DADT Repeal Stalls in Senate
Yesterday, the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy stalled in the Senate amidst partisan bickering stirred up by the impending midterm elections in November. The New York Times notes:
The outcome, at a time when Congress is increasingly paralyzed by the partisan fury of the midterm elections, was more a result of a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over legislative process than a straightforward referendum on whether to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers to serve openly.
The repeal of DADT became a pressing issue earlier in September when the US District Court in central California ruled that the legislation, in effect now for seventeen years, was unconstitutional.
The policy was originally introduced by President Clinton in 1993, as a compromise between the policy of previous administrations, which have officially and explicitly barred non-heterosexuals from military service since 1950, and Clinton’s campaign promise to allow all citizens the opportunity to join the armed forces. During his campaign for the 2008 presidential election, Obama made similar promises and expressed support for the repeal of DADT, but has so far been slow to move on these matters. However, in late May 2010, two different pieces of legislation were proposed that would have included a repeal of DADT soon after the completion of a U.S. Department of Defense study (due to be completed in December of this year) about the effects of a repeal on military competence and morale.
While the language for the repeal of DADT was passed by the House back in May, the amended Defense Authorization Act, a “$725.7 billion annual defense policy bill” that has been passed by the Senate for 48 consecutive years, stalled yesterday after a successful Republican-led filibuster. Republicans voted unanimously to block debate on the bill after Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, introduced several “left-leaning” amendments in addition to the repeal of DADT, including an amendment concerning a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who join the U.S. military. Republicans complained that Reid’s move was overt pandering to a Democratic base leading into the midterm elections; however, a few commented that they would be open to renewed debate on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” after the completion of the DOD study in December, though it is hard to predict what the result of such a revisit might be.
Sex and Lies in the Armed Forces
As a pacifist, I have mixed feelings about this debate. While it seems clear to me that DADT is an overtly prejudiced and unconstitutional policy, I feel a certain ambivalence about a cause that takes for granted the appeal of military service as a noble and desirable occupation. I feel the same in response to issues about Pagans in the military. Should non-heterosexuals and non-Christians be “allowed” to join the military? Certainly. Do I think it’s a good idea for anyone to join the military? Honestly, no. But a vital aspect of my philosophy of pacifism is the affirmation of personal choice, and so I find myself unintentionally working to expand the “right” to join the United States military at the same time I continue to speak out against the military itself as an institution of state-sponsored, large-scale organized violence.
But what I find truly fascinating about this debate is this question of how the repeal of DADT might effect the competence and efficacy of the armed forces — or as it’s mostly described, the military’s “readiness and morale.” Forgive me if I sound crude, but whenever I read that phrase, what do you think is the image that immediately jumps to my mind? A couple of macho soldiers caught out back behind the barracks with their pants down around their ankles and their faces frozen in mortification as a siren suddenly blares and the enemy attacks. If only those soldiers had been “ready”! If only those soldiers didn’t now feel such low “morale” about the sin they’ve committed! O how ever will they rally to fight for our freedoms now?
I have little doubt that this is perhaps the primary concern of those who use the phrase “readiness and morale” to describe the potential threat they see in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Yet I cannot see any bigger distraction to service members than the systemic prejudice and bigotry that requires some of them to actively lie and repress a vital aspect of their humanity, while cutting them off from sources of support and healthy relationship at the risk of jeopardizing their military career.
But this is nothing new for the military. Very similar problems exist for women in the armed forces, for whom sexual harassment, abuse and rape continue to be a largely undocumented and under-reported crisis. According to Defense Department statistics, sexual assault in the military continues to rise, the most common form by far being that of heterosexual men against women:
Women, in fact, are more likely to be assaulted in the military than in civilian life: “Despite the suspected underreporting, sexual assault is more common in the military than it is among the civilian population, the report suggests—two for every 1,000 service members, versus 1.8 per 1,000 civilian women and one per 1,000 civilian men.” [emphasis added]
To worry that a repeal of DADT might introduce sexual abuse and scandal into the military is to be rather pathetically ill-informed about the abuse and harassment already very prevalent in the ranks.
Make Love, Not War
Despite their ads promising career advancement in a noble profession, the military is undeniably an institution of organized violence. This is its stated purpose, after all. With Basic Training explicitly designed to break down new cadets and transform them into “good soldiers” in the image of masculine force and discipline, dependent upon the military and its command structure rather than on the “feminizing” influence of mother and homeland, it is an institution that willfully breaks down healthy relationships of support and community and replaces them with the idealized “band of brothers” bonded in intense relationship through the trauma and violence of warfare.
Within such a violent institution, it should come as no surprise that violence and abuse is turned against our own service members as well as our “enemies,” and that the service members most likely to experience abuse are those who stand out as different (e.g. women, homosexuals, ethnic and religious minorities, etc.). It is also no surprise that the repeal of DADT seems to some to threaten the ideal of the masculinely-defined “band of brothers” as a functioning military unit. Harry Jackson, a pastor in Maryland and bitter anti-gay opponent of a DADT repeal, proclaimed:
Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will destroy the necessary readiness and cohesion of servicemen and women to perform their duties successfully. Introducing sexual tension and conduct into our barracks will be a distraction from the very business of the military [...].
Part of me wonders if Jackson and others like him might not be more right than they know.
As a Pagan who honors the earth and worships the feminine as a vital and balancing aspect of the sacred, it seems likely to me that much of the military’s capacity for inhumane and indiscriminate violence against faceless “enemies” stems from an absence of healthy, supportive community informed by open sexuality and gender identity. Certainly, there is no evidence that women are inherently more peaceful than men, and there have been plenty of examples throughout history of women participating willingly, even gleefully, in warfare and violence. Yet current issues of sexual abuse and anti-gay bigotry in the military seem to me to stem at least partly from our inability to hold mature, balanced discussions about gender identity and its connection to violence, arising from the repression of one’s sexual identity — whether it is the repression of homosexuality or of biological femaleness — in order to conform to a patriarchal, hierarchical conception of nobility and sacrifice.
To allow women and homosexuals to serve openly in the military will likely bring these issues of gender politics and their conflict with the traditional macho-masculine conception of militaristic violence increasingly into the light of real discussion. It may very well jeopardize “the very business of the military,” as it becomes increasingly difficult to justify violence against a dehumanized “Other” while at the same time working towards an embrace of diversity and difference within ranks. These two aims — to support diversity and acceptance within the military, while training armed service members to be efficient and effective executors of violence — may in actual fact be at odds with one another.
That is, at least, my hope. Time and again in my own experiences, I have seen how open dialogue about difference and an honest engagement with diversity has helped to foster communities of inner strength who no longer rely on violence against an external “enemy” for their group cohesion. With increasing numbers of women involved in the armed forces, and increasing acceptance and support of GLBT service members, perhaps we may see a similar transformation of the military itself. Anyway, one can dream….