Jesurgislac’s Journal

July 3, 2009

Renaissance Guy, 1948

This is Renaissance Guy, on July 1, 1948:

Before we ask any other issues about the military, we ought to first consider what the military’s purpose is to begin with. Before tackling issues of who should or should not be in the military, we ought to ask, “What is the military for?”

One of my great-uncles was prevented from joining the military because of a visual disability. Another great-uncle was kept out because of flat feet. Although they were disappointed, they understood that the military needs people in good physical condition and with no disabilities that would hinder their ability to perform their duties.

The military is not a group that you join in order to feel good about yourself. It is not a laboratory for sociological experiments. It is there to provide defense for our country, and a person should join it in order to serve the country.

I am ambivalent about the role of black people in the military. I have nothing against their serving; however, I can understand why white members of the military might object to sharing barracks with such people.

I think back to my college days. My dormitory had community showers. I was not too keen on showering with other people, and so I tried to time my showers when nobody else was in there. It often occurred that others were taking a shower at the same time that I was. The banter was always interesting. The general direction of it was that most of the guys hoped that nobody in there was black. They would not appreciate being around black men.

Of course, there were some people in the dorm who might have had “touch of the tar brush”, but nobody who was completely “out.” It was in the South, after all. It was also understood that it would be very awkward for a white man to discover that his room mate, especially his shower mate might be black. There’s a reason why the South segregated facilities s uch as dorms, showers, and bathrooms: white people feel uncomfortable at having to share them with black people.

I’m guessing that most white people in the military feel the same way. While they might not say it out loud in certain circles, they probably discuss it among themselves and not always in the most polite language, I’m betting.

I do not see any reason to put them in that uncomfortable position. The military does not exist to force people to give up their queasiness about undressing in front of people who are not the same race as them.

If the Truman administration does change current military policy, then I think they will have to find away to allow black people to serve in the military but to have separate sleeping quarters and separate bathing facilities. I do not know how else to give black people the freedom to express themselves as they see themselves but still safeguard the real concerns about segregation that the white men and women might have.

The military does not exist to make people equal. It does not exist to push the norms. It does not exist to make people feel good about themselves or to help them grapple with a lifetime of rejection or mistreatment. It exists to defend the country, and it is important to make it function the best possible way for all the great men and women who want to serve.

West Wing, “Let Bartlett be Bartlett”:

Major Tate: Sir, we’re not prejudiced toward homosexuals.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?
Major Tate: No sir, I don’t.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: ‘Cause they impose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: That’s what I think, too. I also think the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: The problem with that is that’s what they were saying about me 50 years ago – blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the U.S. Navy and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Beat that with a stick.

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3 Comments »

  1. Ah, but you and the character on West Wing are committing the common fallacy of equating skin color, which is a superficial trait, with sexual behavior.

    According to surveys that I have read, and according to data about voting patterns on Proposition 8 in California, many black people dislike having their race compared to atypical sexual behavior.

    Since I wasn’t born in 1948, neither you nor I can say for sure if I would have opposed the presence of black people in the military. I can say that during my actual lifetime I have never wanted to see black people segregated or treated unequally in any way. In fact, I have opposed such segregation in my little, quiet way.

    Try as you will, you cannot turn this into something that it is not. As I understand it from talking to friends and from listening to military officers who opposed having openly gay people in the armed forces, it is about the difficulty that heterosexual members of the military would have in being in such close quarters with people who might have an unwelcome attraciton to them. It’s not about their “being” gay. It’s about what they might say or do.

    Comment by renaissanceguy — July 4, 2009 @ 4:35 am | Reply

  2. Oh, and if you read my post, you would see that I said that I do not oppose allowing homosexual people to serve in the military. I do not care one way or the other. I’m quite sure that many homosexual people would and do make fine members or our armed forces adn serve our country with distinction.

    The idea behind my post is what it would be like for the heterosexual members of the military to serve under those conditions.

    Comment by renaissanceguy — July 4, 2009 @ 7:14 am | Reply

  3. Ah, but you and the character on West Wing are committing the common fallacy of equating skin color, which is a superficial trait, with sexual behavior.

    No. You misunderstand – perhaps because you’re just not a very thoughtful person, or perhaps because you’re not very historically-minded (many Americans, I find, are sadly uneducated about the history of their own country) or perhaps simply because, as a bigot, you find it impossible to think clearly about the subject of your bigotry. The point is: in the 1940s, when Truman proposed desegregating the military, the exact same arguments as you put forward in your post were being put forward against black people being allowed to serve with white people. But it’s all bigotry, and as sound military experience has made clear, it’s all nonsense.

    According to surveys that I have read, and according to data about voting patterns on Proposition 8 in California, many black people dislike having their race compared to atypical sexual behavior.

    And this is relevant how? We’re not discussing “atypical sexual behavior”: we are discussing the issue of people from the whole range of normal sexual orientation being able to serve openly in the military, and how bigotry in the past against black people can be compared to bigotry in the present against GLBT people. Do try to keep on point.

