Military has a long history with the allegations of homosexuality. They both have always made strange bedfellows. The leadership of armed forces all over the world, usually traditionalists, has in general seen homosexuals as morally wrong, and a threat to solidity. At the start of a war the enormous
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But in the case of prolonged war those military men who are found in disgraceful conducts such as homosexuality become a problems for the senior military leadership and they become increasingly determined to rid the services of these types of military men. Paul Jackson’s book – One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military during World War II – has discussed this problem in very excellent literary style. In 1990, Allan Berube in his study — Coming out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two –discussed experiences of gays and lesbians in the military of the United States during the World War II.
(Berube 1990, 1-22) The reading of Berube’s book had a great excitement and compelled me to read Paul Jackson’s book on the World War II experiences of surprising Canadian servicemen (and women). Jackson’s book — One of the Boys — is a deeply researched study of homosexuality in the Canadian military during the years of the World War II. The book contains the result of hours of pouring over court-martial transcripts, police reports, psychiatric assessments, and dozens of interviews.
One of the Boys is one of the deeply research researched peaces of writings on the issue as the literature about any feature of gay and lesbian history from the pre-Stonewall period (or to use the Canadian equivalent, before Trudeau’s Omnibus bill) requires widespread investigative literary work. No doubt it was not an easy task to discuss the coded disguising of homosexuality and Jackson has done a wonderful job while deciphering the coded phrases that were used to disguise homosexuality.
In the hypermasculine, heteronormative world of the Armed Forces, Jackson has
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It seems that Jackson intentionally addressed the subject of homosexuality that he broadly defined to be “the ability to derive sexual pleasure from members of one’s own sex” (Jackson 148). By this way in fact Jackson refused to narrowly limit homosexuality to those who self-identified as such, or to exclude those who engaged in homosexual sex for bodily pleasure, rather than emotional love. Jackson has not included in the book the controversial debates over whether homosexuality is innate or learned behavior.
For the reasons of this work, he casts a wide net to cover the very diverse personifications of homosexuality in the Canadian military during Second World War. To be sure, as Jackson points out, military psychiatrists often decided that a person was not a “homosexual,” despite overwhelming proof that the person had engaged in same-sex sexual activities, and often regardless of the claims of the man himself that he was homosexual (Jackson 145).
While the analysis in One of the Boys of the queer experience of World War II is inspiring, there are a few areas in which Jackson’s work might have been stronger. Unlike Allan Berube’s work, Jackson has a very small portion in his book about female homosexuality. However, he seems justified in this omission partly on methodological grounds, since the Canadian military did not target women for courts martial or psychiatric evaluation on this basis. Given that these are Jackson’s main primary sources, one can see how this could pose a major challenge.
In terms of oral history, he asserts that lesbians could not be found to be interviewed because the Canadian Legion Magazine would not allow the word “sexuality” in his advertisements, and that as a gay man he found it difficult to find lesbians to interview (Jackson 22). However, it can be said that this is a rather unsatisfying basis for not including lesbians in the book. Certainly, it might have been better to simply argue that the experience of homosexual women in the World War II is likely to have been qualitatively different from that of men, and consequently out of the range of the book.
Jackson included the occasional reference to the experiences of lesbians in the Wrens. It can be little disappointment for those hoping Jackson’s book will provide the comprehensive examination of lesbianism in World War II called for in Ruth Roach Pierson’s “They’re Still Women After All”. (Pierson 1986, 219) Although the works of Berube and Jackson are good analyses of the subject, but they differ on many occasion.
As the Canadian experience of the World War II was clearly different from that of the United States, and Jackson clearly indicates why and how his methodology is different from that of Berube, it is likely that many readers of Jackson’s book will be well known with that of Berube. In some respects, the differences and similarities between the two countries are well addressed. For instance, the Canadian regimental system, organized by region, is different against the US buddy system that in views of Berube provided cover for homosexual relationships, and certainly fostered them.
On the other hand, Jackson also is of the view that contrary to the American experience found by Berube and John d’Emilio, discharges for homosexuality did not lead to postwar gay activism among Canadian old boys. (d’Emilio 1983, 1-7) However, it would have been useful to test some of the other conclusions of the American experience. For example, to what amount did Canadian veterans who had homosexual experiences during the World War II stay in urban centers where queer networks survived after demobilization?
How did the fight between psychiatrists and military police for authority over the issue of homosexuality play out and what were the larger impacts of this for the psychiatric profession? Berube seems arguing in his book that US psychiatrists went far towards setting up their professional credentials during the World War II; it would be attractive to know if the same held true for their Canadian counterparts and the degree to which identifying homosexuality was important for this.
