Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance or Philosophical Subtlety?

The other e-mail I got yesterday was from another blogger whom I've sometimes debated in comment threads elsewhere, and sometimes conversed with in e-mail. Yesterday's message was brief and to the point:
Considering you wrote off officer Choi, I would have figured you to at least say the getEQUAL crowd was misguided for demanding an end to DADT.
This referred to some of my less than admiring remarks about Lieutenant Dan Choi, who seems to be the current poster boy for gays in the military, and to a recent post in which I praised getEqual activists for heckling President Obama for not pushing harder on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Well, I can understand why many people would see some cognitive dissonance there, even though I don't. But I also admit that it's taken me some time to clarify in my own mind why I feel the way I do. There's long been tension between gay activists who oppose US militarism -- one guy once wrote to the Village Voice that he supported the ban on gays in the military, and wanted it extended to heterosexuals; I concur -- and gay activists who want gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals to have the same chance to kill and maim innocent people in foreign lands that heterosexuals enjoy. Or, to put it a bit more tactfully, this latter faction wants equality of opportunity for military service while refusing to examine the uses to which America's armed forces are put. It's better public relations strategy, of course, and that's what is wrong with it.

Those who want the ban on gays in the military to end often seem to be those who express dismay that the gay movement in the US is associated with, or stereotyped as, The Left. That doesn't seem to me to justify embracing the Right. Some point out, accurately enough, that people often join the military for economic reasons, to get job training or money for college, or just a job, and they accuse those who disagree of looking down on working-class gays who lack the options in life that we supposed elitists have. This argument has lost some of its sheen since Bill Clinton's attempt to end the ban failed in 1993, when Americans who joined the military were less likely to have their legs blown off. Clinton's foreign-policy "successes," it should be remembered, were mainly due to his keeping American casualties low and foreigners' casualties high. And now, as new atrocities by American forces are being unearthed and publicized, I'm seeing the same demonization of American soldiers by liberals and even some leftists that attended Vietnam veterans a few decades ago. (See Vietnam vet Jerry Lembcke's important and still-timely book The Spitting Image: myth, memory and the legacy of Vietnam [NYU Press, 1998].) So, all you working-class gay kids should be free to join the military -- so we can denounce you as "pure human shit to begin with" when you do the job you signed up to do, the job that we told you was good enough for trailer trash like you.

Dan Choi told the Equality March in Washington last October, "We love our country, even when our country refuses to acknowledge our love! But we continue to defend it, and we continue to protect it, because love is worth it!" I pointed out at the time that Choi, a veteran of the Iraq War, was being disingenuous (putting it tactfully again). The US has not fought a defensive war in my lifetime, and a fortiori not in Iraq, which was a war of aggression, and is now a brutal occupation of the country our forces invaded. Choi was appealing to his audience's patriotism, and as I've also said before, patriotism is the first refuge of scoundrels. Still, it's missing the point to say that I "wrote off" Dan Choi. The door to my boudoir is always open to you, Dan. But the real issue isn't Dan Choi, or any other American soldier, sailor, Marine, or Blackwater operative.

None of this means that Don't Ask Don't Tell shouldn't be repealed. I don't think that fighting the military ban on gays has been a good use of gay activists' time or energy, but the policy is discriminatory and can't be justified on any grounds. Replying to my correspondent, I drew a few historical parallels: There were German Jews in the 1930s who were avid supporters of Hitler and insisted that they were as patriotic as any Aryan. Such people were fools and worse, but that doesn't mean that I support Hitler's anti-Jewish laws. The same applies to Proposition 8: I don't agree with the craze for same-sex civil marriage, but inscribing discriminatory policies in a state constitution is bad law.

The deployment of the word "equality" as a buzzword to push same-sex marriage and the repeal of DADT is misleading, a diversion from important questions that need to be addressed. If German Jews had been allowed to join the Einsatzgruppen openly, that would have been "equality," but I think few people today would agree that the first goal should have been equality for German Jews in military service, and then you could ask whether supporting Hitler and invading Poland was really a good thing. But that is what the more moderate opponents of Don't Ask Don't Tell argue: first we need to get formal equality for the LBGTQ Citizen, and then we can debate the propriety of invading Iraq, or escalating the US war in Afghanistan, or attacking Iran. That's just another diversion, of course: in reality, no such debate is acceptable to them.