That’s one small step for the Pentagon, one giant leap for the U.S.A.

Today is the first day without the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, which since its  implementation in 1993 forced more than 13,000 gay Americans out of the armed forces and multiple tens of thousands more to hide their homosexuality to keep from being discharged.  In a direct, businesslike, very Pentagon kind of way, after certifying to Congress and the president that the change will not impact military readiness or unit cohesion, and after training more than two million troops about what is now expected from them, the rule simply ceased to be.  No longer do the regs support the immediate discharge of any American soldier, sailor or Marine solely over the gender of the people for whom they have sexual and/or romantic feelings.

Congratulations, America: today we took one step closer to living up to our professed ideals of justice, equality and fairness in a tolerant, secular society.

Previously on this subject:

Advertisements

Reflecting on September 11: a call to our better angels

In the entry hallway at our house we have a framed picture of the night skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from New Jersey, the twinkling twin towers of the World Trade Center the focal point.  The caption under the photo reads, “We’ll never forget.”  Not forget what happened that day?  That’s the easy part.

That morning I was at my desk at work with the television tuned to CNN, trying to concentrate on the newspaper, when I became barely conscious of talk about a plane hitting one of the towers.  They got my attention when I saw the video of smoke coming from the north tower and heard the anchor talking to someone who said he saw a passenger jet hit the building.  That’s ridiculous, I thought: those planes would never accidentally hit a downtown building, and you could see on TV that the sky was a clear, brilliant blue…must have been a small private plane or something.  My office mate walked in and I brought him up to date on what they were saying, then we sat and watched…and saw a passenger plane come into the frame and slam into the other building!  My first thought: this is not an accident.  (Firm grasp of the obvious, eh?)

I didn’t move from the TV.  Another plane hit the Pentagon.  I watched the towers collapse, fascinated at how they seemed to accordion down on themselves, and not believing the size of the dust cloud they sent up.  Then we were all sent home from our government office in Houston because no one knew what might be the next target.  I sat in front of my television at home the rest of the day trying to get it all straight in my head—what do we know, as opposed to what we think we know—as I had done sitting at a microphone in a radio studio in Houston more than 15 years earlier, on the day space shuttle Challenger blew up.

In the next few weeks we learned that the hijackers who died along with almost 3,000 innocent victims on September 11 were connected to a global terrorist network called Al Qaeda, founded by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, and which was implicated in prior attacks on American targets around the world.  Apparently, Al Qaeda was attacking those it saw as enemies of its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.  Before the end of the year, President Bush sent American troops to Afghanistan to get bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders and their protectors within the Taliban.  We’ve been at war ever since.

Not just an impossible to quantify war on “terrorism,” which is really more a tactic than an enemy, but an actual boots-on-the-ground bullets-in-the-air war, and there’s still no end in sight.  One big reason, I believe, is that “we” aren’t at war.  Our armed forces are at war, and so are their loved ones, but when have the rest of us felt like we were at war?  There haven’t been any shortages of goods, damn few protests, and no tax increases to pay for a war.  Absent any kind of personal connection it’s not surprising that many Americans find it hard to remember that “we” have been fighting war constantly since late 2001—and for much of that time, two wars.  We have come to think of it, when we think of it at all, as a perfectly normal situation; for many of our soldiers, sailors and Marines, being in a shooting war is all they know professionally, and what their spouses and kids assume to be a normal life.

We went to war in Afghanistan to get the people who attacked us on September 11.  We finally killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan this year, but there’s no sign of an end to our presence in Afghanistan.  We went to war in Iraq to…go ahead, you fill in the blank, but we know it wasn’t to get Al Qaeda, since they weren’t there, or to stop Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction, which also weren’t there.  Ironically, the war we chose to fight in Iraq only strengthened our enemy there, if it didn’t actually create an enemy where he didn’t previously exist.  Last month, some eight and a half years after that war began, was the first month that there were no American casualties in Iraq.

The attacks of September 11 were a shot to the solar plexus of the American people.  In the immediate aftermath we did what Americans do after a surprise attack, whether from a mortal enemy or from Mother Nature: everyday men and women responded heroically in the face of the crisis, then we all took care of those who needed to be taken care of.  We opened our hearts and our purses without complaint or even a second thought, and helped each other through until the shock wore off, then turned our attention to those who attacked us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see the second surprise attack, the one launched by cynical politicians and government functionaries who took advantage of our fear and anxiety.  The news media, shamefully fearful of even being accused of being less than loyal patriots, stood by and let officials get away with murder, in the figurative if not the literal sense.  We let our fear overpower “the better angels of our nature” and spent parts of the next ten years squandering our time, our treasure and our good karma.

We crawled all over each other with demonstrations of the trappings of patriotism as if that was all that was required to be a patriot, as if claiming allegiance to America’s ideals was just as good as living up to those ideals when it really matters.

We let natural wariness in unusual circumstances turn into fear of The Other.  We treated Americans who are Muslim, and those who came here from the Middle East and southern Asia, as though they were in the cockpits of those planes in spirit that day.  People whose only sin was that they practice a particular religion—including those in the peaceful mainstream of that religion, not in the violent, radical extreme—or trace their heritage to a particular part of the world weren’t given the benefit of any doubt but that they were enemies of America.  How much time have we wasted on things like trying to ban shariah law, or trying to stop Muslims from building mosques where some loudmouth decided it’s not appropriate?

