April 29, 2008

Girls, Guns and Government

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Whatever your opinion about the war in Iraq is, it is obvious that U.S. soldiers have performed every duty given to them. Now they might be unfairly punished. No, I’m not talking about more allegations of inadequate equipment. I am talking about good old American pornography. Republican Congressman Paul Broun, who represents Georgia’s 10th district, is reportedly drafting a bill that would prohibit the sale of Penthouse and Playboy on military bases.

Broun’s bill, which would amend the “Military Honor and Decency Act of 1996,” has so many things wrong with it that I do not know where to begin. This is a perfect example of what politicians do in order to win elections. It is easy to be cynical about the current state of politics and government, and sometimes this cynicism is unfounded. Stories such as this one, however, do nothing more than fuel the flame of dissatisfaction with politics. Congressman Broun is up for re-election this fall and this is undoubtedly an attempt to gain support from his conservative, religious constituents.

There is also something inherently wrong with the legislation. The Department of Defense has a review board that convenes every few years with the intention of reviewing “sexually explicit” material and determining what is appropriate for U.S. soldiers to purchase. The fact that the U.S. Department of Defense actually commits resources for people to analyze pornography is disturbing in its own right. That an elected official of the United States believes sexual harassment in the armed forces is caused by pornography is even more disturbing. That’s right. Broun believes that reading Playboy causes soldiers to commit sexual harassment. The congressman told Newsweek, “Sexual assault is going up within the military, and I certainly think there’s a very high likelihood the pornography being sold in military PXs is contributing to that.” I’m not going to say anything–I will just let you soak up this assertion before I move on to my next point.

Broun claims that the real issue is that taxpayer money should not be used to pay for pornography. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) reports that 98 percent of its budget comes from sales at its stores on bases and not from taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, the AAFES reports that in 2007 sales of both Playboy and Penthouse at bases throughout the world accounted for less than 3 percent of the AAFES’s total magazine sales. These facts undermine Broun’s claim that taxpayers are funding pornography. Our soldiers, amidst the bloodshed, fear and death that they encounter on a daily basis, should have the right to purchase pornography. After all, all kinds of pornography are just a click away nowadays. The irony of this is that our soldiers are fighting for freedom while they are denied certain rights. I am not proposing that soldiers be exempt from rules and laws. However, so long as looking at pornography does not affect soldiers’ performance, and there are no indications that it does, then the members of our armed forces should retain the right to purchase relatively mild magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse.

Any discussion that remotely involves pornography cannot really be taken seriously, but this situation in particular is absolutely ridiculous. As a U.S. congressman, Mr. Broun should focus his efforts on helping veterans and improving the situation in Iraq, not on authoring legislation in order to win re-election.