Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lessons Learned About Gays By Top Military Brass

I believe something in Randy Shilts' Conduct Unbecoming is relevant and should be kept in mind when looking at the opposition by some to repealing DADT.

In 1979, Dan Stratford was a young cadet at the United States Air Force Academy. Throughout the 1970s & 80s the NIS, CID and other military investigative bodies conducted great purges of gays from all levels. This resulted in highly questionable investigative methods along with folks being snared who shouldn't have been. In this case, Stratford never told anyone he was gay (nor does Shilts indicate if he really was or not) and was never caught in any homosexual act. Yet his roommate suspected that Stratford was, and rifled through his personal stuff to find evidence to turn over to authorities. What he found was a letter from a gay friend which said nothing about Stratford's sexuality. However, he was still forced to resign for "associating with a known homosexual". What Shilts writes next I believe is important to note as this still effects matters today:

Perhaps the most enduring impact was not on the gay students, however, but on the entire student body, which learned lasting lessons from the ongoing gay purges at the service academies. Cadets learned that rifling through another student’s desk and reading their personal letters was justified if it resulted in the dismissal of a homosexual; that normal rules of justice did not apply; that homosexuals had no rights, only punishments; that no expense was too great to deter the enforcement of the ban on homosexuals; that merely “associating with a known homosexual” could be grounds for punishment; that it was in the natural order of things that homosexuals just disappeared. Even if some cadets did not believe this was right, and there were clearly some who did not, the events of the year showed that the system was set up in such a way as to be in accord with those who did and that it was best to hold one’s peace.

These were the lessons taught to a very important audience: The people in the Air Force Academy in 1979 would be a large share of the officers in midlevel Air Force management in another ten years, major making career decisions for others. Five years later, they would be lieutenant colonels and colonels in senior staff positions at the Pentagon, and, five years after that, the best of them would be earning their first generals’ stars. Then they would work their way up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because that was where Academy graduates ended up; they would be the very people who would run the military through the first decade of the twenty-first century.

UPDATE: At the forums where I posted this entry today, I received an objection from one advocate of DADT. His comments and my reply follow:
I wasn't there but if the roommate suspected he was 'gay' and was so uncomfortable with living in the same room that he went to the extreme of searching another man's possessions to find evidence that could be used to get rid of him, I suspect that he asked to be moved to another room and was told no. He then did what he did in desperation. This should tell you that some people are adversly effected by having to live in close quarters with a 'gay' person. This is why homosexual conduct is incompatible with military service. Why Dan Stratford didn't defend his honor in the fight of his life if he wasn't 'gay' is beyond me. Instead he cut a deal and got his diploma and an honorable discharge. The armed forces allows those things for the good of the service and it's image.

And yet if you've read the whole thing, beyond doing a Google search on Shilts' book, you'll note several things:

1. Stratford certainly wasn't the only one forced out for "associating with known homosexuals". These were witch hunts that were conducted then, especially against women.

2. Most people accused at that time of being gay, whether they really were or not, were railroaded into being discharged.

3. Nowhere did Shilts indicate what Stratford's sexuality was nor did the AF have anything indicating the man was gay.

4. Stratford's roommate was never punished for breaking what I'm willing to bet was a violation of at least the Air Force Academy honor code.

Since you've found Shilts' book online, look up the case of Barbara Underwood. She was one of many that the Navy attempted to railroad during the purges of the 70s & 80s on the flimsiest of evidence. Fortunately for her, she was one of the few who fought back and actually won (a 2-1 vote btw). Underwood was straight and engaged at the time of being accused, but that didn't stop the military from trying to kick her out as a lesbian. She brought in witnesses to prove that she wasn't gay, but interestingly enough the Navy didn't give a damn about what she did admit to:
During the course of the hearings, one petty officer had admitted to having sex with Barbara Underwood, a lower-ranking enlisted woman directly under him in the chain of command, and another officer had admitted to adultery. Under the UCMJ, both offenses were punishable with prison sentences, but neither sailor was ever charged or even investigated.