This is an edited extract from `The Morning After, Sexual Politics at the end of the Cold War` by Cynthia Enloe, published by the University of California Press.
On a recent visit to London, I persuaded a friend to play hooky from work to go with me to Britain's famous Imperial War Museum. I was in for a disappointment.
The only civilians who received much attention were British. Women were allocated one glass case showing posters calling on housewives to practise domestic frugality for the cause. There was no evidence, however, of the political furore set off when British women began to date - and have children with - African American GIs.
Our disappointment served to make us trade hunches about what a realistic curatorial approach might be. What would be put on display besides frontline trenches (which at least showed the rats,) cockney blitz-coping lyrics, and unannotated portraits of Sikh heroes.
Brothels. In my war museum there would be a reconstruction of a military brothel.
It would show rooms for officers and rooms for rank and file soldiers. It would display separate doors for white soldiers and black soldiers. A manikin of the owner of the business ( it might be a disco rather than a formal brothel) would be sitting watchfully in the corner - it could be a man or a woman, a local citizen or a foreigner. The women serving the soldiers might be white European, Berber, Namibian, or Puerto Rican; they might be Korean, Filipina, Japanese, Vietnamese, African- American, or Indian. Depending on the era and locale, they could be dressed in sarongs, saris, or mini-skirts topped with T-shirts memorialising resort beaches, soft drinks and air-craft carriers.
In this realistic war museum, visitors would be invited to press a button to hear the voices of women chart the routes by which they came to work in this brothel and describe the children, siblings and parents they were trying to support with their earnings. Several of the women might compare the sexual behaviour and outlook of these foreign men with those of the local men they had been involved with. Some of the women probably would add their own analyses of how the British, US, French or United Nations troops had come to be in their country.
Museum-goers could step over to a neighbouring tape recorder to hear the voices of soldiers who patronised brothels and discos while on duty abroad. The men might describe how they imagined these women were different from or similar to the women from their own countries. The more brazen might flaunt their sexual prowess. They might compare their strength, chivalry, or earning power with that of the local men. Some of the soldiers, however, would describe their feelings of loneliness, their uncertainty of what it meant to be a soldier, their anxieties about living up to the sexual performance expectations of their officers and buddies.
Today British and Belize officials work hard together to develop a complex policy to ensure a steady but safe supply of military prostitutes for the British troops stationed in that small ex-colony perched on the edge of Latin America. A new 900 -man battalion arrives every six months. British soldiers have special brothels designated for their patronage, although they slip out of the carefully woven policy net to meet local women in bars and discos in Belize City. Most of the women who work in the officially approved brothels are Latinas, rather than Afro-Belize women; many have travelled across the border from war-torn Guatemala to earn money as prostitutes.
The government-to government agreement requires that every brothel worker, with the co-operation of the owners, carry a photo identification card and undergo weekly medical examinations by a Belizean doctor. Prostitutes are required to use condoms with their military customers, although it is not clear how many women may be paid extra by their customers to break the condom rule. If a soldier -patron does show symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease or tests positive for HIV, it is assumed that the prostitute is to blame. The infected soldier gives his British superiors the name of the prostitute who he believes infected him. On the basis of the soldiers word as well as his test results, on a first "offence" the woman is reprimanded by the brothel owner; on a second offence she is fined; on a third offence she is fired.
With the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of political tensions between Belize and Guatemala, the future of the government-to-government prostitution agreement has become uncertain. But in early 1992, Britain's Chief of Defence Staff, Field Marshall Sir Richard Vincent, made it known publicly that John Major's government was hoping that the British troop rotation in Belize could be continued. Though no longer needed to defend Belize, the British Army, according to the field marshall, now finds Belize's climate and topography especially attractive for jungle warfare training. Do the field marshall and his superiors back in London perhaps also find the Belize government's willingness to co-operate in the control of local women's sexuality a military attraction?
The US fashioned a rather different policy to regulate soldiers` relationships with prostitutes around major American bases such as Clark and Subic Bay in the Philippines. Like the British, the Americans supported compulsory medical examinations of women working as prostitutes. Similarly, women without the license issued with these examinations were prevented from working by the local - in this case - Filipino - municipal authorities. US soldiers who contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were not required to report the woman whom they believe gave them the disease. Nonetheless, it was the practice of the Angeles City and Olongapo health authorities to pass on to US base officials the name of sex workers who had contracted STDs. The base commanders then ordered that the photographs of infected Filipinas be pinned upside down on the public notice board as a warning to the American men.
Apparently believing that " stable" relationships with fewer local women would reduce the chances that their personnel would become infected, base commanders allowed Filpinas hired out by bar owners to stay with their military boyfriends on the base. US officials occasionally sent out a " contact " card to a club owner containing the name of a Filipina employee whom the Americans suspected of having infected a particular sailor or air force man. However, they refused to contribute to the treatment of prostitutes with sexually transmitted diseases or AIDS and turned down requests that they subsidise cervical smear tests for early cancer detection for the estimated 100,000 women working in the entertainment businesses around Clark and Subic.
The closing of both Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base in 1992 forced many Filipinas in precarious states of health into the ranks of the country`s unemployed. Their few options included migrating to Okinawa or Guam, or even to Germany, to continue working as prostitutes for American military men. They may also have been vulnerable to recruiters procuring Filipina women for Japan`s entertainment industry, an industry that is increasingly dependant on young women from abroad. Olongapo City`s business mayor, with his own entertainment investments now in jeopardy, has been in the forefront of promoters urging that Subic Bay`s enormous facilities be converted into private enterprises, although the Filipino military is also eager to take over at least part of the operations for it`s own purposes.
Military base conversion is always an intensely gendered process. Even if women working the entertainment sector are not at the conversion negotiation table, they will be on many of the negotiators` minds. For instance, the above- mentioned mayor, among others, has urged not only that privatised ship maintenance be developed at Subic Bay, but also that tourism development be high on the new investment list. In the coming years, the politics of prostitution in Olongapo City may take on a civilian look, but many of the tourists attracted may be slightly older American men trying to relive their earlier militarised sexual adventures with Filipina women.
The women who have been generous enough to tell their stories of prostitution have revealed that sexuality is a central to the complex web of relationships between civil and military cultures as are more talked -about security doctrines and economic quid pro quo. Korean and Filipino women interviewed by Sandra Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus for their oral history collection `Let the Good Times Roll` also remind us of how hard it is sometimes to map the boundaries between sexual relations and economics. They found that the local and foreign men who own the brothels, bars and discos catering to soldiers are motivated by profit. These men weigh the market value of a women`s virginity, her "cherry", as well as her age. They constantly reassess their male clients demands. Thus, by the early 1990s, bar owners and procurers concluded that AIDS- conscious US soldiers were competing to have sex with younger and younger Filipinas, and so the proprietors sought to supply them , driving down the value of the sexual services supplied by "older" women, - women in their early twenties.
Listening to women who work as prostitutes is as important as ever. Marriage, parenting, male violence and self-respect will all have to be accepted as serious political agenda items if the women now living on wages from prostitution are to become actors, and not mere symbols, in movements to transform foreign military bases into productive civilian institutions. Listening is political.
This article is an edited extract from `The Morning After; Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War` by Cynthia Enloe, published by University of California Press.