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August 29, 2006

Sgt Denny's Rant

The face of freedom

I was a child of Holocaust refugees. I was born just outside the gates of hell, so close that I could I could hear the screams of horror and smell the stench of immutable despair. My early childhood, in the late 1940s, was filled with sad silent men with concentration camp number tattoos on their forearms. They were postwar 'displaced persons' placed in our home on the upper west side of New York City by relief agencies. When I laughed, they burst into tears remembering their own children whose burned bones were buried beneath the barbed wire and snow in Eastern Europe. Where they came from, a child's laugh could give away the location of an extended family in hiding. A neighbor would report them. Then the Gestapo trucks would arrive with barking dogs and, as the neighbors watched, the family would be brutally herded into a truck to take them away to a death camp. Often, as soon as the trucks turned the corner, the neighbors would break into the homes of those Jewish or Gay people, who had been selected for the ultimate solution for state hate, and steal their china, bedding, and furniture. Here in America, after the war guns had fallen silent at last, those men could hardly believe that I, a child born into American freedom, could simply laugh without the front door being kicked in and the nightmare beginning again. As I grew up in that postwar refugee world, I was not allowed to take freedom for granted.

Nearly 60 years later, I still don't take freedom for granted. The McCarthy era, and the investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), demonstrated that even in America free speech could become restricted.  In his book, It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis wrote prophetically about an America ruled by moral fascists who systematically stripped away civil rights and press freedom; this was written in 1935, just two years before the formation of HUAC. American freedom has come a long way in the past century. Near the close of World War II, when American troops liberated the Mathausen Concentration Camp in Austria, the surviving emaciated and starving Jewish prisoners were led out into freedom. But, the American commander ordered that the homosexual inmates were to be kept prisoner in the camp as criminals. The few that lived were later turned over to Austrian authorities who tried, tortured, and re-imprisoned them; all died. In the years that followed World War II, the nations of Europe embraced the concept of democracy brought to them by America. In America, discriminatory laws were voided one after another. Black and white people could choose to marry, Black citizens could freely vote, women could choose whether or not to procreate, Native American children were no longer taken from their families, minorities and women were integrated into our armed forces, and homosexuals and other minorities could congregate and walk down a street without being questioned and arbitrarily arrested simply on suspicion of who they were. Yet, while the European Union has enshrined LGBT rights into its laws and criteria for membership; America remains, literally, in the previous century. Homosexuals serve honorably and openly in Europe's armies, without difficulty. And yet, in America's armed forces to this day, homosexuals are still perceived as criminals.

I was born into American Freedom. This is my country. The Stars and Strips, and the Rainbow are my flags; they stand for Liberty and equality and inclusiveness. I am a Gay American Veteran. I do not take freedom for granted, I demand it. I will speak up for freedom until I can no longer speak. The American armed forces that liberated Europe from Nazi fascists failed to free pink triangle prisoners; that was in 1945. Gay American soldiers, who were there that day at Mathausen, saw what happened. Sixty one years later, its time to rectify that shame of hate. Freedom now.