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Homophobia Trumps Terrorphobia
The "war on terror" is being kneecapped by the war on sense. Clinton, for some inexplicable reason, gave us "Don't Ask/Don't Tell," and we're firing homo Arab translators by the dozen. From an AP story by Lolita C. Baldor:

Lawmakers who say the military has kicked out 58 Arabic language experts because they were gay want the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to let the valuable specialists go.

Seizing on the latest discharge, involving three specialists, House members wrote the House Armed Services Committee chairman on Wednesday that the continued loss of such "capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war."

Former Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Benjamin said his supervisor tried to keep him on the job and urged him to sign a statement saying he was not gay. Benjamin said his lawyer advised against signing because the statement could be used against him later if other evidence surfaced.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Benjamin said he was caught improperly using the military's secret level computer system to send messages to his roommate, who was serving in Iraq. In those messages, he said, he may have referred to being gay or going on a date.

"I'd always had been out since the day I started working there," Benjamin said. "We had conversations about being gay in the military and what it was like. There were no issues with unit cohesion. I never caused divisiveness or ever experienced slurs," said Benjamin, who was in the Navy for nearly four years.

He was fired under the "don't ask, don't tell" law passed in 1994. It lets gays serve if they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. The law prohibits commanders from asking about a person's sex life and requires discharge of those who openly acknowledge they are gay.

Rep. Marty Meehan (news, bio, voting record), who has sought a repeal, organized the letter to Rep. Ike Skelton (news, bio, voting record), D-Mo., asking the committee hold a hearing about the Arabic linguists.

"At a time when our military is stretched to the limit and our cultural knowledge of the Middle East is dangerously deficient, I just can't believe that kicking out able, competent Arabic linguists is making our country any safer," Meehan said.

Now, I can understand, if this were the 50s, that there might be some suggestion that a gay guy in the army could be blackmailed. But, it's 2007, and whether or not you're a homophobic asshole, you see gay people all around you, and maybe even if you are a homophobic asshole, you could learn to deal, same as I manage to deal with things that upset me, like men with hairy toes wearing thongs. On their feet, that is. That's upsetting enough.

Posted by aalkon at May 25, 2007 10:18 AM

Comments

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the product of necessity.

Yes, necessity.

It happened because of a huge difference in perception between the public's "idea" - born of ignorance - in what the military must do and what they actually must contend with. Sexual behavior gets military people killed dead. There are circumstances in which a distraction will be fatal, or render equipment unusable.

Here's a fine theoretical example for you (the work postulated is real):

Two petty officers in the Navy are performing wiring package checks on a real, live, nuclear missile on a submarine at sea. The room is deathly quiet. They are being observed by a senior NCO and the Weapons Officer. At the entrances to the Missile Compartment, more sailors stand with shotguns, watching a little red/white rope strung across the access hatches. Anyone breaking that rope is to be shot. (Right there. Even though the violator might be somebody you've played cards with for ten years.)

As this work proceeds, one of the sailors doing the wiring starts thinking about the sweet thing standing so close.

Now what? Is that what you want to have happen?

I'm not homophobic. As a sailor who served on a fast-attack and a missile sub, I can tell you with complete confidence that gays have served in the military for decades and done great jobs. On my boats, I know who those people were. It's impossible not to know when your entire living environment is actually the size of two double-wide trailers (the rest of a sub is full of equipment). Just like sailors who are not gay, gay sailors put their service before their personal life. The emphasis by activists, of activism, has been wholly ignorant of the basic requirement of military life that the service "owns" you: you get only as much personal life as your commanders dictate. This is independent of any attempt to "jam" such people into a demographic overwhelmingly "straight" and insistent about it.

Get this part right. The job comes first. It's called "duty" - an obligation that comes before family, before friends, and before getting lucky on Friday night with the object of your desire.

Now, for gay interpreters: somebody tell me what the job requires when the basic tenets of the religion of the person you will be talking to as a representative of the United States demand that people like you shall be killed?

Posted by: Radwaste at May 25, 2007 9:05 AM

Antiwar types are fond of arguing that military force can only do so much... It's a very specific tool. Yet in the next breath it's expected to take the lead in fixing other delicate social problems. Military people have many things to teach us, but sexual coherence is probably not one of them.

I'm still bothered by how there are all these pregnant women walking off the carriers at the end of each deployment.

Posted by: Crid at May 25, 2007 9:18 AM

"This is independent of any attempt to "jam" such people into a demographic overwhelmingly "straight" and insistent about it."

