by James M. Wallace
An essay assignment for a second-semester freshman composition course (ENG102) written on July 25, 1994 at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
During the first week of his administration, in his zeal to keep at least one of his plethora of campaign promises, Bill Clinton created a political firestorm when he signed an executive order lifting the ban against military service by open, practicing homosexuals. In doing so, he made a grave error which risked damaging the one function of the federal government that actually works.
For weeks, “experts” who knew nothing of the military experience spouted psychobabble about the military’s “need” to overcome its homophobia. The media did their part by parading homosexual commissioned officers (whose experience is hardly representative) who claimed that they performed their duties well and that what they did in private harmed no one. None of this was relevant, and all of it completely missed the point. The real issue was lost in this smoke and mirrors: Is the presence of known, open, practicing homosexuals disruptive to the good order and discipline of military units thus rendering homosexuality incompatible with military service?
During the controversy, I never heard any input from junior enlisted members (EMs) and junior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who would be most affected by a change in policy. Junior EMs are usually billeted in roughly 300 square foot, four-man rooms; junior NCOs get similar sized two-man rooms. They all share common latrine and shower facilities. These people are the bulk of the services; they are the military. Having risen through the ranks from Private First Class to Sergeant, my experience as an enlisted soldier is particularly informative.
There was a time (even as late as one year into my enlistment) when I would have argued for lifting the ban. I have always been somewhat sympathetic towards homosexuals. Having come of age as an atheist in the Bible Belt, I know what it is to be a member of a reviled minority.
In 1978, when I was a high school junior, former Miss America and entertainer Anita Bryant gained national attention as a leader of a group opposing homosexual teachers in Dade County, Florida public schools. She went on to found and lead a “pro-God, pro-family” organization and traveled around the country helping local citizens successfully oppose “gay-rights” laws.
As an atheist, I definitely regarded her as a threat whether one was straight or not. For extra credit in a creative writing class, I wrote a two page poem against her and her activities entitled The History of Annie Bryant. In it I referred to her followers as “her fellow fools”, claimed that she was appealing “to emotion and not to reason”, and implied that she was a threat to “life and liberty”. I ended the poem:
“And now that old bat Annie
Is spreading her sickness into California
With a spearhead of ignorance and fear
And we’ve got to stop her before it’s too late.”
As a student here at UNCG, I definitely went to school with homosexuals. In Spring 1985, as a member of the Student Senate Judicial Committee, I helped push impeachment proceedings against a fellow senator who had disrupted our meeting after we had voted $50 for refreshments for a talk on lesbian nuns sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Student Association.
In my last civilian job prior to joining the Army, my manager and three of my four coworkers were homosexuals. One of my coworkers had been voluntarily separated from the Navy due to homosexuality. I was “open-minded” enough to put up with his vain, and in vain, attempts to seduce me before I went back to school.
In basic training, during an equal opportunity class given by our company’s senior drill sergeant, one of my fellow recruits asked, “Isn’t the Army’s policy against homosexuals discriminatory?” The big NCO allowed himself a moment of humor and enthusiastically and gleefully replied, “Oh, yeah!”
We all laughed, but I remember thinking how narrow-minded and ignorant he was. As an “enlightened” college boy, I arrogantly assumed my own moral superiority. But theory and practice are often very different, and I received my comeuppance in the fullness of time.
During the middle of the second year of my enlistment, I began to suspect that two of my roommates were having a homosexual affair. They were keeping it out of the barracks, so I wasn’t sure.
Other soldiers had begun to take notice as well. I was often asked what was up with them. I would feign ignorance and answer, “I don’t know; what do you mean?” I knew full well what they meant, and their suspicions lent credence to my own.
I returned to our room late one night and discovered the two of them asleep in the same bunk. They were under the covers, in each other’s arms, face-to-face, with very contented expressions on their faces. I no longer had any doubts. They were starting to awaken so I decided that it would be best just to go to bed as if I had seen nothing. As I turned out my lamp and settled into bed, the one scurried back to his own bunk.
The next morning, wanting to determine what I had seen, they asked me when I had gotten in the night before. I didn’t want them to know that I had discovered them. In the Army, your roommates are fellow squad members and naturally your friends as well. If they knew that I knew about them, I risked alienating them because they would view me as a threat who might not keep his silence. If I did indeed keep my silence after affirming that I had seen them, I would become complicitous in their violation of Army regulations and would be in violation myself because I would have failed to report a known violation. Neither alternative seemed particularly desirable. To buy more time and to protect myself, I claimed that I didn’t really remember due to the effects of good German beer.
They became emboldened and continued their affair in our room which they turned into their own love nest. For three weeks, I endured being locked out of my room and interrupting whatever it was that they were doing so that I could get in. Obviously, I knew what they were about, and just as obviously, they knew that I knew.
