Can you imagine to what group the title above refers to? Or this: We are "attacked, robbed, run over both on the street and in our houses." Or even this: "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." Just who would you expect to be acting in such a vile manor? Why, the Greatest Generation, of course.
I've never bought into the whole Greatest Generation malarkey. It's just more mythmaking on a dying planet starved for heroes. Every generation is the same. It's only the times that change. Overlooking the truth can never be a benefit, however, only a liability. So let's look at this truth a little more, shall we.
With the landing on Omaha Beach, "a veritable tsunami of male lust" washed over France, writes Mary Louise Roberts, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, in her new book "What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France." In it, Roberts scrapes away at the idealized picture of war heroes. Although soldiers have had a reputation for committing rape in many wars, American GIs have been largely excluded from this stereotype. Historical research has paid very little attention to this dark side of the liberation of Europe, which was long treated as a taboo subject in both the United States and France.
Sounds like hyperbole to American ears. Bringing freedom and restoring democracy were the only satisfactions our soldiers needed! Sure, there was some healthy male desire, just boys being boys. Right?
After four years of German occupation, the French greeted the US soldiers landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944 as liberators. The entire country was delirious with joy. But after only a few months, a shadow was cast over the new masters' image among the French.
By the late summer of 1944, large numbers of women in Normandy were complaining about rapes by US soldiers. Fear spread among the population, as did a bitter joke: "Our men had to disguise themselves under the Germans. But when the Americans came, we had to hide the women."
Sounds like whining to me. Not like we invaded Europe with anything but the idea of fighting the Nazis! Whenever a soldier pointed to his pinup photos and said, "That's what we're fighting for, fellas!" it was understood the real driving force of the war could only be acknowledged with a wink and a smirk. And everyone was in on the joke.
American propaganda did not sell the war to soldiers as a struggle for freedom, writes Roberts, but as a "sexual adventure." France was "a tremendous brothel," the magazine Life fantasized at the time, "inhabited by 40,000,000 hedonists who spend all their time eating, drinking (and) making love." The Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the US armed forces, taught soldiers German phrases like: "Waffen niederlegen!" ("Throw down your arms!"). But the French phrases it recommended to soldiers were different: "You have charming eyes," "I am not married" and "Are your parents at home?"
I'm sure that last question was in a desire for recruiting Bible study classes. War as a holy endeavor naturally only brought out the best in our boys. Sure do miss the good ol' days when all our wars were "good"! If only we could go back to those times.
There were similar accounts from all over the country, with police reports listing holdups, theft and rapes. In Brittany, drunk soldiers destroyed bars when they ran out of cognac. Sexual assaults were commonplace in Marseilles. In Rouen, a soldier forced his way into a house, held up his weapon and demanded sex.
The military authorities generally took the complaints about rape seriously. However, the soldiers who were convicted were almost exclusively African-American, some of them apparently on the basis of false accusations, because racism was also deeply entrenched in French society.
Whew, it was just them evil darkies doing all the raping and robbing. Whitey was back in his tent writing love letters and holding himself chaste for that girl back home. I know this is true because I see it in all the John Wayne movies. Though I have to admit a few scenes like this would have spiced up those boring films:
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.
So we see a shattering of the "Onward Christian Soldier" myth. We see a shattering of this myth because war is a soul shattering experience. It's nothing to be glorified or desired under any circumstances. It is to be dreaded and feared for the damage it will do to us. There's a story of a man whose fiancé was beheaded in the course of the attack on Pearl Harbor. After viewing the body, such was his constitution he spent the rest of his life in an asylum. Why would anyone want to visit this upon any soul?
America's self-defense was wholly justified in World War 2. But turning it into a holy war turns a blind eye to the horrors of war. It may seem a little thing, this lie. But it has spawned war after war of aggression by America ever since. We should be looking back at WII as a hellish black hole we're thankful to have behind us. Instead, we look back to that time with longing eyes forever hoping to relive it. The more truth we can put out about that catastrophe that killed 60,000,000 million people, the better.
Don't get me wrong, I always tear up at the singing of La Marseillaise