Belkin is well known as the director of the
Center for the Study of Sexual
Minorities in the Military at the
which I visited in early 2002. This book is the latest in academic
publishing about the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in
the military as a national security and public policy issue.
One problem that
comes to mind immediately is, of course, that the gay ban seems
to many people to be a circumscribed problem
that affects relatively few people. Books of this nature tend to
emphasize the details of the debate of the issue for its own sake. But,
early on, Belkin and Bateman do comment well
on the significance of the issue in a larger context. The third
paragraph on page 3 of the Introduction starts, “On one side of the
issue, gay-rights advocates see access to the military as a metaphor for
full citizenship rights.” The authors go on with a summary that almost
seems to be a characterization of my intentions in writing Do Ask, Do
Tell six years earlier. I could hardly be more succinct myself.
Indeed, the ban provides a metaphor of many other issues where
individual freedom and individual accountability are balanced against
more communitarian views. It bears repeating that originally “don’t ask,
don’t tell” was promoted as a way to “lift” the ban by legally allowing
gays to serve covertly, but it quickly turned out to be a codification
of the ban into law, in a world where commanders often ignore its
procedural protections and never face accountability, and where the
Internet and modern culture make openness about one’s identity (and
“presumed” conduct) almost a given.
The book goes on
with seven more sections, dealing with the history of the ban, the
“privacy debate” started in 1993 by Nunn and Moskos,
the “unit cohesion” arguments, foreign militaries that have lifted the
ban (always a major topic for Belkin), the
cost of the policy, and the future of the policy. Most of the chapters
contain interviews with various panelists, in the style of a “Meet the
Press” debate. Indeed, similar debates are found on the CSSMM website
mentioned above. This could provide interesting material for, say, a PBS
Point-of-View series or Frontline program, or even a campus-style
independent film such as those sometimes shown by the
(See the History Channel video review mentioned below).
The tone of most
of the comments tends to be pragmatic, especially in discussing the
“privacy” problem, which may be more important to male
servicemembers than females. The underlying
solutions seem to be common sense and leadership. Later there is
discussion of the constitutional issues, where we have come to realize
that the courts give so much deference to the military as to allow a
“sub-rational” basis for compromise of the rights of
There is a short
chapter on openly gay servicemembers, and
here the story of Arizona Representative Steve May is presented for the
first time, as far as I know, in book form. May, recall, was called up
for reserve duty after “outing” himself in the
legislature in discussing domestic partnerships. May’s story would
indeed make a good screenplay adaptation.
Brothers and Others in
Arms: The Making of Love and War in Israeli Combat Units.
Southern Tier/Harrington Park Press, 2003. ISBN 1-56023-365-6. 276 pgs,
paper. This book – appropriately displaying on its cover a handsome
soldier with opened up fatigue shirt revealing a real hairy chest --
examines the record of gays in the Israeli military, a subject of
interest not only for American policy but because of the enormous
problems in the Middle East. The book is in two parts. “The Soldiers’
Stories” gives eight personal accounts (one is by a Navy seal-like
sailor Nimrod, the name of the creature in “Surface,” and another is a
combat pilot reminding us of Tracy Thorne; some narratives speak of
operations relevant now to anti terrorism), and the second part is
“Walking on a tightrope—Analysis of Mascularity
was established in 1993, the time of the American debate, and is
essentially “no policy,” or “look the other way.”
The book, on p 236, states “Soldiers are not asked about their sexual
orientation, and officially no discrimination is allowed in the
placement of gay service men and women.” But the overriding point is the
way the military is a major instrument of national socialization in
with universal conscription, where men (contrary to popular belief) have
longer commitments than do women. Men are compelled to run a gauntlet of
duplicity in gender values and roles, where military
homosocial referential values often come
perilously close to duplicating gay ones. Some of the personal
narratives reinforce that, with mild hazing rituals (as those reported
by Nimrod) where anal intercourse is simulated mechanically. The Nunn-Moskos
issue of “privacy in the barracks” seems to be handled by ignoring it.
A Marine’s Diary. (2009) Draft PDF link
Frank. Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines
the Military and Weakens America. New York: St.
Martins/Thomas Dunne, 2009. ISBN 0-313-37348-1. 341 pages, indexed,
hardcover, with Introduction and Prologue of 21 pages.
Frank is a senior research fellow at the
Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
This is the most comprehensive book on the military gay ban since Randy
Shilts's 1993 book, and starts by examining how the conduct/status
dichotomy and "propensity" logic developed after WWI.
On p 2 he gives one of the most cogent explanations of anti-homosexual
sentiment in print:
"Any sex not geared toward reproduction was regarded as a
barrier to the social and survival goals of increasing the population,
dividing up labor, consolidating family wealth, and preserving the
family lineage including lines of blood, race and religion."
More is coming here, stay tuned.