11.2. Evelyn Yoshimura on G.I. Racism and Misogyny Toward Asian Women during the Vietnam War, 1971.
Source: Evelyn Yoshimura, “G.I.’s and Asian Women,” Roots: An Asian American Reader, eds., Amy Tachiki, Eddie Wong, Franklin Odo, Buck Wong (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1971), pp. 27–29.
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G.I.’s and Asian Women
The Vietnam War has touched the lives of the American people in many ways, and the Asian American community has not been immune. Our brothers have been drafted into the military to face fighting and possibly dying in a war that even the legislators of our country cannot wholly support; and for Asian American brothers, there is the added contradiction of killing other Asian people in the name of a country that itself is divided in its support of the war. The drafting of our brothers into the military, and the taxes that we must pay for this war are two very concrete ways in which we are touched. There are other ways in which we feel that ugliness of that war.
GIs are sent to Vietnam by the U.S. government and its Military armed with martial training, sophisticated weapons and a view of Asian people as sub-human beings. A vast number of Asian American GIs have unpleasant memories of being called gook, charlie, Jap, Chink, Ho Chi Minh by superior officers and fellow GIs in their basic training. And the phrase Asians have no value for human life has been used too often to detract from the horror of rumored and proven atrocities against Vietnamese civilians.
Because of the lack of self-motivation and justification on the part of the GIs to fight against the Vietnamese people, it is necessary for the U.S. Military to psychologically break down GIs so they can instill the values and mentality that is necessary to become effective killers. One method employed by the Military towards this end is the use of women, or more correctly, the sexual symbol of women, which proves very effective because of the long and complete separation from women that GIs experience, especially in basic training. This use of women to oppress GIs many times manifests itself in the way GIs relate to women they come in contact with after boot-camp. Because of World War II, the Korean War and now, the Vietnam War, many times these women are Asian women. An Asian American brother recalls his experiences in boot-camp:
“In Marine Corps boot-camp, the military goes through a psychological and physical breakdown trip of the men so they (the Military) can instill their values. And a heavy part of that trip is the mentioning of women in certain sexual contexts.
Some guys really believed this shit too. Like when you get overseas afterwards, you kind of trip on the jokes you heard and look for things you remember from the jokes.”
We had these classes we had to go to be taught by the drill instructors, and every instructor would tell a joke before he began class. It would always be a dirty joke usually having to do with prostitutes they had seen in Japan or in other parts of Asia while they were stationed overseas. The attitude of the Asian woman being a doll, a useful toy or something to play with usually came out in these jokes, and how they were not quite as human as white women. For instance, a real common example was how the instructor would talk about how Asian women’s vaginas weren’t like a white woman’s, but rather they were slanted, like their eyes.
By using Asian women in this manner, the Military gains in two ways. First, they use Asian women as a symbolic sexual object. The Military knows that the GIs aren’t able to seek sexual satisfaction during basic training and a large part of their combat time, so they use this knowledge to keep the men down. They continually remind them of their desire by talking about women all the time, yet they keep the gratification of this desire from their reach. Again, the psychological breakdown.According to Wilhelm Reich, noted psychologist (from his book MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM, p. 25–26), “The goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.” He goes on to say, “… the suppression of the gratification of primitive material needs (food, shelter, clothing) has a result different from that of the suppression of the gratification of the sexual needs. The former incites rebellion. The latter, however—by repressing the sexual needs and by becoming anchored as a moralistic defense—paralyzes the rebellion against either kind of suppression.”
The second way the Military gains from using the symbol of Asian women is by the racism against Asians that it encourages and perpetrates. The image of a people with slanted eyes and slanted vaginas enhances the feeling that Asians are other than human, and therefore much easier to kill. More than a few Vietnam veterans tell of incidents of GIs who spend time in combat; then during their Rest and Recuperation periods, suddenly and with no apparent provocation, will kill a Vietnamese civilian out of a paranoid concept of gooks. And according to many vets, civilian massacres like My Lai are not exceptional happenings. Reich has something to say about this too.
“The suppression of natural sexual gratification leads to various kinds of substitute gratifications. Natural aggression becomes brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological factor in imperialistic wars.”
And there is another dimension in the use of Asian women as sexual objects. The view that Asian women are less than human helps perpetrate another myth—that of the White woman “back home” being placed on a pedestal. (This is not to say that the White woman’s position is to be envied. Her position on that pedestal is also an oppressive situation). A good illustration of this attitude is the attitude towards the Red Cross nurses on some bases in Vietnam and throughout Asia. Another Vietnam veteran recalls those Red Cross workers:
“I remember these Red Cross broads—they were called Do-nut Dollies because they’d sell donuts and coffee. Anyway, on the side they would hustle the guys on the base. The average price for a Vietnamese prostitute was about $10.00, but these Red Cross broads, because they were White, could get $65. Most of them didn’t even look that good, and some of them were kind of old, but the men were really hungry for round-eyed chicks. Oh yeah, and $65 was how much you got a month for combat pay. So you risk getting killed for a month to get that $65, and a lot of guys blew it in one shot just to lay a round-eyed chick.”
