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

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  215 ratings  ·  32 reviews
How do you convince men to charge across heavily mined beaches into deadly machine-gun fire? Do you appeal to their bonds with their fellow soldiers, their patriotism, their desire to end tyranny and mass murder? Certainly—but if you’re the US Army in 1944, you also try another tack: you dangle the lure of beautiful French women, waiting just on the other side of the wire, ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Joseph
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Finished the book.

Good things about the book:
1) There is a lot of excellent documentation, especially from French sources. The author clearly did a lot of research.
2) There are a plethora of anecdotes; anecdotal information is largely basis for the arguments in Chapters 1 through 6.
3) There is excellent use of cartoons and photographs.
4) The last two chapters, 7 and 8 really detail how tough it was to be African American in the United States Army in Europe and that “Jim Crow” laws held sway. Th
...more
Jeanie Wallenstein
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well researched book about the polito-sexual elements in Invasion era France, the role and influence of sex and sexual relations in promoting the invasion and the impact on the French and the American soldiers in post invasion France. Fascinating in it's detail and for showing another facet - a rather important one - of the experience of WWII for this region. Valuable for we who are simple interested by the War, and, I should think, very informative for those family of Soldiers and Nor ...more
victor harris
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. A comprehensive analysis of a neglected story - the misconduct of American soldiers during the liberation of France. Sexual offenses by the troops were common and the Army unjustly persecuted black troops as a public relations stunt to deflect criticism. There were constant tensions between the French and Americans, and the sexual predation by Americans would poison relationships between the two countries for decades to come.
A full review of this book will be forthcoming in my blo
...more
Jennie
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Must read for any WWII buff.

The archival work that went into researching this book is astonishing.
Margaret Sankey
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the aftermath of D-Day, American soldiers, who had been primed with messages that they were rescuers and would receive the "thanks" of the French people, encountered the reality of Norman peasants who had been bombed by the allies, exploited by the Nazis and stripped of their male population (most of whom were in slave labor camps elsewhere, and had been for several years). Voila! A perceived population of lazy, dirty, sex-crazy women whose men were too weak to defend them, and who owed the U ...more
Dominic
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is very awesome.
Todd
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, world-war-ii
Very interesting book and topic, and one that is often ignored by military historians.

I particularly enjoyed the research on French civilians and how other historians (and veterans) have described Normans and the French in general as sullen, laconic, lazy, and ungrateful. Dr. Roberts uses local newspapers and diaries to describe why the French were this way - they had been under the Nazi yoke for four years, with family and friends either dead, missing, or imprisoned. By summer 1944, these same
...more
J.M. Hushour
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Like so many academic works these days, "What" is inherently frustrating not due to a paucity of coverage or nuance, but because of the lame framework in which the facts are presented. Instead of just writing a history of how shitty American soldiers acted in France and the role of sex during the war, this is all instead presented under the umbrella of a silly theoretical framework that avers such nonsensical things like "the sexual exploitation of French women allowed the US military to test ou ...more
William DuFour
Garbage, hate it! It's a intellectual laziness man hating book!
Ion
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Sexuality was used as propaganda tool to get Americans to enroll in the Army and fight in Europe in WWII.
The book gives a new perspective to La Libération of France by the US Army in the Second World War, 1944 to 1945, looking at it from a sexual point of view. It is not an easy read, so bear with it. The author has an extensive bibliography of personal letters of soldiers and Army officials, French local authorities and the press.
Interesting link between rape and the black GI prejudices as well
...more
Denzil Gunaratne
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Rarely Heard side of the Story

