Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations
Katharine H. S. Moon
This book gives an excellent history of US-ROK relations re: the US military troops in S. Korea. It also gives a vivid and detailed snapshot of the harsh, and sometimes brutal and tragic lives, of military prostitutes in the "camptowns." And finally, it provides international backdrop, context and setting of the Nixon doctrine, S. Korea's regime during the 1960's and 1970's, and aspects about the political economy. There is such a dearth of information on all these subjects taken from the POV of these women and on this topic, that I give this book 4 stars because it finally sheds light on a little-known area. It is indeed very well-written and informative. I felt I learned much about the macro and micro worlds of the US military in S. Korea from a very different and neglected perspective.
Unfortunately, it's not a history book, but a sociological study. There, I would have to say is the book's weakness. The author's argument is that the women are not just "passive victims" but rather, "players" who played an indispensable role in US-ROK relations. She builds her argument by pointing out that typical state-to-state relations involving elites, government institutions, and "men in suits" fail to address how non-elite, lower-level "actors" play a role and how international policies not only impinge on their bodies but also how they express some "agency," or autonomy by the women themselves. This comes off as a somewhat exaggerated argument, tenuous at best, and only plausible in the ideal world of academia. It seems more like she is trying to set up a "straw person" argument that combines feminist theory, organizational theory, and sociological analysis. All fine and good for the acedmics, but I wasn't very convinced as a lay reader. What agency can you really give to women who are forced to prostitute their bodies? What power and resistance can one have by selling sex? To her credit, she does admit that their power is limited and that they are don't have much say. But still, the argumentis more to convince her advisory panel for her Ph.D dissertation than the general public. I think the power of her book remains the fact that she has given voice to an "invisible" segment of women who have been discriminated and neglected, and shown how the US-ROK military relationship very much involves them. I wouldn't use the word "player" because it connotes or implies more "agency" than they have, but again, this seems more to be a political academic thing that the author is trying to make that is irrelevent to the very major contribution she has made. I think that as long as you learn something from this book, which you will, it is definitely a must-read for those who wish to examine US-ROK relations.
By Wendi Nation
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"Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S. Korea Relations" by Professor Katharine H. S. Moon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Review by Rhonda Tintle, Ph.D.
As of 2012, Prof. Moon is a Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. (Katharine Hyung Sun Moon)
Sexual use of Korean prostitutes by the South Korean and United States governments shaped South Korean culture.
Korean prostitutes during the U.S.-Korea War shaped images of Korea's culture. Six million soldiers from the United States served in Korea between 1950 and 1971. During the same period, over one million Korean women worked in camptowns near U.S. military bases in South Korea. Then these women were referred to as sex providers. Professor Moon, in her book Sex among Allies, more appropriately refers to these women as prostitutes. South Korea's leaders propagandized Korean prostitutes as personal ambassadors to Americans. South Korea's officials cast Korean prostitutes as patriots who provided the U.S. military with comfort, thereby encouraging the U.S. army to stay in South Korea. The South Korea government used Korean military prostitutes as a negotiating tool. Before the U.S.-Korea War, Korean culture stigmatized women who had intimate relations with foreigners. During the U.S.-Korea War, South Koreans accepted the institutionalization of prostitution because it protected normal Korean women from U.S. soldiers. Conflicts about Korean military prostitutes played a crucial role in the U.S.-South Korea liaison. The relationships between soldiers from the U.S. and Korean military prostitutes reached a critical point during the early 1970s when South Korea's rulers feared the withdrawal of U.S. troops due to implementation of U.S President Nixon's morally motivated Doctrine.
Prof. Moon interviewed current and former prostitutes in Korea to ensure that "the voices of living Korean comfort women of the many U.S. camptowns will be heard" (16). Sex among Allies contains disturbing case studies about the economic and social conditions that led Korean women into military prostitution. Moon explains the daily work lives of Korean women during the U.S.-Korea War. Korean military prostitutes suffered severe physical abuse not only by Korean pimps and Korean club owners, but also by Asian and American customers, as well as South Korean government authorities and Korean medical practitioners. Nevertheless, the prostitutes have goals, dreams, and a surprising level of political savvy. Prof. Moon gives agency to Korean military prostitutes, encouraging their collective memory and their oral histories.
In the early 1970s there was a U.S. crusade to close the camptowns in South Korea. This campaign involved several conflicting groups: 1) U.S. military officials enforcing the U.S. anti-prostitution policy; 2) U.S. military enlisted men and U.S. military officers who contended that paying for sex with Korean women was a soldier's right; 3) black U.S. soldiers who complained that they were being discriminated against by South Korean pimps because black soldiers received sex services from inferior quality Korean prostitutes, and 4) career U.S. military officers in South Korea who did not want to retreat from the North Koreans and China.