Wow. Usually discussions of homosexuality end up with someone using the term "forcing it down our throats," but this is the first time I remember reading about something being jammed into a...demographic.

Posted by: Kevin at May 25, 2007 9:20 AM

Personally, I view the quality of the Arabic translators as the major problem in the military and government services.

In a lot of cases of the military's own translators are not the best when it comes to the Arabic language.

There are 2 kinds of Arabic translators:

-Translators who understand the basics of the language. (Text Book Translators)
-Translators who understand the basics and are capable of interacting in conversant Arabic.

The US State Department has roughly 30,000 employees around the world. Only 300 are knowledgeable of Arabic. 150 are capable of interacting in conversant Arabic with the local population.

I get emails from my DC friends on job posts for Arabic translators for PMCs in Irag. The average pay is about 186K a year. My return email is that my opening bid is at 286K a year. One of the most unreported stories by the US media is that the insurgents personally target the military’s, media’s and the PMCs’ Arabic translators.

Posted by: Joe at May 25, 2007 10:34 AM

Oh yeah? Let's make it $750k.

Posted by: Crid at May 25, 2007 10:42 AM

Plus my own private battalion for protection. The Green Zone has been infiltrated since late 2004.

First order of business: my own self preservation at all costs.

Posted by: Joe at May 25, 2007 10:53 AM

Now, I can understand, if this were the 50s, that there might be some suggestion that a gay guy in the army could be blackmailed.

Don't ask don't tell actually encourages blackmail. Being "out" prevents blackmail.

Posted by: jerry at May 25, 2007 11:15 AM

Good point, Jerry.

And regarding this:

As this work proceeds, one of the sailors doing the wiring starts thinking about the sweet thing standing so close.

Oh, please. The sailors could be heterosexual and the sweet thing could be a chick, or hadn't you heard, there are girls in them thar military these days.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 25, 2007 11:37 AM

I'm still bothered by how there are all these pregnant women walking off the carriers at the end of each deployment.

Crid, it happens before deployment, more. When a carrier deploys, it's for months at a time. Those women who don't want to go can have an illegitimate child at our expense, stay ashore - say, at the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity (SIMA) in Jacksonville - and force a sailor who has served his sea time, and has now rotated back to shore duty, back to sea, robbing (him, generally) of that fair assignment.

We are not allowed to ask this question: Of what use is a pregnant woman in the military?

The entire mess is because the public and their senators think that the personal lives of people is more important - for some reason, the servicemember is now supposed to be able to choose what they do at whatever interval they want. That's just plain nuts.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 25, 2007 11:39 AM

"Oh, please. The sailors could be heterosexual and the sweet thing could be a chick, or hadn't you heard, there are girls in them thar military these days."

I don't think female naval personnel are allowed to serve on a submarine?

Posted by: Joe at May 25, 2007 11:50 AM

Oh, please. The sailors could be heterosexual and the sweet thing could be a chick, or hadn't you heard, there are girls in them thar military these days.

Amy, I'm disappointed with you. Not only did I mention my own service, but I specifically and purposefully did NOT mention the gender of the two doing the checks, AND I mentioned that I know gays who served (I'm out of the Navy now). I notice you didn't answer the question, "Now what?"

The scenario was just to point out the vast difference between what you are familiar with and the dire circumstances of service.

BTW - there are no women on subs. I actually wish there was a sub with an all-female crew, so that performance could be evaluated fairly. I expect that would show some of the same basic differences of gender you, yourself are quick to point out when the difference does not involve the possibility of violent death in combat - or due to operational accident. After all, hunters have gone out for millennia, with visions of success and returning to those who wait.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 25, 2007 11:53 AM

I think I'm not being clear enough, still.

I want the people in the service to concentrate on duty first, but activists talk about the personal life of servicemembers first.

Which kind of person do you want in the service, with the job of killing as quickly and efficiently as possible - with the keys to tanks, fighters, bombers, submarines, carriers, cruisers and the weapons they carry?

Here's an awesome example: what do you think of a politician who puts their personal wants and needs before yours? When you have a person who considers duty first, it doesn't matter who s/he has waiting at home.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 25, 2007 12:06 PM

Which kind of person do you want in the service, with the job of killing as quickly and efficiently as possible - with the keys to tanks, fighters, bombers, submarines, carriers, cruisers and the weapons they carry?

Here's an awesome example: what do you think of a politician who puts their personal wants and needs before yours? When you have a person who considers duty first, it doesn't matter who s/he has waiting at home.

