Your article is a little horrifying — not because of what you describe, but because of how much it reminds me of what life was like for the sailors and locals at the Navy base in Olongapo, Philippines. I suspect you’ve heard of it, and whatever you’ve heard is probably true. And just as you describe, it was in many ways “extractive colonialism”.

I wish that more people would read what you wrote here, because it’s not just accurate, but to an extent even downplays the reality.

I served in a time of transition in the Navy. In the old Navy, it was as if we saw it as our duty whenever we hit port overseas to get drunk and get laid. In the Philippines, it was Subic. In Pusan, Korea, it was Texas Street (which was cheaper) and Green Street (which was more expensive). In Pattaya Beach, Thailand, it was then entire section just a few blocks from the beach. Mention those places to any Navy man who did WestPacs (deployments to the western Pacific) in the mid-80’s or earlier, and you may see a smile or a faraway look in their eyes, thinking back to a world that simply doesn’t exist anymore, and remembered only by we who were there — not only the sailors, but even more by the victims: the women, their children, and their families.

There were others. In Singapore, it was Bugi Street. In Honolulu, Hotel Street. In Hong Kong, Wanchai. But by the mid-80’s, these last three were already changing, removing the red-light-district reputation, and becoming streets of respectable vendors.

The biggest change came with the advent of HIV. Yeah, it was a big news story even in the late 1970’s, but the realization didn’t really gel in the Navy until the mid-80’s. Before then, after a few days in one of the ports on the first list above, there would be a line outside Sick Bay on the shp. This was the “clap line”, where everyone would be getting a “short-arm inspection” to check for gonorrhea. It was *very* uncomfortable (yes, been there, done that). But after the Navy brass began a strong campaign of HIV-awareness — including posting stories about prevalence of HIV in overseas ports — the clap lines essentially disappeared. All of a sudden, sailors (including myself) were more interested in organized tours, in seeing and appreciating the sights, the culture, and the people.

So the Navy’s greatly changed since then (almost all for the better), but your article is spot-on for the years before the Navy’s HIV-awareness campaign.

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Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

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