In 2000, after a deranged man shot several people in a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., some suggested that everyone would have been safer had they all been carrying firearms. Jonathan Rauch made the case six months before the Roanoke incident in his article “Pink Pistols” in Salon. Similar suggestions have been made after mass shootings in movie theaters and elementary schools. As I write this, the D.C. Council is about to pass a concealed carry bill in response to court rulings against the District’s gun control law.
The fact that America leads the developed world in guns and gun-related deaths doesn’t faze gun advocates. Like tax cuts, guns are considered a cure-all. Unfortunately, the same appears true of munitions in American foreign policy.
The speed with which we are being goaded into war is not a sign of strength. It is easy to mock Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his overcompensating sidekick Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for their endless saber rattling, or Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) for his claim that ISIS members are sneaking across the Mexican border to cut our throats. But already our fears have been successfully exploited to justify yet another Mideast war effort.
Americans are much likelier to die from something we do to ourselves, whether with guns or alcohol or texting while driving. You would be well advised to worry less about whether ISIS will make it to Baghdad and more about whether you’ll make it over the crumbling bridge you take to work. McCain says that we need to fight the terrorists over there so we won’t have to fight them here. The last time he said that, we launched a war in Iraq that destabilized the region. Yet here he comes again to quell terrorist fires with hoses of gasoline. And once again we spend money we say we don’t have to save other people’s houses while neglecting our own.
I seldom agree with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), but he was right last week: “Before we arm the so-called moderate Muslims of Syria, remember what I said a year ago: ‘The irony you will not be able to overcome is that these arms will someday be used against America.'” It is small comfort that the Northern Storm Brigade, with which McCain met in May 2013, is now opposed to ISIS.
How often do we have to respond to distant problems by charging in and making things worse before we bloody well stop doing it? However bad the situation, any action we take should at least have a reasonable shot at improving things. At this point, the only thing we have improved by our ruinous investment of blood and treasure in the Levant is the profits of Halliburton and other defense contractors.
Aside from idly wondering why Dick Cheney and other torture-loving war criminals are not in prison, we would do well to tend our own garden by facing the threat posed by America’s own religious fanatics. They may not cut off heads or fly planes into office towers, but the misogynistic and homophobic policies they seek to impose on their fellow citizens bear more than a passing resemblance to those of the foreign extremists we fight. The main difference is that diversity here has taken firmer hold, notwithstanding the fact that American policing, both foreign and domestic, disproportionately targets people of color.
A better use of our military resources is the humanitarian mission announced by President Obama on Sept. 16, in which American forces will set up field hospitals and train local health workers in West Africa to help the fight against Ebola.
Three years ago on Sept. 20, the military gay ban officially ended. I remember the great satisfaction of World War II combat veteran Frank Kameny, who had devoted much of his life to helping reach that moment. He died three weeks later. It does no dishonor to him or other LGBT service members (and we’re still working on the T) to insist that deadly force, whether at home or abroad, should be used as a last resort and not by habit.
Copyright © 2014 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Reach him at [email protected].