The Question of DADT and Citizenship.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen are presenting their plan to repeal or “phase out” DADT to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
via Wapo.

Among the issues to be addressed by the group: whether gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will face any restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job; whether the Pentagon will be obligated to provide for their domestic partners; and whether straight military personnel could be compelled to share quarters with gays.
“I don’t think anyone is underestimating the seriousness of the issue, or the complexity of it,” said a senior military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Gates and Mullen had yet to testify.

DADT must be overturned immediately. As Wapo reports, gay rights groups are rightfully concerned that the military will dilly-dally on this process and end up taking longer and stalling.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell has an excellent piece up at the Nation about the necessity for DADT to be overturned, or else gays and lesbians are relegated to second class citizenship, comparing it to blacks that fought in both the Civil War and WWII.

Gay soldiers are part of this long history. Their open and unfettered participation in America’s armed services is a necessary part of the struggle for full inclusion in America. When gay men and lesbians can openly and proudly point to their sacrifices for our country then they can call upon our country for full first-class citizenship.
Let’s end DADT during Black History Month. President Obama’s presence in the White House was made possible by the broken bodies of black soldiers who believed and sacrificed for a country that shackled and segregated them. They willingly bled for this country and with that blood they bought for all of us a country where a black man could be president.
Today gay soldiers fight and die with the same hope. They too believe in America even though our country does not protect them in Civil Rights legislation, even though our country withholds marriage equality, even though our country is marred by anti-gay violence: still they believe. It is an astonishing kind of hope. It is the kind of inspiring hope that has made every great American success possible.

While I agree with her take on the political necessity and significance of overturning DADT I have to take issue with one idea that permeates through the piece which is that military service is the heart of citizenship and military service is key to our safety. On Friday I wrote about my conflicted feelings about advocating for policies that make the military a more just place, because of my belief in the inherent injustice of the military industrial complex. Yes, I agree, civil service is at the heart of citizenship, and I have nothing but respect, gratitude and admiration for the courage of soldiers, but I often fear that their commitment has been exploited.
Institutionally, the military and war have been marketed as necessary for our safety, yet we have fought unsafe wars at the risk of countless civilians worldwide. It has been a gross exploitation of the citizenship of young Americans in the service of greed and domination. Furthermore, looking at all the different ways that people claim citizenship and the way those that contribute to this nation and are denied citizenship, it doesn’t make me want to support the structures that define citizenship, but to change the way we define citizenship itself and reform the structures that define and control it.
Of course, the argument can be made that when policies like DADT are overturned, we are starting the process of this redefinition, but as Ann just said to me over IM it is important that we work for short-term inclusion to these institutions, while working towards the long-term reform and/or abolition of the very same institutions. I am not going to feel really good about short-term military reforms, until I feel good about our campaigns of military aggression. And from the way things are going, I don’t see that being any time soon.

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20 Comments

  1. supremepizza
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Institutionally, the military and war have been marketed as necessary for our safety, yet we have fought unsafe wars at the risk of countless civilians worldwide. It has been a gross exploitation of the citizenship of young Americans in the service of greed and domination.”
    We have just wars & unjust wars. In a world of only good people soldiers would be as unnecessary as cops. Unfortunately that’s not so. As unjust as the Iraq war is, the war in Afghanistan is just.
    And I certainly can’t agree that these young people are being exploited. Besides myself I have numerous siblings, cousins, friends and relatives who’ve honorably served for a variety of practical and patriotic reasons. All of us knew the risks we were taking, including the risk that we may not agree with the decisions of the Commander in Chief. This country is as much ours as it is the xenophobes and profiteers, why then should we ‘let’ them ‘have’ our military?
    While ‘the Complex’ may have its reasons for pushing war, we have ours for serving. And while I strongly, strongly decry the militarization of the culture at large, I think we make a mistake in characterizing those that serve as the ‘exploited’.

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    No disagreement with you there. The pacifism I espouse shares many of your reservations with the military industrial complex, but like you I recognize that something this strongly attached to both American identity and a long standing means of resolving disputes cannot be overturned without first establishing a precedent of equality within the system.

