Sunday, May 17, 2015

Truth about "Sex Slaves": Turkish Baths for Korean Troops in Vietnam

In a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, Washington bureau chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System, reported the existence of “welfare centers,” called “Turkish Baths,” in Saigon for the South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War. Yamaguchi researched numerous documents related to the Vietnam War, stored in the U.S. National Archives. Among the crime reports recorded by the U.S. forces and military police stationed, he found a letter with this description: “The Turkish Bath (located at 347 Tran Hung Dao, Saigon) was a Republic of Korea Army Welfare Center for the sole benefit of Korean Troops,” where Vietnamese women worked as prostitutes. According to Yamaguchi, the undated letter should have been written between January and April 1969. Written by the U.S. command in Saigon, it was about economic crimes committed by Korean soldiers and addressed to Chae Myung-shin, lieutenant general and commander of the Republic of Korea Forces in Vietnam (ROKFV). Commander Chae Myung-shin wrote in his memoir that during the Korean War, “as the undeniable facts,” “[t]he adopting of the military comfort women system strengthened the morale of officers and soldiers, and prevented sexually transmitted disease. There was a viewpoint that the army internalized unlicensed prostitutes who were spreading in society and protected their human rights.”
One of the people Yamaguchi interviewed was a civilian who worked in Saigon for an American telecommunication infrastructure company during the late 1960s. He remembers that the welfare center was also called a “Steam and Cream Parlor,” where sexual services were provided by young Vietnamese women. Another, a U.S. military veteran, says, “Most of the women working at the Turkish Bath were younger than 20 years old and from rural areas. Some were saying they were 16 years old. Others looked even younger.”
Yamaguchi obtained more comprehensive information from Andrew Finlayson, former commanding officer of the Marine Corps infantry unit, who was stationed in Vietnam for two years and eight months from 1967. Finlayson says that the particular welfare center mentioned in the letter was a large-scale facility for sexual services for Korean soldiers. The space of the large facilities was divided into many blocks, in each of which around 20 women were working. He adds that the Turkish baths were established to prevent Korean soldiers from raping Vietnamese women and from having sexual relationship with them. And also because Korean officers might keep women in rural areas as prostitutes, these issues might develop into political trouble between the Vietnamese society and the Korean troops. Another reason for establishing the Turkish baths was manageability of health of women working there because syphilis was widespread in South Vietnam then. Finlayson also relates that with almost no exception, the women were from rural areas and very young, and some were sold by their family because of poverty while others volunteered or were deceived.
About a month after the article appeared, a South Korean daily, Hangyore Sinmun, said, while, it believes, the magazine article was a strong attempt to “to draw attention away from Japan after South Korea’s persistent efforts to demand action from Tokyo to resolve the issue of ‘comfort women’ forcibly mobilized as sexual slaves to the Japanese military.” We will also see who “forcibly mobilized” them “as sexual slaves to the Japanese military”? And the article continues to say, “[T]he issue warrants investigation by the South Korean government – and if the allegations prove true, a serious effort should be launched to resolve the matter.” The Hangyore article concludes that “Now it’s time for Seoul to sit down with Vietnamese authorities to find out the truth not only about the civilian massacres that took place during the Vietnam War, but also about the extent of military authorities’ involvement in operating and managing “welfare stations” for their troops – and to take appropriate follow-up action.” It does not say if South Koreans are ready, “if the allegations prove true,” to demand their government to make an official apology and compensation to the Vietnamese women, who worked at Turkish baths.
Yamaguchi points out South Korean President Park said in her address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 that “Sexual violence against women during armed conflicts is a clear violation of human rights and humanitarian norms, regardless of how far back or where it occurred.” Then he argues that this public document he found in the U.S. National Archives has put President Park in a position where she must act in a way that suits what she said herself.
In his article, Yamaguchi also writes about “facilities for Korean troops” in Danang. In fact, in The Bridges of Vietnam, published in 2000, the author, Fred L. Edwards Jr., a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer stationed in Vietnam from August 1966 to July 1967, mentioned a “Turkish bath” in Danang, in his journal entry of August 21, 1966.  Although Edwards gave no explanation of what sort of facility a Turkish bath was, one could not be blamed if he thinks this was a facility where sexual services were provided because Edwards found it during a “Dogpatch” to observe the squalor of the city and because of the following paragraphs of the page, which describe “[m]embers of the oldest profession.” I tried to contact the author to obtain more information through his publisher only to find that Edwards had passed away several years before. And “Turkish bath” was the term used in Japan for “special bathhouses,” where sexual services were provided from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s when the name was finally dropped after Turkey protested. It seems that South Koreans adopted the name following the Japanese example.
About economic crimes by Korean soldiers, Edwards writes about a U.S. sergeant, who was selling thirty watches to Americans a day, “so that the Koreans and RMK [civilian] workers wouldn’t buy them all up and resell them.” This is his journal entry of December 1, 1966.