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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 4 June 2004

Topic: Making Use of History

Books: We ARE the good guys, and always have been...

Robert Lilly, criminology professor at Northern Kentucky University, has a book not yet published here - perhaps the translation is not quite complete.

The book?

La Face cach?e des GI's. Les Viols commis par des Soldats Am?ricains en France, Angleterre et en Allemagne pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale 1942-1945
Paris: ?ditions Payot et Rivages, 2003.
Pr?sentation : Broch? - 445 g - 14 cm x 22 cm
ISBN : 2228897558 - EAN : 9782228897556

The GIs' Hidden Face?

What is this about?

A commentary at
L'image du soldat en service en Europe comme "symbole am?ricain" est tout sauf exacte. La participation de "la plus glorieuse g?n?ration qu'aucune soci?t? ait jamais engendr?e" - comme les Am?ricains se plaisent ? dire - ? la victoire de 1945 comporte une odieuse face cach?e, l'un des comportements les moins h?ro?ques et les plus brutaux dont un soldat puisse se rendre coupable : le viol. S'appuyant sur des archives des tribunaux militaires am?ricains inexploit?es depuis plus de soixante ans, Robert Lilly montre que, entre le 8 octobre 1942, date du premier viol jug? en Angleterre, et le 23 septembre 1945, date du dernier viol jug? en Allemagne, 17 000 femmes environ furent victimes de viols commis par des soldats am?ricains en Angleterre, en France et en Allemagne. Pi?ces ? l'appui, il dresse la typologie de ces viols, explique qui ?taient les violeurs, quelles ?taient leurs motivations et leur modus operandi, fait le portrait de leurs victimes, fait entendre leur voix exacte, ainsi que celle des procureurs et des avocats. Il montre enfin que les sch?mas de viols changent ?norm?ment en France compar? ? ce qui s'?tait pass? en Angleterre et ? ce qui se passera en Allemagne ; les sanctions militaires chang?rent ?galement, les punitions refl?tant la diff?rence de perception que les Am?ricains avaient des param?tres id?ologiques de chaque pays, de ses habitants et de ses r?fugi?s.
Ah, but if your French is not up to speed today, the Associated Press has you covered.

See U.S. GIs in France: 60 years later, some are exploring the downside
Jamey Keaten, Friday, June 04, 2004

The AP item has been picked up in the Canadian press, by Fox News, and by the Boston Herald and The Guardian and most every service out there.

It opens like this:
PARIS (AP) - With crushing firepower, U.S.-led forces stormed into a proud nation under the yoke of a murderous tyrant to cries of joy from a liberated public. Then came the less uplifting work of running an occupation.

Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003? No. France from D-Day and the two years of American occupation that followed.

U.S. President George W. Bush and other leaders gathering on the beaches of Normandy this weekend will celebrate the heroism and ingenuity of June 6, 1944. But some scholars are paying closer attention to what followed as the victors settled in - black market trade, armed robbery, looting and rape.

Only a small minority of GIs were involved, but ...
This is not "The Greatest Generation" stuff, obviously. But the fellow from Kentucky is quoted as saying, ""There is a great, ugly underbelly that has not been really explored."

Well, yes, this could be.

But our troops were greeted pretty warmly. That is not in dispute.
"There remains a huge recognition toward the liberators; they are still heroes," said Elizabeth Coquart, journalist and author of La France des GIs (France of the GIs). "But that doesn't mean we can't judge and say, 'Yes, some GIs behaved badly."'

"It's the same as in Iraq," she said. "Any military occupation - whatever it may be - grows intolerable over time."
So do we stretch the parallel to fit - France at the end of WWII and our "bad apples" (and their leaders) doing awful things in that prison outside of Baghdad?

The AP writer suggests there are limits to the parallels with Iraq.
France was a country already battered by four years of foreign domination, but it quickly had a provisional government in place. The Americans faced nothing resembling the Iraqi insurgency, and they left it to the French to deal with its Nazi collaborators.

And the occupation, though big, was short, compared with that of postwar Germany. According to the U.S. Army Center for Military History in Washington, 750,000 American soldiers remained in France in October 1945 - five months after the war's end. By June '46, the last 24,000 were on their way out. Britain also had troops in France, but far fewer.
But the fellow from Kentucky contends that while there were rapes (les viols) by GIs in France, the number of cases "skyrocketed" when U.S. soldiers rolled into Germany and the war was wrapping up.

How does he know that?

It seems Lilly says he was inspired to examine rape by GIs from stories by his father and uncle, both Second World War veterans. (Curious family revelation, that!) And Lilly estimates there were 3,620 rapes by U.S. soldiers in France from June 1944 to June 1945 - and apparently he was using military records as his source.

Why would he use military records? Funny thing - it seems things were a bit different back then.
While U.S. soldiers were exempt from prosecution in French courts, those who were court-martialed often received severe punishment.

Of 139 soldiers suspected of rape in the specific cases Lilly turned up, 116 were convicted, his book says. He found that 70 soldiers were executed for crimes in the entire European theatre during the war.
It seems times have changed. We have three guilty pleas in the prison scandal so far. Executions? No - dishonorable discharge and loss of pay will do these days. Is that progress? Perhaps so. Perhaps not.

But then again, the French summary comments on this - les sanctions militaires chang?rent ?galement, les punitions refl?tant la diff?rence de perception que les Am?ricains avaient des param?tres id?ologiques de chaque pays, de ses habitants et de ses r?fugi?s....

We severely punished those who raped and otherwise abused the French and Germans. We understood the ideology of those countries - and we knew these folks. We had centuries of experience with them. They were a bit like us, really. The French helped us in our revolution. The Germans supplied mercenaries to help out Washington. They were us - as we are a nation of immigrants, and mostly European immigrants. We don't "get" Arabs and Muslims in this way. They lose. The punishment matches what we understand of the people who were wronged.

Anyway, how does one explain what happened then, since we are having a national debate over how to explain what's happening with the prison abuse business right now?

Elizabeth Coquart, the journalist quoted above, says only a "handful" of GIs, about one per cent of those stationed here until France set up its own government in 1946, were involved in misbehavior and crime. And AP runs this by Peter Caddick Adams, a military historian at Britain's Royal Military College of Science, and he says, well, the guys were bored - "When you get a lot of bored rear-echelon troops with a lot of time on their hands, you get excesses of behavior."

Ah, yes, I suppose you do.

But what else was different then? Well, there were posters in police stations across France that reminded the local officers not to prosecute GIs suspected of wrongdoing but to hand them over to U.S. authorities. I guess the idea was that everyone knew the United States didn't tolerate such stuff and would take care of the misbehaving occupation troops, and severely punish the bad apples, so the speak.

No one believes that now. That is not going to work in Baghdad, particularly after the June 30 change in status. No way. It's almost like no one trusts us any more. Now, why would that be?

But here's a classic French existentialist shrug - Elizabeth Coquart, the journalist quoted above, says this sort of thing is, well, just what happens: ""It was just the behavior of an army that, like any victorious army, feels authorized to do anything it wants: taking women, taking the spoils... It's the prize of many armies."

We're no different? George says we are.

Posted by Alan at 15:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 June 2004 16:10 PDT home

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