GRAFENWÖHR, Germany – Legislation that would restrict the sale of certain men’s magazines on U.S. military bases around the world would be bad for morale, according to soldiers at Grafenwöhr.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., has introduced legislation that would close a loophole in the current law that allows the sale of some sexually explicit material on military bases by lowering the threshold required to deem material “sexually explicit.”
A Department of Defense committee that reviews materials sold on bases ruled last year that magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse are not pornographic. But Broun’s Military Honor and Decency Act includes language that could make those magazines eligible for the ban.
The prospect of missing out on men’s magazines was not welcomed by soldiers at Grafenwöhr.
“We all read ’em,” said Pfc. Paul Rubio, 31, of Bakersfield, Calif. “There are times we just read ’em for the technological parts like the new gadgets that come out. They have good stories sometimes too.”
Sgt. Simon Brown, 34, of Daytona Beach, Fla., said men’s magazines build morale. “It’s not all about the pictures, although 80 percent of it is,” he said.
Pfc. Greg Smith, 21, of Northboro, Mass., a regular Playboy reader, said soldiers should be allowed to buy nudie magazines at the exchange.
“Playboy is good entertainment while you are on the can. They have jokes and good stories,” he said.
Broun, a Marine veteran, told Newsweek recently that the magazines sold in military exchanges are partly responsible for a rise in sexual assaults in the military and other problems.
“Allowing the sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by: escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes; feeding a base addiction; eroding the family as the primary building block of society; and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad,” Broun says on his Web site.
The legislation would require the DOD to annually review material that is not currently deemed sexually explicit to determine if it should be prohibited, according to the Web site.
Some soldiers say magazines that could be banned are particularly important downrange.
Brown deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 and is preparing to go to Iraq with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade this summer. When he was in Afghanistan he was one of the first to pick up a new copy of Maxim or FHM when it came out, he said.
“It would suck if they ban it,” he said. “It’s bad enough we are down there to begin with. Taking that away would be like a knife in the chest. I’m not saying I’m depending on Maxim to keep me alive over there, but it helps.”
Publications such as Maxim and FHM are not named by Broun, but lowering the threshold of the sexually explicit definition might mean such magazines would be targeted for a ban.
Some troops in the Pacific region said the proposed legislation would impinge upon their personal freedoms.
“They’re making it a point of undermining soldiers to almost make them feel like we’re back in elementary school,” Pfc. Nickolas Sears said Friday at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. “We’re all adults here, and if it’s something we want to do, we should feel free to choose as we please.”
Other than on base, there’s no place in South Korea to buy magazines like Playboy, he said.
“I believe it’s a breach of freedom of speech,” said Senior Airman Garrett Deese, 25, of Elk Grove, Calif., who just completed a tour with the 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
He said he wonders whether such a ban would lead to barring other types of magazines lawmakers chose to challenge. He also questioned whether Broun’s link between magazines and sexual assaults within the military would stand close scrutiny.
At Yokota Air Base, Japan, military spouse Roberta Woolley said she understands the need for balance between rules and individual rights, but said the military has tougher standards than the rest of American society.
“It’s a good idea,” she said of the proposed ban. “I think there’s better literature out there.... In the military, we sell cigarettes and alcohol legally. But it’s also questionable whether they promote a healthy lifestyle.
“I’ve seen all these magazines, and they don’t make men or women intelligent or beautiful. And even though they’re hidden, there is still exposure to children as well. It’s the parents’ responsibility to give ideas about body awareness to their children. I don’t think Mr. Hefner presents a positive image of men or women in his magazine.”
A female soldier at Grafenwöhr — Sgt. Pou McCall, 23, of Riverside, Calif. — said men’s magazines don’t bother her a lot, but she’d support a ban.
“What if it was their (soldiers’) sisters (in the magazines)? It doesn’t take a magazine for sexual harassment to happen but it increases it,” she said.
Army and Air Force Exchange service public relations manager Judd Anstey said AAFES sold $231,000 worth of Penthouse, Playboy and Playgirl magazines in Europe last year.
“Sales of these three titles account for 2.7 percent of total European magazine sales ($8.5 million) at AAFES facilities,” he said.
The sales accounted for 0.5 percent of worldwide AAFES magazine sales of $46.4 million, he said.
Stars and Stripes’ reporters Vince Little, Franklin Fisher and Erik Slavin contributed to this report.