Is it really a gay rights issue?

A brief word about Rumsfeld v. FAIR (Supreme Court holding that ROTC and military recruiters cannot be barred from universities despite sexual preference discrimination).

While Orin Kerr and fellow Volokh conspirators have, in my view, done an excellent job analyzing the legal aspects of the case, I'm a bit more concerned about the political and perhaps the moral dimensions. And no; just because I used the word "morality" does not mean I am talking about the proper placement of penises (although regular readers know that I am on the side of sexual freedom as opposed to right wing or left wing "penile correctness.")

I think that one of the worst things that can happen to any country is one of the things that led to the demise of Rome -- and that is when the upper, leadership classes -- and it matters little whether you characterize them with phrases like "privileged" elites, "the ruling class," or "noblesse oblige" -- disdain military service or hold things like military service and patriotism in contempt.

History shows that there has always been a tendency among those with power and money to avoid military service. Often this takes the form of not wanting their own sons to risk getting killed. This is a natural enough phenomenon, and it can hardly be called "left wing" -- because it arises out of normal parental concern. During the American Civil War, wealthy parents would routinely (and legally) pay money so that others could serve in the place of their sons. (86,724 men paid the $300 exemption to avoid service -- a notable example being John D. Rockefeller.)

Interestingly, modern military conscription has been described by its critics as a Machiavellian revival of an immoral "pagan" practice:

"Machiavelli was the first modern to propose universal compulsory military service. Quite apart from the lateness of the age, here certainly is a strange beginning for a moral obligation! It is, in fact, with Machiavelli that the modern concept of war, as distinguished from the medieval idea, takes its beginning: the modern concept being one of unrestricted war-physically unrestricted in the extent of its destructiveness, morally unrestricted in its rejection of ethical limitation and control. Essential also to the modern idea is the use of war, not as a last resort, which was the requirement of traditional ethics, but as a normal, though alternate, means for securing national power and "honor" when diplomatic measures fail. As is to be expected, Machiavelli, true son of the Renaissance, went back to the example of pagan Rome in his study of war, finding no model for his studies during the Christian centuries. Here, then, in an environment of neo-paganism, which excluded deliberately and cynically, every breath of Christian thought and idealism, was born the idea of universal conscription.

The subsequent history of this moral duty is scarcely less strange then its beginning. Although proposed by Machiavelli, conscription did not actually begin until the French Revolution. Its actual beginning, like its first conception, thus issued from an explicit rejection of Christianity. It came, in other words, not from the contemplation of religious or moral truth, but on the contrary from the irreligious tenets of the Revolution and the conscious repudiation of Christian teaching. Its service, from the beginning, was not made to the one true God nor to Jesus Christ His Son, but rather to the goddess reason. . .

OK, we can argue about the morality of mandatory conscription, and I have mixed feelings about the practice. But I do think history shows that all countries need to be defended, and the wealthier the country, the more likely that it will be targeted. (Cf. MacArthur and Hemingway on "undefended wealth" as the primary cause of war.)

World Wars One and Two were popular enough (and the country had vast enough reservoirs of patriotism in the upper classes) that military service was seen as something every patriotic American should do, with no exception for the upper classes. Indeed, the upper classes were supposed to be leaders, officers. (This, of course, accounts for the nexus between ROTC and higher education.)

The Vietnam War was when the proverbial shit hit the fan. My theory has long been that a major reason the war (which didn't start out as unpopular) became so visibly unpopular was because of the unfair student deferment system. This encouraged not only children of the rich to stay in college to avoid service, but also the children of the middle class. Basically, any young man whose parents could afford to pay for college had the equivalent of what Rockefeller paid $300.00 for, as long as they managed to stay in school. Lots of Ph.D.s were acquired which never would have been acquired, and many an academic career was a direct result of draft avoidance.

I don't think this was a good thing, because I think that if we assume a country must continue to exist and defend itself, it is better for that country if as many citizens as possible serve, and (to the extent possible) proudly. Especially those who would lead it. IMHO, the disconnect between leadership and military service had its origin in the Vietnam student deferment system, and what we're seeing today is part of the continued fallout.

Military service by gays is honorable, and should be not only allowed, but encouraged. I have been debating this topic for many years, with anyone who will listen to me. I think I understand the concerns of both sides, and a primary military argument against it is that homosexuality can be disruptive. (Fine; if that's really a problem, then try allowing gay-only units, I've proposed. Should we lose valuable soldiers who might do some serious ass kicking?)

