View Full Version : Gays in the Military - why a problem?
01-10-2000, 04:37 PM
I've been hearing a lot on the news recently about remarks Al Gore made recently about requiring those under his command to agree with him on his stance allowing gays to serve openly in the military. A lot of people got annoyed at this, and I guess I can see why, sort of - it's a personal opinion. But why are gays in the military an issue in the first place? Why "Don't Ask Don't Tell"? What difference does it make if someone is gay or not? If you're in the military, you're there to serve your country - it's not a social thing. And as I understand it, the military branches can't really be choosy about who's serving - they're lacking personnel in all branches.
So, is this just prejudice? Or am I oversimplifying it?
SanibelMan - My Homepage (http://members.macconnect.com/~jonkleinow/)
Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to take the job.
--The Hitckhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
01-10-2000, 04:44 PM
The argument that I have heard a lot, and this seems somewhat plausable to me, is unit cohesion. If there were some sort of break up between two gay men or women, it could cause some sort of problem. For exactly this reason, people in the armed forces in highly stressful positions in a close environment such as aircraft carriers are not allowed to have inter-sex romantic relaionships. Less stressful positions in the armed forces that never are in real danger except during a world war are permitted to do so. Another issue might be, how would people be segregated in things like bunks. Males and females live in separate barracks now, where would gays go? I like the current policy, it does not allow bigots to go on gay-witch-hunts but if a gay person is disrupting or breaking apart a unit, it all ows for their removal.
You know, doing what is right is easy. The problem is knowing what is right.
--Lyndon B. Johnson
01-10-2000, 04:47 PM
The Uniform Code of Military Justice criminalizes homosexual conduct.
One interpretation might be, then, that gays serving in the military would be violating the UCMJ if they did not live a celibate lifestyle.
For what it's worth, the UCMJ is modified not by Presidential decree, but by act of Congress.
01-10-2000, 04:52 PM
Actually, you are summing it up pretty much the way Barry Goldwater did, "It doesn't matter if soldiers are straight, as long as they can shoot straight".
I thought it was a funny display of party unity that John McCain (who favors Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell) has saved most of his venom in the debates for how horrible it was that Gore wants his Chiefs of Staff to agree with him on tolerating openly gay people. Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell seems much closer to the modern Democratic position (Don't-Discriminate) than to the position the four Republican rightists hold (status quo ante, that is, go back to witch hunts, litmus tests, dishonorable discharges, etc.)
So Bush and McCain agree that the witch hunts shouldn't be revived, but what they claim really angers them is that Gore would have the gall not only to allow openly gay people into the military, but to require that JCS people are on his side. Heavens! Who does he think the President is anyway? Commander-in-Chief?
In reality, McCain is a closet non-bigot. He wants to seem like a gay-bashing bigot to satisfy primary voters, but that's hard to do since he doesn't even want to spend defense money defending the nation from homosexuals. So he has to make a big deal of the fact that Gore is even less of a bigot that he is. He doesn't want to appear too different from Hatch, Bauer, Forbes, and Keyes, which is ironic, partly because he is different, and partly because he's way ahead of them in the polls.
Don't know how GW Bush has positioned himself on this one.
That which does not kill me just makes me really irritable
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
01-10-2000, 04:58 PM
The real reason it's a problem is because they're constantly trying to redesign the uniforms.
01-10-2000, 05:04 PM
By the way, the "you" in my first paragraph refers to the OP. I was naively thinking I'd be the first respondent.
And as to the arguments about unit cohesion, I'm not sure exactly how to operationalize "unit cohesion". We allow all sorts of people into the military, since they're supposed to protect a country full of all sorts of people. It just seems odd in a time where it is so hard to get good recruits - high school graduates in good health without criminal backgrounds - that people would be thinking of new ways to reduce the applicant pool. Maybe we should exclude skinny, well-groomed tenors since everyone is going to think they're gay. They're not? Well great.
