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Children of War: More Reasons Social Conservatives Should Oppose a Hawkish Foreign Policy

Social conservatives often express concern for children’s need for a stable and traditional home life, with both biological parents involved in their upbringing. In particular, the harm done to children by absent fathers is a common worry among such conservatives. This commitment to children is threatened, however, by social conservatives’ tendency to ally themselves politically with foreign policy hawks and to support a large defense establishment that engages in wars and other military interventions.

Military service, especially in wartime, can give rise to unstable home lives for a specific class of children: those children conceived through liaisons between servicemen and women in the countries in which those men serve. Often born out of wedlock, these children will likely never see their respective fathers after he returns to the United States, if they ever saw him at all. Raised by single mothers, sometimes amid the aftermath of war, and frequently viewed with hostility or contempt by their fellows, such children hardly enjoy prospects for a happy home life. The fact that these kinds of broken families can result from military service and operations should lead upholders of family values to view hawkish foreign policies far more critically.

Sexual relationships between soldiers, sailors, and airmen and the women they encounter during deployments—whether those women are professional sex workers or simply ordinary civilians in the vicinity of a military camp or base—are probably as old as war. For whatever psychological and sociological reasons, the chaste behavior that social conservatives favor is often lacking among servicemen, especially in wartime.

During the final year of the Second World War, for example, the typical American serviceman in Europe had an estimated 25 female sexual partners. A member of Army Special Forces stationed in Vietnam during the American conflict there patronized an equivalent number of prostitutes. Prostitution has flourished in various places American troops have been stationed, whether in Japan, South Korea, or Vietnam. In the French town of Cherbourg, the U.S. Army even indirectly ran several brothels during the Second World War. Servicemen’s sexual behavior could also take far darker forms: during the Allied occupation of Japan, the number of rapes and assaults on Japanese women averaged 40 a day in the second half of 1945 and rose to over 300 a day by early 1946.

The results of so many sexual encounters were predictable: the out-of-wedlock birthrate in France rose from 6.3 per 100 live births in 1939, the year the Second World War began, to 9.4 in 1944, when Allied troops liberated the country, to 10.5 in 1945. In the Netherlands, where Canadian troops were stationed at the war’s end, the number of out-of-wedlock births in 1946 was over 7,000, triple the number in 1939.

Estimates of children born to British women and American servicemen stationed in the United Kingdom during the war run into the tens of thousands, perhaps as high as 100,000. (The local population responded to this situation with characteristic British irony: in villages near military bases, signs were posted reading “Please drive carefully. That child might be yours.” ) Almost 67,000 children were born after the war to German women and troops from the United States and other Allied nations, according to official German statistics—the actual number might be much higher.

In Asia, where the U.S. military has had a significant presence since the American occupation of the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, relationships between Americans and women of various nations produced the children referred to as “Amerasians” by the novelist Pearl S. Buck. Political science and economics professor Henry Parker Willis commented, in his book Our Philippine Problem: A Study of American Colonial Policy (1905), “The American volunteer regiments marched into Manila in good order like regular troops, but as soon as the novelty of their strange environment wore off, they gave themselves up to all sorts of excesses, debauchery and vice.” By 1920, the Philippines census recorded 18,000 Amerasians in Manila.

This process repeated itself in the other Asian nations subsequently occupied by American troops. In 1980, the Pearl S. Buck Foundation put out a monograph estimating that 2 million Amerasians had been born since American forces arrived in Asia. One NGO worker stationed in Vietnam in the 1990s found Amerasians all over the country, even “living in the mountains … which is as far away from civilization as one can get.”

Whether in Asia or Europe, the lives of children fathered by American servicemen have not been easy. These children and their mothers have often been looked down on by their neighbors. In Germany, the children were derided as “bastards” and the women as “Ami-lovers” (“Ami” being slang for “American”). Franz Anthöfer, the son of a German woman and American serviceman, recalls other children in an orphanage calling him “Ami-bastard” and being hit by caregivers. He observed, "There were the good orphans, who had lost their parents in the war, and then there was me, who would always be bad."

In Britain, the derogatory term for such children in Britain was “Yankee leftovers.” Families would make up various stories to avoid stigma, presenting the children of wartime relationships as their mothers’ younger siblings or the product of later marriages or simply giving the children up for adoption.

The children fathered by American servicemen on the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the United States still has a military presence, have often had to endure both paternal abandonment and bullying. One Amerasian woman, Arisa Garrison, recalled nasty notes and taunts from her classmates at a Japanese school, commenting “I hated going there. … I was bullied almost every day. I missed many days of school because I was so sad.” Elsewhere, the penalties for children could be more severe than social stigma. After the Vietnam War, Amerasian children and their mothers could be ostracized, with the children being denied employment, education, or even food rations. Some were reduced to begging in the street; many congregated in a park in Ho Chi Minh City, with around 200 sleeping there at night. Thomas Bass, who wrote a book on Vietnamese Amerasians, summed up the bleak findings of various studies of their plight: