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Openly Gay Soldiers and Unit Cohesion September 14, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in lgbt Issues, military, uncategorized.
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An excellent post on Captain’s Quarters about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, the military policy that bars gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly in the military.

Here is a highlight from the post:

However, everyone should agree that we now employ one of the dumbest and most hypocritical policies ever devised: “don’t ask, don’t tell”. This policy allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military — one study puts their numbers at 60,000 — as long as their orientation remains a secret. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that gays can serve effectively in the forces as long as no one else finds out their secret. Somehow exposure transforms them into undesirables, even though their nature has not changed at all.

If gays and lesbians were the cause of degraded morale and unit cohesion, then that damage would occur regardless of whether they kept quiet or not. If the Pentagon argues that the revelation causes the damage, then the problem isn’t the gays or lesbians, but the bigots in the ranks that suddenly find out about them. That sounds exactly like the problem that the Pentagon had when it considered desgregating the services after World War II, and they finally rejected the option of coddling the bigots.

Also check out my earlier post on why the discriminatory anti-gay military policy is a tremendous insult and obstacle for gay and lesbian people risking their lives for our country.

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Why the War was Immoral: Parallels to Vietnam September 4, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in bush administration, iraq, military, politics.
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I am not usually one to speak of politics in terms of “morality”. The word “morality” is most often times grossly subjective and has been distorted by fundamentalists and others to bring great harm to the United States. That said, I just finished a New Republic article from April 29, 1985 titled Why the War was Immoral. Written by Hendrick Hertzberg, the article argues that the war in Vietnam was both unwinnable and immoral.

As the war in Iraq rages on and a new Pentagon report paints a bleak outlook, it is impossible to read the 1985 New Republic article without noticing the tremendous similarities between Hertzberg’s view of Vietnam and the current situation in Iraq. Here are some observations from the article, with my commentary beneath:

Parellel #1:

There were always two main arguments in favor of the war: the geopolitical and the “moral.” The war’s aftermath has undermined the first argument but has seemingly strengthened the second.

Although it is difficult to keep straight the alleged “reasons” we went to war in Iraq (ie, weapons of mass destruction, 9/11, etc), it is clear that many of the reasons for invading Iraq were argued as geopolitical or “moral”. As critics of the war became more vocal, the Bush administration and other neocons told us it was our country’s moral duty to rid Iraq of its brutal dictator. Although Saddam Hussein is an awful person that killed thousands of his own people, the “moral” justification was an after-thought… the moral argument came as the original justifications proved false.

The geopolitical argument has also gained favor among the neocons. They argue that pulling out of Iraq would create instability in the entire region. This same argument was used in Vietnam, and when we pulled out, southeast Asia did not become a solid communist block.

As the war rages on, so to speak, it has become increasingly obvious that America will have to leave Iraq, not enter it, for moral reasons.

Parellel #2:

…the argument for will: we needed to go on fighting in Vietnam in order to demonstrate our resolve and reliability. This argument implicitly recognized that the fate of Vietnam was, by itself, peripheral to the national security of the United States.

Americans have listened to George W. Bush use the words “resolve” and “national security” for almost five years now. He claims leaving Iraq would harm America’s image and leave the country open to terrorist attacks. His argument fails to point out that America was safer before we entered Iraq, and that our image as both militarily strong and morally superior has faltered because of the failed foreign policy. Leaving Vietnam did not seriously diminish our security at home… the same is likely with Iraq.

Parelell #3:

…these arguments rest on the assumption that there was a point at which North Vietnam, having calculated that the actual costs of war were exceeding the prospective benefits of victory, would have stopped the fighting… [North Vietnamese] were prepared to accept limitless casualties to attain their sacred objective…

If the North Vietnamese were willing to accept limitless casualties, if they were willing to pay any price, then the war could not have been won except by the physical destruction of North Vietnam and the killing of a large portion of its people.

Bush loves to talk about “defeating the terrorists”, as if some threshold will be reached in which they lay down their arms and say “enough is enough”. We are not fighting a rational enemy or a standing army in Iraq. These people have proven they are willing to kill fellow citizens to drive America troops out of their country. Just as we continued to fight the North Vietnamese until we were disgusted by American causalities, the same is likely to happen in Iraq. Insurgents, like the North Vietnamese during Vietnam, are willing to accept limitless casualties to win its jihadist-like war. Human lives are less valuable to terrorists than to the American people (notice I did not say the American government), and public opinion has already shown that Americans will reach the final threshold before any insurgent groups do.

