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Major Conflict: One Gay Man's Life in the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Military Hardcover – March 8, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Desert Storm veteran looks back on the years he sacrificed his identity to his career. Growing up in Queens, McGowan always wanted to be a soldier, but he "couldn't be gay because soldiers aren't gay." That rationale tortured him as he enrolled in Fordham University's ROTC program and felt agonizing longing for Greg, a co-worker at a bookstore. When McGowan joined the army in the late 1980s, "the military was like a college football player, pumped up and ripped on steroids, " and he had "somehow managed to stuff the genie that Greg had nearly succeeded in freeing forcefully back into the proverbial bottle of my own denial." (This genie should get overtime for all its play in this memoir.) McGowan served first in Germany; during Desert Storm, he tried to sublimate his crush on a gorgeous fellow officer. But the "don't ask don't tell" policy created an inadvertent pogrom, he says, as sexual conservatives in the service played dirty to smoke out the hidden "perverts." Though McGowan was not implicated, the double-dealing and cowardice of others sickened him, and he retired in 1998. McGowan is not always a graceful writer ("the only anecdote [sic]," he tells us, "for this strain of senseless tragedy that so often infects the world, is love, family"), but his style is familiar and easy, as if he's confiding his experiences to a trusted friend.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Advance Praise for MAJOR CONFLICT:

“Jeffrey McGowan is a decorated Army officer, a valued leader of men in combat. For those in our society who see gay men only through the eyes of media stereotypes, McGowan’s successful military career may well be a revelation. But the power of this book lies not in the politics of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, but rather in the poignant recognition of McGowan’s humanity.”
— Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman, MD, USPHS (USCG) (Ret.)

“This is essential reading for anyone interested in promoting full access to American society for its gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens. It is also an absorbing personal account of the life of a gay soldier. All Americans lose when good and talented people like Jeffrey McGowan leave the service they love.”
—Keith H. Kerr, Brigadier General, CSMR (Ret.)

“Jeff McGowan’s story is one we all need to read, and more stories like his are desperately needed. I hope his book is found by gay and lesbian youth feeling isolated and alone so that they know there are other people who’ve gone through what they’re feeling. I hope his book is read by straight America, so that we can better understand what it means for people to have to choose between how they were born and how they want to live, knowing that both are part of who they are.”
—Jason West, mayor, New Paltz, New York
Jeffrey McGowan's courageous personal account of his experience as a gay man serving in the U.S. Army connects two important issues that are front and center in the minds of many Americans. With the political landscape in our country dominated by such issues as war and gay rights, Major Conflict clearly and cogently examines the impact that the confluence of these issues has on an individual's psyche and sense of self. This story of personal conflict, service, and patriotism will help to enlighten the American public and its policy makers.

—U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; First Edition edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767918991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767918992
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,593,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on June 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Major Conflict: One Gay Man's Life in the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Military," by Jeffrey McGowan, is the memoir of a U.S. Army officer and Persian Gulf veteran. McGowan covers many parts of his life and career: his childhood in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City, his youthful struggle to come to grips with his sexual identity, his service as an artillery officer, his duty in Germany at the end of the Cold War era, his combat tour in the first Gulf War against Iraq, duty at Fort Bragg, and his life after the army.

Throughout the book McGowan charts his own search for love and sexual fulfillment in the shadow of the U.S. military's policy of discharging openly gay personnel. Particularly noteworthy are his account of a relationship with another soldier, and his description of the military reaction to the start of the Clinton presidency. McGowan vividly describes the impact the military's homosexuality policies have on gay soldiers; he shows how he was often forced to live a double life of lies and evasion. He also recalls the hounding of other soldiers suspected of being gay.

McGowan also reflects on Army tradition and esprit-de-corps, and gives insight into the experience of combat. The book also touches on the same-sex marriage controversy; as the book jacket notes, he and his partner were married in a ceremony in New Paltz, New York in 2004. The book contains some vivid and well-written sections. Particularly moving is his account of his warm and loving relationship with the grandparents who raised him. "Major Conflict" is a compelling story that effectively explores the timely gays-in-the-military issue.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeff McGowan has added an important voice to the national debate over Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "Major Conflict" is both affecting and effective -- an earnest, insightful account of the ethical and emotional compromises that our military demands of gay and lesbian soldiers on a daily basis. It is also a personal memoir of one man's coming of age, first as a citizen and soldier, then as a lover and spouse. The story is well told and, at times, beautiful. I have done extensive scholarly work on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, interviewing scores of gay and lesbian soldiers in the process. McGowan's book ranks among the most powerful of the stories that I have encountered.

We all have a responsibility to understand the impact that our government's irrational and discriminatory policy has upon the gay and lesbian citizens who serve in the defense of our country. Jeff McGowan's book brings us a step closer to that understanding. I recommend it highly.
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Format: Hardcover
McGowan's style borders on the laconic and is occasionally padded with descriptions of landscapes and military proceedures.

But the author has no trouble conveying his love of New York, soldiering and the lovers in his life. He takes us through the highs of love at first sight, exhilaration of battle and the satisfaction of close ties to family, community and partners.

He also accurately portrays the lows of self-denial, devastating break ups and the frightening level of deep-seated hatred of gays in the army.

McGowan peppers a few personal statements about the hypocrisy of don't ask don't tell but these never come off as politically motivated screeds.

Major Conflict is a short, powerful autobiography with drama and plot struture that rivals any Hollywood script. It features a very admirable and idenifiable protagonist who gets his points across in a way all can understand.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an honest account of coming to terms with being who you are. It is inspirational reading for anyone who has ever struggled with their identity. It is especially interesting because of its timeliness, because of the war we are currently engaged in. McGowan traveled a long road and followed the light at the end of the tunnel, eventually becoming, with his partner, the first same sex couple to be married in New Paltz. The issues surrounding being gay and being in the military are salient for anyone who is concerned about what is happening in our world, whether or not they are gay. I would congratulate McGowen and anyone like him who kept their struggle honest and didn't give up until they were satisfied with their life. By writing his story, he offers hope to others.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeff McGowan wrote this autobiography-critique directly from the heart. He is proud of his military service, but angered that he had to jump through so many hoops to conceal himself. When being fired upon, is their colleague's sex lives really a preoccupation of soldiers?

McGowan openly says that the Army continued to hound soldiers who were suspected of being gay. His personal experiences match up with the statistical research done by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy groups. "Don't ask don't tell" actually encouraged the Pentagon to increase their witch hunts. This was time and energy which could have been spent guarding the country against attack.

I've read other accounts about failures of the 'don't ask don't tell' policy, but appreciated his frank candor. McGowan describes how duplicity is much more damaging to the individual solider, and the entire armed forces. The climate of paranoia increases the intense stress which people are already feeling in a combat situation.

Our country continues to have embarrassing contradictions between `support the troops' and this long-outdated policy. It only increases the psychological stress which people are under in battle and removes the potentially best solider from the battlefield, only because of sexuality.

I feel that his participation in the Persian Gulf and then a marriage ceremony makes this account especially realistic for contemporary audiences. McGowan's book isn't the first and it's not likely to be the last, but the intensely personal writing about very current events makes it so much more powerful.
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