Ultimately, Korean prostitutes suffered before and after the U.S.-Korea War. Eventually, military officials on both sides demanded regulations in camptowns in order to reduce the high rate of sexually transmitted venereal disease among soldiers. By 1971 widespread venereal disease motivated U.S. military personnel to demand that Korean prostitutes have identification. Private Korean-owned medical clinics charged Korean military prostitutes for identification cards, sold the women treatments for venereal disease, and provided abortion services.
Prof. Moon, a political scientist, has written a model work of international history. Her archival research is of interest not only to professional historians and political scientists but also to general readers fascinated by the complicated relationship between the U.S. and Asia.
School of thought: International History,
Genre's: History of sex, woman, gender, culture, Asia, Korea, oral history, diplomatic history, social history, Nixon, Developing Nation History (aka Third World History), Foreign relations and Foreign policy.
In his effort to push for the Vietnamization of Vietnam Nixon offered a corollary called the Nixon Doctrine (in Guam 1969). It applied to the U.S. role in the Third World. Nixon stated that U.S. would evolve from military protector to helper.
Oral history from prostitutes, former prostitutes, customers, U.S. and South Korean military associates. Archives.
The publisher of the book should have included more photographs. Prof. Moon might consider using fewer acronyms for the sake of interested but non-specialized readers. The 1971 boycott of camptown clubs by black soldiers from the U.S. did not strike me as a blow to U.S. hegemony over the camptowns or as a rejection of the treatment of Korean women's bodies as commodities.
McCarthyism (1950-1954); McCarran Internal Security Act; Korea War begins; NSC 68.
22nd Amendment (term limits on presidency); Mutual Security Act; General MacArthur fired by Truman.
Eisenhower becomes U.S. President; Armistice in Korea.
U.S. CIA overthrows Guatemala's President Guzman; Brown v. Board of Education in U.S.; French retreat from Indochina; Geneva Conference; the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) at odds with U.S. President Eisenhower's foreign policy and the U.S. Navy; PRC attacks Quemoy and Matsu Islands.
SEATO (Bangkok) block communism in S/E Asia; Warsaw Pact (Soviet's mutual defense Treaty) so U.S. would not help Hungary.
Eisenhower Doctrine; Middle East power vacuum after England and France leave; Soviets launch Sputnik.
U.S. breaks with Cuba; John Kennedy becomes President; 23rd Amendment (residents of Washington, D.C. can vote); Bay of Pigs; Trade embargo on Cuba; Berlin Crisis; U.S. versus Vietnam War officially begins.
U.S. President John Kennedy assassinated; Lyndon Johnson becomes U.S. President.
Tonkin Gulf incident, 24th Amendment (U.S. prohibits poll taxes), U.S. Civil Rights Act passed.
U.S. Immigration Act passed.
Tet Offensive; U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1968, people assassinated, Johnson signs Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Richard Nixon becomes U.S. President; Vietnamization begins, Nixon Doctrine; Nixon bombs North Vietnamese in Cambodia and Laos.
"Nixon Shock" characterized by drastic economic changes in U.S. currency and in U.S. foreign policy; Nixon visits mainland China; China's official government representative seated at Panmunjom Korea conference.
* It has become increasingly commonplace to characterize this as the U.S.-Korea War or the Korean War rather than the more digestible US-Korea Conflict terminology used in post-1970s historiography. See "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" by David Halberstam (2007).
** See the book "Nixon: A Life by Jonathan Aitken" (1996) for further discussions about how Richard Nixon's revivalist Quaker up-bringing influenced his moralistic policy-making when he was U.S. President.
*** The Nixon Doctrine: "In Korea and again in Vietnam, the United States furnished most of the money, most of the arms, and most of the men to help the people of those countries defend their freedom against Communist aggression. Before any American troops were committed to Vietnam, a leader of another Asian country expressed this opinion to me when I was traveling in Asia as a private citizen. He said: "When you are trying to assist another nation defend its freedom, U.S. policy should be to help them fight the war but not to fight the war for them." ...Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down in Guam three principles as guidelines for future American policy toward Asia: -First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments. -Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security. -Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense. After I announced this policy, I found that the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and other nations which might be threatened by Communist aggression, welcomed this new direction in American foreign policy." Richard Nixon's Speech, November 3, 1969.
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly dated, but worthy efforts to document US-ROK vice, January 4, 2012
By M. Smith (USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sex Among Allies (Paperback)
Case studies are decidedly difficult to objectively review because one isn't just reviewing the accuracy of details and author neutrality but also the writing style and subject matter, as well. A boring case study, important as it may be, might be less entertaining than one of relatively low importance but that is easy to get into. This book is caught somewhere in between the two. Sex Among Allies is, nonetheless, an important study that deals with Korean prostitution around American military installations from the 50s to the late 80s, particularly with their change prompted by the "Nixon" Doctrine of 1971.
