South Korea: Sexual Paradise Lost

Sexual Paradise Lost (James Dunnigan, StrategyPage)

South Korea is no longer the sexual paradise for American troops it once was. For half a century, duty in South Korea was officially considered a hardship tour. The one bright spot was the inexpensive and widely available prostitution. This was a dirty little secret, but troops who ended up in South Korea quickly found out about it, and enthusiastically enjoyed themselves. No more. For the last two months, the South Korean government has been cracking down on prostitutes, arresting over 5,000. The U.S. military has declared 800 bars and brothels off limits and all but outlawed access to prostitutes for American troops. Over 400 troops have been arrested and punished for patronizing prostitutes.

The sexual paradise angle began to fade in the 1990s, when fewer Korean women were willing to work as prostitutes. There were more, and better paying, jobs available. Those women who did want to sell sex, now preferred to do it, for a higher price, to well paid Korean men. In response to this, the brothel owners began importing women, mainly from Russia and the Philippines. This led to charges that foreign women were being forced into prostitution and this led to a call for laws, and police action, to deal with it. This year, the laws were passed in South Korea, and American military commanders cooperated by forcing their troops to comply. The U.S. military is also considering changing its regulations, making patronizing prostitutes illegal. Troops who violated this regulation would be subject to court martial and dishonorable discharge.

The troops are not happy with this new situation, despite efforts to provide other distractions. The brass have responded by offering more educational programs, late night sports leagues, more movies and religious activities. The troops are not amused. The new “anti-prostitution†regulation has not been enacted because the military fears that it would hurt recruiting. Even the senior commanders remember how they entertained themselves when they were young officers. Some of them may realize that they might well have chosen another profession if their off-duty recreation was heavy on prayer services and light on sin. The last time such a major “it’s good for you†change in the military regulations was made was in 1914, when the navy outlawed alcoholic beverages on American warships. The sailors have been grumbling about this ever since, and pointing out that other navy’s, especially the British, continue to enjoy their booze on board, without any decline in effectiveness. But the rule has never been changed (although it is frequently bent), and the fear is that an anti-prostitution rule would not only get bent all out of shape, but be a major headache to enforce as well. It’s a lot easier to keep whiskey off warships than it is to keep young soldiers away from young women.

Somehow, I don’t think midnight basketball is a direct substitute for the missing services.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kim Chong-il says:

    You mean *south* Korea, don’t you? North Korea has always been a Paradise.

  2. Tig says:

    Hmmmm, where are the holes? There is always a loophole somewhere? 😉

  3. mike says:

    Can’t booze it during wartime – now no hookers – why did I ever join? 🙂