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What Soldiers Do Chapter Summary

Military scholars have devoted countless hours studying the implications of the war on generals, allied soldiers, and Nazi Germany, but, much of this research has not since covered the effects war has had on European women—until the notion of gender relations arose. When scholars began to question the whereabouts of females, studies commenced in order to understand how American intervention and occupation in European counties impacted women. As a result, scholars like Mary Louise Roberts focused on the relationship between American GI’s and females.

What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France the romance, accusations of rape, racism, and prostitution amongst the American GI’s and French females. June 6, 1944, a day which will remain in infamy, sparked the beginning of American men risking their lives to liberate the French from the Nazi grip, but D-day did not signal a period of peace for the French, rather the French people endured constant bombings from Allied forces since 1943. French civilians observed as their entire community was destroyed by the hands of those sent to liberate them.

But, as D-day began, the American GI’s dropped into French communities and completely ravaged French homes, ate much of their food, and set their eyes on French women. War raging in French villages did not bolster morale towards the allied forces, but continued to hinder the acceptance the French felt towards the Americans. American GI’s overstepped their welcome and relied on the rumors which swirled around during and post-World War I—the French were very sexual.

Also, the American GI’s did little to assimilate to the French culture, they maintained their tourist-like demeanor and “made sex the defining element of French civilization”. American intervention did not increase the sense of security, but instituted negative views and attitudes toward the United States of America. French civilians obtained no opportunity to continue their lives normally because the “barbarian” bombings devastated their homes, families, and hope for the future—the French were liberated, but the war was not over.

American GI’s did little to assist in the effects the French felt throughout their time living in constant foreign occupation, rather, the American GI’s romanticized relationships with the French women and, subsequently, created an atmosphere of romance, rape, and prostitution. At a time when death ran rampant, the American GI’s broke their commitments to their wives in America and purchased an abundance of sex. Resulting from World War I rumors, sex was extremely common; People were having sex in public—no one could escape the sexual atmosphere looming over war devastated France.

American GI’s believed having sex with French women was a reward and a victory for fighting to protect the French and their families. Sex was traded for cigarettes and money, which tarnished and completely altered the French women’s reputation. All French women were perceived as sexually easy, even though, the French culture was, in fact, extremely conservative—sex was only permitted in long-term relationships or marriage, but, the American GI’s ideals of the French—and the prostitute community—shattered the societal norms and crafted a more sexual French community.

Consequently, American desire for sex bolstered the prostitution population and—in a way—encouraged prostitution amongst the entire female population, rich and poor. French women sought sex in exchange for cigarettes or money, which the American GI’s believed was very little, but, nonetheless, the deprivation of the French females completely shattered the organization which prostitution once had prior to Nazi occupation and opened the door to a new version of prostitution.

Although prostitution became a commonality amongst American GI’s and French women, rape immerged as a major concern. Roberts’ introduces police records that highlight the careless actions committed by American GI’s—rape being one of them. Although most of the rape cases conducted by the American GI’s, the blame was placed on the wrong American soldier. Racism accompanied the American forces from the United States and diffused throughout France, and was used to target the African American GI’s.

The combination of American and French racism created a deadly weapon which was used to combat the African Americans—Race loomed over the heads of the soldiers and the common French females. French prostitutes would claim they were raped by an African American soldier, but, it was done at night, with little to no lighting. How could the French women identify their rapist if there was no light? Although the African American soldiers were fighting for the allies—and a nation which still stigmatized them—the white American soldiers became allies with the French women when it pertained to race.

In the same way French women were sexualized, African American soldiers endured the same fate. Mary Louise Roberts elaborates on the importance gender played as the American GI’s arrived in France, but the sources she utilizes does not support her goal. Jennifer G Mathers, a professor at Aberystwyth University, proclaimed Roberts set women as the center of her research, but, Roberts rarely provides sources to bolster the female aspect of her research.

Additionally, Jennifer G. Mathers states “halfway through the book do the voices of French women emerge to challenge the US soldier’s assumptions that the women were selling themselves purely by choice”. Mary Louise Roberts never claimed there remained a lack of sources surrounding the French women’s opinions, which caused there to be an immense focus on the American GI presence within France, rather than the implications the American GI’s had on French women, the French society, and race.

Although there was a lack of sources revolving around the French female opinion, Mary Louise Roberts created a view for the reader to understand the mindset of the American GI’s and how that mindset impacted the relations in France. But, the lack of coverage on one of the most prominent topics of her research caused scholar Maury Klein, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, to proclaim Roberts’s book was a conglomeration of over-generalizations and over-interpretations of the diaries and letters Roberts used as her primary sources.

Overall, What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France presented a more balanced view of American intervention during the liberation of France, but, Mary Louise Roberts’s lack of sources pertaining to females and her over reliance on the letters and diary entries left countless opportunities open for interpretation and speculation.

What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France discusses the other side of World War II and American intervention and does so without completely dismantling the previous research surrounding the military history of World War II. Roberts demonstrates how prior ideals towards the French women truly impacted the way the American GI’s acted towards the women, and how it, inevitably, altered the French societal structure.

Additionally, the action of rape as a racialized entity continued to showcase how the Americans GI’s brought racism to France and allowed it to spread throughout French culture. Although women were a major focus of Roberts’ research, the amount of sources used to support her claims were lacking. The reactions to the American GI’s were dependent on dairy entries and letters, but due to the small amount of sources covering French women, much of her work seems to be based on pure speculation.

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