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Saturday, March 27, 2010

DADT Repeal: Relax Don't Do It

Just before a new generation of LGBTIPQQ folks converged to march on Washington last year President Obama declared yet again -- as he had also had done repeatedly on the campaign trail -- that he fully intended to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Last week officials announced a host of "relaxations" in the implementation of the policy as the Armed Services presumably begin to prepare to make good on the Commander in Chief's promise.

I don't doubt that Obama wants and means to repeal DADT. I more or less do still expect repeal to take place during his Administration. But I suspect that those who are pointing out that the next Defense Appropriation is a logical moment to make a go at such repeal (since it would take sixty votes to nix the language, and it is attached to Defense in the general direction of which everybody endlessly, frankly disgustingly, genuflects these days) are probably being optimists in my view, but I guess I could be wrong.

I do have to say that I find it impossible to be heartened by last week's announced "relaxation" of the policy, since it seems to me this "relaxation" looks more or less like a literal description of how DADT was sold in the first place by Clinton as a "compromise" that wouldn't involve the witch-hunts and betrayals it inevitably has done. As it happens, we expected DADT to be as bad as it turned out to be, and we Marched on Washington in 1993 to say so. I was there in my Queer Nation/Atlanta t-shirt and terribly undignified short pants raising hell on that very topic, among others. And so I hope I can be forgiven if I refrain from offering my usual two cheers about Obama's incrementalism this time around, as the "repeal" slow-march looks so far like nothing so much as a straight up re-run of the initial ugly promises that never satisfied anybody in the first place.

It goes without saying of course that the usual wizened patriarchal pricks still sputtering out their chestnuts about "unit cohesion" and so on are simply straightforwardly stupid and wrong -- armed forces in any number of democratic nations have already demonstrated that openly queer and straight soldiers can serve together, no muss no fuss. And any talk of loss of morale or the need for separate barracks (unless one is spinning porn scenarios) should be treated as the unambiguous bigotry and deception that it certainly actually is.

I daresay that queers serving openly in the armed forces might function as a vital countervailing check on the whole frightening authoritarian Christianist element that raises its ugly anti-democratizing head in the armed forces all too often these days, when fundy yahoos get caught playing out various dot-eyed "Onward Christian Soldiers" "End-Times" "Neo-Crusader" video-game fantasies with real bombs and real bullets and real bodies in foreign climes. That may indeed be one of the chief unstated undercurrents driving the ongoing palpably irrational resistance to repeal for all I know.

But all that aside, I also have to admit that while I am disgusted by the agonizingly slow relinquishment of this homophobic bigotry in the military, it remains as true as it ever was that I really am a faggot of the pinko variety in pretty much every sense of that phrase and so I find it rather hard to batter my emancipatory queer imagination and energies into the mean little wedge of gay marriage, adoption protection, and military service that Human Rights Campaign agenda queer folks seem to have settled for to general applause in this rather sad epoch.

Look, I for one don't much like and certainly do not want to have kids. I actually don't approve of the so-called traditional family as a mode of affiliation. Indeed I am not far from regarding a "conventional" upbringing in a bourgeois heterosexual nuclear family as a form of child abuse in those few instances in which it actually takes place in reality. I actively disapprove of marriage as a legal vestige of slavery usually conjoined to infantile fantasies of "completion" through psychic possession of or by "significant" others misconstrued as magical post-parents or weird New Age avatars.

I am a believer in and teacher of nonviolent revolutionary social struggle. I believe that war and the preparation for war shatters everyone who is caught up in its devastating energies, soldier, civilian, victor, vanquished alike. I worry enormously about the anti-democratizing dangers inhering in military hierarchies and values in the midst of precarious secular democratic republics as stratified and mass-mediated as our own happens to be. And I am enough of a socialist to know that war-preparation and war-making diverts production from the meeting of actual human needs instead to the preservation of authoritarian rule by incumbent interests over democratic majorities.

I'm a vegetarian. I teach at an art school. In San Francisco. As I said: pinko faggot, that's me.

I get it that my exclusion from marriage and military service is a primary register of my second class citizenship and facilitates violence and exploitation of queer folks and so must be fought as such... I get it that it would be an incomparably more powerful intervention to refuse marriage and family and militarism once my participation in these unhealthy and reactionary institutions is secured than it is now when my participation in them is refused by unjust laws and norms...

But don't expect me to get all up in arms about this stuff just because I get the politics, okay? I could be a good soldier (as it were) on HCR because the bill actually helps millions of people in spite of its flaws and it sets the stage for us to push for something much more like a sensible single payer system sooner and easier than we otherwise could have done (that's how I see it, at any rate). But when it comes to this thin gruel of a DADT "relaxation" re-enacting the already false promises of an irrational unjust policy in a political arena already profoundly distant from my own queer values and politics in the first place... well, don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.


jimf said...

