Andrew Sullivan And Isaac Chotiner Have Some Words For James Bowman


James Bowman in The Weekly Standard:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a tribute to our national talent for hypocrisy. Yes, President Clinton was prepared to agree, homosexual acts might be a risk to the high standards of morale, good order, discipline, and unit cohesion, but if nobody knew about them, then what harm could they do? Since then, nobody has thought up a better way of coping with this thorny problem. The left has nothing better to offer than riding roughshod over the opinions of the majority of servicemen–58 percent in the latest Military Times poll–and repealing the law. The same poll found that 10 percent of respondents would leave the service if gays were allowed openly to serve and another 14 percent would consider leaving. We have at least to take seriously the possibility that this would be the price of treating military service as a human right.

This it clearly cannot be. There are all kinds of people–the very young and the very old, the sick or disabled, violent criminals or, in combat roles, women–whom we regard as unfit to be soldiers. The fact that open homosexuals are also excluded cannot by itself be considered an injustice. The mere assumption that it is may be related to the fact that the advocates of integrating gay soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines into the armed forces so often speak, mistakenly, about the “repeal” of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy–as if, like waterboarding, it were a simple matter of presidential will to discontinue a practice that the “rights” lobby finds abhorrent. It’s an assumption that often seems to go with the moralized politics of the Age of Obama.


Yet if reason were to be readmitted to the debate, we might find something in the history of military honor to justify the principle now enshrined in the law decreeing that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” We know that soldiering–I mean not training or support or peacekeeping or any of the myriad other things soldiers do, but facing enemy bullets–is inextricably bound up with ideas of masculinity. We also know that most heterosexual males’ ideas of masculinity are inextricably bound up with what we now call sexual orientation. In other words, “being a man” typically does mean for soldiers both being brave, stoic, etc.–and being heterosexual. Another way to put this is to say that honor, which is by the testimony of soldiers throughout the ages of the essence of military service, includes the honor of being known for heterosexuality, and that, for most heterosexual males, shame attends a reputation as much for homosexuality as for weakness or cowardice.

This is not, of course, to say that homosexuals are weak or cowardly–only that the reputation of manliness, which we know to be an important component of military honor, is in practice incompatible with the imputation either of homosexuality or of weakness and cowardice. Now presumably an argument for the armed forces’ being required to accept gay recruits is that it doesn’t have to mean this, and that this simple reality is merely the product of custom and convention and no essential part of the moral and emotional equipment of men capable of nerving themselves to face combat. Possibly they are right. But what if they are wrong? Is there any way to find out without taking a real risk with national security? Are the advocates of gays in the military prepared to say, fiat justitia, ruat caelum? And if so, do the rest of us, the majority of gays and straights alike who would prefer not to take such a risk with our lives, property, and freedom, have any say in the matter? Or are the wishes of this minority of a minority to be paramount? They say they demand the “right” to make the supreme sacrifice for their country, and yet they are unwilling to make the presumably lesser sacrifice of being publicly reticent about their sexual behavior–or the sacrifice of not being in the military. It doesn’t add up, somehow.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

What wing of society has decided that “the reputation of manliness” is incompatible with homosexuality? In other words, why is this true “in practice”? Well, because of people of like Bowman, that’s why!

Meanwhile, the Latin at the end of the passage is, I’d imagine, supposed to subtly remind the reader that society is going to the dogs. Don’t you remember the days when real men walked the earth? No? Well at least you can study ancient times. Bowman, unsurprisingly, has written a book called Honor: A History. (Do conservatives ever get tired of this stuff?) He also works for an outfit called The Ethics and Public Policy Center, which, according to its website, “was established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.” Yeah yeah. Can’t the Standard move beyond this nonsense? Apparently not, because the piece comes on the heels of the magazine’s decision to print Sam Schulman’s atrocious case against gay marriage. Readers are invited to debate which article is worse.

Andrew Sullivan:

Beneath the elegant prose and the admission that gay soldiers are as good as straight ones – and as American as anyone else – is an old schoolyard epithet: no sissies allowed, and all fags are sissies. Let me point out to this bigot that he might want to avoid a fight with a sissy, because many of them could take his sorry ass to the cleaners, and because many more, over the centuries, have fought and died for their country and are more men than he, from his armchair, will ever be.

And, of course, part of the reason for forcing gay soldiers into the closet and holding persecution over their heads is precisely to conceal the plain truth that these stereotypes are false. I remind Bowman that the first solider to lose a limb in the Iraq war was a gay man. That he risked all for his country, that he showed immense valor, should make him a hero to his country and to his commander-in-chief.

And what did they do to him? They fired him. Get angrier.

UPDATE: Nathaniel Frank at HuffPo

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Filed under LGBT, Military Issues

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