Thursday, October 07, 2004
by Wayne Besen
There is new speculation of America resurrecting the draft thanks to President Bush stretching our troops too thin. In the deadly shadow of Iraq, I don't believe a military draft can succeed unless Don't Ask/Don't Tell is rescinded. It is simply too big a loophole. It is an "escape clause," likely to be used by thousands of heterosexuals who would rather camp it up, than be sent to Camp Baghdad.
Americans are a famously brave people who will fight vigorously to defend their country. Following September 11, most Americans would have enthusiastically gone to Afghanistan to seek revenge against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
But Iraq is different. If you ask 10 people why we are fighting this war, you are likely to get ten different answers. That's not clarity, but a chaotic calamity. As President Bush's ever-shifting rationale for war evaporates, so does the rationale for parents to send their children to possibly die in the sandy killing fields.
I believe that a significant number of men and women would break the draft monopoly by using Don't Ask/Don't Tell as a "get out of war free" card. According to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), more than 80 percent of discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are "statement cases" - gay and lesbian service members who come out to their commanders.
The SLDN statistic makes it clear: Just say it's so, and you don't have to go. Claim you're gay and they won't ship you away.
I would imagine critics would downplay my conclusion by pointing to the current situation, where few soldiers have exercised the gay loophole. Indeed, SLDN shows that discharges have dropped precipitously during the current Iraqi conflict. In 2003 there were only 787 discharges of gay Servicemembers, down from a high of 1,273 in 2001.
This mainly has to do with the fact that gay people already serving are volunteers who conceal their sexual orientation to save their military careers. It also has to do with the ignoble hypocrisy of a nation that uses skilled gay Servicemembers in times of war, but discards them like trash in times of peace, when their services aren't as desperately needed.
Further, the heterosexuals now serving are part of a deeply conservative military culture and don't want to be viewed as homosexual. Many would rather go to Iraq than be thought of as gay.
A draft, however, changes the equation because it would greatly broaden the ideological spectrum of those serving. This would be the first gay-friendly heterosexual majority draft class in military history. Many of the people in this new demographic could care less if others thought they were gay if it could spare them a tour in Fallujah. It would be something they would joke about with their friends in the safety of their college dorms.
Let's face it, times have changed since the 1969 movie, "The Gay Deceivers", where two men pretend to be gay to avoid Vietnam. Their plan succeeds, but at the peril of their personal and professional lives. They are made into pariahs, discriminated against and their families virtually disown them.
Without this type of pervasive societal backlash, what will dissuade many heterosexuals who want to skip Iraq from becoming "Gay Deceivers"?
With conscription, I suspect many young straight Americans will show up in drag instead of uniform. If coming out means getting out of hellish Iraq, some platoons may play show tunes. "Taps" could be replaced by tap dancers. There will be American soldiers marching in gay pride parades so they won't have to march in Baghdad. To some, wearing a pink triangle will be preferable to wearing a targeted uniform in the Sunni Triangle.
A much wiser solution would be to allow gay people to serve openly, with the patriotic dignity and respect they deserve. This would close an absurd loophole that threatens the ability to have a draft during a grossly mismanaged and increasingly unpopular war. And it would mercifully stop bad imitations of Richard Simmons in the barracks.
Conservatives might object, saying that allowing gay Servicemembers would undermine unit cohesion. But polls show today's young Americans are much more accepting of gay people, including their right to honorably serve their country. If anything, in a conscripted military, bigoted homophobes will be a minority and seen as threats to maintaining stable, well-functioning units.
America can have Don't Ask/Don't Tell or a draft, but I doubt both. Sure, it could be done in a time of unifying national crisis, but not now. Coming out is just too easy an out for the many straight Americans who would rather skip what they consider a divisive, unnecessary war.
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