Wenching on the DMZ; the Owner’s Manual

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Stormy Daniels brings to mind the ancient and universal definition of “wench”, a woman of low repute one would not like to be seen with in public.

Politics aside, she’s made public a side of life few Americans, unless born on the wrong side of the tracks know very little about. Still, it seems every American soldier, as far back as the Civil War, when the term “camp follower” became synonymous with off-duty recreation for soldiers, and were a fixture outside the gates of every American military post since Pershing, had knowledge denied to the rest of the American population.

It was also known as “wenching”, a very pedestrian sport among the world’s lower classes since feudal times, a sport even the buck private could save up for at least one Friday night a month at Ft Benning, Georgia in 1941.

Upper class men and the nobility did not “go chasing women”, having their own version of the sport, at least since Henry II of England in the 12th Century. Royals created their own set of rules designed entirely to keep up appearances.


In 1974 it was my good fortune to be part of an advance team sent to Korea by our three-star general, to survey the brothels around Oijongbo near the DMZ. Yep, The bars. The cook’s tour, as the guests of the Korean Business Women’s Assn and several House Madams.

Parents back home would have not looked kindly on knowing that the US Army actually regulated (sort of) this tawdry trade that seduced their sons every payday, but every saloon serving military members in the ROK had an inspection card at the front door indicating the current VD rate for that establishment. Too high, the Army could close them down. And girls could lose their “union cards” if they got “sick” too often, and even be banished to the street, where only the greenest trooper would stop to talk to them, and be subject to an immediate short-arm inspection should any other trooper spy him.

Being able to pick up a girl in a bar was the “seal of approval” by the US 8th Army and United Nations Forces Command in Korea. Only Mom never knew it.

But it made sense.

Our mission however was a little more narrow. We were sending over a 50 senior officers and NCO’s to an underground Command Post near the DMZ to carry out a two-week Corps-level war-game exercise, and the CG, knowing that while some women could turn boys into men, he didn’t want his officers running into ladies who could turn men into boys.

It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

(We presented this photo to our CG when he retired, me the juniorist captain in the photo, with even a 1-star Chief of Staff agreeing to join in the gift.)

The good news about that Corps exercise was that my new boss in the JAG office, a colonel from Harvard, had never served in a field command, and had no taste for sleeping on Army cots, sharing chow with NCO’s in a mess line, wearing fatigues, sitting in the belly of a C-130 for three hours, or carrying a loaded .45 on his hip. I’m not sure how he finagled his way out of it, but the general’s aide quickly put in my name as a substitute, a rank captain filling in the slot of the Corps JAG and G5 for Civilian Refugee Control. Wow!

In any case, I consider myself an authority on the subject, and will spin a few yarns at Veterans Tales  (in Allen Ness’s Beer Tent) about this madcap world of pre- and extramarital sex near war zones. It’s filled with both humor and pathos. (Come visit, and if a veteran, participate.)

There’s a bigger lesson here:

In the 1964 film “Becket”, Becket (Richard Burton) was King Henry II’s (Peter O’Toole) senior by 14 years, and something of a role model. They were best friends.

Henry was one of England’s greatest kings and he appointed his non-religious best friend as Archbishop of Canterbury because he wanted to be able to complete needed reforms without interference from the Church. But Becket took the new job seriously and resisted, and a loose comment by Henry caused one of his knights to kill Becket, thus making him a saint.

The back story to their relationship is that before Becket put on the mitre of office and would go onto to become a saint, he and John would put on the garb of commoners and go wenching, which as soldiers of every country since the 12th Century will affirm, creates the strongest bonds of friendship.

(This may also explain why so many modern wenches find careers in the porn industry.)

Now, as mentioned, royals don’t go wenching anymore. For one, they don’t like dressing down. Appearances. Sexual slumming (wenching) was viewed in the same way by Europe’s nobility by the 14th Century. It just wasn’t seemly.

It’s not that royals don’t still have their sport with, well, “ladies-not-their-wives”, but they didn’t have to dress so way down. They were able to keep their lace cuffs and snuff boxes and still have their illicit liaisons, many keeping courtesans in well-appointed apartments across town. What royals weren’t about to do was go slip-sliding through muck and mire of alley streets like Henry and Becket, or stand 10-deep up a stairwell for a 10-minute interlude with Miss Daisy in Room 201 in Biloxi on payday Friday.

By the 18th Century, well into the Victorian era, social manners and appearances overruled the moral aspects of infidelity, which never really mattered to European nobility anyway since that had little to with the marriage contract. Even in Asia as well as Europe, marriage had to do with land, property, and title, which always belonged to the wife, no matter who the wench was across town.

Except in America, where people who bore the name of their trades, e.g. Smith, Clark, Mason, Hunter, dozens more.

Americans were loaded down with, among other things, bushels of religious notions that applied to the survivability of their less-than-royal family names, whether forty acres and a mule, or a tenement on Delancy Street. In the New York and Boston of the colonial period, you might have found a few courtesans being kept by wealthy traders (likely from England), but in the boroughs and villages there were only wenches, and places where wenches could be found. And they were usually found where a few pints of ale could also be found.

So in America wenching thrived along the waterfronts and various alley streets just like London and Paris. The rise of a courtesan class, aka the modern-day mistress, or kept woman, rose only as a commercial business class rose in America. Still even those Americans were base-born, and so were their mistresses. There were no elegant and courtly Madame de Pompadour’s, or M’lady de Winter’s from Dumas’ Three Musketeers.

Americans are different, even about out wenches. There’s a great lesson here, about what makes us special.

So stay tuned.



About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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