- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1St Edition edition (May 17, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226923096
- ISBN-13: 978-0226923093
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France Hardcover – May 17, 2013
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“In this vivid account of GIs in wartime France, Mary Lou Roberts documents how the Greatest Generation was sometimes as badly behaved beyond the battlefield as it was brave in combat. What Soldiers Do is not a conventional history. It deeply—and often colorfully—textures our understanding of the experiences of men at war, the contours of mid-twentieth-century sexual (and racial) mores, and the frequently ignorant and even lurid attitudes toward other peoples that attended America's ascent to global hegemony.”
(David M. Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear)
"Mary Louise Roberts's provocative counter-narrative of America's 'good war' reveals the fraught entanglements of gender and race, sex, sexual violence and racism, commerce and romance, in the Franco-American encounter from D-day through the first year of uneasy peace. Rigorously researched and evocatively written, What Soldiers Do analyses the centrality, both material and symbolic, of women and their bodies to France's ambiguous relationship as a liberated but dishonored nation with the newly dominant American victors and demonstrates yet again--in disturbing detail--how much 'foreign affairs' are indeed about sex and gender."
(Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union)
"This is a book that matters. It will provoke heated discussion and critical responses from those who are made uncomfortable by its arguments, and those arguments merit engagement both by those who agree and by those who might not want to face the evidence that the author has gathered so expertly. The prose is bracingly clear, the argument is free of sensationalist exaggeration, and, most important, it is persuasive. This remarkable book deserves to be widely read."
(Joshua Cole, University of Michigan)
"This remarkable book attacks the myth of the 'Greatest Generation' by showing that young Americans went to war in Europe to find sex rather than to sacrifice themselves for Europe's salvation. It stands as a corrective to all the best-selling celebratory renderings of World War II in the United States over the past quarter century. It will be shocking and controversial."
(Bonnie Smith, Rutgers University)
(Times Higher Education)
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Top Customer Reviews
The book suffers from two problems. First, absent any statistical material it is impossible to say how general the phenomena the author describes really were. Second, and probably deriving from the first, it is somewhat repetitive. A pity, for otherwise I would have given it a fifth star.
The main problem with this book as a historical account is that it fails to prove the points that it sets out to highlight.
For example, there are sweeping generalities, starting with the title of the book. Another generality is to claim that the Americans were motivated by sex to fight in France -- a country with loose women -- as a way to prove their manliness after the emasculating qualities of the Great Depression in America. (I don't think that the American military actually sent them there for this sexual purpose.) Furthermore, the author claims that sex was a trophy of victory, or a way to show a nation's manliness amongst weak French males. In supporting this assumption, the author fails miserably. There are many more generalizations that go beyond the scope of this review.
The assertion that American control in a defeated France was paramount to them asserting their immoral behaviour on the French people -- a behaviour that was based on sexual domination and false stereotypes -- is not proven. The fact that the Americans helped liberate the French from a far greater tyranny does not figure prominently in the author's formula. This doesn't excuse the very horrible and violent behaviour of some American soldiers against French women, which she highlights with some detail. However, prostitution can also be seen as a survival mechanism for French women rather than a violent attitude by American soldiers. History should not be written with the moral yardstick of today's standards.
On the other hand, if one can forgo the sweeping generalities of this book and focus on author's analysis of the social behaviours of the time, then the book makes some interesting points. The irony of a racially-segregated US Army liberating a repressed people was tantamount. Blacks were used, in many instances, as scapegoats in crime, and they were heavily segregated. Black leaders sought to defeat Fascism abroad and "Jim Crow" at home.
Overall, there are far better sources of history to read.
As a combat infantry veteran of the European campaign, I would like to add some of my personal observations. 1. In his remark about the necessary connection between fighting and f--ing, Patton, my commanding general, as usual, didn't understand his own men. I'm here to tell Old Blood and Guts's ghost that the last thing his soldiers thought about in combat was sex; the first thing they thought about when not in combat was--sex. That they regarded access to women as one of their rewards is something I never felt nor heard from my superiors or my fellow soldiers. Moreover, the author's misunderstanding of American military policy vis a vis the sexual behavior of its troops is evident to anyone who served. From basic training to replacement depot on the way into combat, the military authorities worked hard to discourage us from random and unprotected sex. Never did I see or hear of a military- run brothel, although in Stars and Stripes I once read of a German brothel for officers only, serving both German and Allied personnel)When the War ended I was in Germany where the U.S. command announced--and strictly enforced--a Non Fraternization policy. I was seen talking to two women as I did guard duty at the edge of town. I got a serious tongue lashing from my Company Commander. I got off so easily because he had been my Platoon Leader in combat.
The book opens with a graphic account of U.S. troops in unrestrained sexual riot with French women in Le Havre in the summer of '45 as the men awaited embarkation to return to the U.S. I was one of those GIs returning via Le Havre in that same summer of '45. All of us were billeted outside the city in temporary tent camps (ours was 'Camp Lucky Strike.') We had no access to the city nor to its women. When our ship was ready, we were marched to the dock and embarked.
For sure, one soldier's experience is not enough on which to base generalizations,but it does suggest that in her eagerness to label those experiences as sexist, cynical and exploitative Roberts' feminist biases have distorted her account. She should have done more homework and talked to some of the dwindling number of us who were there.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I lived thru that period & never knew any of it here in Calif.Read more