A Duty to Refuse Military Service
The armed forces symbolise the worst aspects of straight male machismo and are incompatible with gay liberation.
Edward Carpenter, the nineteenth century gay utopian socialist and advocate of homosexual rights, believed that lesbians and gay men have a special destiny. Rejecting the view that gays are'just the same' as straights, he saw homosexuals as a unique class of people. We are different from heterosexuals, Carpenter argued, and that difference should be protected and treasured. Compared to most straight men, for example, gay men are usually less inclined to machismo and violence. We're often more sensitive and tender, according to Carpenter. That's why a disproportionate number of us choose to work in creative and caring professions. This benefits all of society.
Echoing Carpenter's ideas, some contemporary activists argue that instead of conforming to the frequently twisted values of the straight majority, we gays should proudly assert the virtues of our own distinctive homosexual culture, such as the generally gentler, more peaceable nature of most gay men.
Astonishingly, instead of celebrating the social value of the less aggressive disposition of many homosexuals, the majority of lesbian and gay organisations seem more interested in legitimising our participation in the military system of State-sanctioned murder. According to these homosexual conservatives, the'job' of slaughtering human beings is a valid career option just like any other, and gay people should have the same'right' to partake of the killing as anyone else.
This amoral attitude abandons all ethical principles in favour of an unquestioning endorsement of straight militarism.
Swimming against the tide, some of us believe that lesbians and gay men ought to maintain a sceptical attitude towards the institutions of hetero society, supporting those that are worthwhile and rejecting those that are not.
No straight organisation is more deserving of our rejection than the military. It is the apotheosis of straight male machismo. Exalting violence and aggression, the armed forces reek of misogyny and homophobia. Exemplifying the harsh, brutal masculinity that is found overwhelmingly among young straight men, the military encourages and trains this machismo to create a ruthless war machine dedicated to calculated, efficient killing.
It's crazy for lesbians and gay men to want to mimic the macho mentality of bellicose heterosexual males. Instead of us imitating straights by joining the armed forces, we should be encouraging them to join us in rejecting the macho belligerence which breeds violence and war.
Moreover, since we demand human rights for ourselves as gay people, how can it be right for us to enlist in an institution which tramples on the human rights of others? The military denies its own members civil and legal rights. It tolerates bullying and racism, and has brutally suppressed popular movements for national liberation and social justice.
During the Kenyan anti-colonial struggle in the 1950s, over 70,000 Africans were interned without trial in semi-concentration camps, where hundreds died. A decade later, British soldiers were condemned by the Red Cross and Amnesty International for the use of torture against nationalists in Aden. More recently, Argentinean prisoners-of-war were shot dead in cold blood during the Falklands conflict, and dozens of unarmed Irish Republicans have been gunned down in an apparent "shoot-to-kill" policy in Ireland. Do we want lesbians and gay men (or anyone else) to be part of a military system that commits these atrocities?
We should, of course, always defend homosexuals who are being victimised by the armed forces. However, this does not mean we should support an undemocratic, oppressive institution like the military. 0ur experience of prejudice and queer-bashing ought to give us gay people a loathing of violence and a feeling of compassion for the suffering of others, making us disinclined to militarism and war. Instead of copying the aggression of straight men, we should be striving to embrace a set of higher ethical values.
The military embodies everything that is inimical to the human rights of lesbian and gay people: domination, hierarchy, violence, conservatism, uniformity, deference, prejudice, elitism, inequality, and authoritarianism. These military values are not compatible with human liberation in any form, least of all gay liberation.
Above all else, the armed forces is a straight institution which protects straight privilege. The purpose of the military is the defence of the State. Since the State is homophobic, part of what the military is defending is the State's homophobia.
Why should we gays join the armed forces to help protect a phoney democratic system that refuses us equality? To cooperate with those who victimise us betrays the cause of homosexual freedom.
In contrast, by contributing to the evolution of a more peaceful, compassionate civilisation that transcends violence and war, gay resistance to military machismo can, as Edward Carpenter once hoped, benefit all of humanity.
* Peter Tatchell's new book, "We Don't Want To March Straight - Masculinity, Queers & The Military", is published by Cassell, £4.99.
Published as "Out of step, out of time", Pink Paper, 26 January, 1996, and previously in modified form as "Foreign Fields", Tribune, 24 November 1995
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