It would seem that institutionalized prejudice against homosexuals is more important to some people than patriotism and love of country. When men who have devoted enough of their lives and professional careers to achieve the very respectable rank of Colonel publish remarks such as this, one has to ask whether the very idea of a common national identity has suffered some sort of awful erosion:
I ask you, fellow citizen, after Saturday’s vote, would you give your life for our Senate? Would you give your life for our president? Or, would you go home to your family? Sadly, you know the answers already. If you never made a phone call or never entered the debate on this issue, it’s too late to care now.Hat tip to Jim Burroway for this astonishingly sour grapes quote.
Now, I'm reminded of a few other things, both historical and demographic, which cause me to react to this sentiment with something other than despair. Unlike other advocacy groups, I tend to think that the young people who are doing the real, on-the-ground work of our military, are much more concerned with whether their brothers and sisters in arms can shoot straight than whether they are straight. There is little reason to think that recruitment will suffer so badly that this will happen:
This looks beyond conservative to me; it looks reactionary -- resistance to change for the sake of resisting change. When National Review offered as a slogan and image the idea of conservatism as a force which "stands athwart history, yelling Stop", the idea was "Hey, let's think this through before we do it."
But we have thought about allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. We've studied it. We've looked at other nations' experiences in their military. We've determined that the great majority of servicemembers and the great majority of citizens whom they serve are unconcerned with the sexual orientation of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Resisting change for the sake of resisting change is not really aimed at improving anything. And the military is a uniquely adaptable institution within our society, precisely because it is so hierarchical, so driven by orders from above. A conservative (in the mold of a William F. Buckley, at least) can eventually be persuaded to try something new -- they're cautious about it, but sufficient data and study and relation of the new idea to timeless principles that work to make society stronger can overcome that caution and be embraced as welcome developments.
Contrary to the claims of some that laws reflecting evolving social realities irresponsible render the military into a political football, the truth of the matter is that while there is resistance to change, change happens and the military needs to adapt to that change and is possessed of a sufficiently supple internal social fabric to do so:
Now, I'll grant you that the last clip is fiction, but like most good fiction it makes an important point about reality: the military has been socially engineered before, and it came out stronger for it.
That there is lingering paranoia over homosexuals serving in the military is entirely understandable -- paranoia is founded, in many cases, upon fear of homosexual tendencies within oneself. Some refer to this as "repression of homosexuality," but it looks to me like it is more exact to say it is unresolved anxiety about the possibility that one might be homosexual, rather than anxiety about actual homosexual feelings in one who identifies as heterosexual. Regardless, paranoia is the result of not resolving that anxiety in a healthy way. What we're seeing is not really the erosion of our national identity, it's people being forced to confront their unresolved, or ill-resolved, internal anxieties, and projecting them out onto the larger world. In this projection, what starts out looking like a logical syllogism progresses into something at once darker and more irrational.
- I'm afraid that I might be gay. Being gay is bad.
- I identify with, or at least I like, the military.
- If the military accepts gay people, that means being gay isn't bad.
- But being gay is bad, so if the military accepts gay people, that means the military is bad.
- If the military is bad, the military must be gay.
- If I identify with, or at least like, the military which I now know to be gay, that must mean I am gay myself.
- Therefore now I'm gay and I don't want to be gay because that's bad!
That such a line of thinking is obviously irrational and fraught with all manner of structural errors is beside the point. When you peel back the thought process of those who see some sort of fundamental, existential threat in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, you're going to see something that looks a lot like that.
Nationalism isn't dying and the military will adapt to including openly homosexual members within its ranks. We shouldn't let the irrational psychological anxieties of some get in the way of moving our nation, and its essential institutions like the military, into the twenty-first century. The military has had gay people within its ranks for generations, of course, and somehow it functions well, as it always had. There are lots of old, old jokes about how back in the day when only men served in the military and especially in the Navy, sailors passed the time out at sea by coupling up, but somehow none of those jokes ever related what happens in the minuscule sleeping quarters of a ship with the ability of that ship to function in combat. There has always been recognition that even if those sailors turned gay when the ship lost sight of the horizon, they were still tough, capable fighting men serving America.
The only thing that's different now than what was in those old jokes is that soon, those soldiers and sailors won't have to pretend their straight if they aren't -- they won't have to lie in order to serve honorably. This will results in less cognitive dissonance, less anxiety, less lying to oneself and others. In the long run, our military will be stronger for it.