  3. MaggieF
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The conflict in Afghanistan is complicated. Eliminating the Taliban seems like a good idea to me, but some of our methods (e.g., destroying farm equipment in the name of “drug eradication”) are awful and only make the Taliban stronger.

  4. mzza
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. The above two comments prove the need for people to be reminded that any grassroots organizing regarding military service comes at a cost. But first, lets be clear: the war in Afghanistan is in no way “Just”. Neither historically, with US cold-war policies a primary cause of the current situation, or the current version, where unmanned drones continue to kill unarmed civilians.
    Regarding DADT, I support it the same way I support gay marriage: yes, the institute is religious outmoded, but in our society it also means access to legal rights as basic as life and death health care decision-making for the person you choose to love. Therefore equal access is always worth advocating for.
    That said, considering the news of the last two days regarding Obama’s spending freeze on everything but the military, this argument takes a more relevant and less abstract turn.
    There is nothing feminist about supporting the military in the face of shrinking domestic spending. A three year domestic spending freeze–particularly in this economy–is basically a death sentence on the working poor and unemployed. I don’t need to point out that this will mostly hurt women.
    Military service is the worst possible litmus test for civics in a country where the basic needs of all citizens are met. Ours is a world where military funding continues to increase the vast wealth. And ours is a currently a country where far more citizens lose there lives from government’s for-profit priorities then from perceived enemies at our gates, by any measure.
    As feminists we have to pick our battles, and I question why this issue takes precedence in the minds of so many feminists and queers when so many other pressing questions need to be agitated against. And yes, this is a case where focus on one issue (DADT) does detract from other more necessary, more life-saving organizing.

  5. GayRightsFAIL
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I really have to disagree with this.
    For some reason it is seen as taboo to say that our soldiers are fighting in vain, but I find it impossible to believe anything else. This is not about an individual’s courage, about their commitment, or anything else. It is about war, and exactly what that means for countless people abroad and our soldiers and their families at home.
    I am no pacifist, sometimes war is necessary. This does not make a war “just” in my opinion, as there is no such thing. Wars result in destruction, death, and suffering for countless people, no matter what side their on. I would have fought against Hitler, sure, but one cannot argue that the bombing of Dresden resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. War means people die, and that is hard for me to reconcile as “just”.
    With that in mind, I don’t understand how anyone can believe that the war in Afghanistan is “just” or even necessary. In 9 years we have not wiped out Al Qaeda at all, and our foreign policy has probably strengthened Al Qaeda. The invasion of foreign lands, combined with the killing of innocent people, and the appointment of leaders that are friendly to America has a longstanding history in the United States, but it certainly isn’t helpful in garnishing popular support. Indeed, our continuing economic and military support of Israel is perhaps the most important factor in the strengthening of Al Qaeda, as Israel continues to suppress and put down nationalist Palestinian movements.
    With all this in mind, I believe that soldiers are not necessarily exploited, per se, but used to accomplish the goals of the elite and warhawks. Because they are used this way I am ready to declare, without any apologies, that I do not have respect, admiration, or gratitude for our soldiers. I wish they weren’t fighting, and I hope they come home, but why should I be grateful? I do not see either of these wars as beneficial to me in any way. Sure, soldiers are serving their country, but I don’t see why I should respect or feel grateful for that.
    I am not trying to stir up controversy, I just don’t understand. Perhaps someone can explain to me exactly what I am missing.

  6. GayRightsFAIL
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree. I do not see DADT as a priority issue for feminists and queer activists. Although I believe people should be able to join the military while still being openly LGBT, I also believe mainstream gay rights groups want to be integrated into a system that values military service above womens’ autonomy over their own bodies.

