By Bernard J. Henry
«C’est légal parce que je le veux!», “It’s legal because I want it to be!”. That is how Louis XVI, then King of France, sent off a protest against one of his decrees in 1787, two years before the French Revolution. Judging by Donald Trump’s compulsive use of Twitter since he became President of the United States, one might think his state of mind is “It’s legal because I tweeted it!”. The latest instance of this presidential conduct of a new kind is undoubtedly the most shocking of all.
On July 26, the President announced in a tweet that he was banning transgender people from serving in the United States military. The move has spawned a wave of protests both in the United States and abroad, including from serving transgender soldiers who challenged Trump to disprove their achievements as United States service(wo)men.
Although the Twitter announcement has yet to become formal government policy, such a statement shall be taken a lot more seriously than if it were just a clumsy policy adjustment regarding the sole armed forces.
The military may be a necessary evil, but discrimination has no place there
The role of an organization like the Association of World Citizens will never be to promote the military. We are a peace organization, dedicated to the search for peaceful, diplomatic ways to prevent or resolve conflicts, thus without resorting to the armed forces. But we do realize that, until some form of global governance has been created that makes it illegal to attack a foreign nation and renders a standing defense against outside aggression without purpose, maintaining a military that can defend the country will be a necessary evil for every nation. The only exceptions would be countries such as Costa Rica and Haiti which have formally renounced a standing army.
That said, it all depends on how you use your military, for that says a lot about what kind of values you want your people to believe in.
Since the beginning of this century, military inequality between nations has never been stronger, at least under the conception of the world that has prevailed since the end of World War II. Most disfavored nations, especially in Africa, have had to maintain a military primarily for defensive reasons, most of the time against an enemy coming from the same country instead of a foreign aggressor – thus also turning the military into a tool of political repression against those nonviolent activists viewed as supporting the enemy –.
As for those nations with greater power, they have consistently used their military for invasive purposes abroad, most notably in Iraq, or to enforce ill-defined antiterror operations in the Middle East, as has the “coalition” against ISIS in Syria and, then again, Iraq for uncertain results on the ground and proven violations of humanitarian law. France has also enabled its military to patrol the streets of towns and cities alongside the police as a permanent measure against terrorism since the deadly attacks in the Paris area on November 13, 2015.
As a result, in many nations, the military has gained a new status, making it the unifier of the people against the enemy within or without, regardless of how repressive or otherwise indefensible its actions may have been in the course of waging war. Not least in the United States where, precisely, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have stated their refusal to apply any discrimination against trans soldiers until formally ordered by the Pentagon to do so. No wonder – applying discrimination based on a mere tweet would send the worst possible signal, not only in the United States proper but to the whole world.
A sectarian military means a sectarian society
The military is a state body, symbolizing the nation and its sovereignty, funded by taxpayer money and, in some countries, manned in part through conscription. In those countries – including the United States – where military service is voluntary, the military represents a hope for employment and professional accomplishment to many people lacking qualifications to succeed in civilian life. Consequently, any discrimination in military recruitment can only reflect, if not actually incite, discrimination everywhere else in society.
From an all-white South African military of the apartheid era to a United States military where gays were not allowed to serve until Bill Clinton’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy marked a first positive change, the narrower the admittance to serve, the stronger discrimination in civilian life is bound to be. Since Donald Trump entered the White House, his policies have been heavily directed against certain chosen segments of the population – Muslims through a travel ban, women through a series of restrictions on abortion-related rights, disfavored people through obsessive attacks on Obamacare, and now LGBT people through this latest announcement.
A pattern of attacks on press freedom only comes as an unfortunate addition to an attitude which makes Donald Trump the most dangerous person to rights and liberties in the United States in a long time. But what if Americans can no longer trust their armed forces, viewing them as weak enough to be scared by a person’s gender identity alone?
Endorsing hatred at home would mean exporting it worldwide
In other parts of the world, traditionally-victimized minority groups such as women, ethnic minorities, then again LGBT people and, in Europe and Asia, Roma people could also be viewed as unfit to serve in the military, especially in those nations directly or indirectly under the ever-expanding influence of conservative Russia where anti-LGBT policies have been in place since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.
There is no crown on Donald Trump’s head. He is no Louis XVI and, even if he should be impeached and removed from power someday, there is no guillotine waiting for him. The United States Constitution cares about rights a lot more than he does.
These new discriminatory policies he has just announced can be defeated. They have to be.
No one can “make America great again” by openly advocating sectarian transphobic weakness.
Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.