Friday, December 24, 2010

Gay Cannon Fodder

Image from Wiki Commons
Congress’ repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is being celebrated by LGBT activists and liberals as a major civil rights victory. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was clearly prejudicial and abusive and its repeal is certainly a triumph over discrimination. However, it is a twisted sort of victory that gives a new group of people the right to slaughter poor people throughout the world, have their own limbs blown off, suffer devastating cognitive and psychological trauma, and die, to protect the property and profits of the rich. (Transgender folks still won’t be able to sever, er, serve their country).

Victory for Imperialism—Victory for War Mongers
What the left has not acknowledged is the context, history and broader social implications of this “victory” for gay rights. The end of the ban on gays in the military comes at a time when the U.S. is actively engaged in two overt foreign wars (Iraq and AfPak), numerous covert wars (e.g., Yemen, Somalia), and posturing for potential new wars (Iran and Korea). Yet the military hasn’t been able to recruit enough new soldiers to maintain the existing wars and has resorted to “stop-lossing” battle weary soldiers, some of whom are already showing signs of PTSD. Therefore, the new policy can be seen as a move to recruit and retain more cannon fodder, lesbian and gay cannon fodder.

Poster by Mike Licht
The repeal of DADT is being spun as a victory for U.S. imperialism and nationalism. Obama said that the move will help make the U.S. military “the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known.” Joe Lieberman, one of the most hawkish members of congress, used the repeal to leverage his standing with democratic and liberal voters, who have mostly written him off as a right wing ninny.  “We’ve righted a wrong,” he said. “Today we’ve done justice.”

While the repeal of DADT will theoretically allow gays to serve openly in the military without threat of punishment by their superiors, discrimination and persecution will almost certainly continue, just as it does in mainstream society. In fact, in the intense social microcosm of the military, where aggression and violence are not only sanctioned, but encouraged, harassment and assaults on gay soldiers is virtually assured. Consider the case of women serving in the military, who experience high rates of rape and sexual assault.

Victory for Gay Bourgeoisie
Poster by Carlos Latuff
Middle glass LGBT folks have the luxury of partying and celebrating this “victory” since they won’t be going to Iraq or Afghanistan. For those in the privileged classes, the U.S. war machine is just an abstraction, something they can ignore or romanticize, like homelessness and hunger. For working class and poor LGBT folks, especially the unemployed and marginally employed, the situation is much more real. The job market is still awful and there really aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for making a living, except for the military, which will now accept almost anyone, regardless of education and experience.

“A lot of poor and working-class queers with no means to go to college will end up in America’s two endless wars,” says gay writer and activist, Tommi Avicolli Mecca. “As the saying goes, ‘Rich kids end up in college, poor ones in the military.’ Statistics seem to bear that out, with more than half to two-thirds (depending on which study you believe) of recruits coming from lower middle-class or poor households.”

Military Recruiters at Gay Straight Alliance Meetings?
Iraq War Victim by Bird Eye
Meanwhile, now that DADT has been repealed, those who oppose ROTC and Jr. ROTC programs have lost the one thin thread they had to justify banning ROTC at school. If the military no longer discriminates, then their campus propaganda arms, ROTC and Jr ROTC, can longer be seen as discriminatory, either, and should be allowed on campus, at least by this reasoning. Many believe that the end of DADT will usher in a new era of collaboration between university campuses and ROTC programs.

Now the anti-ROTC movement will have to focus on anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, and class-based arguments, as it should have all along. An organization like the military, that is dedicated to slaughter and plunder for the benefit of capital, does not become legitimate simply by opening its doors to a persecuted minority. The problem is that the public is much more sympathetic to discrimination arguments than anti-militarist and anti-imperialist ones, creating a hard row to hoe for the anti-ROTC movement.

On a recent radio interview, Mecca brought up the possibility that military recruiters might now start visiting high school gay-straight alliance meetings. Now that the military is open to lesbian and gay recruits, this is certainly a possibility. If so, this will probably occur more at working class and low income schools where the students have fewer and more tenuous opportunities after graduation.

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