The U.S. military has participated in and is complicit in the rape and exploitation of women throughout Asia, Theresa Dang and sociology graduate student Helene Lee said Thursday at “The War on Women” forum in the MultiCultural Center. They urged their audience of 30 to “educate, agitate and liberate.”
The MCC and a campus feminist and anti-capitalist group, Asian Sisters (& Brothers) for Ideas in Action Now (A.S.I.A.N!), cosponsored the event
Dang began the event with a reexamination of the war in Vietnam. Lee said the 3rd Airborne Brigade, 2nd Division rounded up and raped all of the village women prior to the My Lai massacre. Throughout the Vietnam conflict, Lee said the military encouraged the rape of civilians to reward their soldiers and boost morale
Despite the atrocities they suffered, Dang said the women were not only victims. Although she said French and American military prisons in Vietnam were filled with women who were jailed for refusing a soldier’s sexual advance, the women took the opportunity to unite, Dang said. Despite the public torture that guards used as punishment, the women engaged in frequent hunger strikes to protest foreign domination and to express solidarity, she said.
Dang said women who were not imprisoned played key roles in defeating U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. Women were actively involved in both, as they organized rallies to raise public and formed all-female militias, she said.
Lee focused on the sex trade in South Korea and the Philippines, which she said resulted from occupation by both the U.S. and Japan. During the Japanese occupation of South Korea, 100,000-200,000 women were either forced or deceived into becoming the sexual slaves of Japanese soldiers, Lee said. The Japanese military rationalized that the forced services of these women were necessary for the war effort. By keeping the Japanese soldiers sexually satisfied, and regulating with whom they found this satisfaction, the military asserted that they prevented the rape of local women, the spread of STDs and protected military secrets. The psychological and physical trauma the “comfort women” themselves endured was never addressed, Lee said.
Today, these women are fighting back, Lee said, and she spoke of a rally she attended in Korea, where now elderly “comfort women” have begun to protest in front of the Japanese embassy. They have refused private reparations and continue to fight for the recognition of the horrors they suffered by the Japanese government, she said.
Lee also said U.S. military presence in the Philippines is detrimental to women there. Lee showed video clips of American soldiers referring to Philippine women as “little brown fucking machines,” and saying “you never find women like this at home.” Lee argued that U.S. soldiers from minority groups did not equate the domination they experience at home with the domination they imposed abroad.
The United States has a “Status of Forces” agreement with the Philippines and with several other countries, which exempts U.S. military personnel from prosecution for the rape of local women, Lee said.
Lee said that recent U.S. military actions are all part of a precedent.
“Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t just happen,” she said.
Dang was sarcastic that women were used to justify the current intervention in the Middle East.
“It’s as if we have to save these women from oppression,” she said.