US Camptown in Korea and legalized prostitution

Have you ever think that a foreign nation occupies Manhattan of New York and tells you that they are protecting your country? Well, that's what happened on Korea after Korean War! First, let's have a look of Yong san (용산구) ) in the map Seoul [1]:

Figure 1: Map of Seoul, the red shaded area is Yong san district
As we all see, yong san is located in the downtown area of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea republic and yet it's a highly militarized area controlled by the US army.[2] Military bases often have associated infrastructure facilities including bar, shopping malls and brothels. Therefore, when historians use the word "camptown" instead of military base when talking about military deployment of United States in Korea. American camptown serves a similar role as RAA (Recreation of Amusement Associate) in Japan but also has its unique economic and political function. Therefore, US camptown in Korea is an intersectional issue with gender, politics and economics.

Figure 2: US Army solider and Korean prostitute 

US camptowns serve are actually military enclaves of United States in Republic of Korea. Camptowns are conceptualized as borderlands to denote multiple geographies- as physical wall between the sovereignty of South Korea and United States as well as a militarized socio-economic wall between American and Korean culture.

The history of camptown prostitution began with the foundation of American Military Government [3](AMG, or officially called as United States Army Military Government in Korea) in 1945 before Korean War. AMG was a military government founded in South Korea after WWII. The first camptown was built in Bupyoung in 1948 followed by additional camptowns in Itaewon and "Hialeah" and "Texas" in the southern city of Busan. The AMG maintained the infrastructure including the prostitution industry left by Japanese Empire.

Korean War became a turning point of the U.S. camptown history in South Korea. The armistice treaty in Panmunjom did not mean the end of warfare but an excuse of military deployment of United States in South Korea. Without Korean War, the American camptowns in South Korea might only last for several years or only in very limited scale. The Korean War causes the systematic construction and upgrade of US camptowns in South Korea. For example, five military camps, Camp Casey, Camp Castle, Camp Hovey, Camp Mobile and Camp Nimble were established in 1951 in Dongducheon city and Dongducheon city [4] became heavily conjuncted with these five military bases.

The previous two paragraphs provide a brief history of the early development of U.S. camptowns in South Korea. Now this paragraph will focus on the prostitution inside the U.S. camptown in South Korea. Korean women shared a harsh economic condition with Japanese women in 1950s: a lot of them lost their husband or father during the WWII or Korean War and had to find a job for survival. Many of them came from poor or incomplete families and were attracted by the job opportunity in the U.S. camptown.

Inside the camptown sexual transmitting disease became a primary concern for the U.S. army and Korean Government. Korean government cooperated with U.S. army to forestall the transmission of Venereal Disease (VD) by the extensive control of the body of Korean prostitutes in U.S. camptown. Sex workers in the camptown were forced to perform regular body check and wear VD card.[5] Those camptown sex workers infected by VD were forced to stay in "Monkey House" until treated by doctors in the US army.

Below is a documentary about the prostitution in U.S. camptown in South Korea

It has to be noted that when some sex workers eventually came out of the camptown, they receive discrimination from Korean society. They were called as "Yankee whores" or "Migun Wianbu (comfort women for U.S. army )" before the 1990s. Their identity of sex workers contradicted the definition of "good girl" in the dominant ideology of South Korea. Chastity was considered as an indispensable requirement for a good Korean girl. This ideology can be traced back to "good wife and wise mother" in the Japanese colonization era (1920-1945). Many camptown women felt fearful of such discrimination and chose to remain in the camptown.

Figure 3 and 4 are photos of brothels inside U.S. camptown in South Korea

Figure 3:

Figure 4:

Works Cited

1: Map of Seoul. "Maps & Guidebooks." Visit Seoul Net. Seoul Tourism Organization, 06 June 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.

2: Schober, Elisabeth. Base Encounters: The US Armed Forces in South Korea. Pluto Press, 2016. 

3: Kim, Hakjoon. “THE AMERICAN MILITARY GOVERNMENT IN SOUTH KOREA, 1945-1948: ITS FORMATION, POLICIES, AND LEGACIES.” Asian Perspective, vol. 12, no. 1, 1988, pp. 51–83. 

4: Sealing Cheng. On the Move for Love: "Migrant Entertainers and the U.S. Military in South Korea. "University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 

5: GOEDDE, PETRA. “Women and Foreign ‘Affairs.’” Diplomatic History, vol. 23, no. 4, 1999, pp. 693–697. 


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