Not all veterans are honored
Nov. 11 was Veterans’s day. Nov. 10 is Marines Founding Day. America honors the men and women in uniform who keep America free. Politicians make tribute speeches and lay wreaths at memorials while bands play patriotic songs. Americans everywhere show their appreciation to our troops.
But there are those who provide aid and comfort to our troops who are never mentioned. They are the “camp followers,” who from time immemorial have followed warriors, providing immensely important services that help heal physical and mental wounds and raising the morale of our troops so they could endure the long stretches of boredom punctuated by adrenaline-fueled violence that is the reality of warfare.
Camp follower, of course, is a euphemism for sex worker, prostitute, whore. No one has ever erected a monument that a wreath can be laid at for these women—or men—who provide vital services to our servicemembers in uniform at home and overseas, in peace and war.
Although the camp follower is as old as warfare itself—Homer mentions their role in the Trojan War—it wasn’t until the 19th century that modern Western governments began to pay attention to them.
In Victorian England, the unjustified fear of sexually transmitted disease from sex workers was responsible for the “Contagious Disease Acts.” These acts provided the basis for the myth that whores spread STDs, when in fact prostitutes have a lower rate than is found in the population at large. Statistics show that public health would benefit more from licensing and regulating amateur sex than the professional variety. Prostitutes began the careful inspection of clients’ genitals decades before these laws were passed. Nevertheless, by 1918 prostitution was illegal in most of Europe.
During the Great War—remember World War I was the “War to end all Wars”?—the British military bowed slightly to reality and instituted a two tier system of clean, upscale “Blue Lamp” brothels for officers, but left the enlisted men to much less desirable “Red Lamp” facilities while refusing to issue them condoms. The generals acted surprised when the rates of VD among their troops was seven times higher than among the German, French, Australian and New Zealand armies who were much more realistic about their troops sexual needs.
America’s treatment of camp followers has generally followed the British model. At least condom use is encouraged.
In 1917 New Orleans, the Storyville red light district that had serviced Marines for decades was officially closed because whores were a “bad influence” on the troops.
Ever since, the U.S. military, despite the boot camp chant of “This is my penis, this is my gun. One is for shooting, the other for fun,” like American society at large, has adopted the counterproductive policy of condemning prostitution while helpless to stop it in practice.
Today prostitution is legal or at least tolerated in most of Europe, Asia and Latin America, where our Empire houses thousands of troops. As always, where prostitutes are available, soldiers are happier. Where not, rapes of local women often result, causing increased tensions between locals and the military.
One exception was Hawaii, which—ever since Captain Cook discovered the islands in 1778—had a relationship with sex workers more tolerant even than Nevada’s. Hawaii once actively engaged in what today is called sex trafficking by recruiting women on the mainland to move there for sex work among the military. Sadly, today Hawaii has regressed to the norm and practices the Nordic model of commercial sex prohibition.
We should have a national day for camp followers. Support the troops!