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11: Sex under occupation

Few aspects of postwar occupation attracted as much attention in America as the sex lives of conquering troops. In neither Germany nor Japan were US military personnel meant to engage in sexual relationships with local women. However, US occupation authorities' efforts to curb GIs' sexual behaviour proved largely unsuccessful. Thanks to the efforts of journalists, writers, photographers and filmmakers, distant American civilians were well aware that American men were sleeping with women who, until very recently, had been 'the enemy.' But what did these relationships mean to those who entered into them, and to those at a distance who observed and judged these encounters? In this seminar, we will consider the sexual contours of occupation from the vantage-point of both the occupiers and occupied, exploring the variety of motivations and meanings attached to sex under occupation.

Note: This week's readings and slides deal with potentially triggering material, including sex work and sexual exploitation, misogynistic and racist attitudes, and also with children's psychological distress.

Class slides.

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Seminar questions:

  • Why was sex-- seemingly a domain of private personal activity-- such an important public facet of occupation for both occupiers and occupied?
  • In what ways did constructs of gender and race shape sexual relationships in postwar Germany and Japan? How far did US popular conceptions of German and Japanese women differ?
  • Were American troops' sexual interactions with local women invariably an expression of unfettered US power?
  • Why did sexual behaviour prove so hard for US occupation authorities to manage?

Required Reading:

Primary sources:

For biographical notes on the authors click here.

Higashi Mineo, 'Child of Okinawa', transl. Steve Rabson, in Okinawa: Two Postwar Novellas (University of California, Japan Research Monograph, 1996), 81-117

Lindesay Parrott, 'The Geisha Girl, GI Version,' New York Times, Nov. 25, 1945

Julian Bach, 'GIs Between the Sheets' from America's Germany (1946), 71-83

Secondary sources:

Perry Biddiscombe, 'Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945-1948', Journal of Social History 34, iii (2001): 611-47

Holly Sanders, 'Panpan: Streetwalking in Occupied Japan', Pacific Historical Review 81, iii (Aug. 2012): 404-31

Supplementary reading:

Michael Cullen Green, Black Yanks in the Pacific: Race in the Making of American Military Empire after World War II (Cornell University Press, 2010), e-book

Sarah Kovner, Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan (Stanford University Press, 2012) e-book

Robert Kramm, 'Haunted by Defeat: Imperial Sexualities, Prostitution, and the Emergence of Postwar Japan,' Journal of World History 28, 3 & 4 (Dec. 2017): 587-614 [Project MUSE]

Robert Kramm, 'Sexual Violence, Masculinity, and Agency in Post-Surrender Japan, 1945', Journal of Women's History 31, i (Spring 2019): 62-85

Ruth Lawlor, 'The Stuttgart Incident: Sexual Violence and the Uses of History, Diplomatic History 46, i (Jan. 2022): 70-96

Na Young Lee, 'The Construction of Military Prostitution in South Korea during US Military Rule', Feminist Studies 33, 3 (Fall 2007): 453-81

Marc McLelland, '"Kissing is a symbol of democracy!": Dating, Democracy, and Romance in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952', Journal of the History of Sexuality 19, iii (Sept. 2010): 508-35

Timothy L. Schroer, 'Fräuleins and Black GIs: Race, Sex and Power', chapter 4, Recasting Race after World War II: Germans and African Americans in American-Occupied Germany (University Press of Colorado, 2007), 119-47

Yuki Tanaka, Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation (Routledge, 2002) e-book

John W. Willoughby, Remaking the Conquering Heroes: The Postwar American Occupation of Germany (Macmillan, 2001) e-book

Suggested viewing:

Billy Wilder (dir.) A Foreign Affair (1948)

Douglas Mann (dir.) The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)