So now Congress is finally in the process of dismantling Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell. Wonderful. I’m just so thrilled. Not.
Oh, I know all the arguments about equality and they are correct. The right to serve openly in the military is a hallmark of full acceptance as citizens. That is simple logic – but this isn’t about logic. It is about life and death. The one big advantage of our second class status up to now has been that we were excused from being used as cannon fodder in this country’s endless wars. We got to live. Our classmates – including the ones who perhaps made fun of queers – the macho ones – the BMOCs – they marched off to Nam and Cambodia and Iraq and many of them never came back except in bags. Many of the ones who did come back…well… perhaps it would have been better for them if they had not survived. That last is not for me to say however. Still – shattered alcoholic, drug ridden wrecks, missing arms and legs, haunted by horrors that allow them no sleep – is that the price of equality? Pardon me if I think it steep. Frankly, I’d be perfectly content with not being quite equal if it meant the beautiful gay kids I see every day would be spared all that. Ah! I hear the martial music welling up in the background. I see the serried ranks of flags waving as you say “our country! our duty! defend freedom!” and on and on. Sigh. Do you actually know what you are talking about? Review the long list of wars the United States has fought and select those in particular in which we were actually defending our freedom. Let’s see…World War II of course. That one is a definite – The NAZIs had to go, root and branch and no argument. OK, that’s one. The Civil War is clearly another. There we see two irreconcilable social/political/moral systems contending for the same ground. There was only room for one. Slavery had to go and so did the concept of secession. That’s two. Now the search gets difficult. The Mexican War? A naked land grab that was certainly not about anyone’s freedom. The Spanish-American War? Another land grab fueled by the totally irresponsible lies of the Hearst Press syndicate, the Fox News of its day, and covertly about gaining coaling stations for the Pacific Fleet pursuant to the doctrines of U.S. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan in his seminal book The Influence Of Sea Power On History. World War I? Wow – talk about a subject that has been almost completely shrouded in propaganda and misconception! Can anyone tell me what the Hell difference it would have made to us if the Germans had won that round? What real negative difference would it have made to anyone? Think about it – the French would have lost Alsace-Lorraine perhaps for the final time. I think we could survive that. The Brits would have had a bit of a black eye but their empire would still have existed. Maybe they’d have had to give up some of their African territory – but within one long generation it was all gone anyway. And what else? The ancient imperial dynasties of Europe would not have collapsed – hence the rise of the Nazis would not have occurred. The communist revolution might well have been avoided, along with the 20-odd million consequent deaths. Mapping the route of an alternative history is a risky business but with the benefit of hindsight, it is perfectly clear at least that all the hype at the time about defending freedom was total bullshit. A man from Mars could not have told the difference between the two sides – culturally, morally or politically. Tens of thousands of American boys died in that war – for what? British prestige? French honor – La Gloire ?
On the eve of his declaration of mobilization, Czar Nicholas II was visited by Constantine Probedenostov, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, who said “I’m an old man. I’ve seen wars all my life and they all seemed so important at the time. Now I can’t even remember what they were about. All those thousands of dead and I don’t know why. If you do this, [mobilize] it will be the end of our civilization, of culture, of honor – and our children will walk among the ruins and curse our name.” How perceptive that prediction was! Certainly that is precisely what happened in Russia. Will our children walk among the ruins of their own lives and curse the name of those who fought so hard to give them the chance to sacrifice themselves for jingoistic propaganda and multi-national corporate advantage? I think it not unlikely.
