Ere He Catches The Recruiting Sergeant’s Eye

The United States Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to repeal the Clinton-era “don’t ask don’t tell” policy restricting the service of gay people in the United States military. Coupled with the 250-175 vote for repeal in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, this means the policy is effectively dead, the bill awaiting only the president’s signature.

That DADT would be repealed during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency was an inevitability to anyone who both listened to, and believed, President Obama, and Massachusetts Congressmember Barney Frank.

In April of 2008, then-candidate Obama told the Advocate that he supported DADT repeal, and that he believed repeal was something he could “reasonably” accomplish during his presidency. In July of that year, still a candidate, Obama told the Military Times that repeal “is not something that I’m looking to shove down the military’s throats,” that “I want to make sure that we are doing it in a thoughtful and principled way.”

In December of 2008, after Obama had been elected president, together with a Democratic Congress, Congressmember Frank said: “I’m confident we’ll be able to repeal [DADT] in the first Congress, in the first two years—but I think the priority has to be to get the Iraq policy set, and then move to repeal it.” Frank repeated much the same message to the New Yorker a month later: “After the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come.”

Retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, one of more than a hundred senior military officials who signed off on a November 2008 statement supporting DADT repeal, stated at the time that it was important for the Obama administration to first lay the groundwork for such a repeal. “I think that they’re going to want to talk to a lot of people, including the military leaders—talk about how it can be implemented, what the ramifications and implications are, and how they can go forth on a step-by-step process,” Barnett said. “And I personally would not ask for anything more than that.”

Throughout 2009, President Obama met numerous times with senior Pentagon officials to discuss DADT repeal. In January of 2010, in his State of the Union address, he pronounced repeal a priority, and vowed to work with Congress to accomplish it by the end of the year.

Several days later, both Obama’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that they favored DADT repeal. Mullen’s support, in particular, surprised not only gay activists, but also members of Congress.

Gates shortly thereafter announced an “exhaustive” nine-month Pentagon review of the DADT policy, which ultimately concluded that repeal would not only not result in the destruction of the United States military, but was either supported by, or mattered not a whit to, some 70% of active-duty military personnel.

In October of 2010, President Obama told a group of liberal bloggers that he was pursuing a strategy that he expected to result in the repeal of DADT during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress:

Q: Well, can I ask you just about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” just following up? I just want to follow up. Because you mentioned it—

Obama: Yes, sure. Go ahead.

Q: Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to—

Obama: Yes.

Q: And you’re going to be involved?

Obama: Yes.

Q: Will Secretary Gates be involved?

Obama: I’m not going to tip my hand now. But there is a strategy.

Q: Okay.

Obama: And, look, as I said—

Q: Can we call it a secret plan?  (Laughter.)

Obama: I was very deliberate in working with the Pentagon so that I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs being very clear about the need to end this policy. That is part of a strategy that I have been pursuing since I came into office. And my hope is that will culminate in getting this thing overturned before the end of the year . . . Now, as usual, I need 60 votes. So I think that, Joe, the folks that you need to be having a really good conversation with—and I had that conversation with them directly yesterday, but you may have more influence than I do—is making sure that all those Log Cabin Republicans who helped to finance this lawsuit and who feel about this issue so passionately are working the handful of Republicans that we need to get this thing done . . . [T]he only really thing you need to do is make sure that we get two to five Republican votes in the Senate . . . Because what I do anticipate is that John McCain and maybe some others will filibuster this issue, and we’re going to have to have a cloture vote. If we can get through that cloture vote, this is done.

Prior to the Senate vote to repeal, cloture on a McCain-led filibuster was achieved by a vote of 63-33.

Now that DADT repeal has indeed been accomplished, will there be a retraction of the hundreds of thousands of hot words spewed over at the shriek shack these past many months, condemning the Jim Crow homophobe Barack Obama, and his running-dog lap-dog Barney Frank?

Of course not.

Bill Clinton too entered the Oval Office resolved to allow gay people to serve openly in the US military. He had airily declared out on the campaign trail that it seemed like a good idea to him. But, once in office, things didn’t work out so good. Because the four-starred uniformed gents quite definitely weren’t ready, and neither were the yahoos in Congress, nor the yahoos who sent them there.

And so, even as Clinton wished to explicitly protect gays in the military, Senator Sam Nunn served as chief carny barker for various assorted beribboned potentates, scholastic hacks, and excitable backwoods snake-handlers, all of whom, afeared the Republic would Faint Dead Away if openly gay people were permitted to take up arms, sought to enshrine in federal law a flat ban on gays in the military.

Colin Powell, then serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and having learned how to maneuver amid the muddle-headed and the mad while serving in multiple positions during the disturbed End Times of the Reagan administration, quietly and methodically assembled support for a “compromise,” in which gay people might serve, so long as they did not openly declare themselves, or—jeebus save us—actually engage in sexual congress. In return, the military would cease its punitive “homosexual hunts.” Clinton, eager to put the issue behind him, so that he could get on with bungling health care, went along, and so did Nunn & Co. And so Powell’s policy, soon dubbed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” sailed through Congress, to be anchored into federal law as 10 USC 654.

