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A WGS Quarterly Publication

Bases, Violence against Women, and Resistance 
By: Annie Fukushima

As conveyed by Cynthia Enloe, there is a need to look at women’s experiences on and around military bases, the wives, and the laundress. I would like to take her call to think deeply together and remember those who live on and in the fence lines where their normalized experiences include institutional rape and violence. Transnational organizing amongst women in the Asia-Pacific has opened up the possibility for other women who experience similar systems of violence in varying contexts, to speak to what is the common paradigm within which they live that sustains and supports violence against their bodies, and the creative ways they resist ongoing colonialisms. And while I was not a part of the birthing of this particular movement, through storytelling, practice, and supporting the continuation of passing on knowledges of resistance, in joining the network I have been challenged to think deeply about collective memories of traumas and violence of ongoing colonialisms through militarisms where communities are able to break silences that have been historically institutionalized in our history books, news media, education, and generally within our own bodies of memories.

In 1997, the International women’s network in Asia-Pacific formed specifically to address these concerns. The beginning of the international women’s network in Asia-Pacific was galvanized by a response: In Okinawa, the highly publicized gang rape of a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl in 1995 by three U.S. Marines, three U.S. servicemen, U.S. Navy Seaman Marcus Gill and U.S. Marines Rodrico Harp and Kendrick Ledet, all from Camp Hansen on Okinawa, rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old 6th-grade Japanese girl. While called an “incident” in news media the case galvanized political activism and brought wider attention to military-related violence against women illustrating that regardless if it was seen as an “incident“ it was quite clear to the international women‘s community, this particular incident was part of many moments of normalized violence. In an effort to build a broader coalition, the women from Okinawa, mainland Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and the United States organized our first international meeting in Okinawa in 1997.

In 2007 I joined the network due to my work and interest on militarisms, prostitution, and human trafficking. As a Korean-Mexican American my history is deeply tied to militarisms, where a majority of my Korean family of my mother’s generation would migrate from Korea as a means to leave the poor divided Korea. Some would come as “military brides” due to the 1945 Brides Act, and then reunite with other family members through the 1965 Immigration Acts. And while there has been work to connect how the U.S. military would continue to use the “comfort women” stations set up by the Japanese, questions of silences surrounding trauma and working towards healing communities, is what my work centers around.

In my research I center praxis, the practice of theory. Questions that I have been challenged to think deeply about in the context of my work on human trafficking in the Asia-Pacific includes: How may we genuinely work towards non-violence and peace in our multiple locations? In our multiple locations based on our race/ethnicity, gender, and occupation/class how do we move strategically to building sustainable communities? How do we take what we imagine and turn it into a practice? In my participation of this international network, the question that still touches me deeply from the first day of organizing with U.S. local meetings that began in May of 2007 in which the women organizing were asked: “what does militarism mean to you?” What militarism means is one that cannot be confined to an English definition but always remembering that this is rearticulated and redefined through the collaborative process of sharing in our respective languages and translating as best as possible recollections, definitions of militarism, the impacts/costs of U.S. expansionism that date before 9/11, the coalitions that are being built, the articulations of decolonialisms as a transnational initiative that as a movement, centers women‘s experiences.

There are two main points that I would like to walk us through together: 1) How do race, class, gender, and nation in the multiple contexts of militarisms reinforce particular violence against raced, classed, gendered bodies? 2) How do we as a collective strategize in our multiple contexts to work to end violence against women that is deeply entrenched in militarisms?

In illuminating these two points, I would like to not simply say that this is all there is to say about violence against women in the context of militarisms, but to extend an invitation to all of us to think deeply on the multiple sites in which military violence against women is systemic, institutionalized, and normalized. And that working towards unpacking such complexities necessitates the need to understand such complexities in their multiple locations, both historically and in real embodied experiences.

For example, in 2004 Korea passed its prostitution laws that organizations such as the Center for Women’s Human Rights had hoped would change perceptions of women in prostitution to that as “victims” rather then criminals, and in 2005, Bush signed, the Department of Defense memoranda and Executive Order 13387 which made patronizing prostitution as leading to “dishonorable discharge.” Organizations such as durebang still deal with the continued influx of women from South East Asia, the Philippines, and Europe into military camptowns. And in the Yong-San District Korean police found 1,093 foreign women, from the Philippines and Russia, to work as entertainers near the U.S. military camp. However, it is difficult to count the number of bodies of those trafficked due to the underground networks they function.