I finally decided that I had no choice but to inform our superiors. I asked our platoon sergeant how to get a couple of homosexuals out of the Army. He knew to whom I was referring. The command was informed of the situation, but it was determined that nothing could be done legally as it was a case of my word against theirs.
I wanted to move into another room, but there was no extra space. Anyway, the problem would be partially solved when one of my roommates was transferred back to the States during our upcoming field exercise, but I was stuck with them both for ten days. When I was in the room, they would have the vilest conversations about me as though I wasn’t even there. They did everything they could to make me feel uncomfortable in my own room. My sleep was light, fitful, and brief; I often woke up several times a night in order to check on my well-being. I spent as little time as possible in my room, and I was never so glad to go to the field.
Military units are worse than small towns. Everyone was aware of the situation. My roommates’ affair had pushed our unit out of its normal rhythms. The feeling of trust had been violated. My roommates became the focus of unit discontent.
The presence of known homosexuals is disruptive to the good order and discipline of military units. When my roommates became a couple, they ceased to be members of our unit in a social and emotional sense. They became so obsessed with one another and their relationship that they couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill their responsibilities to the rest of us. Their commitment to one another negated the required loyalty to the Army and to their fellow soldiers. They willfully violated the regulations and policies of an organization that they freely joined. Not only were they abusive to me, they were defensive and confrontational with other members of our unit. They acted as though we and the Army were the ones who were wrong. For our part, we others couldn’t and wouldn’t accept their relationship. This exacerbated the situation and turned it into them against us. This state of affairs was intolerable.
Barracks life is highly communal, and privacy is very limited, but these conditions foster the camaraderie and the unit cohesion that is vital to the proper functioning of a combat-ready force. In the military, respect and loyalty between members is powerful enough to transcend almost every animosity. One is constantly aware of the fact that the SOB down the hall could very well be the SOB who comes between you and death. One disrupts the process at the risk of needlessly lost lives when war becomes a painful necessity. Males have a natural discomfort for homosexuality and intuitively know that they are not to relate to one another in that manner. In the close quarters of the barracks, this discomfort becomes a vital animosity which cannot be transcended.
The advocates for lifting the ban assume that homosexuals would “check their sexuality at the door” of their barracks. The opponents of lifting the ban and the militant homosexuals seeking an end to it agree that this is ludicrous. The advocates’ assumption requires that homosexuals remain celibate because any expression of sexuality will probably end up in the barracks. The extreme promiscuity of male homosexuals makes this an inevitability.
After one roommate shipped back to the States, the remaining roommate continued his homosexual lifestyle while not quite openly but very obviously. His “dates” would visit him in our room much to the consternation of myself, my other roommates, and others in our barracks. He ended up having an affair with a supply clerk in one of the (all-male) infantry companies. This clerk had his own room, and they spent their weekends together there. I would often run into “grunts” from this unit. After learning to what unit I belonged, they would ask me if I knew my roommate. I would affirm that I did, and they would inquire as to his sexuality to confirm their suspicions. I would affirm that they were indeed correct. To assuage their remaining doubt, they would ask me if I was certain. I would answer very authoritatively, “He’s one of my roommates.” They would shower me with condolences. I would thank them for their kindness, and wryly tell them, “It’s not so bad; there used to be two of them.” They would commiserate with me some more, acknowledge that they probably couldn’t deal with the situation, and admire my sense of humor in the face of adversity.
The real objective of those seeking to lift the ban is not the end of some perceived injustice but the normalization of homosexuality. This is entirely unacceptable. While a society can tolerate some deviancy on its fringes, it cannot accept it within its mainstream. Homosexuality represents a threat in that it creates an inappropriate sexual outlet that corrupts the natural relations between men and women. If increasing numbers of men and women opt out of child-bearing and child-rearing and choose “alternative” lifestyles instead, our society increasingly will be unable to renew and maintain itself and will ultimately founder. Those who choose the “traditional” lifestyle will find their task made more difficult by a disintegrating social structure.
As an aside, opposing the normalization of homosexuality is not advocating violence against homosexuals. One of the functions of society is create a sense a personal security for its members. Individuals who engage in “fag-bashing” are criminals and should be treated as such.
The military is not a suitable subject for experiments in social engineering such as the normalization of homosexuality. Our armed forces exist for the sole purpose of defending our country and our way of life. Anything that interferes with this function is a threat to our society and must be opposed vigorously.
The outrage expressed by veterans such as myself is well justified. We sacrificed part of our lives and part of ourselves by serving in our country’s armed forces. We gave up far too much to stand by idly while those who “loathe the military” attempt to destroy that which we made part of ourselves, that which we will always love.
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