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The Interpreter Hardcover – August 30, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Less than 9% of American soldiers in Europe during WWII were African-American, but 55 out of 70 soldiers executed for crimes against civilians were black. That's prima facie evidence of racial injustice, but in this absorbing study historian Kaplan (whose The Collaborator won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2001) digs beneath the statistics to explore how judicial bias operated on a practical level. She examines two court-martial cases held in France: James Hendricks, a black private hanged for killing a French farmer, and George Whittington, a white captain acquitted, on grounds of self-defense, of murdering a French commando. Both men apparently did kill their victims—and in Kaplan's view the incidents were the comparable doings of "two trigger-happy drunken soldiers"—but vastly different prejudices and privileges decided the defendants' fates. Hendricks was a truck driver in a segregated army who seemed, Kaplan contends, to embody his all-white jury's assumptions about black criminality, while Whittington was a well-connected officer and a decorated combat hero who was the picture of responsible white manhood. Kaplan supplements her own research with the perceptions of Louis Guilloux, a French intellectual who was an interpreter on both cases and wrote a novel about them. The result is a nuanced historical account that resonates with today's controversies over race and capital punishment (Sept.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This elegantly written, solidly researched, articulate history is well suited for students who want to understand the tragedy of America's racial past. In the World War II European Theater, 55 of the 70 American servicemen executed for capital crimes were black-in an army less than 9 percent African American. This racial outrage is Kaplan's theme, and she presents the story through the diaries and novels of Louis Guilloux, a French writer and high intellectual who served as an interpreter for the U.S. army while it crossed France on the way to defeating the German army in its homeland. Guilloux wrote in his diary soon after the hanging of a black private first class (James Hendricks) for murdering a French farmer (the crime should have been deemed manslaughter, which did not demand execution) and attempting to rape the farmer's wife. Having witnessed racial bias in many trials, Guilloux contrasted Hendricks's inept defense with the polished one of a white captain (George Whittington) who murdered a French underground soldier, yet was acquitted. This moving account belongs in most collections.-Alan Gropman, National Defense University, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (August 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743254244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743254243
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,044,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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2 star
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1 star
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See all 10 customer reviews
The book is well paced.
Arnie Tracey
This book is yet another politically correct apology for bad behavior by minorities.
J. Anderson
My father was not executed for his crime.
janet L. Whittington

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By janet L. Whittington on April 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Kaplan made a number of mistakes in her book. Another reviewer has pointed out factual mistakes relating to military medals and history. George Whittington was my father, so I can point out some other factual errors the author made. She suggests that Whittington killed the man outside the bar because the man was, at some point, speaking Spanish, and that Whittington didn't understand what the man had said. Fact: Because he grew up in New Mexico from the age of 10, my father spoke Spanish fluently and without an American accent. He was so fluent in the language that when he travelled in Spanish-speaking countries, people there did not know he was from the States. Fact: my father was a true war hero, highly decorated, and greatly respected by the men he led into battle. He was written about by name in various histories of World War II. One of his heroic actions on D Day was portrayed in the film The Longest Day (by Tommy Sands). He is in the New Mexico Military Institute hall of fame. Among the facts Kaplan presents in her book are the following: A black private had been in France for a couple of weeks, and had seen no combat, when he chose to get drunk and go on a rampage in the French countryside, killing and raping innocent French civilians. He was executed for his crimes. Shortly after D Day, my father killed a man outside a bar where the victim, my father, and other soldiers were drinking. The victim was wearing bits and pieces of various uniforms, refused to identify himself as to his nationality, spoke various languages with an accent that may have been German, and while inside the bar, pointed his rifle in a threatening manner at an American soldier. No identification was found on his body. My father was not executed for his crime.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Garland on May 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed in this book which concerns an area of military history in which I am keenly interested. It was like listening to a Monday morning quarterback describing a long ago game. The author selected two very different cases to illustrate her supposition that we had a Jim Crow Army during WWII. She fails to note that in a 1945 Report of the Judge Advocates Section, HQ FET (Rear) which states out of 411 persons sentenced to death, 239 were white. Of these the numbers convicted of rape and murder weere 142 Black and 86 White. Many of these sentences were commuted and the author correctly states that only 70 persons were actually executed. Most of the white prisoners under death sentence were convicted of military type charges such as desertion, misconduct in front of the enemy, etc. Such statements as "James Hendricks was a fully trained servant of liberation in a white man's Army," (pg 33) sounds like a statement designed to inflame the reader. The author allows little space to the Military Police investigation and involvement of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). As for the trial, Ms. Kaplan is critical of everything from the site selection to the board and attorneys handling of the trial. Late in 1945, in just one military disciplinary training center, in France, there were 82 men under sentence of death. They were a mix of white, black, latins, enlisted and officer. None of them were executed as far as I have been able to learn. Did we have racial problems in the Army under segregation? Yes, of course we did and it lasted long after integration. However, the author paints the entire military establishment with the broad brush of prejudice which is untrue.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Anderson on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is yet another politically correct apology for bad behavior by minorities. Kaplan seems to almost excuse rape, killing, drunkenness etc. because Black soldiers were mistreated by the "Jim Crow Army." This approach smacks of the same type of paternalism these authors so often decry. By removing free will and personal responsibility from these troops Kaplan seems to see them as men/children that are unable to be held accountable.
Second, Kaplan compares two soldiers whos were court martialed for killing. The disparity of facts of the two cases were so drastic that no real comparison can be made much less to claim that Racism explains the different outcomes.
Hendricks's crime was a drunken, selfish, hedonistic spree by a 21 year-old private who was bored and horny, which cost the life of a respected civilian (think Iraq). George Whittington was a true hero (DSC, Bronze Star w/ combat V) who killed a fellow soldier he may have believed was a German spy.
When I was in the Marines (1981-1988), I found the most color-blind society I ever encountered. Any bias I had before bootcamp was washed away as I saw all my comrades treated according to their ability and work ethic, never the color of their skin.
Like "Now the Hell Will Start," "The Interpreter" treats African Americans like special ed kids who can't be expected to behave.
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Format: Hardcover
The author's apparent liberal bias justified my low rating of this book. If she had just stuck to the facts about her black soldier "hero" who was hanged for murder and attempted rape, perhaps she would have had either a best seller or a separate fictionalized TV movie deal.

In my opinion, the author erred in choosing a French interpreter during the trial of the black soldier for the book's title. It is not perfectly clear as to how proficient the interpreter actually was in translating French witnesses' testimony into contemporary American English, nor his importance to the court martial members as they heard all the facts of the trial and made their unanimous decision to hang the black soldier for murder and attempted rape of French civilians in 1944 during the American army's liberation of France. I cannot believe that the interpeter was present during the court's closed deliberations to determine guilt or innocence of the accused black soldier.

She attmpted to contrast the black man's conviction and subsequent hanging with an American officer who was found not guilty of killing a possible German spy armed with a weapon at about the same time in 1944. This is the fatal flaw in this story.

I will give the author credit for explaining the many safeguards for the accused in a court martial trial. While the needs of the armed forces in wartime are to find guilt or innocence quickly, there are enough safeguards that give the accused hope for outright acquital, or reduction in sentence by a mandatory review by higher headquarters.
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