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But seriously…

02 Sep

28 But seriously… is the WordPress.com blog of Rich Merritt — seen on the right in 1994. It’s a great blog in its own right and will shortly appear on my blog roll. See also Rich Merritt Web site.

I am reading Rich’s Code of Conduct at the moment.

In Code of Conduct, former U.S. Marine Rich Merritt, explores the secret double lives of Don, Eddie, Karl and Patrick, all currently serving as closeted military men. Agent Jay of the Naval Investigative Service struggles with his past as he follows his own personal vendetta against homosexuality. As hope of President Bill Clinton’s promise to relieve the ban on gays in the military flourishes, Jay attempts to ruin the careers of our heroes. Action-packed, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat, while at the same time beautifully illustrating the passion and love that gay servicemen and women can have for each other.

A fast read, Merritt’s novel explores a fascinating section of the LGBTI community through his and others’ experiences in the military. Although the dialogue reads rather unrealistically, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable…

That last criticism is true at times; it is not the world’s greatest novel. Also, I would that it began differently, without quite so much military-speak and boys’ own adventure stuff so early. That aside, this is a passionate novel on several levels. It could have been even better if it had been written for outsiders rather more than it is. It would, I think, make an excellent movie though, so long as it was a movie-maker with the right political as well as artistic nous.

Of all the great no-brainers, the whole “gays in the military” controversy has to be close to top of the list. Of course there are gays in the military, in the USA, in Australia — I know a few of them and once passed a pleasant Anzac Day in a Sydney gay bar with representatives serving or previous from all branches of the Australian military — and, presumably, everywhere else. At the time the events in the novel take place, the US was still adopting an Iranian view of the matter; you will recall the current Iranian leader’s views that there were no gays in Iran, but if there were they would be — and are — executed.

One thing it confirms in spades: US conservatives — and there are of course gay US conservatives too, oddly enough — can be totally revolting and very dangerous — especially conservatives with decided views rooted in a literal Bibliolatry. Given the current presidential race the novel makes a timely read.

Rich Merritt: When I was a kid I just always imagined, given the fundamentalist nature I had, I would be a youth pastor at a church. Maybe a teacher at the school I was at Bob Jones University. Once I was in the Marines, I was off, and my life was a whirlwind… I’ve just tried to enjoy it along the way.

How much of Code of Conduct is based on personal experiences?

RM: I would say at least half of it is based on my own personal experience, but I would take my personal experience and say, “What if it had gone differently? “What if there was a different factor there?”

Which character or characters do you relate to or identify with the most?

RM: We all have kind of shadow self, and if you’re a follower of Karl Jung, the antagonist, Jay, is my shadow self. In my early Marine Corps time, I feared that I would become him.

How heartbroken were you when former President Bill Clinton went back on his word and didn’t repeal the ban on homosexuality in the military?

RM: It was devastating. There was a brief moment of hope in January 1993. I had just come out of the closet myself. When that brief moment of hope was extinguished… I know that we’re going to be victorious, but it’s going to take a lot of work.

What do you think would happen were gays and lesbians allowed to openly serve in the military?

RM: Absolutely nothing. It would be such a non-issue that people would barely register it as a blip on the radar screen. People always talk about what you do about the barracks. The thing is… so many people are going to come out; people will realize that someone is your roommate and also gay.  The counter argument that they always give… we shouldn’t let what happened in France happen to our country. My counter-counter argument is ‘Why not?’

It’s quite a journey, isn’t it? Code of Conduct is certainly a book to be admired, and I commend Rich’s blog to you.

As noted in the novel, in the future — one sincerely hopes — rabid homophobes will be regarded with the same contempt with which we now regard defenders of racism or slavery. In my view it is a test of civilisation…

Quite a different novel reflecting in some ways, dare I say, a greater civilisation is Reginald Hill, A Cure for All Diseases (Harper Collins 2008). A tribute to Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon, Hill’s novel is set in a Yorkshire town named Sandytown. If your only acquaintance with Dalziel and Pascoe is the TV version, you really need to try the books. They are streets ahead of the TV in wit and depth of reference. This is one very clever book. It also reinvents the epistolary novel for the 21st century. I rate it a Best Read of 2008.

See also A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES, Reginald Hill.

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