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World: Disneyland East

4 minute read

The excess baggage of war has always included women. Strumpets trailed the trumpets of Joshua at Jericho and marched with the legions of Rome. Sir Gawaine was not the only knight-errant; in one year alone, the Crusaders counted the aid of 13,000 camp followers in their quest for the Holy Sepulcher. In World War I, they were the vivandieres; in Saigon today, the B-girls are called tea girls. Wherever two or three soldiers gather together, prostitutes are sure to flock, adding to the disorder that follows in the wake of armies everywhere.

Nowhere was the shock of massive encampment greater in Viet Nam than in the sleepy little town of An Khe in the barren Central Highlands. Late last summer, 21,000 troopers of the U.S. 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) set up tents and helipads near An Khe. Prostitutes and profiteers swarmed into the town; prices for everything from beef to beer soared, as did the incidence of disease among the Americans. Dysentery and other intestinal diseases multiplied fourfold within four months; venereal disease soon afflicted nearly a third of the G.I.s.

Moderate Tearoom. By sheer weight of numbers as well as dollars, the cavalrymen were hurting An Khe and being hurt by the uncontrolled squalor and rapacity of the riffraff. So just before things boiled over in Tet New Year roistering last January, Air Cav General Harry W. O. Kinnard stepped in and declared all of An Khe off limits to his men. Prices soon dropped back toward normal, the disease rates dipped. But the men of the Air Cav, out fighting in the jungles for weeks at a time in some of the bitterest, bloodiest battling of the war, had little to come home to. In March, the division’s first cases of “battle fatigue” showed up.

It was the Vietnamese village elders who came up with a solution, which Kinnard reluctantly accepted as the best among unhappy alternatives: the first brothel quarter built exclusively for American soldiers in Viet Nam. Half finished, An Khe Plaza, as the sign at the M.P. gatehouse declares, or “Disneyland,” as the G.I.s call it, is a 25-acre sprawl of “boum-boum parlors” built of concrete blocks and surrounded by coils of concertina barbed wire. Each parlor consists of a bar with eight cubicles opening off the back. Eventually there will be 40 parlors, bearing such rubrics as Paradise, Caravelle, Golden Hind, Hill Billy, Washington and the Moderate Tearoom.

The Least Harm. In the bars already open, teen-age boys serve as waiters, carrying bottle openers tied to the ends of rags. The panache with which they knock the cap off a bottle of beer, sending the top sailing to the ceiling, lends lively contrast to the slothlike movements of the bar’s eight girls, shuffling from soldier to soldier. The price of a “short time” varies with the demand from $2.50 to $5 and inevitably has produced grumbling. “General Kinnard ought to put his foot down,” complained one cavalryman last week. “Five bucks is too high. He oughta make three bucks the standard price.” The plaint is, of course, misdirected. An Khe Plaza is a creation of the Vietnamese and run by the Vietnamese, albeit for Americans.

American military police do patrol the compound and check the pass of each G.I. entering. Vietnamese girls who want to work in Disneyland must obtain a special entertainer’s card and visit An Khe’s clinic once a week for a medical examination by Vietnamese doctors and a U.S.-provided shot of a long-lasting penicillin-type drug to suppress disease. Forced to choose between morality and the morale of their men, the division’s officers are clearly troubled by Disneyland. But, as one colonel explained, “We wanted to get the greatest good for our men with the least harm.” For visitors to An Khe, even clerics and chaplains, Disneyland is as hard to condemn as it is to condone. In that respect, it is not unlike war itself, of which Disneylands—and far worse—are an inevitable accompaniment.

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