Powell’s subsequent Obama-era apostasy from his own policy, which I wrote about on this blog in July of 2009, was part of the extended, elaborate kabuki show that resulted Saturday in DADT repeal. As I observed at the time:

While maintaining that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy “was correct for the time,” in an appearance this past Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Powell signaled that it is now time for that policy to go.

It is because Powell is a heavyweight to career military people that his pronouncements on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” matter. Both Obama and Congress are ready to move on from that policy. The resistance resides within the military itself. And among the bluenoses, of course, and the tub-thumpers of the rightwing noise machine, ever ready to mobilize them. But the bluenoses will matter not a whit if the military people are prepared to move. Obama, who is something of a gradualist himself, is presently prodding his military officials, both those on the inside, and those, like Powell, on the outside, to move them.

As Aubrey Sarvis yesterday observed, George II holdover Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, “has moved from ‘the president and I feel like we’ve got a lot on our plates right now and let’s push that one [DADT] down the road a little bit’ (March) to ‘if we do it’ (April) to seeing ‘if there’s at least a more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed’ (last week) . . . In his press conference last week, the Secretary said the question is ‘how do we begin to do preparations’ and at the same time how does ‘the administration move forward in terms of asking the Congress to change the law’?”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, appearing on the same edition of State of the Union as Powell, said of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that “it’s very clear what President Obama’s intent here is. He intends to see this law change.” And “I am internally discussing that with my staff on how to move forward and what the possible implementation steps could be.”

All of this can of course be frustrating to those who regard “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as silly and insulting, which it is, and who want it gone, which it will be. As with most things in life, it’s just going to take longer than it should.

As the Obama administration painstakingly turned the slow, stubborn battleship of the US military towards DADT repeal, even Sam Nunn, in early December of this year, daubed on a little facepaint and signed on to the kabuki show, opining that DADT “should be overturned” because “society has changed.”

What Obama learned from Clinton’s failure on health care was to craft something that would keep those entities that had killed health-care reform under Clinton—the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the AMA—on the sidelines. What he learned from Clinton’s failure on permitting gays to openly serve in the military was the necessity of first poking and prodding the military itself into at least grudging public acceptance of the policy; the military’s acquiescence would then drag along enough grumblers to surmount that 60-vote Wall Of No erected in the United States Senate by the GOoPers, to oppose any and all initiatives pursued by the black man.

Powell and Nunn and Gates and Mullen, statements from battalions of retired generals and admirals, the Pentagon’s “exhaustive” study—all designed to accustom the military to the inevitable . . . which would then provide sufficient asbestos-underwear for that handful of GOoPers required to leap the Wall of Fire maintained by the wild-eyed ululaters of their own party, in order to cast the final votes necessary to secure repeal.

Out on the left, meanwhile, gay-rights activists, and particularly gay former and current military personnel, kept the pressure on, so that Dems were not allowed to slide into thinking the issue wasn’t important.

And lo: now it’s done.

And now that gays may serve openly in the US military, it is time to move on to other important matters. Namely, ensuring that no one serves in the US military.

As I have said here, and elsewhere, at length, and numerous times, there is not a single sensible reason why the United States needs a military. The Founders did not intend this country to maintain a standing army, which is why the Constitution specifically prohibits army appropriations of more than two years. The US is at peace with its neighbors, Canada and Mexico; therefore, it does not need an army. So the army should be eliminated. As the only legitimate use for an air force is in support of ground troops, it should be eliminated as well. The Marines need to be folded back into the Navy, from whence they sprang; they are support troops for ships, that’s all they are; that they are sent to fight in landlocked countries like Afghanistan is madness. Of course, since we already possess a Coast Guard, perfectly capable of patrolling the waters of the continental United States (Alaska and Hawaii are imperial possessions, and should be permitted to go free, as should all overseas territories, possessions, protectorates, and the like), we can go ahead and get rid of the Navy, too—Marines and all. Make a clean sweep.

The warrior ethos: folks, it’s over. This world, it doesn’t need any more warriors. What it needs are healers.

Many moons ago, over in the shriek shack, it was tiggers thotful spot who proposed that it should not be possible to enter a military recruiting station in this country without first passing through people committed to counter-recruiting. A new sort of “Operation Rescue” should be inaugurated and vigorously pursued, one which works to prevent any more sausages from walking eyes wide shut into the sausage-grinder.

An empire requires cannon-fodder. The US, alas, is an empire, with cannon-fodder stashed away at more than 700 bases in 60 countries worldwide. This needs to end. From the top: not so easy to end it. But here at the bottom, in the homes of every human being in this land, deprive the empire of our sons and daughters as fodder, and the empire ends.

People gifted with money, such as George Soros, should be prevailed upon to deposit monies into a fund that can be drawn upon by those who would otherwise succumb to the lure of the recruiter for economic reasons. Anyone considering slipping inside a uniform should instead be enabled to receive an equivalent amount of money to remain in free clothes.