Another example of the “White woman on a pedestal” can be seen in the words of another Asian American brother’s experiences with the Military when he tried to marry a Vietnamese girl:
“I wanted to get married when I was in Vietnam, but they (the Military) wouldn’t let me. I didn’t push it because of the static and all the feedback I got from the beginning. You see, you have to go through the chain-of-command to get married, even in Vietnam because I was in the rear at the time. That’s when I met this Vietnamese girl. First, I went to my Section Chief, and he said, ‘Man, you don’t want to marry one of these “gooks” over here. They’re not civilized, and if you take her back home with you, people won’t be able to handle her cause she’s not civilized.’ And so I said, ‘Well, that’s my problem.’ So then I went to the Gunnery Sergeant, and he lectured me for like all day, and he told me to come back. And I came back, and he lectured me and told me to come back again. Then I got to the First Sergeant and he did the same thing. Finally, I got to the CO (Commanding Officer) and he ran down all the bureaucratic stuff that I’d have to go through before I could even get the consent to get married. You see, you have to go through this waiting period, and they make you wait until after your rotation time, like if you have five months before you’re moved out, then they’ll give you a waiting period of six months so they can get you out of there.”
“Man, they’d say stuff like, ‘She’s not an American so she wouldn’t be able to handle it in the States; and you wouldn’t be able to trust her once you got back to the States.’ They said, ‘Okay, You think you want to marry her now, but that’s because there are no round-eyed chicks around. They said that to me, you know, I’m an Asian too, but they said that to me. They’d always talk about ‘round-eyed’ chicks—you know, Caucasian chicks. They’d say, ‘And once you get back, you’ll see all those blondes and stuff, and you’ll look at your wife and she’ll be this old farmer chick—this gook—and you’ll want to get rid of her. You’ll be embarrassed when you get back because she’s Vietnamese.’”
To most non-Asians in the U.S., there is little if any difference between Asian Americans and Asians in America. We Asian Americans are either lumped with Asians, and therefore considered “foreigners”, or we are invisible. The brother who wanted to marry the Vietnamese girl experienced both. On one hand, the Military, completely insensitive of the fact that he too was an Asian, talked about the ‘round-eyed’ chicks waiting back home. This same brother, upon entering basic training was called a gook and was made to stand in front of his platoon as an example of “what the enemy (the Vietnamese) looked like.” Asian Americans are also victims of the stereotypes put on Asian people. Therefore, Asian American women are susceptible to the stereotypes that GIs have of women in Asia. An example of this is shown in the following story of still another Asian American brother in basic training.
“Before everybody crashes, the drill instructor comes through and checks to see that all foot-lockers are locked, and that you have your wallet. So you stand up on top of your locker at attention in your drawers and teeshirt and he comes around and he yells at everybody and he’ll punch a few people; and he always picks somebody and he’ll take their wallet and he’ll look at their pictures. I had some pictures of these Asian girls I went to high school with. He made some derogatory comments like, ‘This looks like this whore I knew back over there (Japan).’ Then he took three or four pictures out of my wallet and he kept them. I couldn’t do nothing about it. I don’t know what he did with them. I think he believed they were the best looking out of all of them. And I didn’t see them after that. That’s when he saw the picture of my sister.
After lights were out and everyone was supposed to be sleeping, he would come into our barracks, and he would bring a chair next to my bunk and act like he was my friend. Then he started rapping about when he was overseas in Japan, and how he had this prostitute for quite a while. He said her last name was the same as mine. Then he said, ‘What was your sister’s name?’ He knew I had an older sister, and he had seen the picture of her, and I guess he flashed back on his experiences. Then he started harassing me by saying my sister looked like his prostitute. He said, ‘What’d you say her name was?’ And I’d tell him and he asked, did she have a Japanese name, so I’d tell him her Japanese name, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s her. That’s the prostitute I had.’”
As long as there are U.S. troops in Asia, as long as the U.S. government and the Military wage wars of aggression against Asian people, racism against Asians will serve the interest of this country. And that racism will be perpetrated. We, as Asian Americans cannot divorce ourselves from this reality, and we as Asian American women cannot separate ourselves from our Asian counterparts. Racism against them is too often racism against us. The stereotypes fit us much too easily. The mentality that keeps Suzy Wong, Madame Butterfly and gookism alive; the mentality that turns human beings into racist, murdering soldiers, also keeps Asian Americans from being able to live and feel like human beings. We must destroy the stereotypes of Asian women, and Asian people, as a whole, so we can define ourselves, and be free to realize our full and total potential. Just as the U.S. government, through forced control, denies the Vietnamese people of their right to self-determination and self-definition, the racism needed to maintain that control cripples us as Asians in America.
Suzy Wong, Madame Butterfly and gookism must die, along with the Monster who created them—whose tentacles hungrily suck riches out of Asia, and pride and dignity out of Asian Americans.