Surprise surprise. Military personnel bond with one another across racial, class, religious, and regional lines all the time. Increasingly, across gender lines. The Quaker religion calls for absolute non-violence, something not compatible with being, say, a sniper, but Quakers are allowed to serve without prejudice. Who can you depend on a pacifist to fight alongside you? Because you've bonded with that person and you're pretty sure he or she would die to save you and the rest of the unit.
But somehow military people are absolutely never going to be able to work professionally with people of other sexual orientations? I don't buy it.
01-10-2000, 05:06 PM
Iíve had a difficult time understanding this myself. But I think I got a better flavor from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey (Ret.), who appeared on Meet The Press this week. A transcript is here (http://www.msnbc.com/news/352897.asp) .
I have to say that Gen. Vessey did not say what Iím about to opine, but I think I kind of read it between the lines. Perhaps thatís just because Barney Frank was sucking up to the General and doing the whole political thing, or perhaps itís because I was reading too much into his comments.
At any rate, what I sensed was that the upper echelons of the military are concerned that the lower echelons are insufficiently educated to deal with homosexuals in the ranks.
That is to say, the homophobia that exists among all too many of the current recruits to the military would make it too difficult to have openly gay people in forward units or aboard ships or wherever.
If the front-line troops are overly concerned that the next guy in the foxhole or berth is a "fag" and going to stare at them or hit on them or whatever, than the effectiveness of the unit may be compromised. Itís essentially the same argument used against integration of women into front-line units, but with the added twist that the possible sexual tension is unwelcome. The segregation of women still exists for many front-line units, and is being broken down only slowly by allowing women to serve in units progressively closer to the front. I think most people would have a problem if the issue of gays in the military were dealt with the same way. Can you imagine a policy of "yes, in the military, but no, not in combat units"?
And Boris B, letís give props to McCain when theyíre due (which, IMHO, is rarely). I think that his big concern was that Gore seemed to expect to nominate Joint Chiefs who personally agree with Goreís point of view, or at least pretend to. He didnít seem to have a problem with Bradleyís answer of "Iíd expect them to carry out their orders."
I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!
01-10-2000, 05:08 PM
SO and I had a huge discussion about this the other day. He took the stance that they should not be allowed, I took the stance that they should. By the end of the discussion, we had both modified our stances somewhat.
He threw out a lot of stuff about "unit cohesion" and brotherhood and all that. Pretty much, though, all the arguments in that direction have already been fought and won with the "should we allow blacks in the military" discussion - ie, the same arguments were used to try to prohibit blacks from entering the military, and they've all proved to be unfounded.
What hasn't been solved, yet, is the whole question of sexuality in the military. This is the same whether we're talking about gays or women (ie, should women be allowed in combat positions.) SO convinced me that a whole lot of putting together an effective military is giving the soldiers a sense of togetherness and teamwork - they all watch each other's backs, and when put down in a real life combat situation a solid, well run squadron does much better than one where there's bad feelings or ill will. The question comes down to a single point - does allowing sexuality in combat situation put this sense of unity in jeopardy? If Soldier A and Soldier B are "involved", does that create a situation where others in the group may have trouble interacting?
We haven't solved this yet in the workforce, and it certainly hasn't been solved yet in the military. I tend to believe that humans as a whole just aren't there yet. It doesn't matter if Soldier A and B are hetero or homo, the fact that they're in a common bunker making out is something that most people are going to have trouble with.
01-10-2000, 05:27 PM
Whenever this debate comes up I wonder how many of the people championing "unit cohesion" have ever been in a combat squad. I have. IMO, the "brotherhood and comraderie" aspect is being remakably oversold. I got along great with some folks; I fought violently with others. The same went for pretty much everybody else in the unit(s).
I think the analysis that the brass is afraid prejudice against homosexuals is too entrenched for it to not cause problems is probably corect. I also think the fear has merit; homophobia runs very deep in our society. What I don't believe is that that fear justifies kicking out good soldiers for their sexual orientation. It is the responsibility of officers to lead and control their units. We cannot eliminate prejudice from teh armed services (trust me, racism and sexism are still quite present in uniform), but we can refuse to acquiesce to it.