Radwaste,
Since your "awesome" example has precious little to do with the specific situation you first described with the "real, live nuclear missile" and the sexually-in-a-tizz petty officers, I don't quite see your point?

And to answer your second: no, I don't want automated politicians so divorced from all considerations of balance in life they shape policies accordingly.

I find myself frequently deferring to arguments for special armed forces rules.

But I'm damned if I'm to agree to a hunter vs. non-hunter template as the ideal for all human activity or potential.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 25, 2007 1:42 PM

Has anyone stopped to ask the obvious question?

Why are so many Arabic translators gay?

Alternate question - how many of them have decided that getting kicked out of the service for being gay trumps talking to a bunch of people who could give a fuck?

Posted by: brian at May 25, 2007 2:49 PM

> the ideal for all human
> activity or potential.

I thought Raddy was talking about warriors.

Jody, you write like a girl.

Posted by: Crid at May 25, 2007 2:58 PM

So what if I was a writing a bit pinkly, Crid...we all have off moments.

...and it's not at all clear what manner of people Radwaste was referring to - since we appear to have moved from essential "key" holders with the manly task of holding back mushroom clouds to - politicians?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 25, 2007 4:11 PM

Jody - the point is that you don't want a politician to act in their own self-interest. Why would you want military people to do so?

Yes, there is a problem nationwide with allowing people to live as they see fit. No, no one gets to live as they see fit while in the service.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 25, 2007 6:48 PM

Radwaste,
Hi.


Because we are talking - with respect to your example of the manly missile key holders - about circumstances in which following orders musn't get torpedoed by incontinent emotional urges.

Individuals in the armed services don't have their decisions protected by checks and balances, for a start.

Therefore, an incontinent sexual urge may indeed result in a major snafu.

Clinton, however, didn't have his finger on the big red button when Monica Lewinsky called.

(I could have used any similar example relating to an important public office holder).

I think there IS a crucial difference between keeping out armed "warrors" primed for duty and others in public service.

I don't quite follow why you are trying to equate the two?

(Honestly, not argumentatively!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 25, 2007 7:48 PM

"warriors" - sorry.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 25, 2007 7:58 PM

Don't trust her, Raddy! She's trying to start an argument! You can see it in her eyes!

Posted by: Crid at May 25, 2007 8:04 PM

Let her go after Raddy. Fight! Fight! Fight!

Posted by: Joe at May 25, 2007 8:24 PM

So, what's your point, Radwaste?

That being gay, in and of itself, is a problem (your own story kind of gives the lie to that idea).

Or is it that you feel that some kind of active promotion of gayness causes an issue, in and of itself?

For the case mentioned in Amy's original post (with what evidence exists), either this person is being cast out simply for being gay, without any stated evidence where that issue affects his work, or this person is placing the fact that he is gay above his job (I'm not sure there's sufficient evidence one way or the other, but if he's putting his job after his being gay, then I completely agree that he should be removed from that job).

The article in question indicates that his orientation was determined by detection of his communication with his roommate with allegations of homosexual conduct. If that communication was private, and not transmitted using military equipment, then what does it matter, if he otherwise does his job? And if he used military equipment and time to make these communications, would he be held to the same standard if those communications were heterosexual in nature ( as far as I'm concerned, it's poor practice to use military time and equipment for this kind of conduct, whether gay or straight)?

If this person is doing his job, and there are no complaints concerning his conduct *on the job*, then I don't give a shit whether he's gay or not (and if he isn't doing his job, I still don't give a shit whether he's gay or not).

You haven't made an actual case where it matters whether he's gay or not. I can work side by side with the extremely cute blonde with the magnificent breasts, and as long as my duty is to the task at hand, I can subsume my admiration for the girl I'm working with, and do my job.

Or are you arguing that there is some character to a gay man that makes him incapable of doing his job when a cute guy is next to him?

Posted by: Rod at May 25, 2007 10:08 PM

Benjamin said he was caught improperly using the military's secret level computer system to send messages to his roommate, who was serving in Iraq. In those messages, he said, he may have referred to being gay or going on a date.

Rereading the original post, the above stands out. In my opinion, if he's using the 'secret' computer system to send his messages, that's a bit of a problem, right there. But if that's only going to be considered a problem because he's gay (and a similar activity by a straight person isn't treated equally), then that is also a problem. Either you're disciplined equally for using military equipment for personal communication (regardless or orientation), or you're acting under a double standard, and you have no legitimate leg to stand on.

