Friday, September 28, 2012

Military Stays In Step After Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (September 28, 2012)

Fifty three weeks ago, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that denied homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces without the anxiety of expulsion was repealed. The struggle to end it lasted twice as long as the war in Iraq and was, to some extent, overturned due to the urgency for fresh and specialized recruits. Nonetheless, despite fears of dire consequences and a blow to morale, it has not had a negative impact.
The basis for DADT was, for all intents and purposes, a charade that sanctioned deception by gays and lesbians because military tradition ignored homophobia in the ranks. Consequently, the guideline forced many, who faithfully executed their duties, to mask their sexual preference or be discharged.
From the time the directive was adopted in 1993, when President Clinton yielded to Pentagon opposition to reverse the ban on gay service members, until it was revoked on September 20, 2011, more than 13,000 American service members were discharged. Those expulsions, which included hundreds of men and women with specialized skills, were detrimental to military missions because, among them, were hard-to-find linguists, who specialized in Arabic and Farsi (the latter is the official language of Iran), languages that have become indispensable to our Middle East presence during the last decade. Others discharged included pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and combat medics, key positions in which the military has had a shortage of in recent years. Those daring Americans, willing to put their lives on the front lines of combat, were, regrettably, not discharged because of poor performance or misconduct, but simply because of their sexual orientation.
Consequently, capable, dedicated individuals were dismissed because of a lifestyle some consider objectionable on personal, religious or moral grounds. Nevertheless, it has gradually become more widely accepted, particularly in the last 20 years, as gays and lesbians have become more visible — i.e. Ellen Degeneres, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) and “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon, to name a few of the more well-known illustrations. Of course, like any prejudice, bigots and hypocrites will never accept what they don’t understand.
Discrimination based upon sexual preference is a violation of most civilian law, but it was permitted in our armed forces largely due to outdated logic that operates under a singular principle: there are three ways of doing things — the right way, the wrong way and the military way. The latter argument tends to be the most absurd, self-serving crap.
DADT was necessary because most military leaders likely held that, without it, there would be an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline that are the essence of the military capability. However, before it was abolished, some top echelon brass, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, favored the end of the 18-year rule that cost the country quality service members.
Before DADT, when a soldier was found to be gay or lesbian, he/she might be harassed, beaten or possibly killed, which was tolerated as much by military brass as it was by a society with a deep-rooted, irrational fear of homosexuals.
“Don’t Ask” implied that anyone of superior rank cannot initiate an inquiry into an individual’s sexual orientation, while “Don’t Tell” meant soldiers were strongly advised not to admit they were homosexual. If someone’s behavior was deemed improper — from suggestive e-mails to same-sex activity — an individual likely ended up discharged.
Before DADT was abolished, Gates ordered the Pentagon to study the effects on the front lines and at home “to minimize disruption and polarization within the ranks,” which seemed reasonable since the prevailing macho atmosphere of the armed forces had to be moderated to educate and weed out service members who were inherently intolerant of what many regard as an alternate lifestyle.
DADT was established because military leaders presumed without it there would be an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, order and discipline that are the essence of the military capability. As a result of those reservations, before it was eliminated, the Pentagon initiated a campaign to prepare service members for the end of DADT, by instructing them on standards of conduct, regardless of sexual orientation or moral views.
While morale, order and discipline may be the holy trinity of the armed forces, DADT was been ineffective because it led to the staggering loss of thousands of indispensable service members, plus excessive costs to a budget that needs every cent to equip our armies and adequately battle our enemies.
A similar bigotry once existed for black Americans, who only served in segregated units during World War II. When President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, he may have been motivated by politics more than ending racial discrimination, but it was a seed that helped spur the civil rights movement more than a decade later.
Over the years, thousands of men and women had to sacrifice a piece of their pride when they enlisted. With the abolishment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gays and lesbians can not only serve without limitations or lies, but do so with renewed self-respect and dignity. Furthermore, as the general public broadened its attitudes about homosexuals and the expansion of same-sex marriage, ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” opened the barrack’s closet.
On the other hand, while there haven’t been publicized problems or confrontations with straight and gay soldiers since DADT was repealed, the Associated Press reported last week that an Army brigadier general faces a possible court martial over charges that include forcible sodomy, multiple counts of adultery and having inappropriate relationships with female subordinates.
So, while this one-star heterosexual apparently found it difficult to keep it in his pants, homosexuals seem to be adhering to the military’s code of conduct since they came out of the closet.
Now, a year after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and unease about thousands quitting in protest notwithstanding, gay and straight soldiers serve together and obey the military codes of conduct.
Perhaps civilians, who are still intolerant towards gays and lesbians and see them as a detriment to our society and our morals, will rethink their archaic prejudice and allow same-sex marriage to become part of the inexorable national trend.
After years of anxiety, proud gay and lesbian members of the Armed Forces can finally hold their heads high as they march, perform duties and carry out missions as they serve their country with honor.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Springsteen Exhibit & Constitution Center Were Ideal Match (September 22, 2012)

