WASHINGTON -- From Betty Grable pinups during World War II to Playboy centerfolds in Vietnam, photos of beautiful women -- clothed and otherwise -- have been as much a part of military life as C-rations and shore leave.
Now, though, in the nation's political battle over morality, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett wants to take so-called "skin magazines" out of armed services stores.
The Western Maryland Republican is sponsoring a measure that would prohibit military exchanges at American bases worldwide from selling such adult fare as Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler.
He says the armed forces should not be spending public funds on material that demeans women and could compromise "defense readiness."
"This taxpayer-subsidized material is not conducive to good order and discipline," Bartlett said. "You are more likely to have episodes like Tailhook and the multiple rape in Okinawa than you would if you did not have that material."
Conservative groups such as the Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America as well as Joseph T. Dimino, the Roman Catholic archbishop for military services, endorse the measure.
Those opposed to the ban include Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pentagon.
"How do you put a man in uniform, teach him how to kill, expose him to images of war and in the same breath tell him he's not equipped to handle images of people making love?" said Guccione in a telephone interview from his office in New York.
The Bartlett amendment, he added, is "typical of the kind of repressive government that the Republican Party says it is against."
The House passed the measure last week as part of a $267 billion defense authorization bill, but it could be stripped out later when House and Senate members meet in a conference committee.
Bartlett says the magazines are subsidized by tax dollars, because they are sold tax-free and at a discount from government-built stores. However, Larry Phillips, a spokesman for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, said its facilities are self-supporting and use no public money to stock magazines.
Army and Air Force stores sell $12.6 million worth of adult magazines on bases each year, Phillips said. The exchange service, which runs base shopping centers, stocks 219 different titles.
At 19,000 copies a month, Penthouse is the most popular. Hustler, which sells 17,000 monthly, is second. Playboy, at 14,000 copies, runs third.
In an interview, Bartlett produced the May issue of Hustler -- which he had purchased at Bolling Air Force Base as part of his research -- to illustrate his point.
The 69-year-old Seventh-Day Adventist leafed through the magazine, stopping to show a reporter pictures of women seemingly engaging each other in sexual acts.
"Here's typical lesbian behavior," he said as he turned the pages.
"I don't understand why that is of interest to men." At Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, several soldiers met questions this week about the proposed ban with bemused smiles.
"I feel if a young kid is old enough to enlist in one of the services, he should have the freedom to choose," said Army Master Sgt. Tony Kershaw, 38, from Richmond, Va. "We're trying to figure out why this is an issue."
Sgt. Kavin Mitchell, 29, from Georgia, disagreed, saying the practice of selling magazines on base did not promote a good image of soldiers.
Some at Fort Meade said the magazines weren't all that popular among active duty personnel, and more are purchased by military retirees living near the base. They also doubted that a ban would generate much resentment.
"If they can't get it here, they'll get it somewhere else," said Staff Sgt. Michael Regan, 39, from Montana.
If the measure becomes law, the biggest beneficiaries will be businesses such as Food Max, a convenience store across the street from Fort Meade that sells adult magazines. Owner Dinesh Patel estimates that his sales -- about two adult magazines a day -- would increase sharply.
"He's doing a favor for me," Patel said of Bartlett.
Still, Patel said that he opposed the ban because it restricted public freedom. If military bases are prohibited from selling the magazines, "next is me," he said.
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, another Maryland Republican, is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. Asked what he thought of the prohibition, he slapped his forehead, winced and said, "Geeeez!"
"Here they go, they are the moral compass for the Congress," he said, referring to Bartlett and another key supporter of the ban, Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a California Republican.
On further reflection, though, the Eastern Shore congressman said he supported the measure. Selling such magazines doesn't fit with the military goals of teaching leadership and instilling respect for others, he said.
Pub Date: 5/21/96