Jackson’s book reads almost as if it is two books merged together: one a policy analysis, the other a social history. The first three chapters of “One of the Boys” deal with how the different sections of the Canadian military tried to regulate homosexuality. Chapter I looks at the quite confused efforts of the military to describe its policy on homosexuality. Chapter II looks at the court martial proceedings of those accused with homosexuality-related legal offences, while Chapter III discusses how military psychiatrists attempted to declare their authority over homosexuality as a medical issue.
The latter two chapters are oriented around a systematic reading of their respective primary sources: court martial transcripts and psychiatric evaluations. Jackson methodically attracts the attentions of his readers and takes them through the various phases of the court martial and psychiatric assessment processes, providing detailed and personalized accounts of how these two sections of the military dealt with the issue of homosexuality, the first as a moral and legal issue, and the second is trying to make it a medical issue.
Jackson’s arguments in his book make it clear that there was a serious unwillingness on the part of authorities to discharge homosexuals from military service. Courts martial were used primarily to discourage homosexual activity, but rarely led to the discharge of noncommissioned servicemen. More commonly, the soldiers would be sentenced to serve time in a custody, after which they would be allowed to return to service. Officers were more likely to be discharged if guilty was established, but were conversely much less likely to be convicted.
Jackson’s book suggests that the reason here matches the reason as to why psychiatrists were so unwilling, more so than the courts martial, to state that a man was homosexual. The medical model of homosexuality constructed a homosexual as an antisocial individual, a standpoint reflected in the moral standards of the court martial officers. Yet it was hard to settle this conception with the productive, healthy men who stood under examination; so, many were released, especially when they had fellow officers and servicemen keen to vow for their good character innocence.
The first chapter of One of the Boys discusses in details this contrast between official military policy denouncing homosexuality on the one hand and the routine leniency towards homosexual behavior on the other. This attitude of military examines the various facets of the military’s policy on homosexuality as crafted by the medical services, the National Film Board, the military police, and the RCAF. Generally the first chapter presents a rather random and inconsistent approach to homosexual behavior in the Canadian military: ruthless investigations on the one hand, routine denials on the other.
The chapter highlights amusingly in Jackson’s satirical “Routine Order” on homosexuality, in which he describes the de facto military policy on homosexuality, in the absence of an official one. Boiled down to essentials, the de facto policy was to ignore or reject homosexual behavior unless the performer was otherwise a misfit or a behavioral problem. Any punishment should be light for men in combat units, and heavy for noncombatants, unless they were well liked.
Again and again, Jackson discovers that the Canadian military attempted to ignore homosexuality unless individuals were otherwise problematic or were flaunting their sexuality. This silent policy followed from 1940s beginnings of sexuality: all military men were supposed to be male, masculine, and heterosexual, and in the absence of overwhelming proof to the contrary, would be treated as such. In the second half of One of the Boys, Jackson focuses on the social history of homosexuality in the military during the World War II.
Chapters IV and V look at the experiences of queer servicemen in Canada and overseas, and chapter VI looks at the impact of homosexuality on esprit de corps, unity, and confidence. The chapters of the second half of the book rely a lot on oral histories and war diaries in addition to the sources used for the earlier chapters, and paint bright pictures of the wartime experience for queer servicemen. Certainly, these sections bring to mind Desmond Morton’s excellent work on the experience of Canadian soldiers in the World War I.
(Morton 1993, 7-15) In conclusion it can be said that an inspiring amount of research has gone into Jackson’s book, and it would be a remiss if one neglected to mention the visual component of One of the Boys. The book presents an impressive array of war art, including many works by gay war artists that demonstrate aspects of homosexuality and the homosocial bonds that formed during the war. Many of these pieces illustrate homoeroticism and same-sex emotional bonds in the armed forces more clearly than a chapter of text can.
Combined with images from drag shows, stills from NFB films, and photos of young military men together, these pictures add a rich visual element to the text. Jackson should be praised also for his use of frank, open language in unfolding cases of homosexuality during the World War II. Not only does this reflect the actual language used in the records he found, but it is appropriate to the sexually charged material he is dealing with. The book tells the story with frankness and humor. Works Cited Berube, Allan. , Coming out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: MacMillan, 1990).
d’Emilio, John. , Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). Jackson, Paul. , “One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military during World War II” McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press 2004. Morton, Desmond. , When Your Number’s Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War (Toronto: Random House, 1993). Pierson, Ruth Roach. , “They’re Still Women After All”: The Second World War and Canadian Womanhood (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986), p. 219.
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Homosexuals in the Military
Homosexuals have been excluded from our society since our
country's beginning, giving them no equal protection underneath the
large branch of the law. The Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom to
blacks from slavery in the 1800's and women were given the freedoms
reserved for males in the early 1900's with the women's suffrage
movement. But everyone still knows the underlying feeling of nation in
dealing with minorities and women, one of contempt and utter disgust.