Posted by: Rod at May 25, 2007 10:27 PM

Rod-

We can trust Raddy to speak up if I misrep his position....

But I think his point is that military life has all sorts of mechanics that don't apply in other realms. A military needs what it needs. It's not there as a playground for psych majors or other busybodies who're trying to prove pet theses or express self-righteousness.

> can subsume my admiration
> for the girl I'm working
> with, and do my job.

In the military, you'd be a lot younger, with more ego on the line. (And probably a higher glandular output to manage.) You'd be away from home, perhaps for the first time, and under the the authority of an unrelated superior, also perhaps for the first time. These are crisper lines of authority than anywhere else in the world outside of an airliner cockpit... You'd be going through a final experience of maturation as you forged bonds and boundaries with peers. It might be the first time you'd figured out that not every associate is a friend, or that every one you feel warmth to could be more than an associate. The military handles these moist, fleshy matters through discipline that's been refined over millennia for the benefit of the fighting force. It's just not comparable to a grownup civilian who works next to a cupcake in a cubicle. Military work is often not just a guy "doing my job," it's a life.


Amy, the comment software is still REALLY slow. It takes a long time to read a comments page, and about two minutes to post something.

Posted by: Crid at May 25, 2007 11:51 PM

...or that not every one you feel warmth... etc.


It was late.

Posted by: Crid at May 26, 2007 9:38 AM

There are Jews and Christians who are fluent speakers of Arabic who have been fired from the translation service of the FBI at the insistence of the Muslim translators of Arabic. (This from a news story a while ago.) This practice seems unwise to me.

Posted by: dchamil at May 26, 2007 11:41 AM

Hi, Crid,

I'm not in disagreement with the special requirements of military service, having been there myself.

Mostly, I'm having trouble with the idea that merely being gay (or whatever else) in and of itself is a problem to that military discipline. That's one of the reasons for that kind of discipline, so that different people can work together cohesively, even in exceptional circumstances.

Now, I do find it kind of hard to feel sorry for the guy in this example, since it appears he abused his privileges (and military equipment and protocol), but I'd also be a bit put off if some hetero guy did the same kind of things and wasn't disciplined similarly.

I tend to think 'Don't ask, don't tell' is a problem, because it makes being gay more of an issue than it needs to be. There are only two scenarios that really matter (or should matter). You do your duty and job with all required diligence, regardless of orientation, etc., and you're cool. Or you don't do your duty and job as required, regardless of orientation, and you get the size 12 to the ass. Having a special set of rules for anyone just gets in the way.

Posted by: Rod at May 26, 2007 8:40 PM

> having been there myself.

That makes one us, dude. I was one of Nam's golden babies (b. 1959) who never even had to register for the draft. There were about two and a half year's worth of us... I can't argue with you about what it's actually like in the military.

> Having a special set of
> rules for anyone just gets
> in the way.

Can't argue with that, either. It makes perfect sense!

And you're right about DADT. It was obvious to everyone at the time that --aside from being a weird choice for first battle by a new administration (and a silly one in which to expend honeymoon political capital)-- it was a clumsy bungle of a solution, and something that was going to have to be taken up again.

But still! Gay rights is something that coddled liberals tend to have freaky energy about, and military operations are something for which they have little feel for anyway. Shabby lefties think war is not healthy for children and other living things. So when discussing military matters their fantasies run to converting the whole thing into an organic farming operation, with every (mean-spririted) rifle traded for one of those plinky-sounding New Age harps, the ones played with pencil-y hammers.

I think the military is having a really, really bad time nowadays. It's like the Catholic clergy: The days when it could attract a thoughtful, dedicated and gifted individual simply by offering three squares and a shot at achievement through service are long gone, even though our need for such people is undiminished.

Rather than see the military take the lead on gay rights matters, I'd be happy to have it follow at the rear (no pun intended). They've got enough to deal with. I'd rather see the whole society deal with homosexuality so sensibly that military policy for gays would be a minor alignment.

But this is a pipe dream. The American problem with sex isn't the gays, it's with parents who can't stay married. The navy's problem with sex isn't the gays, it's those floating maternity clinics.

Posted by: Crid at May 26, 2007 9:37 PM

Letn's not forget, for all of this, that the "investigation" mentioned above is the purest political posturing, since the short form of the answer is "we can't keep them in because Congress passed a law, and Clinton signed it, makes 'Don't ask, don't tell' a policy. You don't like it, change the law."

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at May 27, 2007 12:58 AM

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