The Vietnam War and ‘rest and recreation’ leave
Vietnam has been subjected to various waves of colonisation. After the end of the period of French colonialism, the country suffered occupation by Japan during the Asia-Pacific War and then decades of civil war between the Soviet-affiliated North and the US-affiliated South. In the Vietnam War, US troops were supported by troops from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines. South Korea also sent troops to Vietnam — over 300,000 troops and over 100,000 civilian workers between 1965 and 1973 (Lee 2010: 37). Japan, due to the renunciation of belligerency in Article 9 of the postwar constitution, could not send troops to Vietnam, but supported the war effort through the provision of land and other support for US bases on Japanese soil.
In the French colonial period, sexual service industries had developed for the French colonisers. During the Vietnam War, sexual service industries developed for the soldiers of the US military and their allies, with specific bars and brothels for the soldiers of each nation. While some Korean novelists wrote ‘camp town’ novels about the relationships between GIs and Korean women on Korean soil, others wrote about their experiences as soldiers in Vietnam and their relationships with local Vietnamese women (Lee 2010: 60—72). The sexual service industry became a transnational industry, for soldiers would also travel to other places in the region — such as the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Okinawa and Australia — on so-called ‘rest and recreation leave’ (Enloe 1989: 36).
After the end of the Vietnam War, the official Vietnamese government attitude to prostitution is to see it as a ‘social evil’ (see Gammeltoft and Nguyen in this volume), similar to other socialist countries in the region (Jeffreys in this volume; Kim in this volume). We have little information as to whether the Vietnamese military is supported by a prostitution industry around military installations, as happens in other places where there is a largely masculine military force. (Similarly, we have little information on whether the militaries of China or North Korea are associated with sexual service industries.)
Meanwhile, such places as Bangkok and Manila, former destinations for military ‘R and R’ during the Vietnam War, became centres for the prostitution tourism industry. In several sites in the region, the military prostitution industry morphs into, or overlaps with, the prostitution tourism industry.