The Corner

Honor, Porn, and the Military

Well, blimey. Andrew and Kathryn are having a heated discussion over whether various types of soft-core porn, such as Playboy should be sold at military bases. For once, on an issue of libertarian-values-meet-the-darker-side-of-sex, I’m on Andrew’s side. Of course I do agree with Kathryn that porn is degrading to women. I’m pretty sure that prolonged and obsessive exposure to it doesn’t do any good for men either, and most of the time not for marriages. But the question really is, should a bunch of young men, serving overseas, often in dangerous and life-threatening situations, be allowed to buy it at the base exchanges where they shop? This is a more serious question these days, since most of our soldiers are serving in Islamic countries where such reading material is difficult to come by.

In no particular order of importance, I would make the following observations:

These are soldiers. Their job is to kill and destroy. They live with the threat of death. Our citizen-soldiers are the most disciplined, educated, best mannered, and least wanton army that has ever existed. Still, most of them are young men, with all the raging hormones that implies. They are serving in war zones in places where their access to local women, for purposes high or low, is highly restricted and problematic. (Unlike Khe San and the rest of South East Asia, or Europe for that matter.) It is easy to imagine that, in many cases Playboy, put to its traditional use, might prevent worse behavior, that could be even more degrading to the woman involved, or more detrimental to a marriage back home.

This is even more important since the woman involved in the casual sex, or not quite consensual sex, is, these days, likely to be a young American soldier herself. Such would be bad for unit cohesion and general morale. Playboy is cheap compared to the rapes, pregnancies, sex-for-money and dopey entanglements that occur too regularly in our co-ed army.

On the subject of married soldiers I am with the former Marine Commandant (Gray?) who wished to re-instate the rule that recruits not be married. Very little good comes from 18 year olds or 22 year olds, leaving new brides home to fend for themselves on the pittance we pay them. Worse still when children are involved. The young men would be less distracted without a family to worry about back home. Better to wait and gain the maturity that a tour or two will bring. When the British ran the world — pretty effectively while it lasted — they certainly didn’t permit married soldiers to serve in the armies of the Raj, or elsewhere. Having to focus on family stability has not done much for our military’s primary mission. (It is a rant for another day that so many single mothers leave their children to serve abroad. The military should not be a welfare program.)

As for Congressman Paul Broun, who is pushing this distraction of a bill, he sounds like a caricature of a minister meddling in a realm in which he does not belong. While it would be genuinely problematic and destructive for the military to allow hard core materials to be sold on bases, especially now that they are mixed sex, it seems pretty obvious that DoD is doing exactly the right thing by certifying Playboy and Penthouse as “not obscene” under standing legislation– even if that entails a “wink and a nod.”

Back in 1991, during Desert Storm, I worked at the Pentagon. I was, at first, taken aback to see routine message traffic cross my desk discussing explicitly the logistical arrangements for “R&R” for the troops. How were the boys  at bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and how were they going to get action? The problem, I still recall, was that the normal ports of call in nearby Africa were having problems with AIDS, which was still newish. Whichever country was the traditional port was very miffed at losing the business, because those soldiers at the bars and brothels were a big source of hard currency. Almost anywhere in a reasonable distance was under the sway of the mullahs. I bet you’re wondering how the military solved this problem. My recollection is a little hazy, since this was something I followed mainly for entertainment (as did my Special Ops colleagues). But I believe the government of Romania made an offer. Eastern Europe was just emerging from the Soviet boot, and a bunch of those countries really wanted the business. Romania was judged to have better resort infrastructure than most. And I also believe that one of the less religious Gulf emirates decided that it would allow a few huge “party ships” to dock just offshore. I suppose we transported our troops to Romania. I don’t know who brought the hookers to the ships. Everyone winked and nodded, and the troops carried on.

Yes, Kathryn, we want our forces to be honorable and decent. And mostly they are. Even the ones who go drinking and whoring Saturday night, mutter prayers in a foxhole. That is fairly traditional human behavior, which does not bear excessive scrutiny. Whatever Judeo-Christian values we choose to practice and live among here at home, in peace, we are better off not feminizing or Christianizing the military any more than we can avoid.

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