We generally associate rape during WW2 with the mass rape of German women by the Red Army soldiers. It was said that the American soldiers by comparison were gentlemen. But that merely is a myth. The American soldiers too violated women during WW2 especially French women. If the motivation for rape for Russian soldiers was revenge for what the German army and SS did in their country, the Americans come through with an even smaller halo. Their motivation for violating French women was pure hedonism. And the sad part is that the American institutions, the press and the army, too egged them on. Perhaps the aim was to motivate the American soldiers to go and fight the Germans.
A local French saying.....
"With the Germans, the men had to camouflage themselves -- but with the Americans, we had to hide the women."
Mary Louise Roberts, author of "What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France"
"The GI's were having sex anywhere and everywhere"
"Once aroused, the GI libido proved difficult to contain"
The U.S. military has considered the issue of prostitution and rape as a way to establish a form of supremacy. Remember, we are in 1945, the United States emerged as a world power. It was also a time when France, humiliated, realized that she had lost its superpower status. Sex becomes a way 'to ensure U.S. dominance on a secondary power.
According to popular media, the image of an American soldier during WW2 is that of a gentleman compared to the brutish, rough Red Army soldier. He did not take advantage of hapless women in Europe, but seduced him with chocolates and other gifts (Especially the starving German women). But a book by an American women scholar explodes the myth. In her book Mary Louise Roberts, author of "What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France" researched the subject and came up with startling revelations.
Here are some gems....
With the landing on Omaha Beach, "a veritable tsunami of male lust" washed over France
After their victory, the soldiers felt it was time for a reward. And when they enjoyed themselves with French women, they were not only validating their own masculinity, but also, in a metaphorical sense, the new status of the United States as a superpower. The liberation of France was sold to the American public as a love affair between US soldiers and grateful French women.
On the other hand, following their defeat by the Germans, many French perceived the Americans' uninhibited activities in their own country as yet another humiliation. Although the French were officially among the victorious powers, the Americans were now in charge.
The subject of sex played a central role in the relationship between the French and their liberators. Prostitution was the source of constant strife between US military officials and local authorities.
Some of the most dramatic reports came from the port city of Le Havre, which was overrun by soldiers headed home in the summer of 1945. In a letter to a Colonel Weed, the US regional commander, then Mayor Pierre Voisin complained that his citizens couldn't even go for a walk in the park or visit the cemetery without encountering GIs having sex in public with prostitutes.
"Scenes contrary to decency" were unfolding in his city day and night, Voisin wrote. It was "not only scandalous but intolerable" that "youthful eyes are exposed to such public spectacles." The mayor suggested that the Americans set up a brothel outside the city so that the sexual activity would be discrete and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases could be combated by medical personnel.
But the Americans could not operate brothels because they feared that stories about the soldiers' promiscuity would then make their way back to their wives at home. Besides, writes Roberts, many American military officials did not take the complaints seriously owing to their belief that it was normal for the French to have sex in public.
But the citizens of Le Havre wrote letters of protest to their mayor, and not just regarding prostitution. We are "attacked, robbed, run over both on the street and in our houses," wrote one citizen in October 1945. "This is a regime of terror, imposed by bandits in uniform."
Image Source: New York Times
A café owner from Le Havre expressed the deep French disillusionment over the Americans' behavior when he said: "We expected friends who would not make us ashamed of our defeat. Instead, there came incomprehension, arrogance, incredibly bad manners and the swagger of conquerors."
Sexuality, prostitution and rape were all methods used by Americans to "assert their power on the French."
The average GI ‘had no emotional attachment to the French people or the cause of their freedom’.
Normandy women launched a wave of rape accusations against American soldiers, threatening to destroy the erotic fantasy at the heart of the operation. The spectre of rape transformed the GI from rescuer-warrior to violent intruder.
With the raping and the bombing, it was therefore understandable why some French wondered whether they really had been ‘liberated’ after all.
‘France for the Americans — as well as the Germans — is Paris and women,’ observed another Frenchman, noting that there was little difference between the average GI and average Boche.
French women who worked as prostitutes even looked back on their German clients with something approaching affection. GIs, it seemed, wanted more than just sex.
‘You had to keep an eye on your purse with those bastards,’ one woman recalled. ‘It’s sad to say, but I missed my Fritzes, who were gentler with women. I was not the only one to say it; all the women thought the same as me, only they did not always say it.’
Rumours abounded of particularly horrific stories, including that of a girl who had been hacked to death and then had her corpse violated.
Of the mere 152 American soldiers who were tried for rape, 139 of the defendants were ‘colored’.
Courts martial were often little more than kangaroo courts, with men sent to the gibbet convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, and tried by officers with little or no legal training.
In addition, another unpalatable truth is that many French women were as racist as the American officers.
Although we like to think of the men who freed Europe as members of the ‘greatest generation’, and that the Allies had fought a ‘good war’,the true story is a lot more complicated and disturbing.
As they trained for the military operation in the UK, the GIs were motivated by lurid stories of how French women had few morals and would be swift to show their appreciation.
GI promiscuity took place in parks, cemeteries, streets and abandoned buildings in cities. Sexual relations became unrestricted and public; sexual intercourse was performed in daylight before the eyes of civilians, including children.
According to J. Robert Lilly the writer of Taken By Force
Estimate of the number of rapes by U.S. soldiers during the liberation of France?
In the archives of the American military justice, the number of rapes reported by the U.S. military is 181 for France (121 in England, 552 in Germany), and 116 U.S. soldiers were tried for rape in France. But rape is one of the most under-represented in the archives crimes: the number of rapes reported are estimated at 5%. I conclude that the number of rapes in France committed by American soldiers was about 3,500, against 2,500 in the UK and 11,000 in Germany. Rape in Germany represent two thirds of these estimates, but no American soldier was sentenced to death. In the case of England and France, it is therefore of sexual crimes in times of war, whose authors are considered criminals, while in Germany, these acts were considered "war rape "where the circumstances and the nationality of the victims make them somehow" acceptable. "
The profile of the American soldier rapist?
This is not a combat soldier, but mostly supply troops, and the act went on behind the lines, often at night. In 85% of cases, they were not officers and black soldiers. At over 60%, it was gang rape. Of the 116 soldiers tried, 21 were executed in France (publicly hanged) and 67 sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence made in the United States.
The first rape which led to a trial in France: June 14, 1944, 4 km southeast of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Miss S., Polish refugee was raped 300 meters from her home in a field where she would milk the cows, four "colored soldiers" who had previously helped to push a cart. Records indicate that they "had drunk wine." A brief trial was held on June 20, Private Whitfield was sentenced to death, hanged August 14, 1944.
Why these rapes are they misunderstood?
Because they raise three issues. First, they cast a harsh light on those Roosevelt defined as belonging to "the greatest generation any society has ever created." This generation of the victory of 1945, mythologized in the United States, had their faults, like two generations of American soldiers largely demystified, in the Vietnam War, and the Iraq war. Rape raises the sensitive issue of segregation and racism in the U.S. Army rapists were certainly often black, but they were still "over-sentenced" compared to whites, and propaganda specifically warned civilians against them. Finally, the rapes illustrated the stereotype of the French "easy woman", the exciting picture propagated by the GI of a "sexual freedom of French women." General Bradley writes of the "Early fever that gripped the U.S. Army to approach Paris, fueled by incredible stories that made France a place unlike any other in Europe."
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