Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Asia, U.S. Armed Forces in

Prior to World War II, the United States based its armed forces in Asia on its own territories in the Philippines, in Guam and Hawaii, and also in some other small islands in the Pacific acquired during the late nineteenth century. Following World War II, U.S. forces in Asia maintained army, air force, and navy installations on these Pacific islands as well as in Japan and southern Korea, which the United States occupied. Additionally, the United States had military personnel in China to assist the Guomindang (Nationalist) government. Most of these latter were withdrawn during the civil war with the communists by mid-1948.

The 1947 Truman Doctrine, which pledged the United States to preventing the spread of communism around the world, played a large role in the basing and use of U.S. forces in Asia. The intensification of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the late 1940s, the communist victory in China in October 1949, and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 triggered a sizable Cold War buildup of U.S. military personnel and facilities throughout Asia. During the Cold War, the primary goals of U.S. forces in Asia were to prevent the expansion of communist powers, specifically the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea), and later the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam), and to ensure American political influence in and economic access to Asia.

During the early 1950s, the Americans greatly augmented their military presence in Asia. By 1953, the last year of the Korean War, American military personnel in the Far East had grown to nearly 630,000, up from 150,000 in 1950. Another 26,000 personnel (an increase from just 21,000 in 1950) were based in the central and southwest Pacific, mostly in the Marianas and Marshall Islands. Although the Philippines achieved independence in 1946 and the occupation of Japan ended in 1952, the United States made agreements with these nations to maintain military bases there. In 1954, the United States formalized a security agreement with the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan to provide military assistance and advice to enable it to repel a takeover by the PRC. By the end of the decade, the number of U.S. personnel in Asia and the Pacific stood at 209,000.

The expansion of forces in Asia transformed the areas surrounding U.S. bases and brought with it tens of thousands of dependents of armed forces personnel. According to the 1960 census, 81,540 military dependents lived in Asia. Many bases became entirely American communities, complete with housing units, commissaries, post exchanges, churches, hospitals, schools, movie theaters, and recreational facilities. But in and around these "little Americas," Americans and Asians interacted quite regularly. Asians worked on American military bases and in American homes, while Americans ventured into off-base communities, spending money in local establishments. Naval personnel also routinely visited port cities on ship visits to numerous countries throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Off-base, Asian-owned businesses offered services and products that they knew would attract American spending. Besides the requisite souvenir shops and eateries, local business-people opened bars, nightclubs, and clothing shops, many of which catered specifically to American tastes and proclivities. In some places, even brothels were opened to attract American patrons. While some host nationals welcomed the economic opportunities generated by the U.S. bases, many decried the commercial districts and sex-oriented tourism that sprang up around bases in Okinawa, the Philippines, and South Korea. Servicemen's undesirable and sometimes criminal behavior, which included drunkenness, brawling, vehicle accidents, robbery, sexual assault, and even murder, fueled host nationals' resentment of American bases. Asian sex workers risked venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and ostracism from families and communities. Host societies also struggled with the effects of marriages between American servicemen and Asian women and the attendant births of mixed-race children, some of whom were abandoned. In addition, the social and even legal stigmatization of mixed-race relationships followed American servicemen and their Asian families when they moved back to the United States, especially in states with antimiscegenation laws. Many such families requested tours of duty in Hawaii, where they believed they would find greater acceptance.

The sharp escalation of the Vietnam War beginning in 1965 brought a huge influx of U.S. forces to Southeast Asia. Major preparations for Vietnam operations were often staged at bases in the Philippines and Okinawa. In 1964, when U.S. military personnel in Vietnam were still designated "advisors," the number of U.S. troops in Asia and the Pacific numbered almost 240,000. By September 1967, with the deployments of combat troops to South Vietnam, American forces in Asia had risen to 759,270. This buildup included more than 37,000 American soldiers in Thailand, where the U.S. Air Force maintained several large bases for bombing missions in North Vietnam. Additionally, the United States deployed B-52s from Taiwan for attacks on Vietnamese communists. Despite several Asian governments' assistance to the United States in Vietnam, the Vietnam War provoked strong anti-Americanism among many Asians. Asians had protested the U.S. military presence since the 1950s—for example, on Okinawa when the U.S. military seized farmlands to construct bases. But opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s manifested itself in more vociferous demonstrations against the U.S. military in Asia.

Upon coming to office in 1969, President Richard Nixon gradually withdrew combat troops from Vietnam. The decrease in U.S. forces in Asia continued into the 1970s. As part of the normalization of relations with the PRC, President Jimmy Carter withdrew all U.S. military forces from Taiwan in the late 1970s. In 1980, just under 115,000 U.S. personnel were stationed in East Asia and the Pacific, mostly in Japan and South Korea, where there was—and remains—a contingent of some 36,000 U.S. troops, most of whom are based near the demilitarized zone. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the subsequent rise in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the increase in Soviet nuclear arms in Asia and naval forces in the Pacific caused American military analysts to worry that the Soviets intended to expand their influence in the region. Also in the 1980s, rising nationalism and political turmoil in the Philippines resulted in a movement to ban nuclear weapons on the islands and an agreement that the United States would remove its bases by the early 1990s, by which time the Cold War had ended.

Donna Alvah


Further Reading
Gerson, Joseph, and Bruce Birchard, eds. The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases. Boston: South End Press, 1991.; Moon, Katharine H. S. Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
 

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