More formally known as Defense Directive 1304.26, it was intended as a compromise, one that prevented questioning military recruits about their sexual preferences. It has since been used by the military as a license to conduct homophobic witch hunts, resulting in unprecedented numbers of career soldiers, most with medals for distinguished service, being discharged when their sexual preferences were noted.
Out Of The Closet And On To The Battlefield
But before launching into coverage of current controversies about homosexuals in the US military, it provides a bit of history about gays in the armed forces throughout history.
Filmmakers Fenton Baily and Randy Barbuto smartly open The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell by introducing prominent military leaders of yore -- the warriors of ancient Sparta, Alexander the Great and American Revolutionary War hero Lieutenant General Frederick Von Stuben, among others -- who were homosexual.
This impressive list of openly gay military leaders leaves no doubt that homosexuals can serve effectively and honorably in the military.
With that in mind, we meet numerous gays and lesbians who are serving in today's military - with great heroism and honor - but who must constantly lie about their true identities, hide their homosexuality and their love relationships in order to serve, risking their lives, and perhaps dying, for our country. To protect their identities, they're filmed in shadow, or from behind, or showing just one ear, or their hands, or their boot-clad feet. They're still vulnerable to the DADT policy: if they say they're homosexuals, their military careers will be terminated.
However, the film also follows the high profile stories of three high-ranking service members -- heroes, all -- who were discharged for homosexuality, protested publicly and challenged DADT in court and on Capital Hill.
Fighting For Repeal and Relief
The film follows the complex politicking - pro and con, including coverage of John McCain's obstructionism - that resulted, ultimately, in enactment of new legislation, with President Barak Obama signing it on Dec. 22, 2010.
The non-discriminatory policy towards gay and lesbians in the armed forces is slated to take effect on Sept. 20, 2011, the day The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell is first broadcast on HBO.
Whether implementation will occur as scheduled remains to be seen. Like many documentaries, The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell comes to a conclusion, but the real life story - and struggle - continues. It's important to track it.
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- Title: The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell
- Directors: Fenton Baily and Randy Barbuto
- Broadcast Premiere: September 20, 2011 (HBO)
- Running Time: 62 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Location: USA and archival war footage from various countries.
- Distribution Company: HBO Documentaries