As a social worker, a peace activist, and someone who has long worked for equality for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people, the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was certainly something to be happy about. I am certainly happy that those in my community will no longer be discharged simply for being who they are. However, there are some larger issues with the U.S. military which I believe prohibit me from supporting the idea that this institution is capable of contributing to human well-being. I am writing this so that I might draw attention to what I see as the professional ethical concerns between the social work profession and the U.S. military, and express why my new ability to be openly gay and die for capitalism does not impress me. Before I get started, though, I would like to make a personal statement.
Many military families hear my views on this subject and call me ungrateful for their sacrifices, but I write this in solidarity because I also come from a military family. My father entered therapy after our family reached a crisis point, thirty-five years after front line combat in Vietnam. Growing up, we always thought that the manifestation of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was the result of the awful violence he must have seen in combat. Intensive individual and group therapy with other veteran victims of PTSD helped him to articulate that the PTSD was actually from the U.S. military training, not from the combat. If you spoke to his group members, you’d hear similar stories from all of them.
The training is designed to teach soldiers to overcome resistance to killing. This ability to overcome resistance to killing might explain why 18 veterans a day are committing suicide, and 76% are returning home with alcohol and drug addiction problems, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. As a society, we’re also having a very challenging time keeping LGBT youth from committing suicide because of bullying. The U.S. military is doing to soldiers what school administration’s failures to adequately address bullying are doing to LGBT youth. Systematic institutional violence erodes the human spirit to such an extent that the ability to continue living becomes inhibited. This leads me to addressing what I see as the prominent concerns in relation to these subjects from the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) Code of Ethics: The statement on Peace and Social Justice and the client’s right to self determination.
In the NASW Code of Ethics, the statement on Peace and Social Justice says that “We must reduce the use of violence as a solution to domestic as well as foreign problems. “ I would criticize that by taking it a step further and say that not only should we work to reduce violence; we should abolish institutional violence and the institutions that thrive because of it. To only reduce is to say that some violence is acceptable.
Additionally, in section 6.01 the NASW Code of Ethics states that “Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.” If we are going to adhere to this ethical responsibility, how can we agree that only a reduction in violence is satisfactory? How can we support institutions which depend on violence for economic prosperity? As social workers we may find ourselves in situations with our clients where they are considering joining, supporting or otherwise condoning the U.S. military. This leads me to the ethical concern of the client’s right to self determination.
The statement on self-determination says the following: “Social workers may limit clients' right to self-determination when, in the social workers' professional judgment, clients' actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.” If it wasn’t the U.S. military, and a client was considering condoning any other institution which resulted in 18 daily suicides and a 76% drug and alcohol addiction rate, I believe that this exemption to self-determination would apply without a doubt. Certainly general self-determination guidelines would not apply in the case of a suicidal LGBT youth client. Shouldn’t the same apply to condoning institutions where suicide and other high-risk behaviors are a more than likely outcome? This leads me to believing that supporting anything less than full and total disarmament means I am failing in this ethical responsibility. In the spirit of disarmament, peace, and social justice, I will close with the following thoughts.
There are some reasons that I can be excited about and thankful for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The reasons are that we now have the opportunity to organize more inclusive peace activism. The voices of LGBT people in peace activism and war resistance are more valuable now than they have ever been. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell might be empowering for LGBT people in the military (and I am happy for them because of that), but post-repeal inclusive peace activism can be empowering for LGBT people everywhere. We can always hope that repealing discrimination within the military might be a step towards repealing the military altogether.