Let the Good Times Roll

U.S. military bases in Asia, which have contributed significantly to the ability of the United States to fight wars in Korea, Vietnam, and recently the Persian Gulf, have had a measurable, largely unhealthy impact on local economies and societies. Researchers Saundra Pollack Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus spent months in the Philippines, South Korea, and Okinawa, Japan, interviewing women working as prostitutes near U.S.bases, and learning how and why the system operates. Oral histories, essays, and many excellent photographs complement one another to give the reader much food for thought about the human effects of U.S. global power.

The oral histories convey the economic desperation that drives women to prostitution, the women’s often ambivalent feelings toward their American customers, and their feelings of shame, guilt, and sometimes defiance. A Korean woman says: “[T]he way they act with us shows that they despise our country. They think: ‘Koreans will lose their land if we aren’t here. We are needed here because of [North Korean dictator] Kim Il Sung. So we must be treated well. They can’t live without us.’ I feel such thinking is really bad.”

“War—and militarized peace—are times when sexual relations take on particular meanings,” writes contributor Cynthia Enloe. “[A writer] who edits out sexuality ... gives the audience a skewed and ultimately unhelpful account of just what kinds of myths, anxieties, and inequalities are involved fighting a war orsustaining a militarized form of peace.” Enloe asserts that the U.S. military depends “on particular presumptions about masculinity in order to sustain soldiers’ morale and discipline.” (This idea of sexuality as central to the military identity is intriguing in light of the recent controversy over whether homosexuals should be allowed in the armed forces.)

Walden Bello asserts that “the degradation of women forced into sexual labor is institutionalized in a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry that enjoys the blessing of the U.S. military hierarchy, which considers sexual recreation vital for the ‘morale’ of troops.” The system’s brutal long-term effects are documented in “Death in the Candy Store” (ROLLING STONE, November28, 1991), Richard Rhodes’s article on rampant HIV infection in Bangkok, where troops went for leave during the Vietnam War.