Parallel #4:

It wasn’t cowardice that finally impelled us to quit. It was conscience.

Republicans love to paint anti-war Democrats as weak on terrorism, unpatriotic or untrusting of American military power. Anti-war Democrats are not cowards… they have a reality-based look at Iraq and their conscience is telling them we have overstepped our bounds. Anti-war advocates want the best for Iraq and America, but do not see the continued conflict being beneficial to either countries.

*******

In the brilliantly written New Republic article, Hendrick Hertzberg defends his criticism of the Vietnam War by saying he cares about America and its place in the world. He is not the anti-American dissenter that neocons love to portray him as. The same is true today. Vietnam war opponents and those against the war in Iraq are extremely patriotic, having to face extreme hostility to defend their belief in what is best for the country.

It is time to fight for America by stop fighting. This is patriotic. As Herzberg said: it is time “to wash the flag, not burn it.”

Ignorance and Fear Used as Arguments for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” August 18, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in lgbt Issues, military.
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“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has managed to reemerge as an important issue in the media and it has become apparent that few journalists support the failed policy. Over the past few months, dozens of national and regional editorial staffs have come out against the ban. Here are a few soundbites:

Washington Post: “It insults those who would serve their country even as it deprives the military of their service.”

USA Today: “The U.S. ban on openly gay servicemembers is an archaic and hurtful assault on people who want only to serve their country.”

The Tennessean: “At a time the nation desperately needs good soldiers, it continues to let good soldiers get away for senseless reasons.”

Springfield News-Leader (MO): “The fighting men and women of this country have always known that some of their fellow soldiers were gay and lesbian, and no congressional policy is going to change that. To continue to live under some fallacy that such knowledge somehow diminishes morale or reduces a soldier’s ability to serve the nation is absurd.”

In response to the Springfield News-Leader editorial, a reader wrote a letter to the editor condemning the paper’s opinion on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. His arguments in support of the policy show the ignorance and fear associated with openly gay men and women in the military:

I think two things: (1) If this law is rescinded and thus removed from Army regulation, it will close an “escape hatch” used by a lot of soldiers to be discharged for actual reasons other than homosexuality; and (2) morale and effectiveness of our military will be adversely affected when/if gays and their lifestyle are openly accepted.

And speaking of “absurd” (another adjective used in the article), I think that gay guys sharing the showers and latrines with other male soldiers would be as absurd as putting straight guys in the showers and latrines with female soldiers.

His first argument, that heterosexual soldiers would not be able to use “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as an excuse to escape the military, seems like an argument to repeal the flawed policy. He doesn’t seem to understand that the way to close this alleged “escape hatch” is to get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, not keep it.

His second argument is based on ignorance, not fact or informed opinion. He talks about a loss of morality in the military if gay and lesbian people are able to serve openly. A ridiculous statement that is made even more ridiculous by the recent sexual harassment, rape and white supremacist problems that have plagued Army bases throughout the country. If this man is truly worried about morality in the military, he should focus his attention on rooting out Army base violence and prejudice, not making sure gays and lesbians keep their mouths shut.

His final thought is one based on fear of gay and lesbian people… he seems to believe gay and lesbian soldiers putting their lives on the line are doing so because they want to peek at other soldiers in the shower. If a gay or lesbian person really wanted to check out people in the shower, it is safe to assume that they would join a gym to fulfill that desire before joining the military. His disregard for the valor, courage and integrity of our gay and lesbian troops is disturbing.

Lastly, the reader also fails to realize that gay and lesbian troops have been in every American war in history. These soldiers have the opportunity to check men or women out in the shower regardless of whether they are out to their fellow soldiers. Allowing them to serve openly will not increase the number of “shower-peeking” incidents. Gay and lesbian soldiers are there whether they are able to serve openly or not.

Unfortunately, the News-Leader letter to the editor reveals the usual ignorance and fear associated with openly gay men and women in the military. The opposition bases its arguments in homophobia and completely disregards whether it is a policy that hurts both the military and the gay and lesbian people who put their lives on the line for Americans like himself.

I must commend the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for using the Freedom of Information Act to gather statistics on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges and for ensuring the media was able to give the policy the scrutiny it deserves.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Harming the War on Terror July 27, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in bush administration, lgbt Issues, military.
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The Bush administration has made sure the entire world knows the immense threat terrorists and Islamic extremists pose to world peace. Controversial domestic spying programs have been initiated to combat the threat: wire-tapping, scanning financial transactions and purchasing extensive phone records from America’s largest wireless phone providers. Despite concerns over privacy rights, the administration has argued in times of war, drastic steps are often taken to protect the nation.

