Sexual Economy of the Global Black Market: MPC and the R&R Economy during the Korean War (1950-53)

Jeongmin Kim, Ph.D. Candidate
New York University

This paper examines South Korea’s wartime black market that was formed, and worked, in connection with Japan during the Korean War. In particular, I trace two movements that took place across Japan and Korea, both of which involved sexual exchange between American GIs and local women: the circulation of U.S. dollar and MPC (Military Payment Certificate), and American GIs’ R&R (Rest and Recreation) leaves to Japan. Launched in December 1950, the R&R program sent over 800,000 UN servicemen from Korea to Japan for their five-day leave from Korea, and this program led to the further growth of the base economy and military prostitution in Japan. While its use was supposedly restricted within U.S. overseas bases, the MPC was used widely and contributed to the formation of a transnational black market that went hand in hand with the formation of the R&R economy. This paper illuminates how the R&R economy and the MPC market spanning Japan and Korea facilitated each other’s growth with the sexualized unequal exchange between GIs and women as a key mediation. While they were never documented in the official international balance sheet, the black market transactions among non-state actors served as a core element in the wartime everyday economy of South Korea, and became an integral part of the regional political economy during the war. Hence we see how the U.S. military expansion in East Asia was built on and sustained by the gendered utilization of the geographical and human resources in the region.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *