“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower
My father, a World War II veteran, served on the European front, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and had nothing positive to say about the U.S. Military. Pictures of him in uniform show him tired, dirty, and haggard. He hated every minute he spent as a soldier.
His years in the Service left him with a lifelong antipathy toward authority figures and an abject fear of loud, explosive noises. Throughout his lifetime, he vehemently opposed any U.S. military incursion, convinced that the idiots in charge destined us for disaster. To him, the Armed Services were synonymous with intractable, unwavering stupidity.
I’ve carried his negative views about the military all these years; I protested the Vietnam War, protected my own sons from recruitment, and always considered enlistment in the Service a colossal mistake. As I became more aware of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, I couldn’t understand why anyone, especially if that someone was LGBTQ, would want to enlist.
But, at a recent PFLAG meeting, two young men provided me with an alternative view that shattered all of my preconceived ideas. Two sailors from the Glenview Naval Station spoke about how serving this country has changed over the years. They were obviously proud to be in the Navy and, both of them Gay, expressed that they are accepted and respected.
Compared to my father’s experience of bullying, denigration, and general backwardness by those in charge, these young men spoke with enthusiasm about the “new military.” They go to school, train, and work. Their peers and superiors accept them, and neither of them has experienced discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation.
Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” detractors asserted that it would demoralize the troops if gays served openly in the military. Although LGBTQ individuals did serve, they often did so in secret. If individuals were caught in a homosexual act, they could be dishonorably discharged.
However, in direct contradiction to the dire warnings that there would be a lack of trust and a decline in morale if “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” were repealed, the opposite has occurred. Morale has never been better.
It seems that this generation of enlisted men and women has other things on their minds. They’ve joined, certainly to serve their country, but also to carve out a better life for themselves. The U.S. Military is no longer a dumping ground for high school dropouts or an alternative to prison time. Enlistees are expected to have demonstrated intelligence through academic achievement. In turn, the military provides career training and opportunities for advancement.
The culture of the U.S. Military has also changed to reflect today’s standards and needs as well. Discipline is still important, of course. But, the discipline is designed to build people up, not tear them down. Discrimination and bigotry have no place in today’s Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. There is too much to do, a great deal at stake, and the future of our country to consider.
And best of all, two sailors, who just a few years ago would have been drummed out for their sexual orientation, are happy. They serve with dignity. And they are proud to have earned the respect of their superiors and peers, not in spite of being Gay, not because they are Gay, but simply because they do their job.
The train of the future is running now in the U.S. Military, and wise and brave men and women are on it. They know that their journey requires strength, discipline, rigor, and intelligence. Those who try to stop this quickly accelerating train are the ones who are going to get run over; they are on the wrong side of history.
That train is propelling the rest of the country forward. It’s time to either jump aboard or “lie down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run you over.”
. . . And I’m just a mom who loves her son . . .
(previously published in www.thequ.co)