As much as I am with Donald Trump in affirming the debt the nation owes to its veterans, in all fairness they owe to America, too.
First off, they must thank those fallen comrades of theirs who never made it back, taking the bullet so they could get away. They should always remember their debt to the absent and express their sincere gratitude to the surviving families with whom I empathize totally. 7 years my junior and freshly commissioned platoon commander upon graduation from the South Korean Military Academy, my brother was killed in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. I can’t help feeling resentful, when I see his classmates take all the military and other honors, which would have been his, had he lived by the merest chance.
Then there are all the veterans’ benefits, medical, financial, and social, the envy of most ordinary Americans but theirs for the asking. With zero down payment they can buy a home or go into business, hitting the ground running. With frugality and wise management they can build a fortune or run for congress.
More importantly, they have come through war, which, like a mega earthquake, reconfigures and redirects history, as warriors, active agents licensed to commit murder, abhorred and condemned formerly, now commanded and lauded, the more ardently, the greater the headcount, and rewarded with promotion, media notice, fame and homage back home, which, however, is trivial and secondary to the adrenaline rush, the thrill of omnipotence, almost godly, for killing fellow humans, especially en masse.
But there is another important dimension seldom mentioned, nay, always censored and suppressed: sexual emancipation. Just as the taboo against homicide is shattered, blown apart are prohibitions against sex. GI’s with the aura of liberators from America as well as their deep pocket can live out their fantasies, having all the sex they want with any number of local women. The intimacy of sex pops open a young man’s eyes as nothing else can to the complex universe that his sex partner is, her body, culture, language, hang-ups, aspirations, however lowly she may be. His perceptions and sensibilities raised higher to something akin to enlightenment, he returns home mature and sophisticated, adaptable and flexible, a man for all seasons.
In my early teens during the three years of the Korean War (1950-53) I saw this transformation with my own eyes. GI’s could have all the Korean women they wanted. It was simple economics, each side having what the other needed, GI’s the dough and Korean women the pussy.
Even the lowliest private made more money than the Korean President because of the skewed foreign exchange rate. A Private First Class could easily feed 10 Korean families. Naturally the Korean community and government encouraged the profitable relationship and GI servicing became a national industry. Though called 양갈보, Yankee whores, the women in the sex trade were secretly respected for bringing the bacon to the family, feeding and clothing their siblings, sending them to school. The money they earned was practically the only meaningful source of foreign exchange for the whole country.
기지촌 or base towns sprang up like bamboo shoots after a rain, as the Korean saying goes, wherever there were American bases, dozens of them, large or small, all over the country, the base commands condoning or encouraging them, reasoning sex to be a basic human necessity, like peeing or pooping, or considering it a matter of military morale. An enlisted man or officer could drop everything in the middle of whatever they were doing, get a sex pass, and step out for relief. Everybody did it. No exceptions unless you were a weirdo. So whenever I come to a gathering of American veterans, I can’t help visualizing the legions of Afghan, Iraq, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, German women, their illuminators.