A controversial new book about ordinary American soldiers fighting in France in WW2 claims that many civilians did not think them liberators but as sex-mad rapists, thieves and robbers.
What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France, by Mary Louise Roberts, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, shatters the myth nurtured by the western Allies that GIs were welcomed everywhere they went after four years of Nazi occupation.
Professor Roberts said that what the French got instead, when the first soldiers swarmed ashore at Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, was ‘a veritable tsunami of male lust’ which the ordinary French citizen came to fear as much as their German oppressors.
The inflammatory account is likely to trigger outrage among U.S. veterans who saw many of their comrades die on the battlefields of France.
She records how, by the late summer of 1944, large numbers of women in Normandy filed complaints about rapes by US soldiers.
Fear spread among the population along with an ironic quip; ‘Our men had to disguise themselves under the Germans. But when the Americans came, we had to hide the women.’
She said previous historical research on the subject paid little attention to this ‘dark side’ of Europe’s liberation.
‘American propaganda did not sell the war to soldiers as a struggle for freedom but as a sexual adventure,’ she said.
‘My book seeks to debunk an old myth about the GI, a manly creature that always behaves well,’ noting that sexuality, prostitution and rape were all methods used by Americans to ‘assert their power on the French.’
Professor Roberts has written extensively and given lectures on the subject of the second World War, gender struggles in France during that time, and the behavior of American soldiers while overseas.
Debauchery, lawlessness and disturbing tales of institutional racism are chronicled in her searing book.
‘The GI’s were having sex anywhere and everywhere,’ Roberts says.
‘In the cities of Le Havre and Cherbourg, bad behaviour was common. Women, including those who were married, were openly solicited for sex. Parks, bombed-out buildings, cemeteries and railway tracks were carnal venues.
‘But the sex was not always consensual, with hundreds of cases of rape being reported.’
Le Havre’s then mayor, Pierre Voisin, complained to Colonel Thomas Weed, commander of US troops in the region, about the GI’s behaviour.
‘The people could not go out for a walk without seeing somebody having sex,’ she says, ‘and though US officers denounced such behaviour publicly they did little to curtail it.
‘Once aroused, the GI libido proved difficult to contain,’ Roberts writes.
‘Scenes contrary to decency are unfolding in this city day and night,’ Voisin wrote, adding it was ‘not only scandalous but intolerable’ that ‘youthful eyes are exposed to such public spectacles.’