Thursday, January 5, 2012 1 comments

Book Review: Sex Among Allies

Title: Sex Among Allies
Author: Katharine H.S. Moon
Softcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 15, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0231106432
ISBN-13: 978-0231106436

Case studies are decidedly difficult to objectively review because one isn't just reviewing the accuracy of details and author neutrality but also the writing style and subject matter, as well. A boring case study, important as it may be, might be less entertaining than one of relatively low importance but that is easy to get into. This book is caught somewhere in between the two. Sex Among Allies is, nonetheless, an important study that deals with Korean prostitution around American military installations from the 50s to the late 80s, particularly with their change prompted by the "Nixon" Doctrine of 1971.

The premise that not only did prostitution thrive among American servicemembers and Korean women during this time but that it was sanctioned by the American military and the Korean government is alarming. As such, the illegal business were allegedly managed by local police and enforced by club owners. Negative impacts on society such as rampant spreading of venereal disease, racial tensions among white and black soldiers (and local business owners) and the social stigma of association was the women's to bear alone. The book's objectively is called into question by placing virtually all blame on both governments' efforts to promote prostitution as a means of recreation for soldiers; the women to sacrifice themselves to be "personal ambassadors" from Korea. Many of these objections were addressed in a mass cleanup effort in the early 1970s.

The story Professor Moon tells, however, is unmistakably genuine. The social stigma of such work forced many women, mostly from low educational backgrounds, to be stuck in a constant cycle of debt and abuse with little chance to better themselves. The book's position is clear: the unfortunate circumstances regarding the shantytowns that erected around U.S. bases places an even shame on all parties involved; those who set up shop and those who patroned the illict clubs. However dated the book may be, as many of these camps have since shut down or moved, the book's mere existence surely are evidence of change.

This book isn't exactly coffeebook reading material. However biased the view taken in the book may be, the history of such affairs and the arguments presented are well-sourced and difficult to fully refute. Take the book's stance with caution but embrace it for exposing a shameful past in hopes of not repeating it.
- - -

Alright, alright. No dirty sailor jokes. I started reading this book before entering the service and finished it almost half a year later. I was a little squeemish reading it on base but I keep to myself mostly.

Professor Moon mentions Camp Arirang (1995) but I could only find this trailer. I'd like to know more about what all has changed since the book (and documentary). Are things as bleak these days as they seem in the study?
Sunday, January 1, 2012 0 comments

Book Review: The Reluctant Communist

Title: The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea
Author: Charles Robert Jenkins, Jim Frederick
Softcover: 232 pages
Publisher: University of California Press (March 25 2008)
ISBN-10: 0520259998
ISBN-13: 978-0520259997

Former U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins' shocking story of dishonorable defection, perpetual hardship, and an unlikely romance unfold in this ghostwritten memoir told now decades after his "release" from North Korea. TIME magazine correspondent Jim Frederick assists in crafting a regret-filled attempt of rectifying Jenkins' 1965 defection and subsequent life across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into hostile territory. His life in North Korea was indeed extraordinary but is everything what it seems on the surface?

Jenkins' originally published his memoir in Japanese in 2005 and was then translated into Korean in 2006; this English language edition tells his unbelievable story from his unlikely desertion while leading a patrol, to his discovery of three other American defectors, to his adjustment to new life in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Because of his unique willingness to cross over, Jenkins and the other defectors occupied a unique position in North Korean society; not fully trusted yet strangely revered as "Cold War trophies". Some even rose to celebrity status after portraying despicable foreigners in popular propaganda films.

Although Jenkins mostly lived in rather spartan conditions, he's quick to point out that others in the North Korean countryside were not as fortunate during times of famine. His apparent ineffective brainwashing sessions were constant and government-assigned minders persistently dictated his day-to-day life. His residence changed often as did his assigned jobs; sometimes making fish nets other times teaching English. However regimented his life was, he still found himself in a situation to fall in love with a Japanese abductee. What happens when Jenkins leaves North Korea I'll leave for the reader to discover.

His narration is seductively easy to follow and makes appropriate detours when explanations are necessary to clarify context. The reader is cautiously drawn in to empathize with Jenkins and his plight. His story is told simply with few obvious embellishments. However, I'm still not fully convinced that the whole story is being fully disclosed. Jenkins' relationship with the other Americans is of particular interest, partly because some of the accounts conflict with what fellow defector Joe Dresnok recalls in the 2006 documentary Crossing the Line.

What concludes is a peculiar tale of almost Hollywood caliber. Reportedly, American film producer Brett Ratner has secured the rights to make a film adaption of Jenkins' story. One can only hope it's better than Tower Heist. That's not asking for much.

- - -

I've been interested in this story since I first came across it a few years ago. I posted about Joe Dresnok and Robert Jenkins before but after seeing Crossing the Line (2006) I always wanted to hear a different side of the story. The excellent British documentary focuses on Dresnok's story while Jenkins' 2008 memoir tells his side. There are a few conflicting accounts which I will leave open for those curious.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and wished I picked it up sooner. It gave me more of a rounded view of the life those four men lived. I only wish we could have known more about Abshier and Parish.