“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is bad policy. It encourages deceit and, specifically, staying in the closet, which contributes to internalized as well as public homophobia, thus perpetuating discrimination and violence against LGBT people. Banning gay people from serving in the military, however, is something I support. Not because I’m anti-gay, nope, I’m one of those queer folks myself. I’m also a woman and would support a law against women serving in the military. Not because I think women are less capable. I would support laws against any group of people serving in the military: people of color, tall people, people between the ages of 25 and 53, white men, poor people, people who have children, people who vote for Democrats — however you draw the boundaries of a group, I would support a law banning them from military service. Because I support outlawing the military. And until that has happened, I support downsizing it by any means necessary, including, in this one particular arena, sacrificing civil rights in the interest of human rights.
Civil rights would dictate that if a military exists, everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class or religion, should have an equal opportunity to serve in it. But human rights dictate otherwise. Human rights do not support the equal right of everyone to kill. They support the right of everyone NOT to be killed. (Or occupied and exploited, another key function militaries carry out.) As such, human rights are anti-military by nature.
I want to be clear that I’m not one of those knee-jerk anti-soldier types. I grew up in a military family, spent many years bagging groceries in an army commissary, lots of time on military bases – the point is, as individuals, military personnel are as diverse a group of people as are academics or artists, the other two groups of people I’ve spent a lot of time around. Racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty-by-design – these problems are institutionalized throughout this country and you’ll find people who accept the status quo as well as those fighting the long slow battle against injustice in all institutions, including the branches of the military. What makes the military unique is not the individuals in uniform but the fact that their job description, in the final instance, is to kill people. Legally and explicitly. Killing is not the exclusive or even the most frequent activity performed, but it is the ultimate threat, the ultimate purpose of having armed forces.
It’s sad that advocating for the outlawing of the military is widely seen as naïve and utopian: after all, there are threats out there and without a military we would be defenseless. It’s ironic that many who make that argument in support of the military also consider themselves Christians. Even though, to my understanding, being a Christian means “walking the Jesus path.” And didn’t Jesus refuse to use arms (or to let family or friends do so on his behalf) even in self-defense, even though that commitment resulted in his death? When it comes down to it, though, I’m not as principled as Jesus. I support the use of violence in slave uprisings and anti-colonial movements. I imagine that I would kill someone who I witnessed in the act of attempting to kill, torture or rape others or myself, if I had the means and if that were the only way to stop that act from happening. But what all of those situations have in common reflect a way in which the U.S. military is rarely used: to stop brutality as it is happening.
Queerness, broadly speaking, is a challenge to mainstream common sense. Why should we buy into the mantra of it being necessary to have a military? Or of American lives being so much more worthy than the lives of others that “collateral damage” in the course of preventing a possible attack on the U.S. is acceptable? Let’s take the Orwellian factor out of the term “defense” and restore that word to its actual meaning: let’s create a defense force that is ready to respond and is only utilized when actual attacks are in-progress. Not to enforce the unequal trade policies from which we benefit, not to enforce the installment or removal of politicians to better serve U.S. interests, not to prevent attacks on the U.S. And certainly not to attack people who are not actively killing, enslaving, colonizing, or torturing anyone. You can shoot down the plane as it is heading for the World Trade Center, but not bomb targets you suspect of harboring terrorists planning future attacks. Yes, that means risking the possible death of innocent Americans in a future attack. But the alternative is to guarantee the death of innocent non-Americans based on conjecture.
There is a lot of talk about the military “protecting” Americans. Frankly, a much better job of that will be done if the funds diverted from scaling back the military to an actual defense force are invested in universal health care, education, job-creation, living-wage legislation, cancer research, and the like. Eradicating poverty and ensuring health care will save far more lives every year than so-called “national security.” There are far too many Americans who do, indeed, lead insecure lives. But terrorism is the least cause of their condition – the more significant threats are domestic policies that see their lives as acceptable collateral damage to an increasingly unregulated capitalism of every man for himself. In fact, the majority of young people who join the military do so out of their own sense of insecurity and a desire to make a difference in the world. They cite the military as the only option they see to afford college and/or to receive a steady paycheck, and as a source of meaningful work. Propaganda ensures that they can pursue this path without going insane, by being led to believe that they are heroes, nobly serving their country. But I believe that our country (not to mention many other places in the world) is actually being done a grave disservice by sacrificing such a large portion of our material and human resources to the military. And it is a tragedy that so many young people’s desires to do good are preyed upon, manipulated through fear-mongering nationalist ideology, and diverted into the destruction of lives, the devastation of the planet, and the perpetuation of inequality.
Instead of fighting for the right to serve in the military, let’s fight for the right of military service being prohibited. To increase our national security. And for the protection of all our human rights, globally.
It is tricky to write an essay that accepts discrimination as a means to an end. In what remains a homophobic, racist, sexist society, I fear enabling a slippery slope of arguments for identity-based discrimination. Although, of course, the entire notion of citizens who are “protected” by a military discriminates against people based on the identity factor of nationality. Hence my point about human rights trumping civil rights. My argument that we should be fighting against, not for, gay people’s inclusion in the military is not actually about gay people at all. Nor is it about wanting others to do our dirty work for us. As I said, I think everyone should be banned from military service. But if the goal is demilitarization, fighting for even more people to have the right to join the military makes no sense. There are plenty of other civil rights denied gay people for which we still need to fight — civil rights that do not trample on others’ human rights.
CECILIA LUCAS lives in Oakland, California.