Tuesday, March 01, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Imagine a Middle Eastern terror cell infiltrating the United States with a plot to blow up the nation's capital with a crude nuclear device stashed in a suitcase. If the terrorists succeed, hundreds of thousands of Americans would be annihilated.
In a desperate attempt to stop the horrific plot, military specialists pour over Arabic "chatter" looking for specific leads. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of hours of tape and very few Arabic specialists to decipher the clues.
Time runs out.
Washington, DC no longer exists. Our government nearly collapses, financial markets tumble and a grieving nation is in disarray. However, the bigger shock comes when Americans learn that the catastrophic act of terror could have been prevented if there were just a few more Arabic-speaking interpreters.
While this scene is imaginary, it is not that far-fetched. If we learned anything from 9-11, it is that we do not have nearly enough interpreters to translate the chatter of suspected terrorists. So, our national security is directly related to the number of fluent speakers of difficult foreign tongues.
This is why it is so appalling to find in a recent Government Accountability Office report that between 1998 and 2004, the military kicked out 20 hard-to-find Arabic speakers and six Farsi speakers simply because they are gay. It seems it is a higher priority for our government to keep these valued interpreters out of gay Internet chat rooms, than it is to have them investigating terrorist "chatter".
I don't think that most Americans care whether the person who deciphers a clue that stops mass murder at the hands of terrorists is gay or straight. However, the Religious Right and their allies in Congress would rather jeopardize our national security than deal with their own insecurity. While the rest of America is worried about stopping Armageddon, the Religious Right believes that Armageddon is letting gay people serve openly in the military. They would rather protect their prejudice than the American people.
I'm not suggesting that these folks are unpatriotic. They are just so blinded by ignorance or hate that they refuse to see a clear fact: Discriminating against gay Servicemembers hurts our military readiness and our ability to defend America against calamitous foreign threats.
Indeed, the same GAO report showed that nearly 10,000 gay troops were discharged from the military from 1994 through 2003. Of those discharged, 322 spoke foreign languages including Arabic, Korean, Mandarin and Farsi. This idiotic "Don't/Ask, Don't Tell" policy also wasted $200 million of taxpayers' money. So, we are actually paying a small fortune to make our nation less safe!
What is maddening is that discharges declined 15 percent last year - to 653 - and had plummeted by almost 50 percent since 2001 - the year America invaded Afghanistan - when 1,227 were booted from the armed services. It is the pinnacle of perfidy for Congress to exploit gay soldiers for their heroic battlefield mettle. Then, during peacetime, say that they are unworthy of their medals if they are discovered to be gay.
Fortunately, this month Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., will introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005. The bill seeks to overturn the failed Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy and allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
"It is more apparent than ever before that, as we conduct a global war on terror and face tremendous personnel shortages, that the 'don't ask, don't tell' law is undermining our military readiness," Meehan said, according to the Associated Press.
Of course, shameless bigots are already coming out of the woodwork using sophomoric, locker room prattle disguised as legitimate arguments.
"People serving in the military have a right to be free of fear that they're in the barracks or in the foxhole with somebody of the same sex who may be viewing them as a sexual object," The Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg said on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports.
There is clearly nothing in Meehan's bill that would allow or tolerate sexual harassment. It is obvious that Sprigg and others of his ilk plan to defeat Meehan's legislation by relying on outdated stereotypes of gay men as predators. The strategy is to convince Americans that honorable, decorated gay veterans are actually horny interior decorators.
However, this house of cards is quickly collapsing as American Servicemembers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan with openly gay military leaders from other nations. In 2000, when the British military was forced to allow homosexuals, many in the top brass took umbrage. Only four years later, however, the British military has launched a campaign to recruit gay Servicemembers because they have performed nobly.
What the right wing truly fears is not gay soldiers undermining military readiness by recruiting in foxholes, but the military's readiness in a few years, if Meehan's bill is passed, to recruit military heroes who happen to be gay. While old prejudices die hard, no one should have to die because the extreme right puts defending discrimination over defending America's national security.
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