The current climate of prostitution surrounding military bases is historically constituted. While cases such as the “Comfort Women” in the Asia-Pacific would not receive a “pay check” for militarized prostitution, it is documented that the U.S. military would also use the “Comfort Women” stations set up by the Japanese military. The reason for women/men entering prostitution varies, but studies have shown that provided other alternatives, women in prostitution would choose those alternatives. The lack of options for women/men in occupied territories fed by the fuel of a demand for prostitution around military camptowns both feed into the economy of military prostitution. I recall when Koon-Ja kim was in Berkeley, she was asked why did she go into military prostitution? She responded, “who would want to go knowing what would happen to us?” While “comfort women” would be coerced through false hopes of jobs in factories, the reason “why” people enter into prostitution is multiple, but also systemically reinforced.

How women‘s bodies come to matter is best illuminated by Jeon, who in 1956 was driven by hunger to Dongduchon, a camp town near the border between the two Koreas: “The more I think about my life, the more I think women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans,” she said. “Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.” -- this was cited in a recent article by Katherine HS Moon

But, if we are to take seriously the multiple contexts within which militarisms operate, what is apparent is how the multiple sites in the Asia Pacific are deeply linked. Hawai`i, a major tourist destination, is the embodiment of how tourisms and militarisms are deeply interconnected. I recall, an outreach worker in Hawaii once saying that “when the ships come to dock in Waikiki, the women go out to work.” While Hawaii has worked with “prostitution free zones” as a means to change its’ visible prostitution industry in areas such as Honolulu and Waikiki, the linking of exotic Hawai`i is historically rooted in perceptions of the “exotic” indigenous. How prostitution figures into the history of a people who socio-economy prior to contact did not depend on capitalisms, is that it was introduced. In the early 1900s, prostitution in Hawai`i was military enforced, as illuminated by the work of Richard Greer. Many of the women who were in prostitution in the early 1900s, were white women from the continental US and abroad. As Hawai`i reached “statehood,” prostitution would move into underground venues including the hostess bar system, and later the increase of massage parlors. The first hostess bar to open in Hawaii in 1959 was called Arirang, a love song. While diverse, many of the hostess bar systems in Hawaii are identified as Korean, in spite of the diverse origins of the women. In part, this is historically rooted in the hostess bar systems that developed surrounding military camptowns in Korea that would crop up in the United States around the 1950s.

Questions that this leads me to ask is how do we move ourselves towards building sustainable communities that takes into account for social disparities that are raced, classed and gendered? In order to envision genuine security that enables the building of sustainable communities requires a relinking of how systems of gendered violence are imbricated in other components of militarisms, whether that is the economics of a military culture, the notions of “nation-state” building, and the raced, sexed, and classed perceptions of occupied territories. As delineated in the work of Kathleen Barry, in order to understand what is going on in the world, necessitates a looking back at what is going on in the “home.” US policies have perpetuated a difference that is informed by its’ own racist, classist, and sexist systems that operate within our own country.
That while I was not part of the sweat and fire that breathed the international women’s network for peace in the Asia-Pacific that was ignited by the calling to the continued rapes in military fence lines, the cases have continued to haunt us, the U.S. in the present: including Nicol in Subic Bay, Yun Geumi in Korea, and that in Okinawa, I come with a remembering, a recalling, and my own embodied experience that knows and sees that while we as a peace movement have come a long way, there is much work to do in which "our struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting" -- bell hooks cites "Freedom Charger, that works towards tracing aspects of the movement against racial apartheid in South Africa


April 2009 Newsletter
Hita I Manao’tao Yini na Tano
Militarism, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Communities
Bases, Violence Against Women, & Resistance
Insight Interview with Ikehara Eriko
Anti-militarism Fashion Show
Printable Version: April 2009 Printable 11X17 Newsletter







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