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Saturday, December 02, 2023

Veterans' woes extend beyond the battlefield

1st Lt. Dan Choi was notified in April of this year that the Army would begin discharge proceedings against him. Choi, an Arabic-speaking linguist, Iraq war veteran, West Point graduate and infantry officer, served in the nation's armed forces for 10 years. Now he faces an other than honorable discharge from the military because he is gay and doesn't want to lie about it.

The Cadet Honor Code at West Point states ""A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do."" Choi, in upholding this code, has refused to lie about his sexual orientation, and now he risks being kicked out of the military.

An OTH discharge could make Choi ineligible for VA benefits if the Department of Veterans Affairs determines that his ""offense,"" namely being gay, constitutes willful or persistent misconduct, offense involving moral turpitude or homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances.

Today, as we honor, celebrate and show appreciation for our veterans, Choi serves as an example of the enormous sacrifice and risk military personnel make every day as they serve in our armed forces. As if leaving their family behind and putting their life on the line were not enough, military men and women are also expected to lie about and conceal who they are under the military's ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell"" policy.

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Choi's bravery in the face of bigotry and oppression serves as a reminder that doing what is right isn't always easy. Choi's decision to speak out against ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell"" is reminiscent of all those who have made difficult decisions to do what is right while serving their country.

Dedicated service for one's country should not be marred by the revelation of one's sexuality or political or religious beliefs. All those who serve in our armed forces should be afforded the same respect, opportunities and gratitude.

It takes more courage to resist convention than to go along with it. This is a quality that both the military and civilians should esteem and honor. It takes guts to stand in the line of fire, to defy conventions and to speak out against war and discrimination. A soldier should not be considered less of a warrior for having the fortitude of mind and spirit to stand up for what he or she believes in.

Choi, in promoting honesty and fairness for all who serve in the military, is refusing to tolerate the proliferation of lies regarding one's sexuality, the denial of VA benefits for one's honesty regarding their sexuality and the theft of one's freedom to be truthful regarding their sexuality.

In the midst of a war in Afghanistan and a continued occupation of Iraq, we celebrate Veterans Day today. We honor the commitment and sacrifice of all American military personnel, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality. Today I think it is especially appropriate to honor those who, in defense and support of their country, have chosen to speak out against the military.

From where I stand, it is more than honorable to stand up for what you believe in. Voices of dissent powerfully influence change by challenging us to re-evaluate convention. Progress demands a dialogue in which we all have the opportunity to discuss and explore our identity as a nation. Choi, in speaking out against ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"" is fueling progress in the United States' military. He, and all military voices of dissent, must be heard if the United States is to continue to grow in the 21st century. It is counterproductive to minimize the contribution of, or label as unpatriotic, those who dissent in an effort to better our military, our country and the world.

Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to 

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