During World War I, rather than totally integrating African Americans in the white man’s war machine, blacks were again given thankless jobs as cooks and orderlies. The few all-black units that did exist were still commanded by white officers.
The same policy existed during World War II until the Navy integrated black enlisted men with white personnel. A scientific study of the American soldier concluded that blacks were “effective fighters” and that integration did not diminish our war efforts.
Officially, racial segregation in the military ended in 1946. Despite resistance, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order declaring equal treatment and opportunity for all military personnel “without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” It conveniently ignored sexual preference.
It took this country 170 years to end racial discrimination in its military ranks. I wonder if it will require another 170 years to end its discrimination and phobia against gays and lesbians. Which brings us to don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue.
The military always has considered homosexual behavior illegal. In 1778, Lt. Frederick Enslin became the first gay soldier released from the Army for having sex with another man. Ironically, he was fighting to separate himself from Christian persecution and for his right to live a personal life without discrimination in a free country.
At the outset of WWII, psychiatric assessment was required in the induction process. Instead of being denied induction because of homosexual behavior, which was still considered criminal, medical evaluation determined if you were a homosexual and fit to serve with what they called “normal” combatants. Evidently, many were misdiagnosed.
By the end of the 1980s, 17,000 members of the military were discharged because they were openly homosexual. The Navy comprises almost 30 percent of the armed forces, yet 50 percent of the discharged military were in the Navy. Another interesting statistic indicates that white females represent 6 percent of all military personnel but 20 percent of the discharged homosexuals were women.
Finally, President Clinton signed the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” directive in 1993. Military personnel would no longer be asked if they were gay, however they would be drummed out of military service if they truthfully and openly admitted they were. But discrimination and hate crimes still continued in the barracks of our war heroes.
At Fort Campbell, Ky., PFC Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat in his sleep by Pvt. Calvin Glover. Glover admitted he murdered Winchell because he was a homosexual. Glover was sentenced to life in prison where he could socialize with many more homosexuals.
There is a practical, philosophical and political line drawn between discrimination, individual rights and social freedom in the military during a time of war.
Practically, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell allows the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass new discriminatory laws prohibiting all homosexuals from military service. At least currently, they can serve as long as they don‘t tell anyone about their personal lifestyle. Seems like a fair trade in a time of war when everyone has to sacrifice something.
Philosophically, what does it matter if a relatively few members of our militia openly live as gay men or women? With everything falling apart in our capitalistic democracy, doesn’t Congress have more important issues to deal with than the military’s homophobia?
Politically, the religious-based right is opposed to homosexual behavior whether it is in the military or in an individual’s bedroom. Their objective is to legislate and impose their moral narrow-mindedness on all of us. They would have us believe the fire and brimstone biblical myth of Sodom and Gomorrah: If we don’t turn our backs to homosexuality, we’ll all turn into a pillar of salt.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.