 Numerous artists and performers have been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. But none of them, or any performer for that matter, has ever had the distinction of having an extensive exhibit at the National Constitution Center (NCC).
After almost three years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and heralded as a “must see” for fans, “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen” debuted last winter at the Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it ended a nearly seven month run earlier this month.
A Springsteen fan a decade before he achieved superstar status, I intended to see the exhibit that featured scores of artifacts and memorabilia from the New Jersey rocker’s four decade career, but I never made the trip to Cleveland. My regret was assuaged when it was announced, about a year ago, that the Constitution Center would host the exhibit. I finally saw it last month, accompanied by one of my oldest friends — in longevity and years — in my inaugural visit to the Center.
Hosting the exhibition in Philadelphia was quite appropriate since Springsteen’s roots encompass the southern Jersey shore area, just north of the city, where he was raised and cultivated a small, yet loyal following years before he burst into the national spotlight.
While some may have been initially puzzled as to why the NCC offered to present an exhibition of relics amassed during the career of a rock and roll star, its president and CEO, David Eisner, explained, “(The exhibit) offers a unique perspective on our First Amendment freedoms, the meaning of the American dream and the role of artists in politics and protest.”
Naturally, Springsteen and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concurred with that assessment and sealed the deal.
Bruce Springsteen was a suitable subject for the Constitution Center because he is not just some guy with a band. He has likely changed, influenced or reinforced the outlook of how his fans view the nation and the world, with songs that are as entertaining as they are socially responsible and, more importantly, confirm an artist’s right to protest through song without fear of retaliation.
One example is “Part Man, Part Monkey,” a lively ditty about the 1925 trial when John Scopes was tried for violating Tennessee’s law against teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Let creationists dwell on these Springsteen lyrics! (“…Well did God make man in a breath of holy fire/Or did he crawl on up out of the muck and mire/Well the man on the street believes what the bible tells him so/ Well you can ask me, mister, because I know/Tell them soul-suckin' preachers to come on down and see/Part man, part monkey, baby that's me.”)
Another is “American Skin (41 Shots),” an account of the 1999 killing of 22-year-old West African immigrant Amadou Diallo, by four plainclothes New York City cops in the Bronx, who fired at him 41 times after when they thought he was going to pull a gun as he reached for his wallet.
The focus of the controversial song culminated when Springsteen and the E Street Band played Madison Square Garden shortly after the song debuted twelve years ago. Prior to the first of ten shows at the Manhattan arena, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the police union, called for a boycott, as the song drew attention to the NYPD’s perceived policy of racial profiling. The PBA urged officers, who moonlighted as Garden security, “to avoid” working the Springsteen shows or not to attend if they had tickets. In the end, the boycott was deemed a failure though a smattering of boos was reportedly evident every night, including the two nights I attended, when Springsteen performed it.
No song in Springsteen’s wide-ranging repertoire categorically illustrates the artist’s ultimate right to free expression than the divisive “American Skin,” which was why the exhibit was ideal for the National Constitution Center.
His most recent album, Wrecking Ball, invigorates his notions of social responsibility. While it rocks, it also contains lyrics that allude to the arguments addressed by Occupy Wall Street activists, as it deplores the state of the economy, big business greed and economic inequality.
As it turned out, as much as I was impressed by the Springsteen display, I was equally awed by the Center, a non-profit institution dedicated to the crux and framework of America’s vision outlined in the U.S. Constitution, which is as educational as it is inspiring.
National Constitution Center
on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.
The NCC, which opened in 2000, is the nation’s only nonprofit institution devoted solely to the Constitution and the principles set down by the Founding Fathers in 1787. As you amble through the museum, you get an absorbing, impartial lesson on America’s basic ideas through numerous interactive exhibits, multi-media, as well as traditional displays with historical artifacts, and may also stop to watch short films.
Whether or not one is an average citizen, a layman or a student, walking through the Center, one gets a meaningful affirmation about how this noteworthy document, albeit flexible, shapes our nation as it limits and distributes the power of the government.
As we wandered through the Constitution exhibit, I asked my friend Steve, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if members of Congress toured the NCC every so often to remind themselves what they’re elected to uphold?”