Never Asked, Didn't Care

By Bill Johnston

Don’t Ask — Don’t Tell! I recently pulled out my Air Force enlistment record and discovered — I was never asked!

Thinking back to 1966 and my four years in the US Air Force the question occurred to me — “When did the military and congressional homophobes start obsessing over gays in the military?

At discharge every veteran receives a large white envelope with a large Department of Defense seal on it. I pulled mine out of my filing cabinet in the basement the other day and took a look. Inside were transfer orders, training records, my military drivers license, my DD Form 214 (needed for any veterans benefits) and I found a copy of my original enlistment form. Other than the fact I was an awful speller I discovered something else. Apparently in 1966 the US Military didn’t care if anyone was gay. I searched for the question. Looked for any group listed that might “tip” someone off to a hidden proclivity — nothing — not a thing — zero!

No one it seems gave a hoot in 1966! What changed by 1992 when this incredibly idiotic policy kicked in? An idiotic policy addressing a “problem” that didn’t exist. Did it come about due to a combination of homophobic army officers, theocratic right wing politicians? One can only speculate — was it a draft dodging president, ill at ease around uniforms and harboring an embarrassment for running out as others in his generation served in a wartime military? Add to the mix Clinton’s total lack of understanding of military law and you begin to understand how we got a really dumb policy on gays in the military.

How do I know there was no problem? Well, my job in the Air Force was as a legal specialist. I worked in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate or more commonly known as “The Legal Office.” Any violation of the law or policy came through us — we knew about it! Every morning we read the police blotters for the military and civilian police. In 1967 I was in charge of reviewing over 1000 Article 15s (the military equivalent of misdemeanors) for three major Air Force bases. I saw everything from attempted murder, rape, assault, incest, bad checks, adultery (punishable in the military) and gold smuggling — but never did I see any incident or policy violation involving homosexual conduct. Conduct that would have fallen under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — widely referred to as “conduct unbecoming.”

During my enlistment I was assigned to Judge Advocate Offices at Air Force Bases with thousands of airmen. I lived in the barracks on three occasions (I took lots of showers with lots of guys) and within this “band of brothers” no doubt were gay airmen but we all did our duty, served our country, respected one another and found a common pride in the uniform of the United States Air Force.

The current policy of “Don’t Ask — Don’t Tell” was established to “fix” something not broken. It is a policy based on ignorance denying patriotic Americans the right to serve their country. President Obama should show the same political courage and moral sense Harry Truman did when he desegregated the US Military by Executive Order. The President needs to issue an Executive Order abolishing “Don’t Ask — Don’t Tell” policy now!

Surprisingly, maybe more to the point is a quote from the father of modern American Conservatism and US Air Force General, Sen, Barry Goldwater: He said: “If I’m in a foxhole I don’t care if the guy next to me is straight or not -– I just want him to be able to shoot straight!”

Bill Johnston is a retired staff organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union and hosts a labor show on KSER 90.7 FM in Everett, Wash. He is chair of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981).

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2010

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