Seventeen years after its implementation, the government is reconsidering the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Colin Powell has changed his mind. As a liberal and pacifist, I am of two minds. Discrimination is always wrong. If gays and lesbians want to be in the military, they should have the right. As a pacifist, I worry about anyone being in the military. The United States spends more on the military than every other country in the world combined. You must never call America an “empire:” that’s a word that can’t be spoken. Instead, we are a “superpower.” Frankly, it doesn’t sound any better. As our economy collapses, many people have no choice but to become soldiers. It’s easy to think that our employment policies are geared to keeping people poor and uneducated, thus creating cannon fodder. So why shouldn’t gays and lesbians be as free as others to join the military-industrial complex, and be part of the imperial corporations who want to steal oil in the Middle East?
Gay marriage brings up a similar dilemma. I’m not sure what I think of a religious institution that has been used for centuries to ensure that women and children are the property of men. Cynically, comedians say that gays and lesbians should be free to become as miserable as heterosexuals. Civil rights are a matter of common decency, but it seems to me that questions about marriage and the military must still be asked. Maybe the government should be out of the marriage business, and domestic partnerships could be offered to anyone who wants them.
Last summer, Howard Zinn wrote an article for “The Progressive,” in which he challenged the idea of just war. Google it--- it’s worth reading. He discusses our most “justifiable” wars, the Revolutionary, the Civil, and WWII. As Zinn observes, other colonies broke away from England without a shot being fired. Most countries abolished slavery without bloodshed. World War II is a bit trickier; Zinn became a pacifist after being a soldier in that conflict. My great-great-great grandfather, Eber Howe, the Abolitionist journalist, became a pacifist after serving in the War of 1812.
We live in a country in which gays and lesbians suffer discrimination. In thirty-three states, you can be fired from a job for being gay. This congress barely passed a hate crimes bill for gays. ENDA is stalled. But then, we have not even passed an Equal Rights Amendment for women. We need a discussion about civil rights for everyone, gays and lesbians, people of color, women, the disabled. It’s too bad that the discussion of gay rights has to be tied to the military, as this prevents real discussion about the military industry.