Saturday, August 18, 2007

Standard Stuff?

I'm constantly impressed by the numbers of freshly-minted, self-professed military and social historians who've sprung up during the past few years. This post elicited several emailed and posted comments along the lines of "world's oldest profession" and "has always happened during war, always will" and "it's two consenting adults behind closed doors" and "standard stuff in a war zone." Since it's standard stuff, these commenters should have no problem pointing me to a single episode from U.S. military history that has all of the following characteristics:
  • Economic and social structures collapsed after and as a consequence of our pre-emptive invasion and occupation, creating a large underclass of people willing to do anything to survive.

  • Most of the local population was essentially captive due to our highly restrictive emigration policy as well as economic hardship.

  • U.S. troops and civilians in-country used a globally-available mass medium like the internet to discuss the effect of the local religion on personal hygiene and genital odor and to congratulate themselves on the sexual opportunities created by the population's desperation.

  • Religion in the occupied country, and its implications for women's conduct, was an extremely important factor and a sensitive subject for the U.S.

  • A large number of civilian contractors, highly paid and not subject to the same code of conduct or punishment as the regular military, represented the U.S. presence as much as the troops.

  • Most people in the occupied country not only wanted the U.S. to leave but approved of attacks on its troops.
From those who think all this is "par for the course" during a war, I await some specific examples from U.S. military history that show all or most of the above. If you have problems, feel free to draw loose analogies to some particularly nasty chapters of Russian or German history. Show your work for full credit, and let me know if you need an extra sheet of paper....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps my phrase “standard stuff in war zones” came off as a flippant, even cynical, acceptance of predatory male behavior. That wasn’t my intention. After the first couple of examples you posted of the International Sex Guide, I stopped reading and skipped to the end of your post where you wrung your hands over “our national soul”.

I don’t know if the sex guiders are American soldiers, contractors or as vietnow suggests in the comments section; “(a) beer-bellied, star-spangled shithead sitting on his fat, dimpled ass surrounded by fast food containers in his air-conditioned office” fantasizing about life in Baghdad. I don’t think you know either. But I’m not shocked that this mindset exists – many men commodify women and what was once strictly locker room talk now exists in the open thanks to the web. Decent men need to call out the shitheads and challenge their thinking and actions be it by dialog or criminal prosecution. I won’t accept your challenge to provide examples of US military history that match the characteristics in your list. Rape, torture, soldiers, maddened by combat, who kill civilians, women reduced to prostitution; these are all the stuff of war and its naïve to think otherwise. I’d challenge you to name a war in which this didn’t happen – you’d have the shorter list. This why a war like the one the US fights in Iraq, in which we weren’t attacked nor was our country in imminent danger, such a shameful, immoral event perpetrated on Iraqi’s by the US government.

I think that more media coverage, such as the CNN report you cited, will keep Americans demanding an end to the war. “Suha says as a young girl she dreamed of being a doctor, with her mom boasting about her potential in that career.”

My comments were meant to chide you on your consternation over our national soul. If there was a national soul we lost it a long time ago with 400 years of slavery and subjugation of African-Americans and the near genocide of Native Americans. There is no soul. Countries are social structures with defined borders and systems of governance. (I’m not a social historian and won’t attempt to define country with more precision.) The actions of a country are driven by its ruling class. I took your expression to be another example of American exceptionalism. Your despair for the American soul correlates to the Bush administration’s (with plenty of Democratic support) democracy crusade rationale. In both cases there’s a call to a Greater Power overlooking the country’s efforts. I’m skeptical and would be interested in your further comments.

I enjoy your blog, admire your writing style, and find it encouraging that self-identified conservatives openly challenge the Bush administration.

8/18/2007 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Economic and social structures collapsed after and as a consequence of our pre-emptive invasion and occupation, creating a large underclass of people willing to do anything to survive."
Would not this describe the conditions of any one of the native American nations after the benevolent arrival of you saintly Americans.

8/19/2007 12:55 AM  
Blogger The Last Liberal Hawk said...


Minus the civilian contractors, I would point to the post-Spanish American War Philippines occupation. Other than the bullet points you cite, there are numerous other parallels between that endeavor and our position in Iraq today. One military historian with an excellent treatment of that episode in US history is Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.


8/19/2007 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definetly the Philippines. We were able to win that war since it was an Island Nation and the borders were easy to control. I saw first hand the results of our "victory". I'm talking the beggars, the prostitutes, the racism, etc. Very very ugly soul crushing stuff. As a young military man one of my prouder moments was not partaking in that stuff. I had to suffer some queer hazing for declining but nothing compared to what we put those people through. Glad their government finally kicked at least the majority of our military out of there.
As American citizens we live in a bit of a bubble world. Our nasty side only comes out when we think we can get away with it.
I've had a tainted view of marriage all my life because of the things I saw 9 out of 10 "happily" married men do in these situations. I'm probably being generous on my statistics.

I would warn TCR that the good side of America's "soul". Is generally only reserved for Americans and sometimes Europeans...if we are feeling generous at the time.

8/19/2007 1:21 PM  
Blogger Undeniable Liberal said...

Shorter response: Great post, CR

8/19/2007 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the pre-Internet days I read an article about the results of the influx of American dollars and military advisors to the contras in the adjacent staging areas in Honduras. Women found that sleeping with American soldiers paid much, much more than even trained professions like law and medicine. Of course, all the money airlifted into the area drove prices of consumer items way up. So women professionals became prostitutes. The one who was interviewed got some small measure of revenge by comparing Americans' stamina unfavorably to Hondurans'.

I think only the Web as a vector of information is all that new here. Maybe we should have thought about the bad effects of war before starting one.

8/20/2007 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the state department:
"Since late 2006, patronizing prostitution is a specific, chargeable offense for service members under Article 134 of the U.S. military's statutory criminal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This is a landmark provision underscoring the U.S. Government's commitment to curtail the demand for victims of human trafficking."

Also there is a new human trafficking training course that's mandatory for all servicemembers, DoD civilian employees and contractors who are going overseas. It addresses issues of prostitution and other forced labor. But mandatory training doesn't mean better enforcement of the law or a change in the military culture. Just browsing a few sections of the "International Sex Guide" about areas around military bases clearly shows the training has left little impression on many people in the military community.

8/21/2007 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your larger point comes through loud and clear, and all of the precise elements you've elaborated are pretty damning. But the general pattern of military occupation and degrading sexual commerce is easily documented.

Worth looking at:

James A. Sandos, "Prostitution and Drugs: The United States Army on the Mexican-American Border, 1916-1917," in The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 49, No. 4. (Nov., 1980), pp. 621-645.

Robert Shaffer, "A Rape in Beijing, December 1946: GIs, Nationalist Protests, and U.S. Foreign Policy," in The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 69, No. 1. (Feb., 2000), pp. 31-64.

Or, on the general topic of sexual domination in war, there's this.

People who wage war use sex against the female part of the population they fight. These guys in Iraq are buying and fucking the women in a place where the men are killing them -- and I bet some of them think of it in exactly those terms. There's probably as much rage as there is frat-boy partying.

I'm sure there's a lot more to say about it, but maybe this is a start.

8/22/2007 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey I love the blog. I've been looking for more information on How To Rap and I was wondering if you have any good tips or pointers? I'm getting ready to move and I need all the information I can get. Thanks!

1/15/2010 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey I love the blog. I've been looking for more information on Personal Trainers Sammamish and I was wondering if you have any good tips or pointers? I'm getting ready to move and I need all the information I can get. Thanks!

1/19/2010 6:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home