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From the bestselling author of And the Band Played On comes a defintive history of the role of gay people in the military. This epic investigation reveals for the first time that some of history's most celebrated soldiers were gay.
—New York Times Book Review
"A masterpiece of investigative reporting…Shilts has shown us the honor homosexuals have brought, and continue to bring, to the uniforms they wear and the country they serve." - Boston Globe
"Gays, we are told, would damage morale in the military. Shilts documents the fact that morale has already been eaten away by hypocrisy, contradictions, and favoritism…This book will be to gay and lesbian liberation what Betty Friedan's was to early feminism or Rachel Carson's to ecological consciousness. No fair-minded person can read Conduct Unbecoming and consider the present system defensible. - USA Today
"Gripping reading....the history of homosexual people and the movement for gay/lesbian equality in the United States can nowhere be more clearly told." - Los Angeles Times
|Prologue: The Dangerous Difference (1778-1954)||1|
|Bk. 1||The Sanction of the Victim (1954-1969)||19|
|1||What Tom Dooley Really Wanted: A Prologue to Vietnam||21|
|5||A Name on the Wall||55|
|6||Convenience of the Government (Part 1)||60|
|7||Days of Future Passed||72|
|9||The Sanction of the Victim||87|
|Bk. 2||Interrogations (1969-1975)||99|
|14||Dykes and Whores||139|
|16||Back to the World||157|
|19||Politics and Prejudice||184|
|Bk. 2||Trials (1975-1976)||205|
|21||The Color Purple (Part 1)||207|
|22||The Green Beret||218|
|24||The Mile-Wide Word||234|
|26||Adjectives and Nouns||254|
|27||The Next Generation||266|
|29||The Secret Report||279|
|Bk. 4||The Family (1977-1980)||289|
|32||The Gayest Ship in the Navy and Other Stories||307|
|33||Women at Sea||315|
|37||"Until After November"||352|
|Bk. 5||Lesbian Vampires of Bavaria (1981-1985)||373|
|44||Lesbian Vampires of Bavaria||411|
|46||In the Midnight Sky||429|
|53||Friends of Helga||499|
|54||Where It All Begins||510|
|Bk. 6||HOMOVAC (1986-1990)||515|
|55||Tom Dooley's Undesirable Discharge||517|
|56||The Unquiet Death of Michael W. Foster||524|
|58||The Color Purple (Part 2)||543|
|59||At the Buccaneer Motel||556|
|60||HOMOVAC: Prisoner Number 73343||565|
|64||The Soesterberg Affair||603|
|67||The Release of Prisoner Number 17||639|
|68||Embarrassments in the Making||647|
|71||Official Government Sources||674|
|75||The Fag Killer||716|
|Epilogue: Promises to Keep||723|
|76||Convenience of the Government (Part 2)||725|
|77||Tom Dooley's Honorable Discharge||735|
|Notes on Sources||737|
Posted June 8, 2009
Shilts's long anecdotal histories read fast and never lose your interest. This is a look at the institutionalized homophobia in the U.S. Military and how they enforced their policy against admitting gays. The book covers mostly from the Vietnam era to the election of Clinton. It shows how social changes in the civilian world begin filtering into the military world.
At the center are the stories of many outstanding soldiers whose lives are ruined as the military discovers they are gay. To a one, these soldiers have impeccable military records and achievements. The reader can see how difficult it is to defend military policies based on false assumptions such as gays representing a threat to security. The real danger to the country turns out to be the military kicking out countless experts in languages, medicine, secret codes, and other technical fields.
Shilts always presents a balanced view, such as showing that gay civilians did not necessarily support gay soldiers in their struggles. But the military hypocrisy of using gay soldiers when it is convenient is unmistakable.
The tactics used against gays are purges and witch-hunts. It is unbelievable how inhumanely American gay soldiers (or even allegedly gay) are treated by their own government. Special attention is given to Lesbians, who receive the dual prejudice of anti-gay sentiment and resentment of increasing female presence in the military.
Over and over Shilts exposes the ridiculous reasoning of the military: females who play sports must be gay, those who fraternize with suspected gays must also be gay, etc. It's as if McCarthyism continued into the 1990's. Part of the irony is that young recruits in America have often not yet fully come to terms with their sexual orientation, especially in a country where diversity of sexuality is discouraged.
Shilts includes a history of courtroom challenges to the military policy on gays. Along the way, we are reminded of modern events of historical impact, such as Leonard Matlovich appearing as a gay soldier on the cover of Time Magazine and the explosion aboard the U.S.S. Iowa, which was the beginning of the end for the big battleships still in use. The navy comes off as the worst of the worst. All in all, a compelling saga of modern discrimination and hatred in America. Highly recommended.