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American Militarism is the Key to Understanding Today's Violence Against Asian Women

As a journalist, I understand why the media are reluctant to go beyond what police say. And for police, hate crimes require a higher burden of proof—though some have used their increase to advocate for higher police budgets. As an activist, I also know that hate crimes carry heavier sentences, condemning many who are themselves the victims of a broken society to face an inhumane system of incarceration that fails to address the root causes of crime.

Yet as an Asian woman in America, the who-knows-if-race-played-a-role reporting feels like cultural gaslighting, denying both our experience and America’s history.

“In rest and recreation spots such as Angeles, Olongapo, and other U.S. military bases scattered all over Southeast Asia, street vendors display hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the long phrase or simply the abbreviation LBFM as souvenirs of wild times, wild women, and wild places,” writes Celine Parreñas Shimizu, a Filipina American filmmaker and cultural scholar, in The Hypersexuality of Race.

The long phrase is “little brown fucking machines powered by rice,” an expression that can be traced back at least to the Philippine-American War. In 1898, despite telling Filipinos that Americans were eager to help them defeat their Spanish colonizers, the US cut a deal with Spain to buy the Philippines for $20 million. When the Filipinos took up arms in a bid for independence, the US deployed 125,000 troops to persuade them otherwise. The war lasted more than three years and devastated the country. Filipinas who had never considered sex work were forced into it as a matter of survival. And American men who had not previously known any Asian women now found themselves in a country where most women they met worked in the sex industry.

In the Philippines, a soldier could have “a girl for the price of a burger,” the legal scholar Sunny Woan writes. Filipinas were viewed as so subservient that American GIs sexually denigrated them in ways they would never consider for their wives or women back home: “Filipina sex workers frequently report being treated like a toy or a pig by the American [soldiers] and being required to do ‘three holes’—oral, vaginal, and anal sex.”

The US military registered sex workers, regularly tested them for venereal diseases, and tagged them, like pets, reinforcing their status as less than human. The military justified this system as a matter of imperial necessity. “The idea was that the soldiers are aggressively sexual and need a sexual outlet in the military theater. And if we don’t set up a system and inspect women, then they’re going to get sick and then we can’t fight,” says Paul Kramer, a historian of US empire. “It presumes all of these things about men’s sexuality and then essentially says: This is a pragmatic matter of manpower. We need men to be healthy and fit.”

By the end of the American colonization of the Philippines a half century later, this ideology had spread across Asia, laying the foundation for the region’s notorious sex entertainment and trafficking industries. At the end of World War II, to prevent Allied troops from raping civilians, Japan established a network of brothels and recruited 55,000 women to service up to 60 GIs a day each. Many women committed suicide, particularly in the network’s opening days; after the brothels closed, the Japanese saw as many as 330 rapes a day.

Though Japan had a history of exploitative prostitution, the conscription of women as a military necessity was based on studying Western tactics of empire building. Since the 1930s, it had provided “comfort stations” for Japanese troops deployed overseas; the postwar Allied occupation, however, was the first time Japan offered its own women as sexual slaves for a foreign force.

Read entire article at The Nation