Read Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf by Randy Shilts Free Online
Book Title: Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf|
The size of the: 32.68 MB
Edition: St. Martin's Press
Date of issue: April 1st 1993
The author of the book: Randy Shilts
Format files: PDF
ISBN 13: 9780312092610
Read full description of the books Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf:So I read this book not necessarily because the topic particularly interests me, but because I read And the Band Played On and fell in love with Shilt's journalistic style. He is one of the many people our society lost because of AIDS and working my way through his three books has brought to my mind again and again that it is a damn shame he wasn't able to continue his work. At the time of his death, he was working on a book about homosexuality in the Catholic church. Which I think would probably have been really interesting, not to mention prescient considering some of the issues regarding priest celibacy that have come about in the past decade or so.
When I started reading Conduct Unbecoming, I wrongly assumed that the whole gays-in-the-military issue was pretty minor as far as how many service people had been affected by the draconian policies of the U.S. military. Shilts disabused me or that notion early on. As many as 2000 people per year were discharged because of homosexuality. This, of course, doesn't count the many more thousands "outed" by the gay purges who took other discharges so they wouldn't have dishonorable on their permanent record.
The stories Shilts tells about the gay purges are some of the most frightening and call to mind not necessarily the McCarthy era, but the Arthur Miller play The Crucible, which of course is an allegory for McCarthyism. But many of the stories are reminiscent of The Crucible because the military seemed to have a habit of bringing in people suspected of being homosexuals and then forcing them or coercing them to reveal the names of other homosexuals in order to avoid or lessen punishment. Basically, it's the method of "if you say this person is X, then we will leave you alone about also being X." I kept thinking of Abigail screaming about seeing other girls in Salem "with the devil" as a way to avoid her own uncomfortable punishment.
I was impressed and enthralled by how Shilts contextualized the lesbian purges as essentially being about gender. As more and more women chose to enter the military, the more men had major problems with serving alongside women. In retaliation, some segments of the military population, because they couldn't evict women from being in the military simply for being women, instead tried and succeeded in evicting quite a lot of women for being lesbians. Some were lesbians, some actually weren't, but one gets the definite impression that it really didn't matter as long as the women were being "separated" (the military's euphemistic term for firing someone).
Some other wow-I-would-never-have-known-this moments:
The Navy has historically been the least accommodating and least understanding about including women and homosexuals. The Navy has carried out the military's gay policies with the most fervor of any branch and they are also the most reluctant to allow women to join and achieve promotion.
The Army and Air Force developed, sort of by fluke, some really forward thinking policies on HIV/AIDS. They decided that no one could be fired because they had HIV or AIDS and that the military would provide them health care. This was in 1987, when it wasn't even until 1992 when civilians were assured they would not be fired for the disease.
There are (were) some incredibly honorable and brave people in the military. Some of the women Shilts writes about, in particular, who were threatened with losing their jobs, children, families, everything, still would not turn on the other lesbians they knew in the military and refused to "name names." Or Copy Berg's father, who also served but came to his son's defense when the army began proceedings to throw Copy out. Copy's father, who was a retired higher-up type guy, lost his own military retirement because of his support for his son. This is the kind of thing that always gets me in stories like this -- even though humans have some major flaws, occasionally we can do some pretty awesome and superhuman things.
Read information about the authorRandy Shilts was a highly acclaimed, pioneering gay American journalist and author. He worked as a reporter for both The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as for San Francisco Bay Area television stations.
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