Roundup: historians react to DADT repeal

Envelope mailed December 27, 1944. Full details and image credit below.

Since Saturday’s Senate vote repealing the U.S. military’s seventeen-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy regarding gay servicemembers and paved the way for open service, a number of historians with expertise on the subject have offered their perspective. I thought their reactions were worth compiling. (Here are some thoughts of my own on DADT from earlier this year.)

George Chauncey, “Last Ban Standing,” The New York Times

…the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the military has been a crucial issue for the gay movement for 65 years — in part because, during the postwar decades, it served as a model for anti-homosexual discrimination throughout the government and private sector.

Claire Potter, “Why Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Is Important, And What Remains To Be Done”

…I consider this to be an important step — not necessarily towards equality, but towards a basis by which we might imagine an inclusive human rights agenda in the United States and a recognition of the ways in which certain groups are confined by the law and other groups are freed by it.  Repealing DADT is an imperfect way of getting there, as is marriage equality, but they are both necessary moves even if you, personally, find marriage and the military noxious and retrograde.

Tanya Roth, “The Beginning of a Long Road”

Yes, looking to the military’s racial integration successes (and shortcomings) is important for ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and moving forward. But I think it’s a big mistake to focus on racial integration and exclude sexual integration. In fact, I’d argue that it’s paramount for the armed forces to take a good, long, serious look at its history ofsexual integration efforts, success, and – above all – limitations.

And finally, depicted above Brenda Marston of Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection shares, via Facebook, “a WWII envelope in the papers of Richard Schlegel, whom the U.S. army dismissed in 1961 for rumored homosexual activity,” mailed December 27, 1944.

While we’re on the topic, the late Allan Bérubé’s landmark 1990 study Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II is back in print from UNC Press, including an e-reader edition. Margot Canaday’s 2003 article “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship under the 1944 G.I. Bill” is also essential reading.

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The color of Scouting during World War II

Two photographs by John Rous for Office of War Information (from Farm Security Administration-OWI Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, call numbers LC-USW36-473 and LC-USW36-479, links below)
Two photographs by John Rous for Office of War Information (from Farm Security Administration-OWI Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, call numbers LC-USW36-473 and LC-USW36-479, links below)

This year marks the one-hundredth birthday of the Boy Scouts of America. In a new guest post up today over at The Lazy Scholar, I discuss my nagging interest in the Scouts’ history and suggest some ways the digital archive can allow historians to pierce the organization’s own mythology and examine its place in American life. Have a look. (And my thanks to Stephen for the platform.)

One archival resource that I ran out of room to discuss in the post is the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress (LOC), which offers several hundred images of Boy Scout activities. Many of these were created by Office of War Information (OWI) photographers during World War II, and they hint that at how Scouting’s social composition became part of the government’s wartime propaganda effort. A 1942 image, taken by an OWI photographer at the Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago, depicts the African American members of Troop 446. Others depict a multiracial group eating dinner at a Scout camp in New York and Portuguese American boys in New Bedford, MA.

Most striking are the two seen above. On the left: “colored, white and Chinese Boy scouts in front of the Capitol”, holding a poster celebrating the Allied coalition. On the right: a second photo of the same scene, including only the white boy. (The LOC metadata suggests a July 1941 date for the photographs, but that doesn’t seem right: both the OWI and the term “United Nations” originated in 1942.)

Although I don’t think he examines these specific photographs, George H. Roeder’s vividly-illustrated book The Censored War: American Visual Experience During World War Two (1993) establishes their context. The OWI made sophisticated use of photographic imagery—and distribution channels segmented by race and region—to celebrate social harmony on the home front without upsetting existing social arrangements. This pair of images offers powerful evidence that the Boy Scouts participated in both prongs of this effort.