Outside the Turkish air base is a small community whose official name is hardly ever used, being known to everyone simply as “The Alley.” Consisting mostly of small shops, restaurants, and bars, it exists to provide goods and services to the military men and women on base. A quick perusal of what sells to the majority of servicemen abroad offers an interesting and instructive view on the heart of the military, and the way it is perceived by the local Turks.
Passing through the front gate, one’s immediate attention is drawn to a rather humorous attempt at a Western-style saloon known as The Wagon Wheel. A creaky wooden porch is reminiscent of both the Old West and someone’s eye to increasing profits by decreasing construction and maintenance costs. Music rolls out of the murky interior while large white bulbs light up most of the spokes of the namesake tacked onto the clapboard roof.
Continuing down the dusty street, hawkers call out their wares—mostly the standard trinkets, as well as more expensive Turkish carpets (“want to see my flying carpet, sir?”), custom-fitted suits, “Cuban” cigars, knives and guns. A G.I. in a cowboy hat and boots saunters past, evidence both that the marketing agent for the Wagon Wheel did his research, and that what I thought were rather obvious U.S. State Department travel recommendations regarding avoiding conspicuous American clothing are necessary after all.
Turning into a standard tourist kitsch shop, I am a bit surprised at the vulgarity of most of the postcards and printed material for sale. The saying that “sex sells” is true around the world, but I still wonder why a postcard picturing a pair of copulating camels is such a hot seller.
If you are unable to find any goods that will induce you to part with your hard-earned duty pay, there exist a number of restaurants, bars, and night clubs to help ease you of your monetary burdens. As the sun goes down, the bars and clubs fill up with hordes of bored soldiers drinking the night away to the groove of American and Turkish dance music.
Meandering through the Alley, it is rather disappointing to view America through the eyes of the Turkish merchant. All that is crass, vulgar, immoral, and tawdry is shamelessly hawked and peddled because it will sell. Any illusions of military glory, chivalry and honor, are quickly dispelled after a jaunt through the shops outside the base. The American soldier is very much like every other American, and displays all the same tendencies and vices. Despite the glowing appellations and credos of the armed services—semper fidelis, integrity first, service, excellence, honor—it is plagued by the same cultural and moral deficiencies that the average civilian displays.
Of course most Americans don’t want to be thought of as vulgar and immoral, and we are often shocked to discover that other people could want to destroy our civilization and way of life. After all, aren’t we the liberal and free people of the West, the defenders and guardians of democracy and liberty? Perhaps, yet I think Americans ought to take note of the fruits our society is producing. Such an examination may bring to light the fact that we are also a people of decadence, licentiousness, and perversions and lead us to re-evaluate the ways we make use of freedoms we so dearly love.