As for "don't ask, don't tell". I am surprised that so many people still support it. It has not ended the witch hunts. Gay soldiers can still be investigated and discharged solely for their sexual orientation. It just means that the commander cannot ask the soldier directly. However, when logging into an internet chat room can be considered a confession of homosexuality, the don't tell side of the contract is pretty meaningless.
The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.
01-10-2000, 05:38 PM
...skinny, well-groomed tenors since everyone is going to think they're gay. It's a good thing I grew my hair out and am no longer well-groomed.
01-10-2000, 05:55 PM
Hey, manhattan, I wasn't trying to cut on McCain. He's by far my favorite of the Republicans. Maybe I made too much out his tone on the radio, but he sounded absolutely distraught about Gore's "litmus test" comments, while he had no such tone with regard to his partisans.
The main thing that amuses me about McCain is that, in my admittedly subjective view, it is patently obvious that he is the best candidate, obvious that he has better odds in the general election than Bush (and much better odds than Forbes), yet the Republicans seem to be ignoring him because Bush has more money. Bush has more money because everyone's ignoring McCain. Circular logic, I know, but I can't make sense of it any other way.
The gays in the military issue seems to illustrate the odd nature of the Republican field. Four candidates are fighting for the votes of those people who like the witch hunt policy; two candidates are well ahead of them, not apparently hurt by their policies, but nevertheless seeming to feel vulnerable on this issue.
What I really wonder, is how Buchanan and Fulani feel about it.
01-10-2000, 07:07 PM
It appears that - if indeed this is their fear - the brass are correct that the grunts be too 'ignant' to get over their deep-seated hatred. I heard today a report on the radio of an investigation being launched into the beating death of a soldier who had been rumored to be gay. (Sorry I didn't get any better information, but keep your ears open - it'll surely be covered somewhere, in these pre-election times...)
But I think the truth is a bit different. Yes, there is hatred and fear. The trouble, as far as "brass" pronouncements go, is that social and military bigotry isn't limited to the issue of sexual orientation. If unit cohesion were really such an over-riding, unavoidable issue, I'd expect "the brass" to still allow - or require - racial and religious segregation, too.... Do they?
Today we've got Sikhs and Hindus, Pagans and Christians, etc. serving together and attending services side-by-side on our military bases. But if any soldier has a problem with the religion of a squadmate s/he can just SHUT YOUR HOLE, SOLDIER. A given soldier doesn't like blacks - or whites? TOUGH. DO YOUR DUTY.
"The brass" doesn't bend on that stuff. Yet when it comes to sexual orientation suddenly the flags start to wave. ("National Security! The effectiveness of our fighting forces!") From what I've heard, even 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' is paid only lip service in some areas. The officer corps has its homophobic members, too, and the witch hunts continue - just not as openly, or as widely, as before.
No, "unit cohesion" is just a straw man. My understanding is that almost all of our NATO allies allow openly homosexual soldiers to serve. In our Western cultural past (specifically, among the Greeks and Romans) homosexuality was accepted and even institutionalized in the military, for Jove's sake. No one argues that the Dutch or the Romans can't or couldn't fight. The ONLY issue is that, in the larger society, homophobia is still an acceptable bigotry to wear on one's sleeve, and so it is with the military.
01-10-2000, 07:22 PM
To anyone who says gays can't effectively serve in the military I can say only one thing, Alexander the Great. ;)
When I was on a carrier in the early eighties I was aware of a few gay officers and enlisted men and never once saw where it caused a problem.
01-10-2000, 07:33 PM
The course of this debate has quietly assumed that there are no or very few gay people in the military, and that there presence is currently negligible.
I'm taking my information out of Randy Shilts' excellent book Conduct Unbecoming. Shilts is a reporter with a somewhat liberal agenda, but not an obviously queer agenda. The book is the modern history of homosexuality in the military, starting with Tom Dooley in the 1950s.
Homosexuals have always served in the American military in non-trivial numbers, some quite openly. Gay witchhunts seem to be limited largely to the Criminal Investigation Division, who pad their arrest records by purging bases and ships of gay and lesbian servicepeople. Those same witchhunts peak during peacetime, and disappear during wartime, making them a reflective luxury rather than a military necessity.