Hate crimes are still perpetrated to this day in this country, and
most are unpublicized and "swept underneath the rug." The general
public is just now dealing with the struggle of Homosexuals to gain
rights in America, although this persecution is subtle, quiet and
rarely ever seen to the naked eye or the general public.
The big question today in Homosexuals rights struggles are
dealing with the right to be a part of our country's Military Forces.
At the forefront of the struggle to gain access to the military has
been Female's who have tried to gain access to "All Men" facilities
and have been pressured out by other cadets. This small group of women
have fought hard, and pressured the Government to change regulations
dealing with the inclusion of all people, whether female or male, and
giving them all the same opportunities they deserve. The Homosexual
struggle with our Nation's Armed Forces has been acquiring damage and
swift blows for over 60 years now, and now they too are beginning to
With the public knowledge of "initiation rights" into many
elite groups of the military, the general public is beginning to
realize how exclusive the military can be. One cadet said after "hell
week" in the Marines, "It was almost like joining a fraternity, but
the punishments were 1000 times worse than ever imagined, and the
Administration did not pretend to turn there back, they were
instrumental in the brutality." The intense pressure of "hell week" in
the Marines drove a few to wounding themselves, go AWOL, and a few
even took there own life. People who are not "meant to be" in the
Military are usually weeded out during these "initiations" and forced
either to persevere or be discharged dishonorably. The military in the
United States has become an elite society, a society where only few
In a survey taken in 1990, the United States population on a
whole is believed to consist of 13-15% Homosexuals. This figure is
believed to have a margin of error on the upward swing due to the fact
that most homosexuals are still "afraid" of their sexuality and the
social taboos it carries along with it. With so many Homosexuals in
the United States, how can the military prove its exclusion policy
against Homosexuals correct and moral? Through the "long standing
tradition and policy," says one Admiral of the U.S. Navy. But is it
fair or correct? That is the question posed on Capitol Hill even
today, as politicians battle through a virtual minefield of tradition
and equal rights.
Historically, support for one's military was a way to show
one's patriotism, if not a pre-requisite for being patriotic at all.
Society has given the military a great deal of latitude in running its
own affairs, principally due to society's acknowledgment that the
military needs such space in order to run effectively. The military,
in turn, has adopted policies which, for the most part, have lead to
very successful military ventures, which served to continually renew
society's faith in the military. Recently, however, that support has
been fading. The Vietnam War represented both a cause of diminishing
support for the military by society as well a problem. The Vietnam War
occurred during a period of large-scale civil disobedience, as well as
a time where peace was more popular than war. Since the effectiveness
of the military depends a great deal upon society's support, when
society's support dropped out of the war effort, the war effort in
turn suffered. The ultimate defeat of the United States in the Vietnam
War effort only lead to less faith in the military's ability. This set
the stage for society becoming more involved in how the military was
The ban on homosexuals serving in the military, was originally
instituted in 1942. Though some of the reasons that were used to
justify it at the time have been debunked since-that homosexual
service members in sensitive positions could be blackmailed, for
instance ("Gays and the Military" 54)-the policy was largely an
extension of the military's long-standing policy against homosexual
acts. At the time, the prevailing attitude was that homosexuality was
a medical/psychiatric condition, and thus the military sought to align
itself with this school of thought. Rather than just continuing to
punish service members for individual acts of sodomy, the military
took what was thought to be a kinder position-excluding those people
who were inclined to commit such acts in the first place, thus
avoiding stiffer penalties (including prison sentences) for actually
As society and the military came to be more enlightened about
the nature of homosexuality, a redefinition of the policy became
necessary. In 1982, the policy was redefined to state that "a
homosexual (or a lesbian) in the armed forces seriously impairs the
ability of the military services to maintain discipline, good order
and morale.'" (Quoted in "Out of the Locker" 26) Essentially, it was
reasoned that homosexuality and military service were incompatible,
and thus homosexuals should be excluded from the military. Only in
1994 was this policy changed, and then only the exclusion of
homosexuals-acts of homosexuality or overt acknowledgment of one's
homosexuality are still forbidden in the military. But we must ask
ourselves, why was this ban upheld for so long?
The primary reason that the military upheld its ban against
gay service members was that it was necessary for the military to
provide "cohesiveness." Society bent to accommodate homosexuality. The
military, however, cannot bend if it is to effectively carry out its
duties. The realities of military life include working closely while
on duty, but the true intimacies "are to be traced to less bellicose
surroundings-to the barracks, the orderly room, the mess hall. If
indeed the military can lay claim to any sense of `organic unity,' it
will be found in the intimacy of platoon and company life." (Bacevich
31) The military demands an extreme amount of cohesiveness, and this
is very much reinforced in barracks life. You must sleep with, eat
with, and share facilities with your fellow platoon members. Life in
the barracks is extremely intimate. Men must share rooms together, and
showers are public also. Having homosexuals be part of this structure
violates this cohesiveness so the military says. Men and women are
kept in separate barracks much for the same reasons.
