American military operations overseas have resulted in mass US immigration, through either a) marriage with women in the countries where they are stationed, Vietnam, for example; b) countries where they engaged in R+R, such as the case of Thailand; c) or refugees fleeing to the US from wars in which the US military is engaged.
MILITARY MEN and THEIR ‘WANDERLUST’
Korean wives of US soldiers made up a significant number of refugees immigrating into the US with the end of the war in 1953. The ‘War Brides Act’ (1946) initially smoothed the way for military brides. Close to 25% of Korean immigrants currently living in America trace their roots to a wife of a US soldier.
During the Vietnam War, US soldiers met Vietnamese women working at military bases. Thousands of American soldiers formed relationships with Vietnamese women. Whether originally seeking friendship or sex, most of these relationships ended with wounded-hearts. But many flowered into cross-cultural marriage.
The tourist sex-industry in Thailand can be connected back to rowdy (and randy) US soldiers on leave from the Vietnam War. In 1964, seven US military bases were established in Thailand. In 1967 Thailand formally began providing ‘rest and recreation’ services for US military men in Thailand. The go-go bars soon followed. Of course, a certain number of Thai girlfriends of American servicemen also became their wives.
More than 150,000 Thais were living in the US at the time of the 2000 Census. Interestingly, 4,000 of those resided in Nevada. Thai immigration to Nevada began in the 1960s. The first were wives of US soldiers stationed at one time on ‘R+R’ in Thailand during the Vietnam War. The enamored US military men were eventually re-assigned to Nellis Air Force Base. The ethnic-Thai population in surrounding Clark County, Nevada is estimated to be over 10,000.
Cross-cultural affairs are harder to come by for US servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The obstacles to gender-mixing between American military men and Muslim women include built-in cultural barriers – on both sides. In 2003 two members of the US National Guard married Iraqi women – specifically against their commander’s ‘orders.’
After the double-wedding the Iraqi brides, both physicians, faced difficulties obtaining visas (because the US State Department was not issuing visas in Iraq at the time); and faced serious threats by fellow Iraqis, who accused them of national-betrayal. The National Guards were restricted to base and not allowed to speak with their new brides. The soldiers were held under investigation for failure to obey orders. The US military-husbands were forced to appeal to officials outside of the military for support in the visa-process for their wives.
RETURN TO THE LAND OF SMILES
Today, US soldiers still find romantic-refuge from military exercises and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in Thailand.
During the Gulf War, ships voyaging back to the US anchored off the coast of Thailand for soldier ‘recuperation.’ Starting in 2005 with Operation Iraqi Freedom, a new program allowed US military on 12-month orders in Iraq and Jordan 15 days special-leave. After too much time in the dry desert climate, many made their way to tropical Thailand.
US joint military drills have been held annually in Thailand since the 1980s. Sea-salt encrusted sailors are always allowed shore-leave. US ships docking at Thai ports flood Pattaya and Phuket with up to 6,000 soldiers at a time.
The Cobra Gold war-games, which started in 1998, is the latest of these combined Thai-US exercises. With the knowledge that all’s fair in love and war, Navy officers have expressed concern to Pattaya government officials over the safety of their soldiers harboring in the city while on leave from these war-games.
And American soldiers keep coming back for more: most recently, in mid-April of 2010, the USS Blue Ridge (based in Japan) arrived off the coast of Pattaya with more than 1,000 anxious sailors on board.
FLOWER or SOUR?
Marriage to American war veterans has been one of the main gateways for migration to the United States for Asian women.
Thai-American cross-cultural marriage is rooted in the US military presence in Thailand and an overwhelming number of Thai-Americans at this time are women married to non-Thai men.
Though US soldiers on leave in Thailand are warned about the ‘dangers’ of developing a relationship with a Thai woman – it can also be said that real love leading to long-term marriage is not entirely impossible for US solders setting foot on shores of Thailand.