The premise that not only did prostitution thrive among American servicemembers and Korean women during this time but that it was sanctioned by the American military and the Korean government is alarming. As such, the illegal business were allegedly managed by local police and enforced by club owners. Negative impacts on society such as rampant spreading of venereal disease, racial tensions among white and black soldiers (and local business owners) and the social stigma of association was the women's to bear alone. The book's objectively is called into question by placing virtually all blame on both governments' efforts to promote prostitution as a means of recreation for soldiers; the women to sacrifice themselves to be "personal ambassadors" from Korea. Many of these objections were addressed in a mass cleanup effort in the early 1970s.
The story Professor Moon tells, however, is unmistakably genuine. The social stigma of such work forced many women, mostly from low educational backgrounds, to be stuck in a constant cycle of debt and abuse with little chance to better themselves. The book's position is clear: the unfortunate circumstances regarding the shantytowns that erected around U.S. bases places an even shame on all parties involved; those who set up shop and those who patroned the illict clubs. However dated the book may be, as many of these camps have since shut down or moved, the book's mere existence surely are evidence of change.
This book isn't exactly coffeebook reading material. However biased the view taken in the book may be, the history of such affairs and the arguments presented are well-sourced and difficult to fully refute. Take the book's stance with caution but embrace it for exposing a shameful past in hopes of not repeating it.
By A Customer
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This review is from: Sex Among Allies (Paperback)
I am sorry to disappoint you but the "world's oldest profession" did not begin in Korea in 1950 with the American allies. Ms. Moon ignores important aspects of Korea's cultural sex industry: such as the fact that Korea's "Room Salons" have no equivalent in the U.S. However, the same room salons are found in China, Japan, and a number of other Asian countries. Other aspects such as prostitutes reversing the ties on their hanboks to advertise their profession are not even addressed. The Korean sex industry today services almost exclusively to Korean men. It is illegal for U.S. servicemembers to frequent prostitutes, though granted some can do it without getting caught. Ms. Moon follows too many tangents and inconsistencies throughout her book. For instance, she criticizes the new generation of sexually liberated Korean women who hook up with GI boyfriends, buy them gifts, and give them sex for free. This is taking business away from the prostitutes who are trying to make a living. Isn't that what she wants in the first place, to get rid of the sex industry? Another example is of the Korean woman who continued to turn tricks at the age of 60, as though this were the fault of the Americans that she couldn't go find a real job (when in fact they were the only ones giving her anything). The answer to the problem is simple. The Korean government will not develop programs to help victims of nor even acknowledge the social problems of the sex industry, because to do so will acknowledge that the industry exists. There are a few accuracies in the book, but their context is set in such a way as to promote her personal agenda.
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, But One Sided, August 8, 2000
By "leucippus" (Taiwan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sex Among Allies (Paperback)
Facts, figures, episodes, yes, this book has them all. But objectivity is sadly lacking. I have had an extensive on line experience with the author, and real whoppers were commonplace. Like bemoaning the fact that men who have the two most common forms of VD are not tracked but the prostitutes are. (Ignoring that women do not ordinarily display the symptoms and have a huge increase in number of sexual partners, as is the nature of the profession.) And she would never backtrack
a step in her assertions.
This book mirrors her preformance on that academic discussion, sadly. No one is perfect, but expect a stronger dose than normal degrees of being fed jaded info nuggets. Read it, absorb the information, but avoid the "spin" is what I suggest. Get it in a library if you can like I did. That way you see if you really want that much data on the subject of "the world's oldest profession"
Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations
Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations. By Katharine H. S. Moon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp. xiii + 240. $16.50 (paper).
Six million American soldiers served in Korea between 1950 and 1971, and upward of one million South Korean women worked as "sex providers" for them in the "camptowns" that sprang up around U.S. bases, says Katharine H. S. Moon in Sex among Allies. The scope of these sexual contacts means that the image of each society held by the other is very much shaped by sexual conduct and relationships, she argues. But Moon demonstrates as well that conflict over prostitution played an especially pivotal role in U.S.-Korean relations in the early 1970s, when the authoritarian rulers of South Korea feared withdrawal of U.S. troops under the Nixon Doctrine. South Korean leaders, in rhetoric that eerily recalls the suffering of the "comfort women" who served the Japanese during World War II, sought to mobilize these prostitutes as "personal ambassadors" to Americans, seeking to instill in them the idea that they were performing patriotic acts in meeting the sexual needs of foreign soldiers and thus encouraging the U.S. army to stay in the country.
