Gang Rapes and Beatings, Brothels Filled with Teenage Prostitutes -- The Depths of American Brutality in Vietnam
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Everywhere, every kind of sex was for sale. “At the entrance to the MACV compound in Qui Nhon, a six-year-old girl is offering blow jobs,” wrote one journalist sizing up the sex-work scene. “One night early on in my stay,” he reported,
I found myself with a thirteen-year-old girl on my lap insisting “we go make lub now” in the bordello her mother had thrown up opposite an American construction site. The bordello is made of sheets of aluminum somehow extricated from a factory just before attaining canhood. You can read the walls of the structure from a distance. They say “Schlitz, Schlitz,” in rows and columns, over and over again.
The girl wants $1.25. With some difficulty I refuse.
Later in the war, even walking as far as the camp entrance would become unnecessary, as certain bases began allowing prostitutes directly into the barracks.
“Hootch maids,” who washed and ironed clothes and cleaned living quarters for U.S. servicemen, were also sometimes sexually exploited. As one maid put it, “American soldiers have much money and it seems that they are sexually hungry all the time. Our poor girls. With money and a little patience, the Americans can get them very easily.” And other women working on bases fell victim to sexual blackmail. One such case was revealed in an army investigation of Mickey Carcille, who ran a camp mess hall that employed Vietnamese women. By threatening to fire them if they did not comply, Carcille forced some of the women to pose for nude photographs and coerced others into having intercourse with him or performing other sex acts.
In addition to sexual exploitation, sexual violence was an every-day feature of the American War -- hardly surprising since, as Christian Appy observed, “the model of male sexuality offered as a military ideal in boot camp was directly linked to violence.” From their earliest days in the military, men were bombarded with the language of sexism and misogyny. Male recruits who showed weakness or fatigue were labeled ladies, girls, pussies, or cunts. In basic training, as army draftee Tim O’Brien later wrote in his autobiographical account of the Vietnam War, the message was: “Women are dinks. Women are villains. They are creatures akin to Communists and yellow-skinned people."
While it’s often assumed that all sexual assaults took place in the countryside, evidence suggests that men based in rear areas also had ample opportunity to abuse and rape women. For example, on December 27, 1969, Refugio Longoria and James Peterson, who served in the 580th Telephone Operations Company, and one other soldier picked up a nineteen-year-old Vietnamese hootch maid hitching a ride home after a day of work on the gigantic base at Long Binh. They drove her to a secluded spot behind the recreation center and forced her into the back of the truck -- holding her down, gagging, and blindfolding her. They then gang-raped her and dumped her on the side of the road. A doctor’s examination shortly afterward recorded that “her hymen was recently torn. There was fresh blood in her vagina.”
On March 19, 1970, a GI at the base at Chu Lai, in Quang Tin Province, drove a jeep in circles while Private First Class Ernest Stepp manhandled and slapped a Vietnamese woman who had rebuffed his sexual advances. According to army documents, with the help of a fellow soldier Stepp tore off the woman’s pants and assaulted her. The driver apparently slowed down the jeep to give the woman’s attackers more time to carry out the assault, and offered his own advice to her: “If you don’t fight so much it won’t be so bad for you.”