Then there is that sacred war, the American Revolution. “That,” you may say, “was a time of heroes. That was a war that changed the world!” Was it indeed? Just who was it that actually organized that war and what, really, was it about? The Tea Tax? Hardly. Real tea was a very expensive luxury affordable only by the elite. Taxation without representation? The British parliamentary system was that every member of parliament represented all British subjects, not just his elective constituency. Certainly the system needed reform and within a few decades, it was indeed reformed. But the dead were all still dead. Perhaps it was about the impost of new taxes – except those taxes were to pay the cost of British troops brought over to fight the French & Indian war AT THE REQUEST of the colonial legislatures. In subsequently objecting to those taxes, we were essentially demanding a free lunch. The Revolution was promoted and run by the existing power structure and colonial governments of this country. It promoted the interests of the New England merchant class a well as those of the southern planter aristocracy. Over 50,000 citizens who were loyal to the ancient, legitimate regime fled the colonies, losing everything in the process. There is no evidence that a majority supported the revolution at any point in time. And in the long term, are we any more “free” than the Canadians? Thousands died – but we got a monopoly on the Triangle Trade. I hope that was a comfort to those boys who starved and froze at Valley Forge.
Then we come to Viet Nam. Is it even possible to sort through the layers of rotting, foul smelling lies that enveloped that hideous exercise in national destruction? Volumes and volumes have been written in the effort to do so and still a large part of the population is so ignorant, so deluded as to think there was some valid purpose to it. In large part it is because we can not accept that all those boys died – horribly – in vain; that their sacrifice as for nothing but empty rhetoric and the reputations of a handful of slime-ball politicians. But it WAS in vain. The power elite misjudged, mishandled and failed utterly to understand what they were doing in Indochina all the way back to the settlements following WW II. Every step they subsequently took compounded the errors. All the State Department and intelligence “experts” got it completely wrong. The generals were by and large a pack of sycophantic time-servers who, like William Westmorland, talked a big game but had no clue what they were doing and consistently lied about every aspect of the war. Eventually it became easy to tell if Westmorland was lying – just check to see if his mouth was moving. Thousands and thousands died, including boys I knew – for what? Can anyone tell me at last? Please?
Finally we come to our present endless nightmare in the mid-East and Afghanistan. Perhaps the root cause is oil – in which case, since the oil production of Iraq has been decimated and we have created a fanatic resistance to resurrecting it in any way that will benefit us , it doesn’t seem to have worked out very well. As for Afghanistan – if ever there was an example of learning nothing from history, this is a big one. No invading army back to and including Alexander The Great has succeeded in that impossibly hostile place – and let’s be frank – General Tommy P. may be quite a good officer but he is NO Alexander The Great and neither is our president. The only real mystery is why the British allowed themselves to get dragged in. One would have thought they’d remember their first effort to conquer Afghanistan and install a puppet government back in the 1840s. Of the more than ten thousand soldiers and civilians that comprised their force, exactly ONE man survived – probably because the tribesmen allowed him to return and tell the nightmare story. This present Afghan adventure is going to end badly too. The only question is how long it will take and how many more kids must die before the generals and the senators and the “experts” finally realize it isn’t going to work.
If the United States was being invaded – if enemy forces were landing on the beach at Asbury Park or Miami or Laguna or San Francisco, we would all, naturally, take up arms and defend the homeland. Gay or straight, it would make no difference. That DID happen – in the War of 1812. In such a circumstance there is no choice but those are not the circumstances that prevail in the turgid history of our conflicts. It is classically said “the first casualty of war is truth,” and that has surely proved to be the case throughout our history. Lies compounded upon lies, enhanced by vacuous rhetoric, delivered by men and women who will not themselves be in danger, disguising profit motives and naked grabs for land and resources benefiting a power elite – this is the history of our wars – with a heavy dose of cultural arrogance and undisguised racism helping to fuel the conflagrations (the Indian Wars being the best example of that.) And you expect me to rejoice that now gay kids will have an equal opportunity to participate? Pardon me if I do not rejoice, but rather weep instead. All the rhetoric about equality and noble sacrifice means little when you stand by the coffin of a kid you loved and know that his or her life was thrown away for the greed and insanity of people you don’t even know and wouldn’t want to. A victory for gay rights? Yes – a pyrrhic victory.