This is in response to the comments on Making The Case for Military Service for Deaf and Disabled People.
I do believe we need further arguments. Quite frankly, the argument that “we did it already” is rather naïve and simplistic. Just because we have done something before does not mean we want to do it again. For example, the military segregated African-Americans as well as prohibited women and homosexuals from serving in the military. The last time deaf people served in the American military was during the Civil War and even then, those deaf soldiers were not professional soldiers in the U.S. Army. The Union Army during the Civil War was a mish-mash of the United States Army, state militias, and volunteer regiments. Out of hundreds of thousands of soldiers that served in the Union Army, records show only two were deaf. This hardly argues that it’s been done and successfully.
Also, communications between units on the field took place via the telegraph and messenger. World War I saw the advent of radio communications on the battlefield and tremendous advancements in military technology. So, in response to the premise that “it’s been done before,” the military can easily argue that deaf soldiers could serve in the context of the Civil War but because of technological advancements that allow the U.S. military to be an elite fighting force, deaf people will not be able to serve without compromising military efficiency.
We certainly can and should demonstrate that modern technological advancements will allow deaf soldiers to serve without compromising national security or the safety of their comrades. There has been research and development in speech to/from text technologies; a glove that translates signs into text/speech; smart armor for soldiers that can incorporate those aforementioned technologies; and so on.
There has been research and development in speech to/from text technologies; a glove that translate signs into text/speech; smart armor for soldiers that can incorporate those aforementioned technologies; and so on.
The Israeli military makes a compelling precedent. It is important to remember that the United States prides itself on being a democracy and has attempted to represent the model of democracy throughout its history. The United States has worked tirelessly to promote and expand democracy across the globe. Women gained the vote after World War I because they argued that the United States could not boast of being a democracy and promote transitions to democracies across Europe if half of its own citizens could not vote. African-Americans were desegregated because we could not make a compelling case for democracy in the developing world as we competed with the Soviet Union to expand our sphere of influence while treating a large class of people as second-class citizens.
Historically, the most effective arguments that second-class citizens have made is to argue for the expansion of citizenship in pursuit of that ‘ideal’ democracy- to be that ideal democracy that the United States wishes to model and to be. Pointing to the Israeli example, we can make the argument that as a democratic society that prides itself on leading the world in democracy, we can’t be beat at our own game by someone else. We can also study the Israeli example and examine ways in which we can integrate deaf and hard of hearing soldiers without compromising military efficiency and readiness.
We can also study the Israeli example and examine ways in which we can integrate deaf and hard of hearing soldiers without compromising military efficiency and readiness.
The five obligations of citizenship, according to Kerber are: jury service; military service; voting; paying taxes; and avoiding vagrancy. My dissertation deals with deaf people’s attempt to expand citizenship by “avoiding vagrancy” through anti-peddling campaigns during the late 19th and early 20th century. We need more historians of the American deaf community to go out there and conduct historical research before I can respond to your question about how the deaf community has followed the women’s movement in regard to those five obligations. I do know deaf people have insisted on paying taxes and argued against tax exemptions suggested by Congress during the early 20th century and fought for the right to serve on juries throughout the first half of the 20th century and apparently is an issue even today in some jurisdictions.
Women do typically gain significant recognition during wartime. During the Revolutionary War (the War for Independence), women contributed to the war effort by serving as cooks, nurses, seamstresses, and prostitutes on the front lines. At home, they maintained economic and domestic activity so that our farms and businesses continued to operate. Their contributions were recognized and the place of women in society was elevated with the premise of “Republican Motherhood”—an idea that we would find sexist in this day and age but was rather progressive for the time.
During the Civil War and with the advent of industrialization in the 19th century, women’s contributions were recognized and we see the development of the idea of the cult of domesticity, which was then used to advocate for greater access to citizenship for women. Women’s contributions in World War I along with revised arguments brought about the suffrage. World War II saw the rise of labor feminism, the inclusion of women in the military, and brought on second-wave feminism. Unfortunately, we don’t see similar patterns for deaf and disabled people- they were recognized for their vital contributions during times of war but this recognition was not followed with expansion of citizenship or economic opportunities post-war.
The point about the military receiving federal funding and prohibitions on discrimination in federally funded programs is a salient point. Activists should consider this point as well when they present their arguments.
I do think that deaf people who want to serve in the military are willing to fight on the front lines of combat. That’s an inherent risk of military service. The hurdle here is to ensure the safety of all troops on the front lines and to demonstrate that deaf and disabled people can serve in a capacity that doesn’t risk the lives of other soldiers in addition to their own. It’s not necessarily about wanting something both ways—it’s about serving in the best capacity possible that furthers rather than retards the military’s mission.
True, the military is not a ‘jobs’ program but if an individual is qualified and able to serve in a particular capacity as a professional soldier, why should they not serve?
Last but not least, it is absolutely not an insult to refer to the GI Bill or American society as a welfare state. Every single American lives in the New Deal Welfare State.
The definition of a welfare state is: a system whereby the government undertakes to protect the health and well being of its citizens. The GI Bill was designed to ensure the health and well-being of a specific class of citizens- veterans- by providing health care, education, and programs to help them transition to civilian life. Scholars and historians for generations before me have referred to this as a Military Welfare State.
The term “welfare” is only considered an insult because we have developed negative connotations with the idea of ‘welfare’ due to racism, sexism, and class politics in the vein of the “welfare queen”—often depicted as a promiscuous African-American single mother with many children living off a ‘welfare’ check and using said money to supply their drug/alcohol habit. Statistics demonstrate that this is far from the truth when it comes to who actually receives welfare benefits (as opposed to what we define as entitlements).
Social Security benefits for those 65+ are part of the New Deal Welfare State. Are we insulting every single elderly person who receives Social Security benefits? Absolutely not. We don’t think of it as an insult because those benefits were framed as ‘entitlements’—you pay into the system then you get those benefits when you retire. We frame military benefits in the same way- you get these benefits in exchange for your service—and they are viewed as entitlements. But those entitlements fall under the premise of a Welfare State because the government provides funding with the specific intent of assuring a certain standard of living. We need to divorce the term “welfare state” from the idea of “handouts” and from the idea that it’s necessarily a bad thing.
Thank you all for commenting and contributing to a vigorous discussion. I wish Cadet Nolan and his allies the best of luck in promoting their argument that deaf and hard of hearing people should be given the opportunity to serve.
ABOUT OCTAVIAN ROBINSON
Octavian Robinson graduated from Gallaudet University and is currently a Ph.D candidate at Ohio State University. He lives in California with his Weimaraner.