The Iraq and Afghan wars may be the best news for the gay community in years. Not that gays like war any more than straights. But the times are a-changin’ when the nation’s top military leaders endorse the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, a make-believe waffling policy that never satisfied any one.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, served a shocker when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee who said he personally believed that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”
Fifteen years ago, senior officers like Mullen were fighting tooth-and-nail against gays in the service. What changed their minds? Was it the election of Barack Obama? Not likely, considering that Bill Clinton also wanted to end discrimination, and that didn’t stop the generals and admirals from voicing opposition. Could it be that cultural change – the increasing acceptance of gay rights in American society – has percolated into the Pentagon? Perhaps, but fundamentalist Christianity has solidly entrenched itself in the military, so it’s hard to believe that all the men who wears stars on their shoulders suddenly turned warm and fuzzy.
I don’t think it was love that motivated the Pentagon’s change of heart. I think it was fear. Fear that the U.S. military is overstretched, tired and scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. Gangbangers who would have been booted out of boot camp 10 years ago are now carrying machine guns in Kabul, courtesy of a U.S. government that desperately needs boots on the ground. Somewhere, in some dusty office deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, manpower planners have to be asking themselves, “can we afford to throw away trained, skilled soldiers because of who they sleep with?”
It is true that war is awful. It is also true that the pressures of war enable changes that would never be considered in peacetime. The U.S. military was fanatical in fighting integration during World War II. African-Americans were mostly used as truck drivers and waiters. Yet by 1945, infantry casualties were running so high that General Eisenhower ordered the formation of a few integrated combat units. It wasn’t done out of conscience. It was done to win the war.
There was a reason why African-American leaders during fought so strenuously for the right to fight the Nazis. Those who are barred from defending their country will never be full citizens of it.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Even after the armed forces were officially desegregated in 1948, discrimination against black soldiers was prevalent. It took decades – and race riots between black and white soldiers in Vietnam – to eradicate it. Even if “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed, gay soldiers are in for a rough time.