An unintended consequence of DADT is our loss of perspective
You could see and hear the hints of our very own burgeoning community-led jingoism as the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell debate was unfolding within this community; the unyielding nationalism that arose in some segments of this community if you voiced anything other than 100% patriotic support for the troops, unblemished by subtle questions and doubts as to what our goals were in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Try as one might to have made nuanced distinctions between supporting the right of anyone to join the military — of course LGBT people should have the right to join — and the actual wisdom of sending our own people to die in trumped up wars to defend the oil industry and Dick Cheney’s overweening sense of masculinity, we seemed suddenly, inexplicably, to end up back where the general population ended up: acting as if all military service and military actions were good and pure and to be celebrated.
It didn’t have to be this way, of course. One of the greatest things about being gay for many of us has been the fact that it opened our eyes to so many untruths that were seen as hallowed territory in this society. The clergy is truth. The police are your friends. Prosecutors only seek justice. Doctors know best. The government only wants to help. And the military fights only for freedom.
“How can you not support the troops?” I was asked in an accusatory ways in debates online and otherwise. “These men and women are laying down their lives to protect your freedom to criticize them!”
Well, if that’s what they’re fighting for, why do you get so upset when someone actually exercises that right? If the right is so important as to die for it, shouldn’t it actually be used some time, especially when it’s being used to protest the fact that your precious troops are fighting and dying for something other than what’s been presented to them and their families? Have the thousands of deaths of American troops — and untold civilians — been worth it? Have you bothered to notice that both of those countries are teetering on the edge of complete chaos? Is that what your troops died for? Leaving two sovereign nations lurching toward Islamic theocracy? That’s what your loved ones, your fellow troops, died for? Funny, I would think you’d have higher hopes for some meaning in their deaths. But now to even ask such question in this community — a community built on truth — is forbidden, if recent events are any indication.
Now we are left with what would at one time have been non-controversies, such as whether Bradley Manning should be the honorary grand marshal of San Francisco’s LGBT Pride Parade.
Manning is the U.S. Army Pfc who was arrested in May 2010 for allegedly passing classified secrets to Wikileaks, which published many of them. Manning, who was unhappy with his life in the military, was accused by prosecutors of being motivated primarily by this unhappiness. Manning and his supporters argue that he motivated by the very things I mentioned at the beginning of this piece: a desire to expose the hypocrisy of a military system that professed to be using troops to defend truth, freedom and the American way, but which instead was wasting untold military lives to wage wars which would, as we all know now, end up being next to pointless.
But Manning exposed more than just a government and military willing to kill its own for ephemeral gains. He also exposed needless deaths of Iraqi and Afghani civilians, including the May, 4, 2009 Garanal massacre, a B-1 bombing raid which is said to have killed between 86-147 Afghan civilians. This was a war crime, pure and simple.
American government and military officials say that Manning put American military lives in danger because of the anger these kinds of leaks engendered in local populations. A more critical reading of these incidents brings up more important questions, including the most important one of all: Aren’t we supposed to be the good guys? All it takes is a few mass murders by our military, and the sheen of righteousness in which they cloak themselves washed away.
Manning had issues and we may never know how pure his motivations were. But that is not relevant. The information he released showed an American government and military, which were telling the U.S. public one thing, while committing war crimes in the Middle East. The Manning leaks also show a military effort that was often haphazard and at odd with its stated goals. If you cannot work up a tear or two over civilian casualties in war, how about working some up over dead soldiers who were fighting and dying for little more than window dressing meant to sell the war to a skeptical public at home?
Sound familiar? It should if you know recent American history at all, because of a psychiatrist and private contractor with the Rand Corporation named Daniel Ellsberg who, in 1971, released the Pentagon Papers showing that the U.S. government basically had no idea what it was doing in the Vietnam War. Those papers were published by no less than the New York Times, and the incident is considered a seminal moment in free speech and newspaper publishing in America.
At the time, the government and conservatives argues that release of the papers would compromise military planning and readiness. And it was unpatriotic. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, and on June 30, 1971, the court ordered that the Times was free to begin publishing the Pentagon Papers at will.
That publication exposed the military and the government as bumbling fools, stumbling about looking for any reason to continue a war even more bloody and contentious than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How many lives might have been saved if those papers had been released earlier? We will never know.
In any case, Bradley Manning is the Daniel Ellsberg of our day and Wikileaks plays the part of the New York Times, which is hopelessly compromised these days as a corporate entity willing to bend to the needs of the national security establishment.
It is true that, unlike Ellsberg, Manning is an active duty serviceperson who broke the chain of command. But it was not for lack of trying to get his superiors to address his concerns. Not only that, but Manning took an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, “foreign and domestic.”
It is clear from the papers he leaked that our government has developed some Constitutional enemies on the domestic side, including war criminals in the form of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. (You’ll notice that neither of those gentlemen feels free to travel in much of the world for fear they will be rightfully arrested.)
When his oath to his commanders and the Constitution collided, Manning clearly felt his first duty was to the latter. For that he should be celebrated. Military people with a working brain should be celebrating him because he brought truth to light that should allow them to save many military lives if they choose to use widely and without bias the information he provided.
So when word leaked that SF Pride leaders had decided to make Manning an honorary grand marshal, a cry arose from gay and lesbian military groups who saw it as a slap in the face.
Excuse me? Since when do we take marching orders from groups affiliated with the military? My obligation to those people ended when they got the right to serve, ignoring the fact that the last good reason to fight with the U.S. military came immediately after 9/11 and ended when we decided to invade Iraq for no good reason.
Not only that, but San Francisco Pride is being sponsored by a rogues gallery of U.S. corporations that raped the world economy and, it’s important to add, also took advantage of countless returning veterans with predatory loans.
Where is the outrage over that? Why are gay and lesbian military groups not out protesting against Wells Fargo and Bank of America?
This is exactly the situation many of us feared we would find ourselves: living in a world where military people with their short-sightedness and jingoism would control political debates in the same mindless way they infect the debates within the population at large with patriotism over logic.
This is unacceptable. At one point I might have argued that the decision to honor Manning, while not wrong, was premature. Not any more. I say full speed ahead. That includes suggesting that our own Boston Pride Committee find some way to honor Manning with the courage that SF Pride lacks.
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