However, the true purpose behind barring gay service members
is how the individuals who are part of the military feel about them.
Members of the military are more conservatively minded people, but,
moreover, they are overwhelmingly opposed to having homosexuals among
their ranks (Hackworth 24). To then force these individuals to serve
with gays only undermines the morale of the military. And when morale
is undermined, the effectiveness of the military plummets as well. The
leadership of the military has always been persistent in its
position-"Up and down the chain of command, you'll find the military
leadership favors the ban." (Quoted in "Gays and the Military" 55).
And, as one navy lieutenant put it: "The military is a life-and-death
business, not an equal opportunity employer." (Quoted in Hackworth 24)
No one is doubting that gays have served in the military. Ever
since Baron Frederich von Steuben (a renowned Prussian military-mind
and known homosexual) served as a Major General in the Continental
Army (Shilts 7), there have been homosexuals serving in the military.
Even today there exists a Gay American Legion post in San Francisco
("Gays and the Military" 55). However, the general consensus is that
allowing them in the service represents a rubber-stamping of their
existence rather than a concerted effort to discourage it. Though the
homosexual lobby often cites the fact that gays have always served in
the military as a justification for lifting the ban, this sort of
reasoning is invalid. There are many other types of behavior that the
military has been unable to completely eradicate, such as discharge
and use of illegal substances. No one would ever deny that these
things happen in the military. But the point is that if they were made
legal, there would be more instances of them. To use the lack of
perfect implementation as a pretext for legalization is equally absurd
in the civilian world: Do we legalize criminal behavior on the grounds
that "people have always done it"?
Another parallel that is frequently drawn with gays in the
military is that of the situation of women in the military. Though
largely a male institution-"Symbolically, the military represents
masculinity more than any institution other than professional sports"
(Quoted in "Gunning for Gays" 44)-women have been a part of the
military since World Wide II and the women's support units have been
abolished since 1978 (Moskos 22). But, like that of race to
homosexuality, the comparison is invalid. Women are not permitted in
combat units (Towell 3679)-an exclusion that for homosexuals would be
hard to implement, at best. They also have separate barracks and
facilities, which would be equally as unpractical to homosexuals.
In 1994, Bill Clinton, by executive order, implemented a
policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." Homosexuals can be in the military
so long as they do not violate rules against homosexual acts and do
not announce themselves as being gay. Already severely disliked among
members of the military (Hackworth 24), President Clinton received
criticism from both sides of the issue for the implementation of this
policy. Members of the military were upset at the legalization of
homosexuals serving in the military, and members of the gay lobby (and
their supporters) were upset that a full lifting of the ban was not
implemented. Many were also concerned that this violated gay service
members' right to free speech, though members of the military do not
hold this right.
The movement to have the ban on homosexuals in the military
lifted came, for the most part, from without (society) rather than
from within the military itself. The military, by and large, has
always remained opposed to the lifting of this ban. But the transition
of the control of the military from the military itself to the
political world has been a sign of society's changing attitude toward
the military. The lifting of the ban seemed not a matter of dealing
with the reality of military life or an effort to create a more
effective military, evidenced in such statements as "Resisting the ban
is important, but so is opposing militarism" ("Cross Purposes" 157)
and "the (end of) the Soviet Union would herald not just a new
American foreign policy but, more radically, a new American political
culture free from militarized pride and anxieties." (Enloe 24) It
becomes increasingly questionable whether those who would have gays
serve in the military having the welfare of their own ideals, rather
than the welfare of the military, in mind when considering policy.
Indeed, most of the military considers this to be the case. (Hackworth
If the admission of homosexuals into the military causes
adverse effects on the morale of the soldiers, then the debate should
be re-opened there. The military's function is to protect democracy.
The sacrifices associated with military service may be very great-up
to giving up one's life. Excluding homosexuals from military service
seems petty, everyone should be allowed to defend their country.
Moreover, the politicizing of such issues undermines the military's
faith in the civilian leadership that guides it. The military is
quickly loosing its prestige, its traditional conservative values, and
that is a good thing for most Americans. Reinstating the ban would be
a gesture of utter and sheer digustedness in our military. Having
homosexuals in the military is a matter of military effectiveness-not
of the homosexuals' ability to perform military duties, but of the
morale of the military as a whole. And, in the military, it is always
the good of the whole which must be considered before the good of the
individual. The ending of the Cold War and the re-definition of the
military's mission does not mean that we should make the military less
effective. If a policy in regards to the military does not improve its
effectiveness, then it should not be implemented. But when the
implementation means giving a chance to few who would like to serve
out great nation, than it should be considered legal.
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