  7. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    As an American soldier who just recently returned from Iraq, I am absolutely with you – a lot of times, there is too much put into the military and the freedom it supposedly ensures.
    That said, there is something to be said for just wars, and I believe we each can incorporate our feminist values into the military, to ensure that we carry out what is best for women.
    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for me, aren’t about ensuring freedom for the American people, per se, but to end the thousands of years of systematic misogyny that the women of those regions of the world have to endure.
    It may be not be the best way to approach the problem, but by flushing out radical Muslims, and putting a system of government after the construction efforts that’ll focus on women’s rights and gender equality, the days of women being burned for not being “pure” enough, and women being raped to devalue their families, will be over. That’s what I wake up each day fighting for – not for any God-and-country values that conservatives often fondly speak of when they talk about Soldiers.
    Marc

  8. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Just one thing: we soldiers aren’t drones and robots whose commitments have been exploited. We each joined the military for various reasons – some for God-and-country reasons, some to get away, some for a better life, and some, whether you believe it or not, because we find there can be consistency between our feminism and our military service.
    It is just as offensive to come up and thank us as it is to feel sorry for us, as you do, because we’re not all the same, and we don’t all share the same values. We each raised our right hand conscious of the decisions we made, and I’d like it if our career choices were honored, rather than being made into a political statement, whether it’s for conservative or feminist causes.

  9. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    But that’s probably because you fail to see the connection between misogyny and homophobia.
    I’ve met many gay men and women in the military, whose lives are affected by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and more specifically, by the sexist and homophobic attitudes of those who cling on to traditional gender roles.
    We as advocates of gay rights and feminists don’t have to pick and choose between women’s rights and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – they directly affect each other.
    Think of the men who couldn’t report partner sexual assaults because their partners are of the same gender, or as I recently learned, of the woman who was told she was not raped because it was consensual. She argued it couldn’t have been consensual, because she liked men, and got kicked out for me.
    Talk to all those people whose sexuality and bodily autonomy are affected by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell each day they are in uniform, and tell me that DADT is not a feminist issue.

  10. cattrack2
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    In an ‘ironic’ kind of way sure you can say that Afghanistan is rooted in our Cold War history, but there are logical limits to this reasoning. Everything in history is rooted in something before it. FWIW, Osama bin Laden frequently cites the Crusades.
    While our anti-Soviet strategy ultimately resulted in the creation of an armed & capable mujahadeen, we certainly didn’t create Al Qaeda, nor does AQ have a casus belli much beyond ridding the world of Western & Christian influences & establishing a modern pan-Islamic Caliphate.
    Make no mistake about it Osama Bin Laden is no Che Guevarra. There are revolutionary leaders & then there are simple terrorists.

  11. cattrack2
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know of any moral precept that requires me to submit to violence. Everyone is allowed to defend themselves. The same is true of countries. This does not mean every single act within a just war is justifiable. Dresden is a good example of something that was not.
    And even when we ourselves aren’t being attacked, but we enter a war on behalf of others being attacked and persecuted that’s also just. So, I think its fair to characterize the Civil War, WW2, Korea, Somalia, Kosovo, and, yes, Afghanistan, as all just conflicts. And while collateral damage is a distasteful consequence of even just wars, I just don’t know of a way to avoid it in the advent of something like 9/11, or Pearl Harbor.

  12. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Ooops, I meant she told that it couldn’t have been consensual because she liked women. Not men.

  13. Samhita
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Marc, I don’t leave many comments, but I wanted to step in and thank you for leaving yours and reminding us that all the things we write about have faces attached to them, people that are living these realities that we read and write about and to be mindful before we make assumptions about people’s choices. We may not agree on the semantics or on the issues, but I appreciate and acknowledge the point of view.
    Thank you.

  14. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure if this is actually taking place. I’ve not heard of it, and in fact, military regulations forbid us from destroying said equipment, unless they are being used for military purposes.
    In wars or any type of debate that involves ideologies, both sides will blindly accept stories or make some up to suit their viewpoints.
    I am not denying that this is happening, but I’d be cautious in accepting it at its face values.

