In reconsidering South Korean military involvement in the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1973, this essay focuses on the multivalent relationship between military labor and masculine sexuality in the overlapping contexts of class stratification, nationalist economic development under the military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, the rising transnational anticommunism, and the U.S.-led neocolonizing capitalization of the greater Asian region. I argue that South Korean military labor in Vietnam was a type of sexual proletarianization, a process I define as mobilizing respectively gendered sexualities into working-class service labors, such as male/female prostitution, other sexualized service work, and military labor. South Korean military proletarian labor, reconstituted as a supraclass, ethnonational masculinity, functioned simultaneously as an intranational class surrogate labor and as a transnational racialized surrogate labor in the U.S. war in Vietnam. The essay first examines the ways in which military labor is elevated into military service/duty by a complex of (supra)ideological causes such as ethnonationalism, masculinism, racism, and transnational anticommunism. By delinking the economic dimension of military labor from the causes it was supposed to serve and obfuscating national commodification of working-class masculinity, state representations of the South Korean military venture in Vietnam exceptionalized military labor during the war and then obliterated it after the war. The second part of the essay explores South Korean critical literary representations of military labor that deexceptionalize military labor by situating military labor back in the broader continuum of sexual proletarianization, that is, in the context of production of other developmentalist sexual-labor commodities that were less visible, such as female prostitution and other masculine (a)sexualized service labors.
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Jin-kyung Lee; Surrogate Military, Subimperialism, and Masculinity: South Korea in the Vietnam War, 1965-73. positions 1 August 2009; 17 (3): 655–682. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2009-019
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