The Military’s ‘Unmentionable Topic’

Nicholas Kristof's recent New York Times columns on sex trafficking in Cambodia drew a lot of reader mail. Many asked, "What about the johns?" -- the men who buy the services. "Why aren't the men written about?" one reader asked Kristof, "Embarrass them, expose them, not the women." Kristof responded, "[F]oreign countries just are not going to arrest a lot of the johns, while they could be persuaded to arrest traffickers of young girls." Okay, of course, we want traffickers arrested. That was the goal of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that Bill Bennett, Michael Horowitz, and I along with many others fought so hard to get passed. But another of Kristof's readers pinpointed a "customer" who can be targeted. "Unfortunately," he wrote, "our military supports [sex trafficking] by patronizing it around the world. Thus, by proxy, our government payroll contributes to keeping it alive." It's a practice we do not like to think about, but it needs to be confronted. In the current issue of our BreakPoint WorldView magazine -- which, by the way, you ought to subscribe to, if you don't already -- Preston Jones, who served in the Navy, describes the military's lackadaisical attitude toward prostitution. Jones recalled a T-shirt seen in Thailand that read: "Good boys go to heaven. Bad boys go to Pattaya" -- a rest-and-recreation site in Thailand famous for prostitution. "One thing [the] T-shirt failed to mention is the same thing the military's chaplaincy has failed to mention for decades," wrote Jones. "It's the same thing the military brass and senior enlisted men have failed to mention. It's the same thing medics who pass out condoms fail to mention. It's the same thing the U.S. government has failed to mention. It's the same thing our churches, inhabited by veterans who keep the secret, fail to mention. It's the unmentionable topic among Navy veterans . . . namely, that many of the mysterious Asian prostitutes who tend to our men in uniform are kids, and many of these kids are, basically, slaves." One of Kristof's readers tried to gloss over prostitution in Thailand, saying that for many women there, it's "voluntary" and a means to marrying Western men. That was the Clinton administration's reason for not cracking down on the sex trade a few years back. Kristof rightly countered that "while many of the bar girls hope that they'll [marry], that's certainly not the typical result. A lot of them end up, if not with AIDS, then suffering from TB, drug addictions, and various STDs, with no savings, dying alone." That some in our military contribute to this is heartbreaking -- and shameful. We must go after the traffickers, but we can also target the demand for prostitutes. In this case, we can insist that the military change its culture. And that change is in the military's best interest, says Jones. Prostitution is bad for morale; it destroys the moral authority of chaplains, officers, and senior enlisted men; and it makes deployments for married men all the more dangerous. And worst of all, it fans anti-Americanism: "There is something incongruous," writes Jones, "about ambassadors from the world's greatest democracy capitalizing on the economic desperation of girls in the developing world" -- incongruous, indeed, and an outrage that ought to be stopped.


Chuck Colson



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