> I daresay that queers serving openly in the armed forces
> might function as a vital countervailing check on the whole
> frightening authoritarian Christianist element. . .
> That may indeed be one of the chief unstated undercurrents
> driving the ongoing palpably irrational resistance to
> repeal for all I know.

I seem to recall reading in Reichen Lehmkuhl's _Here's What
We'll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy_
( )
that the Air Force Academy in his day was something of a
Christians-only club -- he mentions that if you weren't carrying
around a Bible and going to chapel at the Academy, you were
ipso facto a suspicious character.

On a related note, there was another book published last
year about the fundamentalist Christian atmosphere of the
U.S. military:
_With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical
Coup in America's Military_
( )

The blurb:

One of the most elite educational institutions in the world,
the Air Force Academy has, from its inception, attracted the
best and the brightest, producing leaders not only in the
military but throughout American society.

In recent years, however, the Academy has also been producing
a cadre of zealous evangelical Christians intent on creating a
fundamentalist power base at the highest levels of our country.

_With God on Our Side_ is shocking exposé of life inside the
United States Air Force Academy and the systematic program of
indoctrination sanctioned, coordinated, and carried out by
fundamentalist Christians within the U.S. military.

It is also the story of Michael L. Weinstein, a proud Academy
graduate and the father of two graduates and a current cadet,
who single-handedly brought to light the evangelicals’ utter
disregard of the constitutional principle of separation of church
and state that is so essential to the nation’s military mission.
Weinstein’s war would pit him and his small band of fellow graduates,
cadets, and concerned citizens against a program of Christian
fundamentalist indoctrination that could transform our fighting
men and women into “right-thinking” warriors more befitting a
theocracy. In the process, he would come face to face with
religious bigotry and at its most extreme and fight an unrelenting
battle to save his beloved Academy, the ideals it stood for,
and the very future of the country.

An important book at a critical time in our nation’s history,
_With God on Our Side_ is the story of one man’s courageous
struggle to thwart a creeping evangelism permeating America’s
military and to prevent a taxpayer-funded theocracy in which
only the true believers have power.

jimf said...

And from an on-line interview with the author:
BuzzFlash: You wrote a book which we are offering on . .
It’s called _With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against
an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military_. . . Why did you write the book?

Michael L. Weinstein: . . . What I found at the Air Force Academy was
nothing short of something that could destroy the republic. An essentially
evangelical, fundamentalist, Christian perspective was being imposed on
those that were not evangelical fundamentalist Christians, in complete and
total disregard of the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. . .

I know that the religious right fundamentalists believe that separation of
church and state is just a myth, like Paul Bunyan or Bigfoot. But. . .
Clause 3, Article 6 [of the U.S. Constitution], basically says we’ll
never have a religion test for any position in the federal government.

But I guess that didn’t mean the Air Force Academy, or the Air Force,
the Marine Corps, Navy, or Army. Indeed, they have prepared Geiger counters
that they hold up to all of their members, up and down the chain of command.

We are not at war at all with Christianity, or even Evangelical Christianity. . .
We are, however, at war with a small subset of Evangelical Christians who
go by the long technical name -- premillennial, dispensational, reconstructionist,
dominionist, evangelical, fundamentalist Christians.

The leaders are well known: Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson,
John Hagee, and the list used to include Ted Haggard, before he had some
career issues. . . .

jimf said...

BuzzFlash: How did you become aware of what’s happening there now?

Michael L. Weinstein: I really have to thank Mel Gibson. When Mel came out. . .
in February of 2004. . . [with "The Passion of the Christ"]. . .
I was contacted by non-evangelical Christian members of the faculty. . .
They wanted to know if I was aware of just how profoundly, how comprehensively,
the Academy as an entity was coming down on the cadets and staff to go see
this movie. . .

For three straight days, the cadets were marched into Mitchell Hall, this huge,
two-acre dining facility, and General Myers was exhorting them, pressuring them,
to go see this thing. . .

[I]t was routine to have brown-bag lunches at the Academy, promoted by flyers
that went out saying, “Do not take this flyer down; this is an officially
sponsored U.S. Air Force Academy activity in conjunction with the
Christian Leadership Ministries.” Case in point: January of 2005 -- and I
know this sounds unbelievable, but I can’t make this stuff up -- a flyer
said: "Today’s luncheon topic: Why we cannot let you have your God while
we have ours. Our other luncheon topics: Dangerous to the followers of
Jesus -- pluralism and secularism." And they go on and on.