Military recruiters should be forbidden from dragging their dark arts into the nation’s schools. Until they are so prohibited, they must be countered with equal time devoted to the sort of visual and aural aids referenced in the passage below, written by Willi Heinrich, who served four years as a combat infantryman in the German army during WWII, and who speaks here, as a novelist, through a hunted German Jew:

For the French Verdun is something like a national shrine, but in the wrong sense, it seems to me. Instead of pointing a warning the military achievement is glorified. But that is not the way to speak for those who paved the road to Verdun with their bones. When we sing the national anthem in a military cemetery it is, of course, a very moving event, but it distorts the true nature of the matter. We should rig up giant loudspeakers and relay recordings of the screams of the wounded and dying and then no one would ever forget that cemetery[.]

We ought not to play anthems over their graves or make solemn speeches in remembrance of them. A people which is proud of its war dead has learned nothing from the war. This is only my personal opinion, but as long as we have no stronger feelings than a bad conscience about our dead when we talk of them, then there will always be other wars. It all began with falsehood and it will one day finish with falsehood: that is what I mean by inevitability. Lies breed death, death breeds lies and so it goes on. By distorting the meaning of our existence we have legitimized mass murder.

George Orwell astutely foresaw our age, when he wrote:

Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.

And astutely described the means to the end, when he wrote:

The truth is that any real advance, let alone any genuinely revolutionary change, can only begin when the mass of the people definitely refuse [] war and thus make it clear to their rulers that a war policy is not practicable. So long as they show themselves willing to fight “in defence of democracy,” or “against Fascism,” or for any other flyblown slogan, the same trick will be played upon them again and again[.]

Armed conflict is over. If the same sort of energy is expended into making it over, as was expended in securing the right of gay people to openly serve as “the same trick [is] played upon them again and again,” we can make it over.

Eventually. Someday.

In the meantime, there will always, as Orwell foresaw, be a “reason” to fire the fodder. But the reason is never good enough. Not to the dead. As WWII South Pacific combat vet James Jones understood, when confronted at the Lincoln Memorial with the words of the Gettysburg Address:

“It’s just beautiful bullshit,” he blurted. “They all died in vain. They all died in vain. And they always will!”

One human life is all any one human being will ever have. To fire it as fodder, is folly. Please: make it not so.

Spring comes to Kirrie, all the world’s in bloom
Winter is forgiven now, fooled by April’s broom
Kirrie, oh Kirrie, you were aye my hame
Till Napoleon’s bloody cannon hit their aim

Jeannie, oh Jeannie, I am surely done
Stricken down in battle, at the mooth o Boney’s guns
Jeannie, oh Jeannie, aye sae dear tae me
Let me hold you in my mind afore I dee

For the cold returns in autumn
When the wind rakes the trees
And the summer lies forgotten
In the cold bed of leaves
As winter begins, aye mind Boney
It wasn’t only you
Who was broken on the fields of Waterloo

Surgeon, oh surgeon, leave me to my pain
Save your knife for others, who will surely rise again
Surgeon, oh surgeon, leave my blood to pour
Let it drain into the bitter clay once more

Daughter, oh daughter, listen dear tae me
Never wed a soldier, or a widow you will be
Daughter, oh daughter, curse your lad to die
Ere he catches the recruiting sergeant’s eye

Boney, oh Boney, war was aye your game
Bloody field your table, cannon yours to aim
Boney, oh Boney, we aye lived the same
Drilling laddies not to fear the muskets’ flame

For the cold returns in autumn
When the wind rakes the trees
And the summer lies forgotten
In a cold bed of leaves
As winter begins, aye mind Boney
It wasn’t only you
Who was broken on the fields of Waterloo

To hear the song above, you want to go to 3:26, in the video embedded below.
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7 Responses to “Ere He Catches The Recruiting Sergeant’s Eye”


  1. 1 soothsayer December 19, 2010 at 9:09 am

    yes yes and yes

    • 2 bluenred December 20, 2010 at 9:28 am

      Thank you for that. Over at the shriek shack, I used to use that—war is over if you want it—as a diary tag. Sad thing is, can’t even make it so, there.

  2. 3 possum December 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    “This world, it doesn’t need any more warriors. What it needs are healers.”

    Absolutely right on. Why do so many have so much trouble seeing the truth of your statement? Is making money by selling guns and promoting war so far ahead in the race these days?

  3. 5 possum December 24, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Way past time for a new message. Humankind has for far too long been its own worst enemy. At the current rate we will destroy ourselves long before Nature takes charge and boils us in our own polluted environment.

  4. 7 Julia Rain Wellman November 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I like the term “60-vote Wall Of No”. Though I suppose we’ll be doing better against it come January? One can hope.

    I grew weary of the DADT debate. Obviously gay people should have the right to do the same things straight people can do, but it’s something no one should be doing in the first place.

    Oh, I love that idea of counter-recruitment at those awful centers. Every time I pass one I shudder. The older I get, to the point where I realize so many in the military are younger than I am, the more deeply disturbed I am by the idea that this country brainwashes its children and send them off to kill and to die for its own benefit. And not even its own benefit. The country as a whole most decidedly does not benefit.


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