I was heartened but not surprised that the military has now lifted its ban on openly gay service members for the foreseeable future. When push comes to shove, we need everyone. They are not gay soldiers; they are American soldiers. In the same vein, the extraordinary Father Mychal Judge, the hero to the firefighters among whom he died last week, is not a gay hero. He is a hero. Similarly Mark Bingham, a burly 6′ 5″ rugby player, who almost certainly participated in the bravery on a plane destined for Washington that ended up in a field in Pennsylvania. He wasn’t a gay passenger, he was just a citizen with more courage than most. At this moment, identity shouldn’t matter – whether racial, sexual, religious or whatever. But we will perhaps remember at some point that these brave gay men and women were and are a part of this ordeal. They always were, but now, with our more open society, we can see them in the light of day. If and when we thank these gay service members for their service in defending freedom, perhaps we will find it within ourselves not to treat them with contempt when they return, by throwing them out of their service simply because of the gender of whom they love. And perhaps the rugby players and jocks will take a minute to remember Mark Bingham, a national hero who was also gay, and reassess some attitudes toward gay men and women in sports. Perhaps they will also readjust some prejudice that still sees gay men as weak, ineffectual or cowardly. Nothing could be further from the truth. And when the Church celebrates a man like Father Mychal, a gay man who was loved in a surpassingly male and masculine world, perhaps they will also ask themselves to rethink the pain and heartache and cruelty they have inflicted on so many gay men and women, people who have served the Church as deeply as anyone in history. Now is not the time to engage in the politics of identity; but it is a time to keep our eyes and hearts open, and to observe what we are seeing in this war, and ensure that what we remember leads to a fairer, juster society when this conflict ends, if not before.
HITCH RISES TO THE OCCASION: Not everyone on the left has been craven. My magazine, The New Republic, had a splendid editorial last week. And in the Independent, the house-organ of appeasement in Britain, Christopher Hitchens has a thoughtful and moving piece. He grasps what some other liberals haven’t: that the murderers of September 11 “are not even “terrorists” so much as nihilists: at war with the very idea of modernity and the related practices of pluralism and toleration.” I particularly liked this paragraph: “American society cannot be destroyed even by the most horrifying nihilist attacks. It can outlast or absorb practically anything … Last week, an entire population withstood an attempted rape and murder of its core and identity. It did so while the President was off the radar screen. But everyone, in an important sense, knew what to do, as well as what not to do. The whole point of a multinational democracy is that it should be able to run on its own power. In other words, if short-term foolishness can be minimized at home and abroad, then people will surely appreciate that, in the words of an old slogan worn out by repetition, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Amen, Hitch. Amen.