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The Government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy of Sexual Orientation-Identification In The Military: On Homophobia
As of now, last I heard, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with respect to the sexual orientation-identification has been put on hold by the Obama administration. As of now, gay and lesbian soldiers are not allowed to serve "openly." My understanding is that Obama has committed to its repeal. Yet even though a federal court struck down the law as unconstitutional, the Obama government has somehow overruled the court and ordered that this finding not be implimented; on the grounds that the White House prefers the repeal to come about through legislative action, in the form of a bill that arrives on his desk, which he can sign in law, or rather LAW!
This essay is not concerned with those tiresome details. We are interested in why "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ever came into existence at all -- no, not the political history of how Clinton came to sign the bill as a compromise between the "left" and right ends of the political spectrum. No, we are interested in the social psychology that such a policy points to.
What were the vague reasons we, the public, given to understand for the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?" During the Clinton administration, when Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we were given to understand, vaguely, that allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to "openly" serve in the miltary, would compromise the morale and effectiveness and cohesion of the military with this policy.
By this did Powell and others who were saying this, mean that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would cause organizational havoc? Would soldiers suddenly forget how to march in formation? Would they forget which end of the gun was for shooting? Would they uncontrollably drive tanks off cliffs and battle carriers into icebergs? What does this mean? Would they suddenly become useless as fighting units because gays and lesbians "come out of the closet" in the armed services.
Interestingly, the iconic conservative Barry Goldwater famously said that he didn't care if a soldier was gay or straight "... as long as he can shoot straight." Clearly, then, he thought that as long as a sodlier could "shoot straight" he or she was an asset to his/her unit and the American military as a whole.
One could argue that his statement does not disagree with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Both positions give formal permission for gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces -- but as we all know these formal, tightly constructed "right-to-serve" means little because a gay or lesbian soldier is not allowed to be the person he or she is, because the military does not allow one to be "open" about their sexuality.
Here's what I'm trying to say
The idea that allowing gays and lesbians to serve "openly" (meaning being fully who they are as people particularly with respect to their sexuality) would compromise unit effectiveness and morale is, on its face, nonsense. But this justification is adjacent to what I consider to be the real reason.
Many of you reading this might say the answer is simple, that is the reason the policy ever came into being is straightforward: homophobia. Well, yes I agree with that, as far as it goes; and this answer only goes so far, not all the way, as it were.
The question for us is: Where does the FEAR (and I do believe fear is operative in a very concrete way) and hatred of homosexuals come from?
The collective unconscious
This is a term to describe the unconscious thoughts and unconscious response patterns of groups of individuals. At certain common access points in a shared culture (national, ethinic, religious, etc) a group of people in combination with each other might be said to share a consciousness; each individual consciousness contributes.
Furthermore the outward manifestation of the collective unconscious in group behaviors, both positive and negative, and indeed, culture, would be of interest to and come under the scholarly purview of the sociologist, anthropologist, or any other social theorist.
It is my belief that embedded in the collective unconscious of we, heterosexual men is: homophobia which has its origin in traditional sexism, the male oppression of women. What does this mean?
When I speak of the American male collective unconscious with respect to homophobia (particularly male homophobia) and sexism (the oppression of women), it is not necessary that every single male be either a homophobe and/or a sexist (and of course this is not true, per se -- on the other hand, given the degree to which we have always been conditioned by various organs of the propaganda/public relations machine in America, it would be surprising if we all, every single one of us, did not have at least some traces some nasty attitudes in our consciousness; and that is to say nothing about the influence family members and relatives (who themselves were conditioned) --- depending on their biases --- had on us).
The Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci once said in his prison diaries (as I heard his words interpreted by Edward Said on the Orientalism video) that: history has left in each of us, traces. Think about "trace amounts" of minerals or some such.
History has left in every individual trace elements of all kinds of attitudes, opinions, first response, reactive views towards different kinds of people, ideas about the future prospects of humankind, either positive or negative or somewhere in between. Our task, said Gramsci (again as I heard Edward Said put it) is to make an inventory of all of these traces; to become consciously aware of them and how they control our everyday lives.
Let us bear that in mind as we move on to the last part of this hub.
Now then, how does homophobia (particularly as expressed by the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military) relate to sexism?
I believe "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," is a manifestation of structural homophobia or an example of an institutionalized bias against the LGBT community. Understand that it is not necessary that every single "cog in the wheel" of that mostly white male power structure of the Pentagon and Congress and any and all other concerned agencies be a homophobe (barring the trace amounts of this attitude many men may have); but each cog may nevertheless, in their institutional role, perpetuate that homophobia.
