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Near the back of one of my Navy cruise books—roughly analogous to a high school annual—is a photograph of a girl no older than 15 years old. Index finger on lower lip, she's scantily clad and posing provocatively. She's a Thai prostitute. Her controller's identity is unknown, but her customers we can identify, at least on this occasion. They are American sailors assigned to the now-defunct U.S.S. Ranger.

According to an anti-pedophilia law passed more than 10 years ago, the bodies of kids like this were put off-limits to Americans, including military personnel. But the law was hardly enforceable; and, the occasional token arrest of pedophile sailors notwithstanding, everyone knew that the chances of getting caught, let alone busted, were almost zero. The very public photograph in my cruise book makes the point.

When Navy ships weren't anchored off the coast of Pattaya Beach, the girl's customers were Australian, Belgian, German, Canadian, Japanese, British, and American tourists. Whether she knew it or not, she was part of a global economy. And when American sailors handed money to her (or to her pimp or mamasan), they were casting a vote in favor of slavery. They were voting in favor of sex tourism, which has become Thailand's greatest source of external income. They were sending a message to pimps in the Philippines that they should disperse girls to the bars, clubs, and brothels near America's military bases on Okinawa, where Filipinas cannot speak the local languages and where they expect to get jobs as laundresses and factory workers. Instead, they will entertain America's young men.

When the Navy guys handed their money over, they were promoting a global catastrophe. It was therefore both saddening and funny ...

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September 2004

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