March 07, 2006
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.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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