Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University. Among his books are Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States and Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.
The United States Congress this week passed historic bipartisan legislation by voting to rescind the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy enacted in 1993 mandating that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Over the years, the military dishonorably discharged an estimated 14,000 service members on the so-called "charge" of being "homosexual" under this policy.
As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world's conflict areas, the former policy only exacerbated the problem and discredited our country by eliminating an entire class of people whose only desire was to contribute to the defense of their nation.
This policy will end an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization. It will open a new era in which service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity. Now, a formerly excluded group of talented and committed students can join ROTC programs, and a new cohort of active service members will receive the benefits of educational and career enhancement opportunities.
They will enter into a social institution that often works to prevent genocidal slaughters anywhere throughout the world, and engage in humanitarian and peace keeping efforts - from disaster relief to cooling a number of the world's "hot spots."
While these are all laudable goals, I believe that if we are to achieve a truly equitable society and world, we must reach higher, wider, and broader.
In this regard, history is replete with not-so-illustrious examples of U.S. policy abuses enacted and enforced by the military establishment -- from the extermination, forced relocation, and land confiscation of native peoples on this continent, to the unjustified and contrived war with Mexico, to the racist-inspired incarceration of Japanese Americans in the interior U.S. during World War II, to governmental destabilization efforts and military incursions into such places, for example, as Vietnam and Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippians, and throughout the Middle East - from Israel to Iraq and Iran.
While the reversal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will reform a discriminatory policy, we need to take the next step by actually transforming the military and U.S. foreign policy by challenging overall power inequities and abuses of power, economic exploitation, and the massive inequities between socioeconomic groups within our country and between countries throughout the world.
As a new cohort of openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people enlist and serve in the U.S. military, will they merely assimilate into a system that has been shown often to perpetuate inequities and exploitation? Will they simply aid in perpetuating the status quo?
We must critically investigate the underlying and covert objectives of any particular military action, and ask whether it is, for example, to prevent death and preserve the will of the people in the involved nations, or is it, rather, primarily to serve a U.S. foreign policy that promotes corporate interests in protecting natural and monetary resources valuable to the United States.
The reversal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, while beneficial, needs to be viewed as merely a beginning, for we as a society must remain forever vigilant by keeping watch and critically examining all our social institutions, including the military.