The most common joke at the Air Force Academy of 2004 and 2005: "Why do
Jews make the best magicians?" . . . Apparently because Jews have the
magical ability to walk into a red brick building and come out the
smokestack in a puff of smoke. And then on top of everything,
July 12th, 2005, on the front page of the newspaper most reviled
by the Pentagon –- . . . the _New York Times_ –- the number-two ranking
general in the entire chaplains corp of thousands in the U.S. Air Force,
makes the unbelievable statement to the American public and the world,
that it is now the U.S. Air Force’s official policy to reserve its right
to evangelize anyone it determines to be unchurched. Those are your Geiger
counters. If you’re unchurched, we reserve the right to evangelize you. . .

jimf said...

BuzzFlash: Here's a quotation from your foundation: “The United States is a nation
rooted in respect for religious pluralism, a cherished principle that springs
from our democratic ideals. As the United States becomes increasingly religiously
diverse, respect for minority beliefs takes on even greater importance in a
nation’s ability to withstand assaults on our freedom launched by religious
totalitarians.” End of quote from your brochure. Is that the mission of the
Military Religious Freedom Foundation?

Michael L. Weinstein: Yes. Our mission is really two-fold. It’s educate, and also
litigate. . .

Some other organizations out there -– the Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU, the
Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United –- they’re all good organizations. . .
[but i]f somebody calls the Foundation, they get me live, then, and there. . .
[A]t a lot of these organizations, you cannot get through. It took me a year
to get through to one of them. . . We move very quickly. We get to the media quickly. . .

BuzzFlash: Just the other day you went out on short notice to meet a veteran who
says that he was denied Kosher food. He was then cut off from prescriptions.
He was told that he didn’t need them because his Orthodox faith should take
care of his disease. Your book focuses mostly on the Air Force Academy, but according
to this veteran, it’s even impacting veterans’ health care.

Michael L. Weinstein: The book focuses on the Air Force Academy because that’s where
we found the liver spot that turned out to be malignant for the entire body. We, at
that time, did not know that as we pulled the string of the sweater, the whole
sweater would come off. It covers the entire hierarchy of the U.S. Air Force,
Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and the Veterans’ Administration.

David Miller is a very courageous veteran. We’ve been approached by many, but only
one so far has had the guts to come forward publically. Imagine being evangelized
when you’re hooked up. You’re in terrible chronic angina heart pain and with
kidney stones. Repeatedly you’re being evangelized by the VA chaplain.

BuzzFlash: This was in Iowa?

Michael L. Weinstein: In Iowa City at the VA Hospital, when he had told them, and
filled out the paperwork, and made it clear to them repeatedly, he did not want
them in there. At one point, he had to scream for the nurses to get the chaplain
out of there. Ultimately when he complains, the hospital management says,
you know, you just haven’t been strenuous enough in your complaints. What?
You’re supposed to bring Tony Soprano in?

Well, let me tell you something. It’ll be strenuous enough now, because we’re
going to file a federal lawsuit. At the end of the day, they told him they were
not going to give him pain meds because they decided that they found five
new stones in his body, four on the left and one on the right. They looked
too small to be really causing him this pain.

By the way, he’s a 100% disabled vet, and he’s had kidney stones for 27 years
that are directly attributable to his honorable service in the U.S. Navy.
They scarcely looked at him and said, “Well, you’re a religious Jew. We suggest
you go home and pray and meditate.” So I guess it’s, "take two Jewish prayers
and call me in the morning.". . .

Anyone who reads this, please consider going to
Every dollar you give us is probably worth 15,000 on the other side.
And there’s talk now of a second book, with the prospective title,
_Taking God to Court_. But our current book, _With God on Our Side,
One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military_ is in Border’s,
Barnes & Noble, Amazon. It’s certainly available there at BuzzFlash.

jimf said...

BuzzFlash: They do allow for an atmosphere in which anyone who is not Evangelical
is intimidated.

Michael L. Weinstein: The Air Force is saying: Here’s our policy. If we have a
religion test, of course, it does violate man’s law, which is just the Constitution,
which is clearly subordinated to the higher law of our recognized version of the gospel
of Jesus Christ. But if we determine you’re unchurched, and that’s our determination,
we do in fact reserve the right to evangelize you.

BuzzFlash: . . . Your family has served for three generations. Your
children are following in your footsteps in terms of military careers
and military college training. And yet you’re saying
that right-wing talk-show hosts attack you as unpatriotic?

Michael L. Weinstein: Yes. In fact, Rush Limbaugh, who I would say is a complete
coward, attacked me a couple months ago as being a pacifist, and an aider and
abetter to al Qaeda, which I thought was amazing. Of course, he hasn’t spent
one second in the military. I don’t know how many exemptions he got. And between
Rove and Cheney, they got eleven exemptions, so they never served one second
in the military, either.

