Corps/corpse: The U.S. Military and Homosexuality

Article excerpt

I examine testimony of over thirty military witnesses during four days of 1993 congressional hearings addressing the controversy over gays and lesbians serving openly in the United States military. Witnesses dispute two major topics: the "nature" of the military, and the "nature" of homosexuals. These topics parallel dual meanings of "corps" that structure this controversy--corps as a social body and corps as the flesh of physical bodies. More broadly, I argue that the rhetorical strategies of incorporation and disincorporation function as indices of power, for these strategies are unequally available to the disputants and engender disparate rhetorical effects.

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IN 1992, U.S. presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton proposed lifting the ban against gays and lesbians openly serving in the United States military, and during the next several months, he was dialectically enjoined by military representatives, members of Congress, political activists, pundits, and many others. A compromise policy, the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," emerged, was approved by Congress, and signed by President Clinton in November 1993 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994. Rather than abating political controversy, however, the policy catalyzed bouts of debate over the qualities of the U.S. military and the characteristics of gays and lesbians. Discharged gay and lesbian soldiers have challenged the policy in courts as their numbers increased each year between 1996 and 2001, a trend only recently reversed in 2002 ("Military Discharged," 2003). Furthermore, news reports tell of six student linguists, gay soldiers training as Arabic translators, who were dismissed from the military just months after Bush Administration and military officials' post-September 11 lamentations that there were too few Arabic translators in the military. (1)

Notably, the June 26, 2003, Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas rejecting that state's sodomy law as unconstitutional augurs a "reinvigorated push" (Price, 2003, p. 4) to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Lawrence overturned the Supreme Court's 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision that upheld the state of Georgia's ban on consensual gay sex. Because "Bowers has been cited by lower federal courts in upholding the military's ban on open homosexuality in the ranks" (Lane, 2003), the Lawrence decision might well function to grant legal warrant to challenge the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. Indeed, less than two weeks after the Lawrence decision, former soldier Loren S. Loomis filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban, in part on the basis of the Lawrence decision ("Gay Man," 2003). Two other men who engaged in consensual sex with women but were discharged under the "Don't Ask ..." policy have also cited the Lawrence decision in their appeals to be reinstated to the military (Price, p. 4). It remains to be seen how much legal leverage the Lawrence majority's arguments will provide, but according to a former legal official in the Clinton administration, "The military's policy will definitely be harder to defend after this case" (Lane). In sum, a decade after its implementation, the "Don't Ask ..." policy is under renewed consideration on a number of fronts: citizens and scholars alike might expect to witness a resurrection and reappraisal of the arguments that dominated this controversy nearly a decade ago.

The continuing controversy over gays and lesbians in the military demands critical scrutiny of key discourse events in the development of the "Don't Ask ..." policy. The policy stands as the most recent articulation of the proper place of gays and lesbians in relation to the military, and its key discourse events establish a rhetorical framework for the types of evidence, claims, modes of reasoning, and spokespeople considered to be potentially persuasive. Among the many discourse events related to the development of the policy, I examine two series of congressional hearings that occurred over a period of four days in May 1993--"Policy Implications of Lifting the Ban on Homosexuals in the Military" on May 4 and 5, and "Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces" on May 10 and 11. …