On large ships like aircraft carriers, there are even gay discos and clubs (in the same way that empty storerooms are transformed into bars when not in use, a common practice on ships with 5000 personnel). Depending on the mindset of the captain, gay crew members not only serve openly, but actively build a subculture that is widely accepted until CID shows up.
Statistically, there are no more anti-gay bigots in the military than there are in civilian culture.
The answer Shilts came to, and I agree with, is that the lingering prohibition against homosexuality is a result of the military's extreme conservativism. It has always been "illegal" to be gay in the military, and any attack on that law is an attack on the military institution and tradition itself.
Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.
01-10-2000, 07:40 PM
When I was on a carrier in the mid 70's, anybody even suspected of being gay got their ass kicked.
01-10-2000, 09:41 PM
Exactly the same problem with gays anywhere else.
IMHO, None. But if you're homophobic, you'll feel different. And as they say, you can only argue someone out of an opinion they arrived at rationally.
I've heard the unit cohesion thing, but it seems a bit silly. I mean, the gays be outsiders in the beginning, but when war comes, I think everyone would work together. I mean, bad officers get fragged, but grunts? They're all in it together.
But, I think women should serve too, or rather, should be allowed to. I don't think anyone should be eligible for the draft except in exceptional cases like world wars.
As for a politician requiring people to support them... I don't like it. The party system might get things done, but it gets things railroaded.
01-10-2000, 11:07 PM
I think that perhaps we will learn our lesson if some foreign army decides to let anyone and everyone into their military, so that they may have a force which might match or exceed ours. I still don't see why homophobia is an accepted practice in America. I would hope that, perhaps, as we learned to accept blacks and other minorities during the Civil Rights movement, we would have also accepted homosexuals as a part of our society. I really think that it's crazy that most gay couples still cannot marry in this country, and the fact that they cannot serve in the military openly is rather sickening.
So shall I ask Nickrz to move this to Great Debates, if more people wish to discuss this (and if debate is still possible in GD)?
SanibelMan - My Homepage (http://members.macconnect.com/~jonkleinow/)
Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to take the job.
--The Hitckhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
01-11-2000, 12:01 AM
"Unit cohesion" is double-speak for bigotry. The same dodge was used when applied to black serving with full equality in the military. Yes, it meant black folks would share barracks with white folks. Guess what; the world didn't end and the military was infintely richer in brave soldiers.
Same garbage is applied to women and gays. So "they" will be in close proximity due to military needs. Oh, big whoop. Hate to break it to you, but the Swedish merchant marine trains all recruits exactly the same: men, women and gays all sling their hammocks in the same place.
This same lame rationale was used to prohibit blacks and women from even civilian employment. Whoooo! Let them around and it'll be temptation leading to forbidden mink sex.
Honor, patriotism, personal values, dedication...those are not so frail that simple proximity will topple at the slightest urge. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were soundly hated for insisting that integration was not only moral and in keeping with the standards this country espouses---it also works.
To quote him, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".
Demonizing gays (or anyone else) is stupid, wrong and self defeating. (Oh, BTW, Richard the Lion Heart was also gay; helluva soldier and leader, too.) Can we just get a damned grip here? If anyone is in such a sexual lather that they can't control their impulses, then deal with it on an individual basis, and don't sweat gender or sexual preference.
Sheesh, why does this seem so common sense to me while it causes so many knots in other people's shorts? What a hissy fit over something simple...
01-11-2000, 12:34 AM
I don't have anything to add to the debate that hasn't already been said but I'm going to butt in anyway. I just want to share an interesting explaination I received regarding women in the military.
When I was in high school, a military guy (sorry, don't have specs except that he was Army) came to our school to hold a question/answer event for the students (right after the Gulf War.)
Eventually, my best friend asked why the military does not allow women to fight in hand-to-hand combat, fight on the front lines, etc. The miltary guy gave us the whole unit cohesion stuff but he also mentioned that it would threaten national security. When asked why, he responded with a scenario he felt would clear things up.