My point here is not to debate the merits of gays in the military. But I couldn't help but notice that when the debate was in full swing during Clinton era, a lot of the loudest advocates of gay military service were people who, if you took the time to talk to them, in fact were very anti-military. The idea of a patriotic gay man who wanted to serve his country was something they considered strange if not contemptible, and their support seemed tactical to me. One activist frankly admitted to me that she couldn't understand why anyone would want to serve in the military, and I could tell that the idea of a patriotic gay man was something she regarded with barely concealed moral repugnance. It really bothered me at the time. There's just something odious about using people tactically that always bothers me. But when the people being used are having their feelings of genuine patriotism harnessed and used to advance the unpatriotic purposes of people who hate the military, that's even more odious.

So I'd like to pose a simple question.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that President Bush decided that the time had come to allow gay military service, and he issued an executive order along the lines of Harry Truman's 1948 racial integration order.

How many of the academicians who champion the right of gays to serve in the military would really be happy? Would they welcome the return of ROTC? Would they tell students that it's now time to be proud of their country again, and to consider military service a civic obligation?

I have no way of knowing, but based on what I've seen, I have my suspicions.

posted by Eric on 03.07.06 at 10:00 AM


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Wow, that article you quoted is the most shameless example of RCC official Pagan-bashing I've yet seen. So now "neo-paganism" is responsible for universal conscription as well as the Holocaust? What will those Palpadictine knuckleheads think of next?

Although proposed by Machiavelli, conscription did not actually begin until the French Revolution. Its actual beginning, like its first conception, thus issued from an explicit rejection of Christianity.

Horsemuffins -- it "issued" from the creation of a new form of government, a (secular) republic, in which (in theory at least) all persons had equal rights, equal stake, and thus equal responsibility to defend the new nation against attack. This was different from feudalism, in which most ordinary people were expected to pay their taxes, farm their plots, obey whoever had mercenaries in their village, and stay the hell out of the affairs of their "betters" to avoid getting hurt (thus no stake and no obligation). "Rejection of Christianity" had nothing to do with it, unless one wishes to equate Christianity with feudalism and monarchy.

Its service, from the beginning, was not made to the one true God nor to Jesus Christ His Son, but rather to the goddess reason...

No, dipsticks, its service is to the state. Which is far more humane than enlisting uneducated peasants to fight in the Crusades, or in the bitter sectarian wars that flared up during and after the Reformation.

The present-day Church's willingness to distort obvious history to scapegoat Pagans (and equate reason with a goddess, just as creationists call evolution a "religion") is really starting to disturb me...

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 11:20 AM

I'd like to chime in with a less stridently-worded criticism of the quote from Father Hugo. He might be surprised to learn that, in the same era that Machiavelli wrote, Pope Julius II staged a triumphal military conquest and entry into Florence, clad in full armor. His suggestion that the Christian era was peace-loving is way, way off the mark. In terms of duration and intensity, the post-Roman Christian era was much more warlike than the Pax Romana. The difference, however, had nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with political instability.

On the primary issue of gays in the military, I've always felt that it's no big deal. The military learned how to work with blacks; they learned how to work with women; why can't they learn to work with gays?

Erasmussimo   ·  March 7, 2006 11:26 AM

I suspect it's not the gays who are the problem, so much as the gay-bashers and their mindless fear and hatred, which is far less controllable than the gays' sexual desires. Not to mention the hatreds of their spouses and parents, who probably fear that their darlings' morals will be corrupted if they're trained to work with gay colleagues as well as kill people and destroy cities.

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 1:06 PM


All-gay units do not work in a vaccuum, and because of that, they don't work at all. It is all about respect and trust, and openly gay men are not respected and trusted in the military. There is a freight train of distrust earned through generations of bad experiences. As a non-commissioned officer, it is my responsibility to look out for the welfare of my subordinates, and that is much more difficult when I have to look out for sexual predators as well.

I have served with gay men in the Navy who stayed closeted and served with honor.

As a heterosexual I am ordered to avoid all sexual conduct when deployed to Iraq or even Kuwait. I know people who got formally punished for hugging friends. Why is nobody suing Rumsfeld so I can get dirty picture magazines sent to me on deployment?

Why are gay people a special class exempt from orders for the good of the service? Why do gay people have greater knowledge on military order than the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the most successful military in the world?

Why is it the end of the world to ask gay men who want to serve in the military to stay closeted?

I am also for sexual freedom, but the only way I can see that happening outside of small enclaves in an ever-diminishing West is to hava a military capable of defending Western cultrue. Adding special classes to the military in no way helps achieve victory.

Patrick Lasswell   ·  March 7, 2006 1:26 PM

I have served with gay men in the Navy who stayed closeted and served with honor.

Did you also serve with gay men who admitted they were gay but kept their hands to themselves and served with honor? I'm not attacking you, I'm asking seriously.

