Most of the time, the conservative culture-war efforts are simply annoying. Some far-right activists will try some stunt, it’ll fail in the courts, and the rest of us can focus our attention on real problems.
But it’s much harder to tolerate conservative intolerance when national security is at stake.
This morning’s Christian Science Monitor reports that the Army is preparing to offer a staggering $150,000 retention bonus to service members who are proficient in Arabic, “in reflection of how critical it has become for the US military to retain native language and cultural know-how in its ranks.” Indeed, as the war in Iraq goes on, and the military subsequently finds fewer and fewer people anxious for extended stays in the desert, retaining trained troops is becoming a critical centerpiece of many commanders’ strategies. The supply of Arabic speakers just isn’t keeping up with the demand created by ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The military’s conventional language training program, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., could not churn out enough American soldiers proficient in Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashtu, and Farsi, and the military quickly turned to private contractors to fill the gap,” reporter Gordon Lubold writes. “Numerous programs have sprouted up, including one at Fort Lewis, Wash., where soldiers are given a 10-month immersion program in language and culture.”
The Army is taking almost every step imaginable — from six-figure bonuses to civilian interpreters in the warzone to recruitment campaigns targeting Arab-American communities — to beef up its language capability.
Well, almost every step imaginable. While the military is searching desperately, and willing to pay enormous sums for those proficient in Arabic, the exact same military, at the exact same time, has driven 60 linguists who specialize in Arabic or Farsi out of the military because of their sexual orientation.
Republicans, including John McCain, think this makes sense. I have no idea why.
I’m reminded of the example we learned of a couple of years ago when Bleu Copas, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was thrown out of the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Copas, who joined the Army after the 9/11 attacks out of a sense of duty, was responsible for helping translate intercepted messages from possible terrorists, but he was thrown out anyway.
The Daily Show’s Jason Jones sat down with Paul Cameron, one of the nation’s leading anti-gay activists, who said, “I think the country, on the aggregate, is safer without Bleu in the military.” Asked why, Cameron explained, “Guys don’t want to think about other guys, other fellas, ogling them in the shower or whatever.”
Jones responded, “I know I’d rather die in a terrorist attack than suffer through an uncomfortable shower with a gay.” Cameron grudgingly responded, “Yes.”
Our government agrees with this. Again, I have no idea why.
It’s very simple. What’s more important: translating these communications intercepts, or discriminating against patriotic, gay volunteers who are willing to serve in the military in a time of two wars? It’s one or the other.