An Exceptional Endeavor: The United States Army's Industrialization of Sex Work in Liberia during World War II
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After the United States entered World War II, one of the first troops sent overseas, Troop #5889, arrived in Liberia in June 1942. It was primarily tasked with guarding the Firestone Rubber plantation, one of the Allies only sources of rubber, and managing Roberts Field, a major aviation hub for lend-lease operations into Africa and the Middle East. The task force consisted of a predominately African American infantry, less than one hundred European American officers, and a few African American medical officers, including the first group of African American nurses sent overseas during WWII. Within a couple of months, the venereal disease rate of the soldiers skyrocketed to one of the highest in the army. In order to combat venereal infections, the army rationalized the industrialization of Liberian sex work based on exported ideologies about race, ethnicity, class, and gender fostered in the United States under the intersectional forces of colonialism, eugenics, and militarization.
This thesis is an intersectional study of the forces that permitted the army to industrialize a segregated system of sex work unparalleled in United States history. It explains eugenics and militarization in the United States as a means to reduce venereal disease among troops, and how social hygienists influenced the army’s ideologies regarding race, ethnicity, class, and gender. It analyzes Liberia as a de facto colony of the United States which justified the army’s colonization and militarization of Liberian women. It contends that industrialized sex work did not necessarily victimize the women, but instead provided them with economic opportunities unavailable prior to the troop’s arrival. It examines how colonization intersected with militarization and eugenics to allow the African American nurses to overlook or accept the appropriation of Liberian women’s sexual labor to appease United States soldiers. Lastly, it explores the ramifications of the army’s industrialization of segregated sex work that disrupted the social hierarchy by privileging African American soldiers sexual access and denying European American officers access to sexual services to which they felt entitled.