Saturday, October 02, 2004

Achilles, Patroculus, and the US Military

This morning’s paper brings an article regarding the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and why it needs to be rescinded. This is a topic that triggers great reaction both pro and con but I find myself uncertain and rather ambiguous about this as a policy. I must admit I thought it was one of the dumber ideas of the Clinton administration and that they should have left the status quo. In fact the gay community should have just kept their mouth shut and things would have remained as they were but more of that in a moment.

As usual there seems to be a lack of historical perspective here. There have been homosexuals in the army since there were armies. Achilles and Patroculus were lovers and Achilles killed Hector in revenge for his killing of Patroculus. Achilles was a famous warrior and no one seemed to concern themselves over the relationship between Achilles and Patroculus. The fabled Greek Phalanx was commonly composed of men and younger men who were frequently lovers. Julius Caesar was criticized as being the husband of all women and the wife of all men, yet he was recognized as a great leader, great soldier, and excellent general. Therefore, the history of the military shows that homosexuality is not antithetical to courage, bravery, or performance as a soldier.

The common complaint that I hear is that allowing homosexuals in the Army would intrude on the “privacy” of the other (presumably) straight soldiers. This sounds (at least to me) to be a relatively hollow argument for two reasons. First there are gay soldiers already there but not identified so everyone’s privacy is already being invaded and only the most naïve` guy would think otherwise. Secondly, all of us (males) have been in locker rooms all of our lives where we have been surrounded by nude and nearly nude men and boys. In many cases some of these nude men have been homosexual yet I don’t hear any demands that the various gyms, schools, and health clubs either exclude homosexuals or provide separate facilities. Now I can hear the argument already that in civilian life the choice to be nude in the presence of other men is voluntary while in the military no such choice is available but au contraire is my response because the military is voluntary. The minute you decide to join the military you know right up front that you will be put into situations where you will be naked in front of other naked men. Privacy is not something provided in the military, so to expect that you will only be nude in front of straight men is irrational, because even if the military were to exclude homosexuals (as they do) there will always be some there and that brings me to another point, which I think is more important.

The issue seems to be that the homosexual community doesn’t want to be excluded from the military but they want the military to accept their sexual orientation meaning that they wish to be openly gay while the military maintains that would be a disciplinary issue. So it appears to me that being in the military isn’t the issue, the issue is the ACCEPTANCE of the gay lifestyle as normal with the expectation that the military would protect the individual from those who disagree and more importantly provide them with the same rights and privileges afforded to heterosexuals. This has vast ramifications relative to housing but also relative to gay marriage and the associated benefits. I don’t think the military is the place to resolve these issues.

When I was in the Army, there were many homosexuals in the service. In fact it was relatively open and no one bothered to do anything about it as long as the boys didn’t make it too public and didn’t create problems that were brought to the attention of the authorities. You couldn’t go to gay bars in uniform but beyond that everyone seemed to turn a blind eye. There were places all over the post where homosexuals congregated, everyone seemed to know and no one seemed to care. Certainly, the authorities never took any action that I ever saw. In fact one of my sergeants was involved in a situation that involved a lot of men – enough to have made the papers, but the whole issue was hushed up, no one was ever discharged that I heard about, and the worst thing that happened was some transfers to other posts. That was the status quo and everything seemed to be OK until the gay community decided that EVERYONE had to accept their lifestyle and they convinced Clinton that he needed to change the military. The result was this crazy policy that really didn’t change anything except to sensitize the authorities and bring the whole situation to the forefront.

The fact is that roughly 10% of the male population is homosexual and if you figure in those that are bi-sexual the percentage probably rises to 20 to 25%. So the military is already filled with homosexuals who are doing their jobs, defending the country, and many times giving their lives. These men serve with distinction and I for one am glad they are there and would be proud to serve with them – whether they were out or not – and I think most men feel the same way. So I am ambiguous regarding the policy. I thought it was stupid to start with, I think it should be rescinded, but I don’t think I am ready to declare that openly gay men should be admitted because from my own personal experience as an officer I know that it would be a disciplinary problem. So I guess I come down squarely in the middle with no definitive position. Not a very comfortable place for a person accustomed to being in charge and making decisions, but if a gay person wishes to be in the military, as they have been historically, all they have to do is join up and shut up. If they place their sexuality above their desire to serve then that is their decision but they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

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