Tracking soldiers from the villages and towns of Northern France, to the "Silver Foxhole" of Paris, to tribunals that convicted a disproportionate number of African-American soldiers of rape, Mary Louise Roberts
' latest book reveals a side of the Liberation of 1944-45 that is typically obscured in histories of the D-Day landings and the months that followed. What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France
(University of Chicago Press, 2013) draws on a wealth of material from French and American archives to show us that the war was an experience saturated with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Battles were critical, of course, but so too was sex.
The American GI in war-torn France was a soldier, a tourist, a liberator, and also a destroyer. Military propaganda represented the Normandy campaign as a soldier's opportunity for sexual adventure, framing the invasion and occupation of France in terms of the rescue of damsels in distress by heroic tough guys from a manly nation. Convinced of the hyper-sexuality of French women and culture, many American soldiers courted, paid for sex with, and even assaulted women they met in French homes, streets, hotels, and brothels. This is a book about what American GIs thought about France; what they did while they were "over there"; how French women and men received and responded to the "advances" of American troops; and the lasting impact of this complex set of encounters on individual lives, communities, and politics.