MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, April 25, 2012 — Once again we are in the midst of a government scandal, and as usual, politicians and pundits have latched onto it to criticize President Obama.
Recently twelve secret service agents and a similar number of our own military personnel in Colombia have been implicated in a prostitution scandal. While I don’t have an opinion on what the Secret Service Agents did, my experience as a former soldier offers some perspective in regards to the military culture.
The incident, as reported in the press, is that a member of the advance team of the Secret Service took a “lady of the night” to his room in Hotel Caribe, the traditional hotel in Cartagena. In the morning he refused to pay her what she had asked, so she called the police.
The Colombian press puts it in a more colorful way, translating from Spanish:
“When the whore decided to leave in the morning, the American decided to ‘make like a rabbit.’” Hacer conejo in Colombian Spanish translates as getting the goods and then running like a rabbit without paying.”
Why Does Prostitution Happen?
Since the first fall in of armies and soldiers, the issue of what to do with their sexual desires has been addressed. In ancient times there were camp followers, a significant number of whom were prostitutes. Soldiers would patronize the services of these women whenever there was a respite from combat, and I have to guess sometimes when combat was eminent.
The formula has never changed:
* Young men;
* Forced abstinence or absence of normal sexual satisfaction;
* Lots of time available during the lull in combat;
* Invading or occupying force with sufficient money to pay for sexual favors.
This combination has resulted in armies either accepting the existence of prostitution or at least looking the other way when it was happening. In some cases the alternatives were much less desirable, homosexuality or rape.
In Latin America, soldiers that were sent to remote posts were serviced by bringing prostitutes to these posts. A notable novel written by one of the most famous Latin American writers, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, chronicled this practice in one of his more famous books “Pantaleón Y Las Visitadoras” (Pantaleon and the visiting ladies/women). I have personal knowledge of similar practices in my birth country, Colombia.
Once a month, to correspond to the soldiers pay date, the military police would raid the “tolerance zones” transporting the prostitutes they picked up to the nearest military base. Those bases that were too far to drive were accessed by planes, the rest by trucks or busses. Prior to transport the visiting ladies were examined for venereal disease and those found healthy were allowed to continue.
American GIs: Oversexed?
When they arrived at the base they would be presented like merchandise to the soldiers who then were allowed to negotiate a price. A prostitute could make in one night what she normally made in a month, as the soldiers were usually primed after being out in the field for a month without female companionship.
Once the ladies serviced their eager customers, then they were taken back to where they had come from.
This by no means excluded American soldiers. The process was different, but the results were similar. During World War II, it was said that GIs were “over fed, overpaid and over sexed”. During the Vietnam War nothing changed. Prostitution was allowed in urban and rural areas.
Possibly the worst case of this was what I witnessed during the monsoon season in Vietnam. Since I was in a mechanized unit, during the wet season most of our responsibility was to pull road security. We would escort convoys after making sure the roads were clear of mines. At night we would set up camp next to the road.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes before the local population would realize where we would be setting up camp; at times they were there before us. In less than an hour, the local merchants would show up selling food, drinks, weed, and sex.
The prostitutes would set up shop under a tree using a poncho as their working surface. GIs would line up to relieve their sexual tensions, pay and return to their unit. The prostitute would have a roll of toilet paper by her side and would wipe herself between each of her customers.
Some of us that were familiar with the oldest profession, as it was legal where we had come from, would wonder how sexual could a person feel under those working conditions. The truth is that the girls would make a fortune in those three or four hours.
This activity was curtailed after most of those in line for sex would then show up for venereal disease check up when they got back to base camp.
R and R or Sexual Release?
For those serving in an urban area, sex was more plentiful and urbane (NPI). After soldiers got off duty in the evenings, they would change into civilian clothes and go down to the red light district. Tu Do Street in Saigon was famous for this.
There was also another main sexual outlet for the soldiers. A system called R and R, for rest and recuperation or rest and relaxation allowed each soldier to request and be granted close to a week’s vacation in one of the big cities in Asia. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Singapore were the most popular.
In Bangkok, enterprising businessmen had developed a fairly good size city just to take care of the American trade. The hotels and restaurants were first rate; most importantly the sex trade was handled in a very successful way. GIs would go to a “Club” where mixed drinks and beer were served. Ladies of the night would populate some of the tables and the GI would ask one to dance.
If she agreed, then it was the signal that a sexual contract was likely. The lady would stay with the GI for 24 hours or more. We were told in our briefing that we weren’t to pay more than $11 for each 24 hours of companionship. We were also told to ask for a health booklet that each prostitute had to have and to make sure she had been checked no more than three days prior to our encounter.
Get VD and Get Court Maritialed
R and R visits to American soil, including Hawaii were discouraged because the soldier could decide not to return after the end of the R and R. And so other sexual outlets such as brothels would sprout overnight in the nearest village after an American base was built.
The Army did warn us about the possibility of venereal disease and each lecture would end with:
“Remember you can be court martialed if you get VD.”
The rationale was that since we were Government Issue (GI), or government property, we could be brought on charges for damaging government property. I hope this was said in jest, but I guess it was good advice.
In 2005, President Bush signed an amendment to the U.S. Code of Military Justice making prostitution a punishable act for military personnel. The main motivation for this change was the international campaign against human trafficking. Since then R and R trips are now considered a trip to see the family or friends and not the almost always sex trip that was in the past.
Knowing soldiers, I can speculate that prostitution and the military, especially overseas, haven’t parted ways, just because it is now against the law.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.
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