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Wednesday 14 April 2010

War and Peace: The Lavender Edition?

Posted in: Features
By Craig Young - 29th March 2010

Oddly enough, there was negligible concern here when the Bolger administration ended military service discrimination in 1993. However, peace and war continue to have complex effects on New Zealand and transnational LGBT communities.
In New Zealand, World War I's mechanised slaughter led to an interwar peace movement out of revulsion, which disintegrated as Nazi Germany's murderous genocidal racism, anti-Semitism and militatry aggression precipitated the Second World War, as with the Japanese Empire's parallel militarism in South East Asia, China and the Pacific. From Chris Brickell and other LGBT historians, we are aware that there were lesbian and gay service personnel and social networking during that period. Conventional gender and sexual identities were 'suspended' due to the neccessity for a total war effort. In August 1945, Japan surrendered after the United States dropped two thermonuclear devices on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For a subsequent forty five years, the Soviet Union, United States, Western Europe and China faced off in a cold war that fortunately never heated up to the point of a mutually assured global nuclear holocaust.
With negligible mineral resources or strategic significance, New Zealand experienced the growth of a large-scale antinuclear movement in the early eighties, which led to the Lange Labour administration's declaration of a national nuclear-free zone. Nuclear armed and powered vessels were not permitted to enter our harbours and airfields, which led to New Zealand's withdrawal from the ANZUS alliance as a consequence. At the same time, concurrent social liberalism led to the decriminalisation of male homosexuality alongside that. As time went on, the National Party embraced the nuclear-free policy and tacitly adopted a bipartisan social liberal consensus in the nineties. As a result, accomodation, employment, goods and services discrimination ended for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in 1993. The military hierarchy raised no objection to the cessation of military service discrimination within the New Zealand armed forces, observing that sexual orientation had no effect on one's combat competence and readiness for military service.
And thus, the status quo has prevailed on both fronts. Like other New Zealanders, we respect and venerate surviving and fallen Anzac military heroes each Anzac Day, with none of the acrimony that existed in Australia due to the rancorous conservative Returned Services League leader Bruce Ruxton when Australia ended military service discrimination at the same time. As a nation, I suspect we'd be quite relaxed with greater detail about the role of New Zealand lesbian and gay service personnel during the Second World War and our role in the hardship and sacrifice of those years.
Still, our antinuclear policy remains deeply entrenched, as Don Brash found when he tried to get National to abandon it in 2005 and lost an election to Helen Clark as a result. We retain some autonomy from US foreign policy decision, coming to its aid when it is attacked and our military reconstruction and medical teams serve alongside them in Afghanistan. However, the Clark and Key administrations have kept out of the US-led Iraqi War quagmire, unlike Britain, Australia and some Western European nations.
With military service discrimination long since ended here, we shake our heads in bewilderment at the virulent homophobia of retired US Marines General John Sheehan, who accused Dutch gay soldiers of contributing to the UN loss of Srebrenica as a safe haven during the Bosnian War of the nineties. Infuriated, the Dutch Prime Minister, Cabinet minister and LGBT civil society have defended military personnel's competence and professionalism in that context. On the other hand, we may find it difficult not to cheer on the trio of Catholic peace activists, recently acquitted of civil disobedience at the Waihopai communication surveillance base.
Meanwhile, British lesbian and gay service personnel continue to serve alongside unintegrated US military service personnel in the Iraqi War quagmire, with equality of potential sacrifice alongside opportunity for military service. At the same time, regardless of their strategic skills, US armed forces hierarchy elements remain intent on social conservative "sexual correctness", purging LGBT service personnel where they are discovered. Some former service personnel have raised anxieties about religious persecution of those who aren't fundamentalist Christians within the current US armed forces.
In the Iraqi War, US LGBT military service personnel aren't the only ones facing difficulties. As a consequence of the power vacuum that prevailed when Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003 after the US-led invasion and occupation, Moqtadr al Sadr's Mahdi Army and other Shia militia have seized effective control of considerable Iraqi territory, restoring civil order and providing social services...but also engaging in brutal enforcement of conservative Shia Islamist dogma insofar as 'appropriate' gender roles and sexual conduct are concerned. "Adulterous" heterosexual women face 'honor killings' as do gay men.
As a result, many Iraqi gay men have fled to the relevant sanctuary of neighbouring Lebanon, where male homosexuality is technically still illegal, but where criminal statutes are moribund and where Beirut is an oasis of liberal tolerance. As for lesbians, they may be largely unacknowledged cases of honor killing in an epidemic of legally sanctioned violence against women that goes unpunished due to the weakness of Baghdad's elected government. Given that the Mahdi Army desists from direct confrontation of the US-led military occupation forces, the latter also turns a blind eye to its homophobic and misogynist excesses. Fortunately, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International don't and are principal sources of information on the carnage that is being done.

In New Zealand, we are fortunately a world away from that rancor and debate. As we have stayed out of the Iraqi War quagmire, fortunately we haven't had to face the heartache of equality of sacrifice that LGBT service personnel, their partners and dependents have had to cope with. Moreover, we have also escaped the demonisation of Muslims and backlash Muslim social conservatism that has arisen in Britain and Australia over the last decade. Gay-Muslim intercommunal relations appear placid within New Zealand, given that most Kiwi Muslims appear primarily oriented toward worship, religious devotion and (understandably) solidarity with their embattled coreligionists in Palestine.
As we enter the twenty first century in earnest, war and peace comes in a lavender edition. We are soldiers and we are civilians, we are victims of persecution and members of occupying military forces. We live in a complex world.
Austin Mackell: "Under Attack" DNA 122 March 2010: 62-67.

Craig Young - 29th March 2010

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