One of the largest obstacles to fighting the war on terror has been the communications gap between intelligence services in the United States and Islamic extremists abroad. As Newsweek reported recently, it has been difficult for the government to find the Arabic speakers necessary to effectively monitor the thousands of communications between potential terrorists worldwide. The language-barrier has been an on-going challenge for the FBI, CIA and Department of Defense.

Despite the almost desperate need for qualified Arabic-speaking intelligence officers, a 30-year-old decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed by the U.S. Army last January. Sgt. Bleu Copas had served his country for almost four years, saying he joined up because he wanted to fight for America after the horrific events of September 11th. Now, this valuable player in the war on terror is job-hunting with discharge papers in hand.

Sgt. Copas was not dismissed because of harassment, sexual assault or any of the other problems that have plagued our military in recent years. He was dismissed because a fellow servicemember sent an email to his superior that claimed Copas was gay. After confirming the email’s assertion, Copas was honorably discharged from the U.S. military under the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted during the Clinton administration as a compromise bill – Clinton wanted gay and lesbian people to be able to serve openly in the military and conservative members of Congress hoped to maintain the ban on gay members. The compromise allowed gay and lesbian people to serve in the military, but forbid them from telling a soul about their sexual orientation.

In the last year, 726 servicemembers were kicked out of the military because they are gay or lesbian. Since the World Trade Center fell, 55 Arabic language specialists have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

At a time when Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are infiltrating the military in record numbers, the U.S. government is dismissing invaluable Arabic-speaking gays and lesbians simply because of their sexual orientation. Aside from disrespecting gay and lesbian people serving the country, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has compromised the Bush administration’s war on terror. The government faces an immense task in controlling Islamic extremists, yet precious resources are being thrown out the door because of a policy that relies on blatant discrimination.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed because it places our country in greater danger and discriminates against people who fight for a free and fair America. The military has never had to follow civilian laws, including legislation banning discrimination, but that does not mean “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is what’s best for the country. There are many reasons “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed, and only one preventing it from happening: homophobia.

If the Bush administration truly believes the war on terror is a higher priority than pleasing social conservatives, he would immedialtely call for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. His extremist base may hate the idea of gay and lesbian servicemembers being treated as equal, but pleasing his base should not take priority over valuable men and women who are willing to fight the war on terror.

Find out more at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell… We Have Neo-Nazis in our Military July 20, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in communities of color, lgbt Issues, military.
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From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Ten years after Pentagon leaders toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel — a move that came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by decorated Gulf War combat veteran Timothy McVeigh and the murder of a black couple by members of a skinhead gang in the elite 82nd Airborne Division — large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world’s best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way.

Neo-Nazis “stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they’re inside, and they are hard-core,” Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the Intelligence Report. “We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad,” he added. “That’s a problem.”

Over 25 percent of American soldiers killed in Iraq have been people of color. Black, Native American, Asian-American, Latino and other American soldiers are fighting overseas for the United States government and its people. But with recruitment numbers low, the military has eased its policies on allowing another group of people to serve: Neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Department of Defense investigator Scott Barfield:

Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don’t remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members…

Last year, for the first time, they didn’t make their recruiting goals. They don’t want to start making a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military, because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists.

Barfield has presented evidence against 320 soldiers involved in white supremacist organizations and other extremist activities. It has resulted in two discharges. The government has given a behind-the-scenes nod to ignore racists in the ranks, effectively forcing soldiers of color into a situation where the enemy is both in Baghdad hideouts and U.S. military sleeping quarters.

Supporters of the anti-gay policy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell claim that openly gay people in the military would adversely affect:

  • unit cohesiveness
  • mutual trust and confidence among servicemembers
  • respect from the American public

Despite one’s opinion on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it goes without saying that Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the military must adversely affect unit cohesiveness, trust among fellow soldiers and respect from the American public. So where is the strict and enforceable policy banning bat-shit crazy racists from joining the military… an institution that happens to be about 27 percent Black? Would soldiers prefer a Neo-Nazi or a gay man with a gun by their side?

The Southern Poverty Law Center report helps make two tragedies painfully visible. First, a complete lack of respect for soldiers of color by government officials who are willing to help ease recruitment troubles by admitting racists who could threaten the lives of fellow soldiers. Second, the blatant discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the military… people who must hide their identity while risking their lives for this country. The influx of racists in our military shows that officials have banned gay and lesbian people because of homophobia, because they are clearly not too concerned about unit cohesion and trust among soldiers.

Want to do something? Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.