Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking hatred global

I had an uncharitable first reaction when I heard that some retired general had said something colossally stupid to oppose repeal of the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He declared that in 1995 Bosnian Serbs were able to massacre 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica because the UN Peacekeepers in the area, the Dutch Army, had openly-gay soldiers.

I figured that general was some has-been who was letting his hatred of gay people get the better of him. But my first reaction was far more uncharitable: I thought it was a good thing he was retired because anyone that stupid would be constantly putting people’s lives in danger, if he was still in command.

It turned out that before his retirement in 1997, John J. "Jack" Sheehan had been Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and he’d also been Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command. All of which explains why the rightwing advocates of the US military’s anti-gay policy would’ve thought they’d hit the jackpot with him on their side. They were wrong.

The Dutch Government universally condemned Sheehan’s idiotic statements. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was livid: "The remarks were outrageous, wrong and beneath contempt," which sums it all up perfectly.

Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop called the remarks, "Scandalous and not worthy of a soldier,” and the ministry said "It is unbelievable that a man of this rank is stating this nonsense, for that's what it is." Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called the claim "the bizarre private opinion of someone without an official function."

Sheehan claimed that the Dutch chief of staff had told him that having gay soldiers at Srebrenica had sapped morale and that contributed to the massacre. But General Henk van den Breemen, who was the Dutch chief of staff at the time, said Sheehan’s claim was "Total nonsense."

So, what was going on? Naturally, I have some theories.

First, it’s pretty obvious that Sheehan is a typical far right ideologue. He framed his smear against gay soldiers as the result of post-Cold War European efforts to "socialise" their armies—because the rightwing thinks socialism is pure evil. He also declared that it was “social engineering”, a phrase popular with the right as a way to dismiss anything progressives attempt to do.

Second, Sheehan’s a bigot as evidenced by his defaming gay Dutch soldiers. I believe he deliberately lied about Srebrenica because he thought that no one would check his claims and that no one would defend gay people. Like most conservatives, he had no idea that there are many countries in the world that value their GLBT citizens and will defend them (a subject in itself). So, like a lot of far right ideologues, Sheehan felt he could lie with impunity.

It’s probably a sign of the desperation of the right wing in America that they’re now not even making the slightest effort to hide their lies. But a cornered animal is a dangerous one. Sheehan’s a complete idiot, but that doesn’t mean that he and his friends can be ignored. By taking his hatred global, it was laid bare for the world to see, and that exposed his lies. As a result, the right wing in the US looks even more ridiculous, and I didn’t think that was even possible.

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