretending to be something they are not, so long as they can make up the numbers in the killing fields.

Polished boots and gleaming buttons have blinded the Armed Forces from the immorality of the demands they have put on fellow human beings.

Like some embarrassing old relative they kept hidden from the neighbours, too many of the military and political hierarchies considered being upfront about the bravery of gay soldiers all too embarrassing. It is like those people who insist some of their best friends are gay or black, but they just can’t seem to remember the names of such friends. There has always been knowledge of gay soldiers otherwise why would such a ridiculous law have been implemented in the first place?

Countries like Canada and Britain don’t make a big deal of it, but the US face-saving compromise, has indeed made it an issue for them.

Perhaps all the effort to oppose ending the current law could instead be spent on some forces-wide courses in basic human rights, help in avoiding post traumatic suicides, tactics to prevent spousal abuse and homicides, anger management, alcohol and drug abuse, and possibly a myriad of other real social problems that exist within the US military.

Comments (4)

by Andrew Geddis on February 04, 2010
Andrew Geddis

What I find odd, and a bit sad, about this issue is that the US armed forces played an important role in overturning formal, legal discrimination against black Americans from the 1940s onwards. Congress' refusal to let them do so now with respect to Gay and Lesbian people is shameful.

by Graeme Edgeler on February 04, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Congress' refusal to let them do so now with respect to Gay and Lesbian people is shameful.

Congress has yet to refuse to do so now. And I anticipate that they will overturn the prohibition, although you may not like all of the arguments that will be put forward in support of your position.

I'd also note that Congress didn't integrate the armed forces - that was done by executive order. But for the law, I anticipate this would have been done already in the same way.

by Graeme Edgeler on February 04, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

But for the law, I anticipate this would have been done already in the same way.

And I will perhaps leave it to those who know somewhat more about it than I do.

ref: comments on this kiwipolitico thread

by Tim Watkin on February 05, 2010
Tim Watkin

Of course it should be scrapped because it's the right thing to do. But it's interesting what message such a change would send to the radical Muslim world, and the 'enemy' currently being engaged by US troops in two wars. On one hand it re-inforces American tolerance and the values so heartily damaged by the Bush administration. On the other, it would give another reason for many Muslims to find the West and its values distasteful and worthy of scorn.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not positing that as a reason not to change or seeking to justify anything... just wondering.

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