Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

That I have lived to see this: a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff denounce gay and lesbian people as immoral, then say he was wrong to interpose his own personal views in the public arena. And two Republican senators, one current (John Warner of Virginia) and one former (Alan Simpson of Wyoming) tell him he is wrong to call gay and lesbian people immoral, while Hillary Clinton refuses to make such a simple factual statement. That I have also lived to read, on a private email list I belong to, servicemen say that while they personally don’t care if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is lifted, they also have no problems serving with gay people, including in combat. Furthermore, they believe that if the military is going to have Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) on the books, the military ought to enforce DADT by rigorously monitoring phone calls, emails, letters, etc., because as tragic as that would be, the hypocrisy disgusts them. (Some go further: they think the policy is stupid and wrong.)

And don’t think Senator Simpson or Senator Warner believe, any more than does former Chief of Staff John Shalikashvili, who wrote a New York Times op-ed calling for the reassessment of DADT that gay and lesbian soldiers (and citizens) can contribute a sufficient number of troops to end the military’s personnel problem. They know the regular Army and Marine Corps could use tens of thousands more troops. What they are, is disgusted with the wastage of good people who are willing, at this point in the Republic’s history when military service is voluntary, to cherish the Republic enough to risk their lives in uniform for a Republic that quite frankly does not regard them as citizens.

But rather than berate the injustice and hypocrisy of DADT, I thought I would explore some deeper issues in this post.

At the core of citizenship are two things: the citizen’s personal, bodily inviolability, and the right/responsibility to bear arms in the common defense. And this goes all the way back to the Greeks, who were mentioned in the on-line conversation I referred to: Greek (which is to say, Athenian) rules on sexual behavior between citizen males forbade intercourse. You could lose your citizenship for male-male intercourse. Which leads me to my next point: we lose sight of the fact that when they spoke of the love between man and youth, both were of an age to bear arms. A man’s beloved must not be someone he met at a bathhouse, but a youth with whom he would not be unwilling to lock shields in the brutal armored shoving match that was Greek infantry warfare, preferably someone whose father his father would also not have been ashamed to have as a shoulder-to-shoulder man.

Intercourse was something to be imposed upon slaves, male and female, and wives were for the sowing of legitimate children: in Athens, a “citizen” wife was welcomed into her new household with the same ceremony that welcomed a new slave, and she owned barely more than the garments she stood up in. Under such circumstances, it was ridiculous to call women, even the legitimate daughters of citizen males, citizens themselves. Further complicating the issue of bodily integrity was the fact that women died in huge, terrifying numbers in childbirth. Given that, it was economic folly and emotional insanity for men to relate to their wives and daughters as if they had the same prospects of survival as their sons and brothers did, because they didn’t. And no man who was a man could expect a woman to bear the twin risks of childbirth and combat: the terrible Greek saying, For men, war and for women, the marriage-bed, acknowledged this grim truth.

This ancient intricate, interlocking relationship between slavery, physical integrity, maternal mortality and citizenship is the foundation of America’s own, very modern struggles with expanding military, especially combat service, beyond white males: to black males, to gay men (who are presumed to be invisible) and women (who are visible, but whose vulnerability to combat, and thus their moral right to pick that risk for themselves, has been carefully obscured).

At issue in all the questions—Shall black men bear arms? Shall women bear arms? Shall openly gay men (and to a lesser extent lesbian women) bear arms?—is a larger question. How can someone whose very body is not their own (blacks of both sexes were vulnerable to appalling violence in Jim Crow America, with almost total impunity; to this day, we have a real problem with applying the same standards of bodily integrity and right to use force to defend that body to women, as we do to men) or who by eschewing the social privilege of an invulnerable body reminds other men that their own bodies are not by nature invulnerable (as gay men do straight men) be trusted to defend the community, especially by force of arms?

And the huge implication working its way through society—far too slowly—is that no one group of people has right of access to anyone else’s bodies. Access may be given as a gift, as an honorable favor, but it may not be extorted, let alone commanded or imposed.


One thought on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. I’m glad I found your blog; I’ve just ordered a copy of your book. I do cinema studies and am currently writing a dissertation on popular representations of US servicewomen from WWII-GWOT.

    I’ll be back.

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