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:
Racism has played an important role in the suffering of some servicemen’s children. In a depressing display of how widespread certain prejudices are, the children of black servicemen have faced greater hostility in Asia and Europe than the children of men of other races.
In post-war Germany, children of black servicemen were three times more likely than white servicemen’s children to be given up for adoption and were also less likely to find adoptive families. Women who had these biracial children could lose their jobs or be rejected by their families. The children might be derided as “Negro half-breeds,” their mothers as “chocolate women” or, more crudely, “Niggerwomen.”
Even today, black Amerasians in the Philippines might be mocked with the epithet “charcoal.” Among some Vietnamese Amerasians, the shame of having a black father is such that they might pretend he is from another minority group, such as Hawaiians or Native Americans. As Meme English, a psychotherapist who has worked with Amerasians speculates, “In an extremely race-conscious culture, which Vietnam is, if you want to be accepted as Asian, you have to pretend you’re anything but black.”
Some efforts have succeeded in helping the children fathered by American servicemen in Asia. The Amerasian Act of 1982 allowed such children living in Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam to immigrate to the United States. A later act, passed in 1987, made it easier for Amerasians in Vietnam to immigrate, and around 25,000 Amerasians and 60,000 of their relatives had arrived in the United States by the mid-1990s. Some servicemen’s children have not been aided in this way, however: legislation has yet to be passed to allow Filipino Amerasians to come to the United States (one reason for excluding these children is that they were not born during a war).
Even if they are permitted to come to the United States, the prospects for Amerasians are not necessarily any better than those of other immigrants from poor countries and, given the children’s disadvantages in their countries of origin, might even be worse. For some Vietnamese Amerasians, coming to the United States has meant time in a poorly managed refugee camp or halfway house before falling into lives in this country marked by low-wage jobs, crime, and other problems.
One question that all these children of servicemen must also face is whether to try to track down their fathers. Various organizations have been created to help in this task: Trans-Atlantic Children's Enterprise, War Babes, the Dutch Association of Liberation Children, and the like. War Babes founder Shirley McGlade, the daughter of a serviceman and a British woman, successfully sued the U.S. Department of Defense and National Personnel Records Center in the late 1980s in an effort to make more information about servicemen available to children seeking their fathers. In 1990, the Records Center agreed to provide limited address information for living veterans and full address information for those who had died.
Even with this information available to them, however, the ultimate result of the children’s search is uncertain. Some, such as McGlade and Phuong Thao, an Amerasian actress in Vietnam, eventually find their fathers to be still alive, contact them, and receive a warm response. Others find family only to be rebuffed in some way: Sandra Peacham, from Britain, managed to locate an aunt and uncle in the United States who asked her not to contact them again.
Others find family too late: Daniel Cardwell, the son of a black American soldier and a German woman, identified his father in 2006 only to discover the man had died five years earlier. Had he been able to meet his father, Cardwell comments, “I would've grabbed him and hugged him.” Still others decide not to pursue the search: Le Ha, a Vietnamese Amerasian, observes that her father “has another family in America. What’s he going to do with two families? I’m used to living without a father.”
No child should ever be “used to living without a father.” The fact that sending men overseas on military deployments gives rise to such tragic situations is reason enough for those concerned with keeping families intact to oppose the current military establishment and its operations abroad.
1. Chris Hedges, What Every Person Should Know about War (New York: Free Press, 2003), 33.
2. Ibid., 34.
3. Ibid., 35; Ian Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2013), 34-35.
4. Buruma, Year Zero, 25.
5. John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 127, 130, 579 n. 16, cited in Buruma, Year Zero, 38.
6. “Live Births and Still Births by Marital Status (Metropolitan France within Today’s Frontiers),” France, National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, accessed July 3, 2015, http://www.insee.fr/en/themes/detail.asp?ref_id=ir-sd2005&page=irweb/sd2005/dd/sd2005_nais.htm.
7. Buruma, Year Zero, 28.
8. Lacy McCrary, “Decades Later, `War Babes' Seek Their GI Fathers: WWII Secrets and Lies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 10, 1997, A01; Erica Michelstein, “British War Babies Seek Their Yankee Fathers,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2000, http://articles.latimes.com/print/2000/oct/01/news/mn-29540.
9. Thomas Bass, Vietnamerica: The War Comes Home (New York: Soho Press, 1996), 190.
10. Mary Wiltenburg and Marc Widmann, “WWII G.I. Babies: Children of the Enemy,” Der Spiegel Online, January 2, 2007, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/wwii-g-i-babies-children-of-the-enemy-a-456835.html.
11. “Artifact of the Month: For Spacious Skies by Pearl S. Buck, 1966,” Pearl S. Buck House blog, accessed July 9, 2015, http://www.psbi.org/houseblog?&storyid3444=127&ncs3444=3.
12. Bass, Vietnamerica, 121.
13. Ibid., 40.
14. Ibid., 269.
15. Wiltenburg and Widmann, “WWII G.I. Babies.”
16. Michelstein, “British War Babies Seek Their Yankee Fathers.”
17. Bass, Vietnamerica, 13, 19-20; Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin, 1984), 39.
18. Bass, Vietnamerica, 122.
19. Calvin Sims, “A Hard Life for Amerasian Children,” New York Times, July 23, 2000, Section 1, 10. 20. Buruma, Year Zero, 45; Wiltenburg and Widmann, “WWII G.I. Babies.”
21. Christopher M. Lapinigmay, “The Forgotten Amerasians,” New York Times, May 28, 2013, A19. 22. Bass, Vietnamerica, 171.
23. Lapinigmay, “The Forgotten Amerasians.”
24. Bass, Vietnamerica, 3-4, 45-46.
25. Lapinigmay, “The Forgotten Amerasians.”
26. See Bass, Vietnamerica, 119-120, 126, 143-144, 259-263, 265, 267.
27. McCrary, “Decades Later, `War Babes' Seek Their GI Fathers.”
28. Michelstein, “British War Babies Seek Their Yankee Fathers.”
29. Ibid.; Bass, Vietnamerica, 273-274.
30. McCrary, “Decades Later, `War Babes' Seek Their GI Fathers.”
31. Wiltenburg and Widmann, “WWII G.I. Babies.”
32. Bass, Vietnamerica, 179.