He said that if several soldiers were captured (men and women together), the enemy would torture the woman within earshot of the men. He said that she would be beaten, raped, etc. where the men could hear her screaming, begging for mercy etc. This, he said, would cause the men to break down and reveal secrets to stop the woman from being tortured.
(I got thrown out of the discussion for standing up and asking if this example did not, in fact, demonstrate that women might be better soldiers since she was the one being tortured and she didn't crack.)
Born O.K. the first time...
If you are born again, do you have two belly-buttons?
01-11-2000, 12:58 AM
If a simple exercise such as a bivouac useing two man pup tents can create problems. Whoever shares his tent with you know who gets whistled at the next morning.It's very uncomfortable,you don't want to be known as HIS buddy
01-11-2000, 09:28 AM
Got news for you HAIRY, given enough time in the field, those two men sharing a pup tent stand a very good chance of getting physically intimate even though they are both straight at every other moment of their lives. It's called situational homosexuality. It happens in the military all the time, especially on long assignments where there are no women around, not even the enemy's woman (such as on ships, which is why the Navy has a bit of a reputation). It is also well known and happens in fact in prisons.
The ancient Greek armies were not full of homosexuals, but were full of heterosexuals where situational homosexuality was not closeted. In fact, it was encouraged, which provided unit cohesion (I will now show great restraint by not making one of the many off color coments on that phrasing that I'm thinking of right now).
Two other points need to be made:
1. Officers who are against gays serving in the military make the point that politicians should not be enforcing political policies on the military -- only military considerations should ever be used as criteria for military policy.
My response: BULLSHIT. Forcing the military to accept Blacks as equal members in all regards was a political consideration. Forcing the military to abide by due process and other issues of human rights is a political consideration forced on our military which could be even more efficient if it wasn't under such constraints. Political considerations do affect the military -- always has, always will, and that's a good thing.
2. Officers against gays in the military say that heterosexual soldiers can't work with gay soldiers in combat.
My response: BULLSHIT. They do already. Some in ignorance, some knowingly (and they don't care). If these straight soldiers can work with gay soldiers, how come the rest can't?
And if our 'straight' soldiers can't work with gay soldiers, then we better stop being hypocrites and leave NATO, since (except for England, and only for a little while longer), all other NATO countries allow gay men to serve in combat. What are our boys gonna do if they have to go into combat with NATO forces? Will they be given the wink from our officers to 'beat up the fags' in the NATO forces?
The ban on gays in the military is pure bigotry based on irrational fears. Period.
01-11-2000, 09:48 AM
You guys should know my stance on this by now. I would like to add "The Army of Thieves" into the mix. For those that don't know, it was an exclusively gay mercenary army around in Roman times.
Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter
01-11-2000, 09:54 AM
I can't help but think that knee-jerk reaction of homophobia when gays in the military are discussed is due more to the inability to separate sexual orientation from sexual mores.
If sexual relationships are inappropriate in a military unit, by all means, ban sexual relationships. If two members of a unit have sex, punish them. Whether they are heterosexual or homosexual makes no difference.
If a gay soldier cannot abide by the "no sex in the unit" rules, then they have no place in the organization. The same applies, of course, to straight soldiers.
Like segregation, this situation won't be resolved until the armed forced are made to accept gay men and women serving in their ranks. Once, that's happened (if that happens), the point will be as moot as desegregation.
01-11-2000, 09:57 AM
If a simple exercise such as a bivouac useing two man pup tents can create problems. Whoever shares
his tent with you know who gets whistled at the next morning.It's very uncomfortable,you don't want to
be known as HIS buddy
Wow, I didn't know the Armed Forces wre taking fourth graders now. How enlightening.
"It's my considered opinion you're all a bunch of sissies!"--Paul's Grandfather
The problem isn't "gays in the military." There have always been gays in the military. The problem comes from homophobic straights who are terrified of gays.
Rather than throwing out gays, we should be throwing out homophobes. Of course, that would leave us with a military the size of a high school glee club . . .
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