Brief example of what I mean by "structural behavior"
Recall just after the Bush White House launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Later Alan Greenspan wrote and book and he was even interviewed by the Today Show's Matt Lauer.
You see, various people had been un-American enough to suggest that the motivation behind the war was oil. There was a back and forth about was it or was it not "about oil." These people were talking about whether or not the Bush administration consciously devised the war with oil in mind -- but of course we can never know what so and so had on his "mind."
But it is not necessary for conscious deliberation for the answer to the question (Was this war about oil?) to be "Yes." Alan Greenspan said it.
He said that he was not saying that the Bush administration believed the war was about oil; "but I'm saying it is about oil and I think it was necessary to get Saddam out of there."
There is a marvelous documentary which you can watch on YouTube called "Blood and Oil," narrated by Michael T. Klare. We are treated to a bit of a history lesson about why the United States has been so heavily involved in Middle East affairs since the end of World War Two. U.S. policy can be said to functioned in a "structure" built by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the end of World War Two; and the fact that America's economy is so very heavily dependent on oil; and so much of what remains is in that Middle East (or "Persian Gulf") area.
Roosevelt had met with the king of Saudi Arabia and struck up a deal. The United States would protect the regime from all enemies, internal and external in exchange for allowing us to have unrestricted access to Saudi oil for the needs of our economy. Roosevelt did this because he felt he had to. Winning WWII had really strained the domestic oil reserves and the day would come, he knew, when our reserves would be all tapped out. So President Roosevelt found a foreign source.
That is the structure that Franklin Delano Roosevelt created as far as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Every single president of the United States since then has reaffirmed that strategic relationship. Understand that is the structure, the borders, if you will, which form the outer rim of each subsequent president's ability to operate regardless of party or ideology (libertarian, progressive, liberal, conservative, "hawk," "dove," etc).
And so when Greenspan made his remark he was, I would argue, saying that the invasion of Iraq was about oil (in addition to other things as well) in a structural way, whether or not anyone in the Bush White House and Pentagon had a single conscious thought of "We got to get Saddam out of there so our oil corporations can get that oil."
Much of U.S. foreign policy has been tied up with protecting Persian Gulf oil and this was an imperative put in place by President Franklin Roosevelt -- that's the structure U.S. Presidents have operated in (those are the borders and boundaries)regardless of political party or ideology (nominally liberal, conservative, progressive, right wing, neoconservative, etc).
What's the point already?
What is the reason for the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which of course has antecedents in the American military going all the way back to the eighteenth century with "anti-sodomy" laws and so forth? And remember we are specifically focusing on American male heterosexual homophobia (and the particular loathing of male homosexuality).
I believe this has its origins, within the collective unconscious (and different individuals have varying "trace" amounts of this) of we, American males, of a fear that if gays achieve full liberation in our society and full rights in the military -- we will be mass raped by vampiric hoardes of gay men and we shall be powerless to stop them.
I am quite in earnest. The suggestion is absurd but nevertheless the fear, I believe, is real. Please stay with me a moment longer. As I work out this conclusion it is necessary to keep the three big ideas we've already talked about in mind: collective unconscious; traces (as in history has left traces in all of us...); and structural behavior.
It seems to me that the collective unconscious of American heterosexual men manifests a fear of mass sexual attack by homosexual men, AGAINST WHICH WE SHALL BE POWERLESS!!
I believe this is the REAL REASON, then, for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military, as opposed to the absurd reasons about unit cohesion and preparedness, and all that folderol. As bizaare as this sounds, in the end I believe this or something like it is the only rational explanation.
You know, it frequently happens that an oppressor or someone who committs an act of violence, fear retribution. That is to say that he becomes fearful that someone will do to him what he has done to someone else. He fears someone will do that, x, or worse to him.
There is disturbing not-so-secret secret in the military: there is an ongoing epidemic of male soldiers raping female soldiers. I would just draw your attention from one article from News Junkie Post.
It seems that a third of all women in the United States military get raped. Perhaps as many as ninety (90%) percent of rapes do not get reported. Ninety percent of women in the military at least get sexually harassed. We hear about female soldiers needing "battle buddies" another female soldier to go to the latrine or shower with -- as a precaution against being raped by their fellow male soldiers. But read the article. I'm gong to leave it there.
Question: What is the reason for the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military?
Answer: Because oppressors or people who commit acts of violence sometimes fear retribution, however bizaare the fear and unlikely such retribution coming (at least in the form we fear it).
Thank you for reading.