Reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a Good Beginning

A Commentary by Warren J. Blumenfeld

The United States Congress last February passed and President Obama signed historic bipartisan legislation to rescind the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted in 1993 mandating that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Over the years, the military dishonorably discharged an estimated 14,000 service members on the so-called “charge” of being “homosexual” under this policy. On September 20, the policy reversal went into effect.

As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world’s conflict areas, the former policy only exacerbated the problem and discredited our country by eliminating an entire class of people whose only desire was to contribute to the defense of their nation.

This policy will end an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization. It will open a new epoch in which service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity. In addition, now a formerly excluded group of talented and committed students can join ROTC programs, and a new cohort of active service members will receive the benefits of educational and career enhancement opportunities.

They will enter into a social institution that often works to prevent genocidal slaughters anywhere throughout the world, and engage in humanitarian and peace keeping efforts – from disaster relief to cooling a number of the world’s “hot spots.”

Existing medical and conduct regulations, however, still prohibit many individuals along the transgender spectrum from enlisting.

As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the DADT policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of the homosexual” in bunks and showers, to homosexuals crumbling under the pressure of combat, to these service members placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments. I give credit to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following such scurrilous and libelous depictions.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests.

In this regard, history is replete with not-so-illustrious examples of U.S. policy abuses enacted and enforced by the military establishment — from the extermination, forced relocation, and land confiscation of native peoples on this continent, to the unjustified and contrived war with Mexico, to the racist-inspired incarceration of Japanese Americans in the interior U.S. during World War II, to governmental destabilization efforts and military incursions into such places as Vietnam and Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippians, and throughout the Middle East.

During the past decade, we have lost thousands of our brave warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current military defense budget of approximately 768 billion dollars seriously drains our treasury and increases our national debt.

Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war.

I, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.

I contend that individuals and groups that stand up and put their lives on the line to defend the country from very real threats are true patriots. But true patriots are also those who speak out, stand up, and challenge our governmental leaders, those who put their lives on the line by actively advocating for justice, freedom, and liberty through peaceful means: the diplomats and the mediators; those working in conflict resolution; the activists dedicated to preventing wars and to bringing existing wars to diplomatic resolution once they have begun; the individuals of conscience who refuse to give over their minds, their souls, and their bodies to armed conflict; the practitioners of non-violent resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression; the anti-war activists who strive to educate their peers, their citizenry, and, yes, their governmental leaders about the perils of unjustified and unjust armed conflict and invasions into lands not their own in advance of appropriate attempts at diplomatic means of resolving conflict.

While the reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will reform a discriminatory policy, it in no way addresses the intense interconnections between the U.S. military and corporate interests and the promotion of U.S. capitalist hegemony worldwide.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States, editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. Reprinted with permission.