The sex is ever to a soldier kind. – Homer, Odyssey (XIV, 246)
Since the time humans began carving out territories for ourselves, we’ve been going to war with one another. Since the rise of centralized governments such wars have usually been conducted by a professional warrior class, and wherever the soldiers have gone whores have never been far behind. Every army, whether on the march or in garrison, has attracted “camp followers”, non-military personnel who follow along because it’s profitable to do so. And because armies are (and always have been) mostly made up of healthy young men, deprived of the company of young women and with nothing in particular to accomplish with their pay, many camp followers have always been prostitutes (indeed, the former is often used as a euphemism for the latter).
Up until a century ago, nobody pretended to be surprised by this or subscribed to the ridiculous delusion that it could or should be prevented somehow; the first country to imagine otherwise, the United Kingdom, first contented itself (starting in 1864) with a series of increasingly-oppressive “Contagious Disease Acts” justified as a means of preventing the spread of STIs in the military. But even the British allowed their officers in the Great War to avail themselves of well-run “blue lamp” brothels…while denying the enlisted men prophylactics and restricting them to makeshift “red lamp” facilities staffed by near-amateurs, then wringing their collective hands at an STI rate seven times that of their German foes. And while the French, Canadians and New Zealanders followed the same sort of pragmatic practices as the Germans did, the Americans preferred the British “order the men to be asexual” approach; New Orleans’ “Storyville” district was closed by federal order in 1917 at the urging of Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, who considered the whores a “bad influence” on the sailors at the nearby naval base.
By the time of World War II, it seemed the pragmatic approach was winning:
…The military governor of Hawaii did everything he could to make the hookers of Honolulu happy; Hitler ordered that his troops be issued blow-up sex dolls; the American authorities distributed condoms; and the Japanese resorted to the abominable “comfort women” scheme (which was also used in reverse form, with Japanese whores for American troops, during the first year of the occupation)…illustrations of feminine pulchritude…brightened barracks, bunks, tents and even the noses of bombers. On British planes, those paintings were often of Jane, a shapely Daily Mirror comic-strip character who would always somehow manage to lose her clothes by the last panel, usually in some incredibly unlikely fashion; Christabel Leighton-Porter, the model upon whom she was based, also posed for nude photos which were literally dropped in bundles to the troops to increase morale…
But this swing toward rationality was short-lived, and soon after the war the world lost its collective mind on the subject:
…The Vietnamese and Ouled-Nail prostitutes who served as nurses during the siege of Dien Bien Phu have almost been erased from history, as have the women of Honolulu’s tolerated brothels who served the same function after Pearl Harbor and entertained the Navy for the rest of the war. The French like to pretend that women who survived by providing services to the occupying Nazis were somehow different from the others who were forced to deal with them; the Japanese still deny the extent or even the existence of the military brothels in which they enslaved (mostly Korean) women for the “comfort” of their troops. And the American military establishment continues to demand that its men avoid the company of professionals no matter how much this policy angers the host country or how many sexual assaults result from it, thus prioritizing the wishes of prudish fanatics above the health and happiness of the troops of both sexes…
There is no way to tell how long this will go on, but sooner or later this neo-Victorian prudishness must end; things go in cycles, and eventually the sex-negative phase we’ve been in for over a generation now will be discarded by younger people eager to do things differently. But as military organizations themselves are also changing due to the advance of technology, what will that mean for sex workers? Only time will tell, but I feel perfectly safe in declaring that as long as military organizations exist, they will continue to have a deep and close relationship with whores, whether those in power approve or not.