Moon, a political scientist, has written a model work of international [End Page 499] history. Her archival work draws from both U.S. and South Korean military sources, buttressed by interviews with middle-level military officials from both nations. Historians will be particularly interested in the nuggets Moon has unearthed in U.S. military reports as early as 1965, which pessimistically reviewed the prospects of reducing military prostitution because of its economic importance to South Korea and because many American officers believed that such "fraternization" made GIs more committed to fighting in Korea.
Perhaps most important, Moon has interviewed current and former prostitutes in Korea to ensure that "the voices of living Korean comfort women of the many U.S. camptowns . . . will be heard" (p. 16). Moon presents harrowing case studies of the economic and social conditions that led Korean women into military prostitution, their daily work lives, and the abuse they often suffered at the hands of pimps, customers, and government authorities. But she also shows the struggles, dreams, and, at times, political sophistication of these women.
Moon's narrative thus combines high-level diplomatic history with social history "from the bottom up." Her particular concern is to develop the connections between gender and foreign relations, a growing field pioneered by such scholars as Cynthia Enloe and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Moon's contribution is to show the importance of a particular group of women as actual "players" in global politics, rather than to discuss, as many such studies do, simply the "gendered ideology" and the gendered consequences of international policy. Moon's focus on interracial sexual relations rooted in military life and conducted between a dominant and a dependent society adds greatly to recent similar work by Gail Hershatter on China, Beth Bailey and David Farber on Hawaii, Ann Laura Stoler on colonial Asia, Luise White on colonial Africa, and Saundra Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus on GIs in Asia.
Sex among Allies also stands out as international history not only in its attention to the nuances of relations between states, but also in its careful delineation of fault lines within each society. Thus, Moon shows that the plight of Korean prostitutes was not due only to Korean weakness with regard to the United States. Just as important were the ruthless exploitation by Korean club owners, the government's use of prostitutes as a tool in negotiations with the United States, and Korean culture itself, which has long stigmatized those who had intimate relations with outsiders. Moreover, many Koreans have not been unhappy with the creation of a prostitute caste because it shields "normal" Korean women from U.S. soldiers.
At the same time, the joint U.S.-Korean campaign to "clean up" [End Page 500] the camptowns in the early 1970s had its origins in three sets of divisions among Americans. Military officials who sought to implement the official U.S. antiprostitution policy came into conflict with GIs and many officers who believed that sexual access to Korean women was their right. Tension between black and white GIs, on the rise on bases throughout the world in the late 1960s, erupted into open violence in Korea in 1971 due to allegations of discriminatory treatment by camptown clubs and prostitutes. Finally, career U.S. military officers in South Korea fought what they considered to be Nixon's intent to pull out of Korea by demanding greater order and regulation in the camptowns, with the particular goal of reducing the staggeringly high venereal disease rate among GIs.
The pivotal events of the "clean-up campaign" demonstrate the complex outcomes of seemingly straightforward events, and at times the harmful effects on Korean women of well-intentioned motives. The withdrawal and redeployment within South Korea of some U.S. forces in 1971 led to greater rates of venereal disease and conflict between the U.S. military and prostitutes by upsetting established patterns of sexual relations. The efforts to reduce the GI venereal disease rate often led to increased victimization of prostitutes, due to a hopelessly flawed contact identification system and the unscrupulous operators of private Korean medical clinics.
Moon's overall argument is compelling, but certain nuances may be questioned. Military prostitution was nothing short of "disgraceful work," as one former prostitute put it, yet Moon at times comes close to celebrating the efforts of prostitutes to practice their trade free from control by U.S. military and Korean government officials. What appears to be an appeal to liberal rights and freedom for prostitutes is less than convincing in the face of the high rates of venereal disease that seem inevitably to accompany unregulated prostitution, although Moon demonstrates that neither the U.S. military nor the South Korean government acted with the health of the prostitutes as a central concern. Moreover, the collective actions by prostitutes in 1971 against a boycott of camptown clubs organized by black GIs and against the placing of certain clubs as off-limits to GIs did not strike this reader as a blow to "U.S. hegemony" over the camptowns or as a rejection of the treatment of Korean women's bodies as commodities, as Moon asserts.
Sex among Allies would be an important addition to classes in global women's or gender history, war and society, and U.S.-Asian relations, although the excessive use of awkward acronyms may slow down some students. With Moon's exposition of the work of Korean [End Page 501] prostitutes as the "glue" that has for decades linked Americans and Koreans, no lecture or class discussion on the Korean War, on the Nixon Doctrine, or on the world role of the U.S. military should henceforth ignore the central roles of gender and sexuality.