    Try as you will, you cannot turn this into something that it is not. As I understand it from talking to friends and from listening to military officers who opposed having openly gay people in the armed forces, it is about the difficulty that heterosexual members of the military would have in being in such close quarters with people who might have an unwelcome attraciton to them. It’s not about their “being” gay. It’s about what they might say or do.

    When on military service, soldiers are required to behave professionally towards each other. Where this code of conduct is enforced from highest to lowest, down the chain of command – where it is made clear from the senior officer in charge of the unit, especially, that anyone who reports unwelcome sexual advances will be given a clear hearing, and that anyone who is guilty of making another soldier or military employee feel discomfort, and that paired couples will not be allowed to serve together, there can be no issue about who feels sexually attracted to whom.

    Now, obviously, given the high incidence of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the US military from men soldiers towards women, this code of conduct is not strictly enforced in all units: in fact it’s quite absurdly ignored, in many units, with horrific effects for the women in those units and for military employees required to work at close quarters.

    The fear expressed by some heterosexual soldiers, male and female, about having to serve with GLBT soldiers is often a direct result of utter ignorance: they serve in the last working environment in the US where GLBT people must strive to live and die in the closet until they retire.

    In some instances, of course, as is clear in your case, that fear is bigotry – the belief that if a straight person feels “discomfort”, this is sufficient excuse to discriminate against queer people, just as sixty years ago the same kind of bigots argued that the “discomfort” of white people having to share quarters with black people was sufficient reason for segregation in the military.

    And in some instances, as is clear from the aforementioned high incidence of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, it is simply that the man in question knows how he would and wil behave towards women when women are readily available to him, and is afraid that gay men will treat him as he treats women.

    Because Americans tend to be very insular, they don’t look outside their own military and consider that in South America, both Argentina and Uruguay have no ban by sexual orientation on military service: their next-door neighbor Canada has GLBT people serving openly: away on the other side of the world, both Australia and New Zealand have GLBT serve openly: in Iraq, the US military served with the UK military, in which GLBT people serve openly – though from all accounts the UK military does tend towards higher standards of training, discipline, and skill than the US military, which makes it easier to impose the standard of conduct required for women and men of al sexual orientations to serve together without being harassed: in the rest of Europe, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have a draft from which sexual orientation is no exemption: and in Israel and in Switzerland, as you might expect if you thought about it in an intelligent way, where the tradition is that everyone serves, of course gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens are not banned from military service. So, it’s kind of like this: either you think the US military and US soldiers are intrinsically inferior to the soldiers and the military of all the other countries I have named, incapable of behaving to the same professional standards, or you accept that, in fact, US soldiers are capable of learning to be as good as any other soldiers. Which would it be: inferior, or equal?

    Oh, and if you read my post, you would see that I said that I do not oppose allowing homosexual people to serve in the military. I do not care one way or the other. I’m quite sure that many homosexual people would and do make fine members or our armed forces adn serve our country with distinction.

    Yes, I got the point: you’re proposing segregation in the military as a solution. The US military tried segregation before, found it didn’t work, and abandoned it by executive order after 1948. If you don’t care one way or the other, RG, why did you bother to write your don’t-care post? Hm? Obviously, you do care…

    The idea behind my post is what it would be like for the heterosexual members of the military to serve under those conditions.

    They’d have more weddings to go to, since they could actually now be invited to the weddings of the GLBT soldiers they serve with. (Right after civil partnership came in, one of the news items I noticed in January 2006 was photographs of two women who had been serving in a para regiment, who were registering their civil partnership with a wedding in the local church: from the photographs, half their regiment attended, in uniform, and did a very nice ceremony afterwards where the happy couple left the church down the steps lined with their comrades – they wouldn’t be allowed to serve in the same regiment together, married/partnered couples aren’t, so this would be the last time they would all be in the same place together. That’s by far not the only military wedding of a same-sex couple I’ve heard of – but it was certainly the sweetest/most spectacular.)

    So that’s one. Fairly trivial, but nice: instead of being absolutely cut off from the personal and social life of their GLBT comrades, they’d be allowed to share in it. Only a bigot would assume that you couldn’t hear about a same-sex couple getting wed without feeling discomfort.

    Also, a productive way to deal with concerns about sexual attraction and sexual harassment in a military environment would be to begin to enforce the professional code of conduct required for soldiers to serve together – on all soldiers. To ensure that no commanding officer took a relaxed attitude to any examples of sexual harassment – no matter what the orientation or gender of the soldier. And that would improve conditions of service for women soldiers beyond description.

    Finally, just as white US soldiers have become less racially bigoted than non-soldiers, because they are required to serve with black soldiers, to take orders from black people, to ignore race entirely within the military environment, so will straight US soldiers become less homophobic than non-soldiers. You would find yourself talking to a blank wall of military loyalty when you tried to evoke homophobic attitudes out of soldiers in the future – just as you would today if you tried to convince most white US soldiers that they ought to express racist attitudes towards black comrades and officers.

    Comment by Jesurgislac — July 4, 2009 @ 8:12 am | Reply


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