  15. mzza
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I think your missing some of our points. Yes, we should work for liberation everywhere, including for people in the military. hence my comparison with inclusive marriage. doesn’t have to be my favorite institution to support the right of people to be involved in it, straight, queer, man, woman, other.
    But the military is not a neutral job.
    Like Marc says above, people join the military for a lot of reasons. However, “the thousands of years of systematic misogyny that the women of those regions of the world have to endure” has absolutely nothing to do with the US interests that have us fighting that increasingly bloody war for US economic interests.
    Believe what you want to sleep better at night, but that little brainwashing fantasy is nothing but White House PR. You don’t indiscriminately bomb Muslim women to ‘save’ them.
    The US Military Industrial Complex increasingly curtails liberties at home, bankrupts us so we can’t afford the time or resources to struggle against their loss, and expands our global reach to protect the profits of the ownership class. We aren’t spreading democracy or fighting for human rights–there’s no reliable evidence to demonstrate we ever have, certainly not consistently.
    Repeal DADT, just don’t mistake it for more than band-aid progress and smoke-screen politics.

  16. Marc
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    You are the prime example of why idiots like Code Pink make the rest of us feminists look bad.
    I don’t need to lie to myself to sleep at night. In my political activism as in the military, both what I do professionally in it, and by additional duties as the equal opportunity representative and sexual assault prevention coordinator, I’ve lived by my feminist values and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me otherwise.
    The fact of the matter is the military will always exist, and as a member of the military, I am taking steps to ensure that the engagements the military takes on is good for women in the countries that it’s occupying.
    I never get all the things I want, but the fact of the matter is I am doing something about it. You work with what you have, not what you wish didn’t exist, in your case, the military.
    I would say that in small ways, I’ve improved the lives of women in the countries my military occupies far more than anyone sitting and blogging about the evils of the military has ever done.
    Want to help women? Go out and work for it. Stop sitting around criticizing things you can’t change.

  17. Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    However I might feel (as a civilian who has never served) about the American military, I think it’s important to fight for queer service members (including those who have already been suffered unjust separation) rather than to say, “Yeah, sucks you have to lie/lost your job/suffer from harassment and discrimination, but it’s your own fault for joining the military” and turn my back on them.
    Personally, I’m just hoping Admiral Muller’s words get spread far and wide:

    No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.

    …and that not as many people pay attention to former Rep. Hunter.

  18. mk
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    A little O/T, but Marc, if you don’t mind me asking, why is it offensive to thank a service member (or veteran)? (Apologies if you’ve already addressed this and I missed it–it’s something I’ve never heard before.)

  19. Marc
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It is a bit off topic, and I can only speak from my perspective and not anyone else’s.
    I feel that most of the time, more than anything, when people come up to me and thank me for whatever perceived freedom they feel my fellow Soldiers and I have provided, the statement comes attached with political statements, and the assumption that we all joined the military for the same reason.
    In short, it’s to reinforce their own beliefs that what we’re doing is a good thing. What’s more, when I am in my uniform on a plane and the whole damn plane breaks out in applause, because some “patriotic” pilot made the announcement about my presence, it makes me uncomfortable, because it was not consulted, and I am essentially being used as a political tool to support this war, regardless of whatever feelings I have for it.
    I am a person, not a political tool for either Democrats or Republicans.
    In short: don’t judge me based on the uniform I wear, but who I am as a person. People who come up and thank me don’t see me as a person, but simply a part of an institution.
    I am not a hero, the teachers and political activists and feminists and people like Dr. George Tiller are.

  20. mzza
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    you have no idea who I am, or what I have or have not done but sadly, i think i understand what the us military continues to do at home and abroad. and most of it ain’t feminist. there might be feminists in it, and people defining as feminist, but all the real social progress in this and any country has been at the other end of riffle butts, often made by people trying to get out of the way of pair of marching boots.
    all your wishful thinking won’t change that.
    but worst of all… Code Pink? You think this is a reason to insult Code Pink? I’m embarrassed for you.
    and cattrack2? really? from my paragraph you think i’d equate the vile and reactionary violence of an Osama fundamentalists to a Che G? the idea that me suggesting US foreign policy is partially to blame for global instabilities is the same as supporting terrorism lies somewhere between disrespect and insanity.
    The US is currently hiding its own acts of global and domestic terrorism behind fear of terrorists abroad, and faux-humanitarian aid. The numbers don’t add up. We kill far more than we save, and we kill in countries that don’t make the daily news cycle. Note: that doesn’t mean other places don’t do bad things in their interest too, but we ain’t the world’s white nights either.
    I’m just glad you both read this blog.

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