Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes, and a Marine Corps general

“Water is gay,” a teenager jokes in class, playing with words and concepts.
He refers to the ability of water (acting as a prism) to refract light into rainbows, the colors in the correct sequence of the spectrum, with a rainbow after a storm (or even for Noah after the Flood), and even a secondary rainbow with the colors reversed. (And., by the way, the colors in NBC's Peacock are not in the correct sequence). That is because in water the atoms have an obtuse bonding angle, as every honors chemistry student (or, later, organic chemistry student) knows. Otherwise, there would be no life, we would not be here, because life (and carbon-based compounds) would not multiply. So in a sense, ironically, water is straight, too. Life is, then, a miracle. The rainbow coalition, of course, deals with a lot more than sexual orientation, but when you see the rainbow on a car bumper, that's often the first connection. And then all of the moral questions about individualism v. the group come to mind. At least, one likes to see students connect the dots between mathematics, chemistry, and political controversies (at least in metaphor).

The morality card (as some people see it) got played yesterday as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace, told Congress (and the Chicago Tribune, news story March 12, 2007 by Aamer Madhani, link here , (may need online subscription)), in response to Meehan’s bill (to lift "don't ask don't tell" regarding gays in the military), that he had been brought up to believe that homosexual conduct (as adultery) is morally wrong. This certainly ignited emotion, that could backfire in a time when so many members of the religious right are getting caught in their own scandals. In 1993, much of the debate over gays in the military had focused on “unit cohesion” rather than moral notions, although as I drilled into the topic for my first book, the moral concerns became manifest. In fact, Senator Strom Thurmond had made a comment like this (that homosexuality wasn't "natural") at a hearing at a Norfolk Naval Base in the spring of 1993, a hearing at which Lt. Tracy Thorne had testified. The NBC Today show led off with this story on Tuesday, March 13. Remember that during the 1993 debates, the Marine Corps didn't want married men to enlist either (they didn't want gays, they didn't want straights.)

There is another moral context, however, that makes this comment harmful, or a bit slanderous. That is, the General is suggesting that gay people (gay men, especially) can't share the burden of defending freedom, which can't be taken for granted, or, for that matter, of carrying on the next generation by raising children (serving as role models for them). If so, gay people are second class citizens (like the former slaves) whose interests can be expropriated at a whim to meed the needs of those with families.

This comments through the Chicago Tribune occurred in a backdrop of other public reports. Senator Hillary Clinton has publicly called for a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” and polls in California have suggested that younger voters are much more sympathetic to gay marriage.

Update: 3/14

There are more media reports of drops in gay discharges because of war needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post, Ann Scott Tyson, p A3, "Sharp Drop in Gays Discharged from Military Tied to War Need," March 14, 2007, at this link.

The Washington Post has a scathing editorial on Pace remarks and in DADT in general, March 14, here. "The Right to Serve: Gen. Pace denounces gays and lesbians who are defending their country."

There is also a article from Pauline Jelinek, "No Apology From. Gen. Pace on Gay Stance," March 14, The Washington Post, from the AP, here. Pace reportedly mediated his remarks by saying that he should have emphasized military needs first, but he would not apologize per se for stating her personal opinions on morality.

Here is the text that I sent to nbc4connected: at nbc4.com

It is not appropriate that the personal moral views of the nation's top military officer (General Pace) should set policy. The "don't ask don't tell" controversy (regarding gays in the military) is important because it reflects the reality that freedom cannot be taken for granted and that sharing in freedom's defense is in some sense an obligation of fully equal citizenship. Resumption of the draft or of some sort of semi-compulsory national service has become a real possibility. What would General Pace say about gays if the draft is resumed? He is inviting legal second class citizenship status for homosexuals, beyond what we know today with the marriage issue.

I am not aware that it was read, but I did not watch the entire broadcast.

On March 17, 2007 two male contestants on NBC's "It's Academic" from one high school proudly announced that they were Eagle Scouts. That did call to mind for me the James Dale controversy. The two young men immediately answered a question about Andy Warhol correctly.

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