We have usually taken it for granted that he liberation of France was a very happy outcome of history for the French people. this book, although not political, gives a very credible view as to what it was really like. Though here mainly it is the French and American relationship which is mostly described, it surely must be almost the same for the conquering side as well as the so called liberated side In all wars. Short but good reading.
Jeff
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Overall a good book, although some of her arguments seem pretty thin. Give her credit for question the "golden boy" myth of the American GI during WWII.
Yunis Esa
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Concerning the subtitle of the book, the book brings into light the world of the civilian French citizens and the GI understanding of their world during the 1944.
Hassan
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I speed-read the book, but it is a wonderful commentary on the history of sexual relations between American GIs and the French, particularly in Normandy and Paris. Occasionally goes off-topic, but is well-researched and informative.
Steven Allen
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time getting into this book. I found it rather dry, despite the interesting topic, I found the writing dry and very clinical with little humor. I am glad that I checked this out from the local library rather than purchasing it for my reference shelf.
Louisa
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
was forced to read this for class and actually didn't hate it, would recommend to any WWII obsessed francophile like myself
Pia Jormel *manosalaobra_apn*
I don't read non-fiction but I think it's about time we talk more openly about the topic of this book.
Bob
Feb 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: wwii
In her conclusion, Roberts, a historian whose other books concern French gender roles at the turn of the century and following the Great War, argues "...that military historians dismiss at their own risk sexual relations as an ahistorical sideshow of combat." (p. 260) While she overstates her case in many points, her account reminded me that the Normandy landings imposed an enormous physical and psychological strains on people already traumatized: civilians by family separation, deaths, displac ...more
Jodi
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, as it focuses on two issues of interest to me: gender and history. The authors intentions in writing the book are obviously good, but unfortunately I was unable to get through it. I found it extremely dry, surprising for a book about war and sex. I also had issues with some of the conclusions the author came to using nothing but secondary sources such as Stars & Stripes (a magazine published for and distributed to soldiers) or LIFE magazine. I would have liked ...more
Mark
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This should be read as a companion to Brokaw's THE GREATEST GENERATION. Turns out that while there were plenty of heroes during the 1940's there was also plenty the less than heroic and down right criminal. So, the generation in the 1940's were no better or worse than any other generation in human history. The US Army's treatment of black Americans in the French theater of war was criminal. Their behavior was little better than southern lynch mobs. Roberts well-documented history of soldier beha ...more
G P Devine
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get done, but I saw Professor Roberts' talking about this book on Lawrence O'Donnell's 'The Last Word'. We tend to romanticize the behavior of the U.S. soldier in France when we read history. However, we now know or ignored the sexual behavior of soldiers: French women were easy, desperate, need money and soldiers have a right to get laid, right? Miscommunication, race, and hunger drove the trade, which included hangings for accused soldiers, an obvious majority, African-Am ...more
Elizabeth
Aug 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: all US high school students
Shelves: women
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bill Klanderman
Sep 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
Repetitive, seemed to constantly go over previously stated material. Cheap shot to fellow UW historian Ambrose was below the belt. Premise that GI stole the soul of the French and sowed decades of anger toward the US by dating French women was a little over the top. The denigration of black soldiers bu the US army was sobering.
n0mad
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to n0mad by: n0mad.samurai@gmail.com
I gave this book 4 stars because I thought the author did well in presenting an unvarnished view of buried history. It revealed the institutionalized prejudice and stereotype, command driven discrimination and retaliation that I believe led to the current state of sexual harassment in the military.
Katherine
Sep 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
what phd's do best, write on a subject as if it is the most important idea in the world. not doubting that it is true, just seems way overblown and not to much to back up her sweeping generalizations.
Jonathan Cantor
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book covers a very uncomfortable subject. It was good but at times the author's subjective feelings bleed through. I would recommend the book for the thesis and the subject manner. That being said it is a difficult read given its views on the United States military during World War 2.
Betsy
Aug 03, 2013 added it
Wanted to like this treatise because the author began with plausible argument; however, prose became repetitive and boring. I didn't finish it.
Quynh Ngo
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
A well-written record of how masculinity, a term generally used within gender relations, was adopted in other power models to resemble the order of dominance and submission.
Christopher Laughlin
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jeremy Pedersen
While there are facts she conveniently ignores, this is still an excellent, well-researched book. I recommend it for anyone who worships the so-called "Greatest Generation."
Isadora Wagner
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gender, masculinity, wwii
Interesting and informative. Prose can be a tad repetitive at times, but overall a good read!
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