- Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe during World War II
In Taken by Force, sociologist Robert Lilly penetrates the “ugly underbelly of the U.S. Army’s behavior in Europe” (p. xxii) in a detailed study of the rapes its soldiers committed in Britain, France, and Germany. Fabrice Virgili’s “Preface to the French Edition” and Dr. Peter Schrijvers’s “Foreword” also make for valuable reading, as they first broach the importance of a gendered approach to war, the atrocity of the crime of rape, then the context of rabid American racism in which the crimes occurred and were judged, and ultimately the “code of silence” (p. xxx) about rape that reigns in GIs’ accounts, histories, and film, except where Soviet soldiers in Germany and Japanese soldiers in China are concerned.
Lilly’s book proceeds to use military records and trial transcripts to study American soldiers’ rapes of some 14,000 civilian women in western Europe. What emerges is the brutality, even bestiality of the crimes, especially when American soldiers reached Germany, and the disproportionate number of black GIs prosecuted and the relative harshness of their sentences compared to white soldiers. In regard to the latter issue, readers might further study Louis Guilloux’s memoir, OK, Joe (University of Chicago Press, 2003) and historian Alice Kaplan’s work, The Interpreter (Free Press, 2005), which vividly confirm Lilly’s dispassionate delineation and analysis from the more personal perspective of contemporary observers.
Lilly painstakingly delineates patterns of rape, the rapists, the victims, and the consequences of rape for both. Social conditions in a defeated Germany were more conducive to rape than in a recently occupied France or in Britain, and the cases of rape in Germany escalated in number and brutality, while the army became more reluctant to charge its soldiers with rape in the land of the conquered enemy. Lilly also analyzes the process of military justice and the various assumptions that underlay the language of military lawyers and judges.
This reader would have appreciated more elaboration about the general context of criminality in wartime societies to which he refers in Britain and comparative statistics, for example on the British army’s criminal record. Nevertheless, Lilly reminds us of the following essential points: that war inevitably brings with it crime, atrocity, and degeneration and thus wars would better be defined as “necessary” rather than “good”; that any cohort, or generation, however “great,” contains evildoers and criminals; and that the segregated society of the United States during World War II, and consequently its rigidly segregated army, suffered from a pervasive, rabid, and institutionalized racism that many prefer to ignore, just as they do the subject of rape in wartime. Robert Lilly’s short tome hence becomes a most valuable addition to the literature on World War II, for in examining the subject of rape by U.S. soldiers, a topic that most works on Americans at war avoid, he provides a necessary corrective to the often excessively heroic and exclusively masculine literature of that war in particular, and of war in general, to which so many American authors cling. [End Page 1324]