Duck Soup
Stand and Deliver


IThe Pentagon will spend $50 million on Viagra this year. While I guess this could be regarded as a necessary expense for maintaining a standing army, it seems like a bad omen for civilian Viagra users. Systems adopted by our armed forces have a decidedly mixed success rate, and get more expensive with each failure.

Depression often decreases libido, so it could be that the military's Viagra budget signals a normal reaction to technological failure rather than an abnormal physiological condition. But either way you have to wonder who's in need of a lift. Perhaps the medicine is destined for the Army's attack helicopter wing, which seems to be having trouble getting its birds up lately. The General Accounting Office reports that the new AH-64D Apache Longbow, from Boeing, can either fly or carry weapons, but not both. When fully loaded with fuel and missiles, these high-ticket whirly birds exhibit a negative Vertical Rate Of Climb. This means they will not rise.

While that tiny glitch doesn't seem to bother the bosses who are shelling out $4.9 billion for 758 of these babies, you've got to think that pilots will be worried. Apparently, the only way they will be able to fly the Longbow into battle is unarmed, which is enough to make any soldier reach for a little picker-upper.

Then there is the new heat-seeking missile, quaintly named SADARM, for Sense and Destroy Armor Munition. A former Pentagon employee told Mother Jones magazine that these high-tech bullets "can't distinguish between an armored vehicle and a barbecue grill."

The SADARM project is reportedly years behind schedule and has failed repeated tests, but still the Army requested $56.5 million for the program in the 1999 budget. The Navy is looking at SADARM as well. (Unconfirmed reports suggest that Saddam is stocking up on hibachis and briquettes, and will soon ring all of his weapons depots with this sure-fire anti-missile defense.)

Meanwhile, I can't help wondering what military women think of the Viagra budget. Evidence from the Tailhook affair indicates that sex is the problem, not the solution.

Meanwhile, I can't help wondering what military women think of the Viagra budget. Evidence from the Tailhook affair indicates that sex is the problem, not the solution.

On the other hand, we hear of women officers facing courts martial for fraternizing with the troops. If an enlisted man were taking the military-issue performance enhancement drug, could an accused officer claim that she was engaged in Systems Evaluation rather than an affair? ("I was investigating troop readiness, General.")

Then there is the fairness issue. This isn't like those pricey but unisex toilet seats and hammers we hear about; this is a "guy thing." It has been widely reported that insurance com-panies quickly stepped in to fund Viagra prescriptions when it hit the market even while one in three health plans still refuses to pay for birth control pills.

This kind of sexism can only be defended on monetary grounds, as the Pill would cost insurers a bundle. In the broader view it is totally nuts. Like fertility nostrums that now allow humans to have litters, financing of erections without funding of family planning works against society's best interests. "We'll make more," is okay for potato chips. But people? We already have too many.

It's obvious that when used as directed a lot of military gear does work toward reducing population. But I don't think anyone would argue that bullets and tanks offer the same benefit to women in uniform that Viagra presumably does for men. The rules against fraternizing indicate that there is no legal way for military women to get subsidiary benefit of the drug.

So, what will it be? Maybe the Pentagon should set up a massage program for the girls. At 50 bucks a shot, equal funding would cover a million masseuse hours. There wouldn't even be a need for new training, since staffers in the military's procurement divisions have been massaging figures for years.

C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. Subscribe to the Soupletter and put his essays on your weekly menu by sending email to:

© Copyright by POINT, 1999