Just Above Sunset
June 6, 2004: We ARE the good guys, and always have been...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

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

The book? 

La Face cachée des GI's.  Les Viols commis par des Soldats Américains en France, Angleterre et en Allemagne pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale 1942-1945
Paris: Éditions Payot et Rivages, 2003. 
Présentation : Broché - 445 g - 14 cm x 22 cm
ISBN : 2228897558 - EAN : 9782228897556

The GIs' Hidden Face? 

What is this about? 

A commentary at alapage.com:


L'image du soldat en service en Europe comme "symbole américain" est tout sauf exacte.  La participation de "la plus glorieuse génération qu'aucune société ait jamais engendrée" - comme les Américains se plaisent à dire - à la victoire de 1945 comporte une odieuse face cachée, l'un des comportements les moins héroïques et les plus brutaux dont un soldat puisse se rendre coupable : le viol.  S'appuyant sur des archives des tribunaux militaires américains inexploitées depuis plus de soixante ans, Robert Lilly montre que, entre le 8 octobre 1942, date du premier viol jugé en Angleterre, et le 23 septembre 1945, date du dernier viol jugé en Allemagne, 17 000 femmes environ furent victimes de viols commis par des soldats américains en Angleterre, en France et en Allemagne.  Pièces à l'appui, il dresse la typologie de ces viols, explique qui étaient les violeurs, quelles étaient 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 schémas de viols changent énormément en France comparé à ce qui s'était passé en Angleterre et à ce qui se passera en Allemagne ; les sanctions militaires changèrent également, les punitions reflétant la différence de perception que les Américains avaient des paramètres idéologiques de chaque pays, de ses habitants et de ses réfugiés. 


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 changèrent également, les punitions reflétant la différence de perception que les Américains avaient des paramètres idéologiques de chaque pays, de ses habitants et de ses réfugiés…. 

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. 




From Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis send these comments in an email to Just Above Sunset:


Within the quotes about the book you can find the 'facts' that go a long way to explain the anti-social behavior of some allied WWII occupying troops.


The GIs had money, chewing gum, cigarettes, chocolate bars, loaded guns and spare time.  While the war was still on they had a lot to do, but afterwards - yes - they could have gotten bored.  Any soldier can tell you about 'hurry up and wait.'  Some were waiting for years in Britain before D-Day.


The GIs also had big numbers.  AP says there were 750,000 troops still in France in October 1945.  Remember the money, chewing gum, cigarettes, chocolate bars, and guns.  In any other situation, with this many nearly idle troops, how many rapes would be normal?


Then from the French text, 'from 8. October 1942 until 23 September 1945,' 17,000 rape cases were tried involving US troops, in Britain, France and Germany.  This is a near three-year time span.  A figure I found elsewhere suggests there were 2,846,439 allied troops involved with the invasion of Europe in 1944.


Obviously there were many more rapes than prosecutions, but all the same the 17,000 number might be low.  With the number of people involved over the period of time involved - how many rapes would there be, say in California, for example?


More interesting would have been an examination of the over-all crime rate.  Imagine it - you've got money, chewing gum, cigarettes, nylon stockings, chocolate bars, and guns, and you've got some seriously wrecked countries, and millions of defenseless civilians who have lost everything.  Plus there are all the army's stores, just waiting to be ripped off and recycled to these millions of civilians with nothing. It was a dream situation for Milo Minderbinder.


I think Americans have a problem acknowledging crime.  Americans refuse to believe it is a big business, a parallel economy, involving billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of 'workers.'  How much does it amount to?  Given the numbers most likely, it is no surprise that there would have been a number of troops looking for opportunities.


One other thing - Puritan Anglo-Saxon mores forbid the notion of setting up bordellos for the troops.  The German army operated 'soldatenpuffs' as a routine.  They were realists.


This is perplexing for Europeans.  Why is it that Americans are so unaware that there are a lot of other Americans in the crime business?  Although there are some big numbers thrown around in connection with the occasional white-crime cases, these are a drop in the ocean compared to - the narcotics business, just to name one.


Europeans think naming soldiers' names in relation to the abuses in Iraq does not excuse their superiors.  The hardest part to understand is the 'filming for the public' part.  Was it intended for intimidation?  Was it intended for the public?


If not, those who are running the United States are too stupid for the job.  Europeans don't understand this either.  There are probably a lot of Americans just as puzzled.


Yep, I’m one of those Americans.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....