Duty, Honor, Country, a Big Tent, and July 4th

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(photo credit: Gary Burke)

"Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be," General Douglas MacArthur said in August 1962.

220px-Douglas_MacArthur_58-61.jpgI've often thought about these words and whom we owe for our nationhood. Do we owe those who put their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence? The many who joined military service in the various wars America has engaged in or had to fight? Of course - but the picture is much bigger than veterans and founding fathers.

Regular Americans who vote, who pay taxes, who respect the rights of those who lose in contests, who pursue their passions without harming others, who support a system that constrains the power of the presidency, who contribute money to their local playhouse or little league, who get involved in their children's education, who volunteer, or who just become part of the glue holding together a complex society are those who we owe thanks to for supporting the country. And going a bit further, we owe these folks whether they are straight, gay, or any other complexion. There's a lot of diversity in our society -- and the straight crowd never gets things done on their own, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Speaking of the military though -- and the military in my view do deserve our respect, particularly enlisted men and women who don't get the officer perks -- the services are finally becoming an inclusive big tent operation.

This past year, President Obama started the process of dismantling Don't Ask Don't Tell - and thus is shrinking the gap between the norms of the military and the more tolerant and inclusive norms that are increasingly becoming the law of the land throughout the country. Gays and lesbians have always been in the military services, just hidden. I even had the privilege of getting to know Faubion Bowers, one of the gay but when serving closeted staff assistants in Japan to General Douglas MacArthur, some years ago.

But gay soldiers, gay janitors, gay think tank types, gay race car drivers and baseball players, gay writers and cops and firemen and architects, gay teachers, gay boy scouts, accountants, and gay chamber of commerce members all can feel the drama of "duty, honor, country" pulse through their hearts and minds as much as any other person - and America seems to be getting just to the edge of being able to respect this.

air force formal dress twn 2 red 200.jpgA year and a half ago when President Obama spoke at the annual Human Rights Campaign gala, the room was full of soldiers - some in uniform and some not. I advised a close friend who is a captain in the Air Force to think through the consequences of being outed if he wore his mess dress to that dinner. Wherever the President went, there was a ton of media - and that media is not required to respect the private rights of people at a public event. He ended up going in civvies - and leaving his uniform at home. We took pics of it hanging on my wall.

Because of the absurdity and immorality of Don't Ask Don't Tell, my friend could not honorably and without threat to himself salute his Commander in Chief in uniform at a DC dinner.

This idiocy is soon coming to an end. Obama delivered - with enormous assistance from Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, Senators Carl Levin and Joseph Lieberman, former House Member Patrick Murphy, among others.

Presented by

Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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