If you are gay or straight, military veteran or civilian, historian or not, Don't Ask and I Will Tell, has something important to tell you. In the mid-1960's John Whitener served one year in Vietnam as an Army optometrist. At that time he was a 24 year old officer attempting to deny the growing divide between his fundamental Christian faith and his attraction to men. Using dozens of journal entries, Whitener takes us on his personal odyssey of finding himself in Vietnam. His rural South Carolina beliefs and values are challenged daily as he struggles to "be a man" in an environment that permits nothing less. Don't Ask and I Will Tell is written with intelligence, humor and historic accuracy. Now, fifty years later, the author reflects on how his tour in Vietnam strongly influenced his identity, career, faith and social activism.
Dr. Whitener's book wonderfully combines his Vietnam War diary with subsequent reflections based on memories of the war. The diary provides candid glimpses into the everyday life of a young gay military doctor in Vietnam as he was coming to terms with his homosexuality at a time when being open about being gay would have had dreadful consequences. Reflections about his own diary entries interpret the author's memories with the same candor that we find in the diary, but with the addition of the wisdom provided by the following half-century. The reflections are wide-ranging but succinct, and generally conclude with a punch that makes the reader want to read on. This is a fascinating combination of diary, memory, and reflection. Their honesty makes them impressively authentic. I hope other Vietnam soldier diaries are out there, and that some of the soldiers who survive today will be inspired by Dr. Whitener's generosity to share their memories with us too.
Amazing...Dr. Whitener relives his tour of duty, reflects upon it and ties it into events from the 90s forward. Impressive grasp of fluidity in writing style for a first timer!
There are many different kinds of Civil Wars. There are the kind that take place in the life of a country, like Vietnam, and then there are the kind of interior wars that take place in the lives of individuals. This impressive and courageous book is about the war in Vietnam. But even more it is about the interior struggles of the author as he works to sort out his sexuality, his faith, his family relationships and his own sense of personal wholeness and integrity. Whitener presents this struggle thoughtfully and compellingly in a manner which finally makes it evident that if any of us are to live thoughtful lives of meaning, we must wrestle with these same issues. This is not a book about what it means to be Gay. It is a book about what it means to be human
For young people struggling with their sexual identity, for family members hoping to understand, for military leaders wondering how to handle any homosexuals under their command, for religious leaders still inclined to outcast all but those with the most conventional mores, this book will open your mind and heart to the joys and sorrows homosexuality might entail. Dr. Whitener's story takes place mostly at a time and in an environment that was probably one of the most difficult for a gay man - the military before gays were accepted.
But Don't Ask and I Will Tell is about way more than homosexuality, and Dr. Whitener has done a marvelous job using calm, straightforward language to portray some pretty difficult situations, some about his involvement in the Vietnam War and some more personal ones. I was particularly struck by the generosity with which he shared some very personal information. Had he chosen a more emotional tone, I don't think the message would have come through as poignantly, or as clearly.
I don't know whether Dr. Whitener intended it, but I cannot imagine anyone reading this book and failing to come away with a heightened sense of the injustices imposed on gays back in those days, AND a sense of profound relief that our cultures's attitudes toward homosexuality have definitely improved - somewhat, although it is clear we still have a long way to go.