We post often about pro-gay billboards here at Bilerico, both because Indianapolis had a rash of them a few years ago, and because they're one of the few prominent examples of gay people getting out of our little groups and taking our arguments to the people, without a ballot initiative forcing us to. These billboards cause conversation and confront people who would never see a pro-gay message with often religious pleas to be OK with the gay.
The Memphis GLCC set up five, three with overtly religious messages (which are usually the ones that get the fundies riled up), one specifically about marriage, one with a soldier, and one with some kind-looking allies. The soldier one got defaced, though. More than defaced, completely destroyed. Here's what it looked like:
People are saying that it's because of the pro-gay message in the billboard, which is possible. But what does it say about our discourse when we can't see the nationalistic, exceptionalist, and downright violent message in this billboard, or even consider the possibility that someone else had a problem with it?
The Memphis GLCC explains the billboard:
Although we are saddened by yesterday's hateful expression of intolerance, we are proud of the local Memphian that chose to be the face on the billboard. He eagerly served our country and was forced out of the military under the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy. The billboard featured him as a proud marine and displayed his brave message "I'm gay and I protected your freedom." This bravery was met with disrespect.
"Protecting our freedom" my ass. That argument is used to short-circuit any discussion of the military and to make you think, contrary to all evidence, that if you're still breathing and talking, then every military action is justified.
That isn't hyperbole. Every time people protest or disagree with an invasion or escalation of military conflict, a whole array of silencing techniques are used to keep dissent down. Whether its violent protest suppression, exclusion of anti-war viewpoints from major media as not sufficiently serious or loyal to the US, or hating the troops (because of course enlisted men and women plan which wars America goes into! It makes so much sense), the goal of a significant number of powerful Americans is to make it impossible to even thoroughly discuss a call to war.
Many of our elected and appointed leaders are blood-thirsty chicken-hawks who think they can prove their meddle by getting (other people) into war after war. We're in Iraq and Afghanistan now, overstretched in both, tired of these long wars, but what are our leaders discussing? Escalating and prolonging the occupation of Afghanistan and starting a war with Iran, based on the same kind of intelligence that led us into Iraq. As Glenn Greenwald documents, the evidence that Iran will have a nuclear weapon soon just isn't there, but the media is back to photocopying the administration's stories about how dangerous Iran is and several Senators (including my own Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana) are already saying that we need to take military action against Iran, either to cripple their economy (and make people starve) or to destroy military targets (that we're not sure exist).
And the way we talk about all this is how we get into these conflicts in the first place. America's a special place, according to the pro-war mythology, a country designated by God to lead the world. Everything we do in terms of foreign policy is good because it advances our interests, and our interests are always in the best interest of everyone on the planet. By definition, American military actions are good, and therefore we can do anything, and it's good.
That's because all military actions are about protecting people's freedom. We're in Iraq, we were told, to protect Americans' freedom (because Saddam had WMD's and would have taken over the US) and Iraqis' freedom (because Saddam was a terrible dictator, and we'd be able to establish a functioning democracy there in under six months). If you objected to the war, well, then, obviously you just don't believe in protecting people's freedom, you freedom-hating bastard.
I actually happen to hang out with Americans in the military out here from time to time, who are usually nice people who do their jobs and take orders. This isn't about them - some even believe that what they're doing is protecting Americans' freedom (and some of them actually are, since the military doesn't only occupy other nations for their resources).
I got into an interesting discussion with an Air Force guy in which I mentioned the fact that it's now estimated that over a million Iraqis are dead because of America's occupation of that country (don't ask how we got there). He responded that the fact that I have the freedom of speech to say that is only because the military prevented someone like Saddam Hussein from taking it away, to which I responded that while there are quite a few threats to free speech back in America, Saddam Hussein taking over the US and repealing the First Amendment was never remotely possible, and when the military starts fighting against threats to freedom of speech that have actually manifested themselves in the US (police preemptively arresting protesters or terrorist watch lists that always seem to focus on political dissidents instead of actual terrorists, for example), then I might have some respect for his civil libertarianism. Until then, I'll pay my dues to the ACLU because they're actually working to keep speech free.
The "protect your freedom" argument is used so promiscuously it's impossible to take seriously. It is part-and-parcel with the general repugnance many Americans have with discussing wars before we get into them.
The only way to fight against it is to say, "No, the military does just not protect people's freedom. If they were only trying to do that, their budget could be a lot smaller, and they would have far fewer bases all over the world. Their goals are numerous, but the main one is to, through funneling money into no-bid contracts and opening up markets overseas, to keep money flowing to America's rich." As much as people like to say the military protects people's freedom, if you go through all their current operations and cut out all the ones that don't, there wouldn't be much left. People can't claim that the military is basically good, or that being in the military makes one good, because the military "protects our freedom."
"Protecting our freedom" is, quite simply, illogical, and that's the goal. If you don't think too much about it, it makes sense. It becomes a mantra, and we repeat it over and over as the US looks for more enemies out there, more hobgoblins to attack to justify the military's budget and to satiate the constant state of fear we're being told to live in. It's purpose is the exact opposite of an argument; instead of making people think more about a given topic, it's to make people think less and go along with other people's selfish interests.
"I'm gay and I protected your freedom." You don't have to be homophobic to think that that message is just toxic. And you don't have to be anti-military to see that there are many military actions that aren't justified, that aren't at all related to protecting Americans' freedom. Perhaps if the billboard said "I'm gay and I protected your freedom, among other things," it'd at least be more accurate, although that would probably kill the pro-gay message.
And you don't have to buy the argument that the message is toxic to at least see that there might be people out there who think it is. But we can't even stop and think that maybe, after those hundreds of thousands of people protested worldwide against the war in Iraq, after the over one million lives were lost in that country, after all the resources that were squandered to make some chicken hawks feel like real men and some defense contractors very rich, and after all the opposition to these horrors was squashed with calls to "support the troops," that maybe having a message that brings that all back so nonchalantly, so dismissively, would get someone riled up.
This is not to say that DADT is a good policy. On the contrary. These folks sign a contract and go to work, and firing them from their job because of their sexuality is just as wrong as it would be in any other job. I'm wary of the military being an option of last resort for communities that don't have many resources, as unemployment for those under 24 reaches 52%. It's not really an all-volunteer military if you starve, are left without housing, and can't access medical care if you don't join. But it's not like forcing people to stay in the closet, on top of everything else, is going to do anything other than increase suffering.
Sure, the person who vandalized the billboard may have been homophobic. We don't know since we don't even know who did it. And considering how much more acceptable it is to be homophobic in the US than it is to question the military (thanks, in part, to folks who push the "protecting our freedom" argument), more likely than not the billboard was defaced because of the pro-gay part of the message.
But, for all we know, the vandal may have just been a big Patti Labelle fan.