BuzzFlash: I believe Rush Limbaugh got out of serving in Vietnam by having a
doctor certify that he had anal cysts.

Michael L. Weinstein: Exactly -- that complete and total coward. . .

BuzzFlash: But someone like Rush Limbaugh says you’re unpatriotic because you’re
trying to uphold the Constitution.

Michael L. Weinstein: Exactly. This is not a Christian-Jewish issue at all.
This is a dominionist Christian versus the Constitution issue.

We have a social contract in our society. In America, if you’re angry at your
neighbor next door, you’re not allowed to pick up your fellow citizen and crush
their head in. We have laws that are all derived from our U.S. Constitution.
When you look at the Bill of Rights, which was passed in December of 1791,
it was not at all created for the convenience of the majority. Quite to the
contrary –- it was created to prevent the tyranny of the majority over the
minority –- an amazing social experiment in America. . .

Average Americans, docile and supine, need to get off their
asses and realize that this is happening. We have
to take our country back, which means simply following our Constitution
of 200 years -- and Constitutional U.S. Supreme Court case law.

BuzzFlash: . . . [T]here really hasn’t been a lot of mainstream coverage
about this. . . Why do you think the story is pretty much uncovered by the
mainsteam media?

Michael L. Weinstein: . . . We have the illusion of democracy in America.
What we really have is an auction. . . [T]he dominionist Christians. . .
[are] raising money among their 12.6 percent of the American public. . .
It’s 36 to 38 million people. . .

Anyone who’s ever been in the military knows it’s a very
Spartan environment – very Spartan. Many of the Constitutional rights of our sailors,
soldiers, marines and airmen, noble and honorable as they are, are deliberately
truncated and limited so that we can preserve and protect the concept of good order
and discipline, which is necessary to have a lethally effective military.

Our U.S. military is technologically the most lethal organization ever created
by humankind. And that’s necessary so that they can protect the full panoply of
Constitutional rights for the rest of us. When you’re in that Draconian system,
up and down, there’s this command structure, and there’s this formidable specter
of command influence. If you’re being told by your superiors that the fastest
way in their eyes you can go from zero to hero is to accept their dominionist
Biblical world view, it’s very hard to say no. And it was George Orwell who said,
when you face universal defeat, speaking the truth itself can be a revolutionary
act. We just don’t teach our young sailors to be revolutionaries.

jimf said...

BuzzFlash: On a day-to-day basis, how does this manifest itself?

Michael L. Weinstein: . . . We currently have 737 U.S. military
installations that the Pentagon acknowledges. It’s actually closer
to a thousand military installations scattered around the
globe -- in 132 countries. On every one of those military installations, we
have something called the Officers' Christian Fellowship, for the officers,
and for the enlisted folks, the Christian Military Fellowship.

They have a three-part goal that they are completely unabashed about –-
it’s right on their website -– a goal they view as much higher than following
the oath they have sworn, to support, defend, protect and preserve the
Constitution. Their goals are, A, they want to see a spiritually transformed
U.S. military; B, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform; and C, empowered
by the Holy Spirit. . .

BuzzFlash: Clearly, this could not happen without approval from the hierarchy
in the Pentagon.

Michael L. Weinstein: Actually, it’s happening top-down, I think. And it’s
been going on for quite awhile. We think it started in 1972 when the draft ended.

The theory for having a draft was that we were pulling from what we now call
blue and red states, conscripting people into the military. Of course, a
lot of them were pissed off coming in, and when you’re pissed off, even a
spoonful of sugar doesn’t make the Jesus go down. But since we ended the draft,
going to the full volunteer force in 1972, now we’re pulling mostly from
what we call red states, where there’s a lot of this blending of a virulent
form of dominionist Christianity –- essentially predatory Christianity -– with patriotism.

Then, in 1994, with the Gingrich revolution taking over, two years into the
Clinton presidency, the politics of polarization really reared its ugly head.
Either you’re with us or you don’t really deserve to be an American.

Then, after 9/11, with this complete idiot in the White House, this whole thing
went into overdrive. My wife and I have had right-wing talk-show hosts indicate
that we’re an embarrassment to the state we live in, New Mexico, and probably
don’t even deserve to be Americans.

Do you know that in this country in 1970, we only had ten mega-Evangelical churches,
meaning those with 2,000 or more members? But after 9/11, a new mega-Evangelical
church has opened up in our country every 48 hours.

That is their right. That’s fine. But when they engage the machinery of the state
and the people in the government, that’s when we have a terrible, hideous problem.

And this is coming right down from the Oval Office, up and down the chain of
command. And let’s remember, at the Pentagon, we actually have regulations that
prohibit military members from even pushing Tupperware, Mary Kay cosmetics, or Amway,
for fear of what the Draconian spectre of command influence could force a
subordinate to do.