The United States military is an honorable institution with a long tradition of pride, honor and distinction. However, within the walls of this institution lies a darker legacy, one dealing with the unfair treatment of its gay and lesbian soldiers. Its current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy forces many soldiers to hide their sexual orientation, or face being ejected from serving their country. While promoted as a “compromise,” this policy has seen the dismissal of nearly 13,000 soldiers for acknowledging – or outing – their homosexuality. High-ranking military officials fear that giving gays equal rights within the military would have disastrous results.
Unfortunately, there is little logic behind this reasoning. As it stands, the U.S. remains one of the few liberal democracies that do not allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military. For instance, American allies like Great Britain and Israel allow soldiers to serve openly, without incident. The irrational fear of homosexuals that is evident in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy only manages to strip away highly qualified individuals from a military already stretched to its limit.
Like other minority groups before them, homosexuals face a backlash from a conservative institution that resists changes in the status quo.But if history is any indication, there is no reason to believe that gay soldiers would be any less fit to serve in our military. The Tuskegee airmen were an all-black fighter squadron in World War II that not only saw the first black pilots, but also established one of the greatest escort records within the Air Force. The 442 infantry regiment consisted mostly of Japanese Americans whose families had been placed in internment camps. At a time when anti-Japanese sentiment ran wild, the 442 not only served bravely in the European theater, but also became the most decorated military unit in the armed forces. There is an ironic history here, as minority groups have not only managed to ignore the prejudice they faced to fight for their country, but have done so with such fervor and dedication that they stand among the most honored in our country’s history.
With the election of Barack Obama as our next president, there is a rush of excitement that progress will be made through the elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy so that gays will be given the full rights they deserve. From his campaign Web site, the President-elect boldly declares, “The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty and a willingness to serve.” While Obama inherits many pressing issues to deal with, his stance that military action should continue in Afghanistan will most likely force his hand on the issue, and depending on the time frame for how he acts, may prove to be a real test to see if his talk of “change” is real or just more political rhetoric.
It seems foolish that the military would be so hesitant to afford gay Americans the simple right to state their sexual preference. Doesn’t the Constitution state that all men are created equal, and they have the right to the pursuit of happiness? And it is that very same Constitution that those in the military, both heterosexual and homosexual, have volunteered to risk their life to protect. The difficult part to believe is that even with all the inequality and fear-mongering that military officials espouse, there are still those gay and lesbian individuals who risk it all simply for the defense of their country. And in this instance, it is a choice they make; there is no draft plucking them from the populace to prop up America’s military engagements across the globe. These people willingly risk their lives and decide to become defenders of liberty and freedom. While many soldiers don’t get the chance to test their bravery until they step onto the battlefield, any gay American willing to enlist while knowing that it will be immeasurably more difficult for them from the very beginning proves that they may know more about the meaning of bravery than the rest of us.
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