A recent news item from South Korea received almost no traction in the global news media and no mention whatsoever (that I can find) in the United States mainstream media.
“According to official Ministry of Health and Welfare documents, [the state] actively encouraged the women in the military camptowns engage in prostitution to allow foreign troops to ‘relax’ and ‘enjoy sexual services’ with them.
“In the process, [the state] operated and managed the military camp towns with the intention or purpose of contributing to maintenance of a military alliance essential for national security by ‘promoting and boosting morale’ among foreign troops while mobilizing prostitutes for economic goals such as acquisition of foreign currency.
The state actively encouraged and justified acts of prostitution within the military camp towns through patriotic education praising prostitutes as ‘patriots who bring in foreign currency.”
The first time that a South Korean judge acknowledged that South Korea was responsible for prostitution at United States military camp towns, commercial zones that were set up around U.S. bases in Korea, was back in January 2017 when Judge Jeon Ji-won of the Central District Court in Seoul admitted that “a serious human rights violation” had taken place and that “it should never have happened and should never be repeated”.
Let’s look at some background information on South Korea’s state-sanctioned prostitution with United States military personnel. A fascinating paper by Na-Young Lee and Jae Kyung Lee entitled “History of U.S. Camptown Prostitution in South Korea and Challenges of Women’s Oral History” takes a closer look at this aspect of Korean history which has been forced out of Korea’s consciousness. According to the paper, Korean people have
“…long treated them as pariah, dirty trash, and/or fallen women, calling them highly derogatory names such as yanggalbo (Western whore) and yanggongju (Western princess)…”
The camptown economy was very important to the South Korean government in the post-war period; it enabled South Korea to earn foreign currency with U.S. troops contributing roughly 25 percent of South Korea’s Gross National Product in the 1960s. In 1969 alone, roughly 46,000 Korean camptown workers earned $70 million.
In July 1969, the Nixon doctrine signalled that the United States would withdraw one-third of its troops by the end of 1971. Koreans were extremely concerned that the United States would abandon it entirely and that Communism North Korea would invade once again. In the period between 1970 and 1980, the Park government changed its philosophy and actively supported the camptown system. In 1970, one study from Kyonggi Province estimated that the comfort women earned enough money to support an average of four family members; this meant that the withdrawal of even a single U.S. soldier would have wide-ranging negative impacts on the Korean economy. This sense of crisis caused the Park government to classify camptown prostitution as an integral part of South Korea’s economic growth and national defense. In 1971, Park established the Base Community Clean-up Committee (BCCUC), a committee with a policy of “purification” for U.S. military camp areas in a move to prevent venereal diseases from spreading among U.S. soldiers. Women that tested positive for STDs were interred in segregated facilities and were administered penicillin without their consent as part of South Korea’s attempts to woo American military protection. Here is a quote from the paper:
“Called for patriotic service through selling sex, women became subject to intensive government control and indoctrinated in intensive education regarding “good conduct” and proper “etiquette” to induce more G.I.s. In the so-called “education class” held in either at local government office or at health center, the importance to improve women’s behavior and to prevent VD was emphasized.”
Women were forced to take a STD test up to twice a week and to carry a STD identification card which could be spot-checked by Korean authorities. Women who were selected for random STD checks and who did not have a health card were fined and if they could not afford to pay the fine, they were imprisoned for five to seven days. Women who tested positive for STDs were imprisoned until they had recovered completely and were administered penicillin without their consent as part of South Korea’s attempts to retain American military protection..
In June 2014, 122 former comfort women filed a lawsuit demanding a government apology and compensation for their detention, seeking damages of 10 million won or $8900 for each woman. Here is how the lawsuit was reported on the Library of Congress website:
Here is a news video about the lawsuit:
In the 2017 ruling, 57 of the plaintiffs were awarded 5 million won which worked out to a rather paltry sum of $4,240 each, far less than they had sought.
In the 2018 ruling, Hon. Judge Lee Beom-gyun of Seoul’s High Court ruled that 74 of the 117 former comfort women should receive 7 million won or $6370 and the remaining 43 women would receive 3 million won or $2730, still a very small settlement for what can only be regarded as a breach of basic human rights.
Just in case you thought the connection between the U.S. military and prostitution in South Korea, here is a video trailer from a 1996 movie, “The Women Outside” showing that comfort women are still in place for American servicemen:
One thing is certain, women have played a painful and costly role in Korean geopolitics since the early 1950s, an unintended consequence of the Cold War mentality.
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