How is it that we really spent breath fighting with each other over whether it’s all right to torture prisoners, or just OK to secretly send them to friendly countries where they do the torturing for us?  Were we napping when the government enacted Patriot Acts at the expense of our own civil liberties?  Why did we devote our time and energy to a blue ribbon investigation into ways we could better protect ourselves in the future, and then not implement the recommendations?

How did we sit still for the manipulators who used this attack on our country to whip up sympathy for a war against a country (and its people) that had nothing to do with that attack, with the result that a larger number of Americans have died in that needless war—Americans who bravely, selflessly volunteered to protect the rest of us—than died in the original attack?  And that’s to say nothing of the cost in dollars, and the resulting impact that has had on our national economy and well being.

Back then, I thought that a few months after the attacks, when the shock subsided, we’d regain our perspective, but it seems that I was thinking about a different America, one which perhaps only ever existed in dreams: one where we followed the rules we set for ourselves, even when we were frightened; where people who hijack our airplanes and use them to kill thousands of our fellow Americans have the right to a fair and public trial; where, when crazy people who claim to adhere to the tenets of one of the world’s great religions but are in fact an extremist group led by a delusional maniac with a messiah complex attack our cities and our government institutions, we don’t ignore facts and logic to leap to the conclusion that every person in the world who practices that religion is part of a plot to get us.

Today we have the chance to do better, and I believe we can.  We can work to put aside our fear and get over the juvenile impulse to attack anyone different from ourselves.  Let’s choose to deal with people based on who they really are and what they really do, rather than relying on our fevered imaginations to do our thinking for us.  Let’s start, for example, by recognizing the difference between Al Qaeda and Al Jazeera, or the difference between a community center and a terrorist training camp.

Not forgetting the events of September 11, 2001—that’s the easy part.  If we don’t do the hard part, and act like the people we pride ourselves on being, then the terrorists have already won.

Towers 002

Dear John McCain,

Jon Stewart’s pre-shaming wasn’t enough, so—shame on you, John McCain; for shame.  When it came to affirming the civil rights of homosexual Americans by supporting repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” you did exactly what you said you would not do

Dammit, it’s not a question of who soldiers are “comfortable serving with” if enforcing that prejudice denies the civil rights of other Americans.  Please tell me you wouldn’t make the same argument for white racists who are “not comfortable” serving with blacks?

This, added to your craven pandering to the worst elements of the body politic in your 2008 and 2010 campaigns, and your well-earned reputation as a man of honor, a man of truth, has at last and forever dissolved into the ether.  Although I haven’t agreed with you on every issue I trusted in your judgment and your integrity; now I can’t.  You’ve become “just another politician.”  How depressing.

Tear down this wall

This was supposed to be the last obstacle, right?  This report was to be the last gasp for members of Congress who imagine themselves, in Buckley’s phrase, standing athwart history yelling Stop, at the unstoppable sunrise of civil liberties for homosexuals in America.  Well, now it’s here; let’s see what they do.

Today the Department of Defense released its own report on the anticipated impact to military readiness if Congress were to repeal the hideously-christened “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prohibits homosexual Americans from being honest about their sexuality if they want to serve their country in the armed forces.  DOD found that, by and large, there’s no problem—you can read the reports from the major outlets:  New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News.

The House of Representatives already voted to repeal the law; some in the Senate resisted, wanting to give the Pentagon a chance to determine if changing the law would weaken our national defense.  To those senators who were betting that, surely, the men and women in uniform would object vehemently to gay men and women serving openly, and thereby provide needed political cover to affirm the ban—shame on you for thinking so little of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The former maverick John McCain was perhaps most prominent about yielding to the military leadership on this question; a couple of weeks ago Jon Stewart bothered to remember what McCain had promised. (click the pic)

imageThe Pentagon report concedes that a world without DADT might experience growing pains, but it assures Congress that some brief discomfort is no reason to wait.  Logically, then, there’s no valid reason not to repeal the law, and any objection that the change should be delayed until it’s not so hard to implement should be answered with a reminder that the same argument was floated when President Truman ordered desegregation of the military.

Yes, this is a civil rights issue; I’ve made my case here before.  There’s no stopping it—the change is coming—and if some lame duck members of Congress who aren’t worried about re-election any more make the difference in changing this law, so be it.

Go Army! (Navy, Air Force and Marines, too!)

If you can hear me over the complaining about the “insensitivity” of the plan to build a Muslim community center—including room for religious observance—two and a half blocks from the hallowed ground of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, listen to this: one way the Defense Department responded to the attack on the Pentagon that same day was to build a chapel for religious observance by all faiths—including Muslims, every single day—at the exact spot on that hallowed ground where the hijacked airliner smashed into the building!

Army spokesman George Wright said he is unaware of any complaints about the Muslim services from either 9/11 families or anyone in the building.

(That’s all…talk amongst yourselves.)