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 1:35 PM

Patrick, that is a false dichotomy if ever I saw one. You might as well ask Jewish soldiers to pretend to be Christian while they are in the army. You don't have to be a flirting distraction to be an out of the closet gay. Of course, gay soldiers should keep order just like the rest but that isn't to say they should be forced to pretend they are something they are not.

nic   ·  March 7, 2006 1:36 PM

Raging Bee,

Once somebody outs themself, they are gone in a matter of hours. Yes, I served with non-promiscuous, non-predatory gay men who did their jobs and kept the faith. I also served with predators who set back the efforts of their fellows a generation because they were horny and wouldn't take no for an answer. The effect on morale of the predators was incredibly destructive. They broke faith with their shipmates and made us all less for their failings.


I have served with just about every religious denomination including satanists, and nobody has ever tried to grope my genitals for religious reasons. As annoying as most sermons are, none in my experience has ever offended me as much as the smug assurance of a sexual predator who was sure that everybody really wanted some.

Military people always pretend they are something they are not, otherwise we would let fear and other emotions rule us. People who bear arms cannot allow themselves to be ruled by their own desires, they must subordinate their personal good to the good of the unit on some very basic levels or they lose wars.

I guess it is a matter of perspective. Everybody in the service understands that they have to surrender certain of their rights in order to protect their country. The gay community does not look past their own perquisites to acknowledge that protecting the whole is worth sacrificing their privileges while in service.

Good luck with the Mullahs, kids.

Patrick Lasswell   ·  March 7, 2006 2:33 PM

Patrick: you persist in the false dichotomy between "non-promiscuous, non-predatory gay men who did their jobs and kept the faith" and "sexual predators." I ask again: have you never met a man who, on the one hand, admitted he was gay, and on the other, kept his hands to himself and never bothered any of his colleagues?

Do you really have reason to believe that once a man admits he's gay, the proverbial flood-gates will be open and he will no longer be able to control his desires, even when he's got a ton of work to do and he may not have slept in two days?

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 3:15 PM

Raging Bee,

I am talking about reality, not hypothetical questions. The reality of the military is that everybody has secrets: secret fears, secret failures, secret victories, and secret hopes. Part of what makes military units work is the "pasting over" of individual lapses in order to accomplish the mission and keep the faith.

It may seem like an ephemeral concern to you, but maintaining an even strain is how we survive. We all pretend that we are blue or green. We all pretend that we can take the stress. We all pretend that we do not hurt. We all pretend that we are not angry. Robbing the military of this armor and forcing us to confront the tawdry details of people who we can otherwise trust weakens the military in ways that you don't seem to care about.

If I cannot trust my shipmate to keep their own secrets, how can I trust them to keep mine or the nations?

I have worked with good men and women in civilian life who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgenered. They did their jobs, kept their hands off, and kept their sexuality in the bedroom. I never had to trust them with my sleep, my life, my ship, or my honor.

Being in the military is not about being who you are, it is about being what your country needs to survive. Unless and until the gay community gets onboard with this, they are going to continue to lose this battle so that we do not lose the war.

Patrick Lasswell   ·  March 7, 2006 3:56 PM

So, if a straight guy talks about his wife back home, and it doesn't ruin his ability to do his duty, then how damaging is it if a gay guy talks about his partner back home?

Yes, we all have secrets. But since when did honest dialogue between people who have been made close by shared military duty damage morale or discipline? I'm asking about dialogue and honesty, not actual sex acts.

Issues of sexual orientation are not the same as issues of self-control.

Your first post here sounded intelligent, and I'm quite willing to give an experienced military man the benefit of the doubt on this issue; but you don't enhance your credibility by portraying us as ignorant or unconcerned while avoiding direct questions.

Raging Bee   ·  March 7, 2006 4:20 PM

"Being in the military is not about being who you are, it is about being what your country needs to survive. Unless and until the gay community gets onboard with this, they are going to continue to lose this battle so that we do not lose the war."

I don't believe it is just the gay community that needs to get on board with this; it seems that almost all advocates of lifting the ban neglect to address that very real point.

The very first issue to be debated in this should be, "Does the US government have the right to deny military service to willing people for any reason?"

So many of the people arguing for lifting the ban assume it is simply a matter of civil rights denied. It becomes futile then to continue the debate, since the pertinent disagreement isn't about openly homosexual people in the military, but about the duty and powers of the federal government.

FRNM   ·  March 7, 2006 9:31 PM

These kinds of open and honest discussions are good, and the answers are not easy for people who care about the armed forces. I don't like identity politics of any sort, but I don't think the military should be hamstrung by arbitrary blanket prohibitions. I could write a long essay (or two) on the topic of gay military service, but that wasn't the primary purpose of the post.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 7, 2006 9:32 PM

My main concern here is not fair treatment of gays by the military; it's the loss of uncommon but necessary talent (such as fluency in spoken and written Arabic) as a consequence of a blanket ban on gays, regardless of their actual observed conduct.

Raging Bee   ·  March 8, 2006 8:47 AM

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