Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U. S. Military


There is a country where citizens are interrogated for long hours and threatened with prison or the loss of their children if they do not cooperate, where citizens are ordered to denounce others, to give information - often entirely fabricated - dispatching people to ignominy and jail. And if they refuse, they are threatened with prison. This country is America, and the subjects under attack are people who have chosen to serve their nation. They are military personnel. They are lesbians and gay men. And they are ...
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There is a country where citizens are interrogated for long hours and threatened with prison or the loss of their children if they do not cooperate, where citizens are ordered to denounce others, to give information - often entirely fabricated - dispatching people to ignominy and jail. And if they refuse, they are threatened with prison. This country is America, and the subjects under attack are people who have chosen to serve their nation. They are military personnel. They are lesbians and gay men. And they are hunted day in and day out. Author Randy Shilts follows his best-seller And the Band Played On with a book of even greater power and sweep, as he investigates the situation of lesbians and gays in the military over the past three decades, revealing for the first time that some of the most celebrated soldiers in American history were homosexual (including the Father of the United States Army). Five years of interviews with nearly 1,100 gay service people have uncovered extraordinary stories of heroism, persecution, and increasing resistance while documenting the creation of a vast gay subculture within the armed forces. With thousands of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Shilts offers the first in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes decision-making that resulted in the fierce purges of gays in the military over the past thirty years. With its epic scope this book will provide the basis of a national debate not only on the issue of lesbians and gays in the military but on the broader issue of the place of homosexuals in American life.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

John Mort
Shilts, author of "And the Band Played On" (1987), hurried to complete this portrait of gays and lesbians in the military. It's good that he did; the casually informed reader can gain a great deal of insight into the underground culture of gays. There's the rather amusing prospect of Vice President Humphrey, on his way to the Presidential Palace in Saigon, passing by drag queens who in the morning would be briefing him. There are inspiring stories as well, of Baron von Steuben (a hero in the Revolution), or of the naval officer Stephen Decatur, who proved himself on the shores of Tripoli. There's the tragedy of Dr. Tom Dooley, who served with valiant humanity in Haiphong, in 1954, when the navy transported thousands of North Vietnamese Catholics to the south. Shilts' book is a history of persecutions of men and women who performed well but were hounded from the ranks, of men given the choice of implicating their lovers or of being imprisoned, of women who became pregnant to avoid charges of lesbianism. Shilts' argument comes down to this precis of the thoughts of Sgt. Rudolf Keith: "gay people concealed their homosexuality. Therefore, heterosexuals lacked an accurate perception . . . of who homosexuals were." This is the hopeful view--that once everything is in the open all will be well--but for years ordinary soldiers have been drawn from homes where homosexuality is "an abomination." It isn't Stilts' business to represent those soldiers. Nonetheless, he throws into relief the great troubles that lie ahead.
From the Publisher
"A sober, thoroughly researched and engrossingly readable history on the subject. [Shilts's] chronicle is excellent military history, closely woven with an enthralling analysis of the changing definitions of sexuality and personal relationships in American society....[A] landmark book....Remarkable."

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780788154164
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Pages: 784

Meet the Author

RANDY SHILTS, one of the first journalists to recognize the national importance of the AIDS crisis, was a national correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle for thirteen years. He is the author of The Mayor of Castro Street and And the Band Played On. He died in 1994.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note
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
2 Manhood 28
3 Rules 37
4 The Spy 47
5 A Name on the Wall 55
6 Convenience of the Government (Part 1) 60
7 Days of Future Passed 72
8 Home Front 79
9 The Sanction of the Victim 87
Bk. 2 Interrogations (1969-1975) 99
10 National Security 101
11 Endings 113
12 Interrogations 124
13 Indoctrination 132
14 Dykes and Whores 139
15 In Country 148
16 Back to the World 157
17 Winners 166
18 STRAC 176
19 Politics and Prejudice 184
20 The Letter 196
Bk. 2 Trials (1975-1976) 205
21 The Color Purple (Part 1) 207
22 The Green Beret 218
23 Freedom 226
24 The Mile-Wide Word 234
25 Triangulates 245
26 Adjectives and Nouns 254
27 The Next Generation 266
28 Transitions 272
29 The Secret Report 279
Bk. 4 The Family (1977-1980) 289
30 The Family 291
31 Reaction 298
32 The Gayest Ship in the Navy and Other Stories 307
33 Women at Sea 315
34 Angry Gods 323
35 Memorial Day 332
36 Glory Days 341
37 "Until After November" 352
38 Interregnum 359
39 Future Imperfect 365
Bk. 5 Lesbian Vampires of Bavaria (1981-1985) 373
40 Thoughtcrimes 375
41 Surrender Dorothy 383
42 Railroading 393
43 Doreen 400
44 Lesbian Vampires of Bavaria 411
45 Straights 422
46 In the Midnight Sky 429
47 Heroes 438
48 Exiles 448
49 Blanket Parties 459
50 Costs 468
51 HTLV-III 477
52 Dykebusters 489
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
57 Countertrends 531
58 The Color Purple (Part 2) 543
59 At the Buccaneer Motel 556
60 HOMOVAC: Prisoner Number 73343 565
61 Foreign Affairs 577
62 The Escape 585
63 Naming Names 593
64 The Soesterberg Affair 603
65 Funerals 614
66 Malleus Maleficarum 625
67 The Release of Prisoner Number 17 639
68 Embarrassments in the Making 647
69 Explosions 656
70 Mockingbirds 665
71 Official Government Sources 674
72 Hearings 686
73 Holding Actions 697
74 Vindication 706
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
Selected Bibliography 767
Index 771
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  • Posted June 8, 2009

    U.S. Military's "FBI" & Their Obsession with Gay Soldiers

    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.

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