Long before coming to America, the first English phrase I ever uttered was, oddly enough: "No money, no honey." The painted girls in impossibly tight, colorful miniskirts who strutted on the sidewalks near my school in downtown Saigon said it shamelessly, and loudly, as they plied their trades with the American GIs during the Vietnam War. It became an expression among us pubescent schoolboys.
That childhood memory comes back now, decades later, as I think of the political scandal that engulfed our nation right after the U.S. presidential election, and how, incredibly, a little honey and a lot of amorous email missives could take down America's most admired general, and threaten to ruin the career of yet another.
Gen. David Petraeus, erstwhile CIA chief and U.S. commander of the Iraq theater, and one of the most respected military generals and tacticians in modern time, resigned when stories of an affair with his biographer broke. Gen. John Allen, current commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, too, was for a time facing possible relieve of command if the 20,000-plus pages of email exchanges with a civilian woman named Jill Kelley had been found to have breached military codes of conduct.
And, to make the story even murkier, the FBI agent who initially took up the investigation of all of this was discovered to have sent inappropriate shirtless images of himself to Kelley; so he, too, is now under investigation.
Some called the complex situation a ménage à cinq, or better yet, a love pentagon.
Still, regardless of the geometry, one can always rely on this old savory caveat: sex follows the army the way bottle flies follow fresh dung. In fact, it’s a little perplexing to see our nation’s press corps in a feeding frenzy over the rather commonplace adulterous love affair between army head honchos and socialites, as if unaware of the nature of sex and war and its consequences since the Iliad and Odyssey.
In light of this, the news coverage following Petraeus’ resignation seemed rather disproportionate to the actual deeds, and the shock seemed manufactured in contrast to the real, untold story: That thousands of unwanted children born overseas from the American military rarely get to see their stories told in print, and that the number of incidents of women being assaulted in the military have a long history of going undercounted and underreported.
Here’s a bit of history: The term hooker itself can be traced back to the American Civil War, when Union General Joe Hooker was famous for having a flock of women following his soldiers to the extent that they were known as “Hooker’s girls” or “Hooker’s division.”
Sex with soldiers, indeed, was such a norm during the Vietnam War that it was an economy in and of itself. It propped up bars and fueled the black market of Saigon and Danang (soldiers sold army goods often in the same place where they conducted their amorous business). And if the U.S. army had a protocol against adulterous affairs, it sure wasn’t apparent on the streets of Saigon. During the Vietnam War, too, Bangkok’s most famous red light district, Patpong, came to prominence as the direct result of American GIs on R&R.
Though despite the furtive promises of that false cliché, “me love you long time,” in the evening, the morning is often one of furtive denial. When the U.S. left Vietnam, it left behind thousands of mixed-raced children known as con lai, and their collective effort to enter the U.S. took years before they found success. By then so many had been deprived of education that they ended up subsisting in ethnic enclaves of Little Saigon; some joined gangs. That is to say, the army that ventures overseas often leaves a division or two of unwanted brood. Think, too, of the thousands of Amerasians still living in poverty around Subic Bay in the Philippines — at one point the largest U.S. defense facility overseas.
If there is a sense of inequality these days when sex and the army are concerned, it has to do with how little “honey” can be had in the Middle East even if one has plenty of money, given the nature of the way wars are conducted and the prohibitive culture of the region. A soldier who ventures alone outside his base in Iraq or Afghanistan is a soldier begging to be captured or killed.
Compared to past wars, there are few sexual outlets available; but, meanwhile, the top brass can fly to and fro with their girlfriends-cum-biographers in private jets. Their grand lifestyles stand in sharp contrast to those trudging on the ground.
This undoubtedly leaves an isolated army full of frustrated men and women. The real untold story is what was and still is going on sexually with these tens of thousands of young men and women hunkered down during the Iraqi occupation and now in Afghanistan, a collective libido running amok. That’s a subject about which a real biographer or historian, not to mention a few — please excuse the pun — embedded journalists, could write an epical tome.
This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.