What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France

Mary Louise Roberts. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-226-92309-3
This clear-eyed examination of what randy American soldiers got up to in France from D-Day through 1946 strips away the sentimentality from the overworked, clichéd portrayal of the Greatest Generation. Yes, the GIs fought, and fought well, University of Wisconsin historian Roberts (Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin de Siècle France) acknowledges, but when they weren’t engaging the enemy, they were engaging—or trying to engage—local women. As Roberts shows, the soldiers didn’t always conduct themselves well when pursuing French members of the opposite sex, and they didn’t always seek consent: to some GIs, their invasion of France entitled them to possess mesdemoiselles as well as le territoire. Roberts zeroes in on three kinds of interactions between GIs and French women—romance, prostitution, and rape—to explore the larger political and martial power struggles between the allied nations of France and the U.S. In the end, of course, the former regained its autonomy, but its men were portrayed as emasculated for their inability to save their country and their women, and France’s international power declined. Roberts convincingly argues, in this focused, alternative military history, that libidinous American GIs played an important role in that shift. 23 b&w illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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