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June 4, 2004
AP : Abu Ghraib-ing The Greatest Generation

As D-Day approaches, news media have focused on the macro and micro stories surrounding what remains the largest single military maneuver in history and its impact on geopolitics and the people involved. Most of these stories report on the tremendous losses of the liberating Allies or the pain and degradation of those who lived under the brutal Nazi occupation. The AP, however, feels it necessary to smear the memory of those who served in France's liberation by reporting at length on an upcoming book -- one that hasn't even been released at this time -- that paints American GIs as rapists and worse after most of them have died and can no longer defend themselves. Call it the Abu Ghraib-ing of the Greatest Generation:

President Bush and other leaders gathering on the beaches of Normandy this weekend will celebrate the heroism and ingenuity of June 6, 1944. But some scholars are paying closer attention to what followed as the victors settled in black market trade, armed robbery, looting and rape.

Only a small minority of GIs were involved, but the subject needs more study, said Robert Lilly, criminology professor at Northern Kentucky University, author of "The GIs' Hidden Face," not yet published in the United States.

"There is a great, ugly underbelly that has not been really explored," he said by telephone.

Hmmm. A "small minority" created a "great, ugly underbelly"? It sounds to me like Lilly wants to give quite another impression. He estimates that during the American "occupation" of France, which is what he calls it, American GIs committed 3,620 rapes between June 1944 and June 1945. He bases this "estimate" on the military records he reviewed, which indicate 139 allegations of rape with 116 convictions. Either he's accusing the US of willfully ignoring rapists in its military ranks or he's assuming something like 30 rapes per rapist. Just on the basis of his numbers, Lilly's "estimate" sounds like something pulled out of a hat.

It certainly seems an interesting bit of timing for the AP to be shilling for Lilly's book, which actually was published in France in May of last year and, as mentioned, has yet to be published in English. Perhaps the AP's choice of French author Elizabeth Coquart as a second source might clear things up:

"There remains a huge recognition toward the liberators; they are still heroes," said Elizabeth Coquart, journalist and author of "La France des GIs" ("France of the GIs"). "But that doesn't mean we can't judge and say, 'yes, some GIs behaved badly.'"

"It's the same as in Iraq," she said. "Any military occupation whatever it may be grows intolerable over time." ... Coquart said only a "handful" of GIs, about 1 percent of those stationed here until France set up its own government in 1946, were involved in misbehavior and crime.

In keeping with the AP's historical heft in reporting this piece -- Lilly is a criminologist, not a historian -- Jamey Keaten manages to blow some obvious facts on the liberation of France. First off, the dates are incorrect. Keaton notes that the "occupation" of France was five months old in October 1945, but in fact almost all of France had been liberated well before May 1945. The Winter Offensive had collapsed shortly after Christmas 1944, and that had been fought near the French-German border. Paris had been liberated in August 1944, and a cursory glance at a map would demonstrate that event indicated the freedom of most of the country.

Furthermore, most of the troops that stayed in France during the period immediately after the war did so to secure lines of communication to Germany. German shipping facilities had been bombed into almost total destruction, and what little was left was nowhere near sufficient to sustain either the occupation troops or the Germans who survived the war. Most materiel had to be brought in through Antwerp or through French ports. Far from being idle, Allied troops had a lot of work on their hands, although only the troops in Germany had to deal with armed "insurgencies", and that was for at least two years after the Nazi collapse.

It looks to me like the AP reacted to D-Day anniversary analogies between the war in Iraq and the liberation of Western Europe by trying to show that life under American occupation was almost as egregious as that of Nazi occupation, and that they're happy to smear the entire generation of Western civilization that bled itself almost to death to defeat fascism in order to do it. Their only support is a book by a criminologist who creates estimates in place of historical data and whose book can't get an English-language publisher, and supports it with quotes from a French author better known for her biography of the stage actress Mistinguett. Instead of honoring the courage of the tens of thousands who died to free France, Keaten instead focuses on a handful of criminals to create an impression of a raping, pillaging army of conquest. What a wonderful way to honor the few who still are with us today.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 4, 2004 6:21 AM

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Captain Ed reports on an Associated Press story focusing on criminologist Robert Lilly's not-yet-published-in-the-U.S. The GIs' Hidden Face. The subject? What "the victors (in Europe) settled in black market trade, armed robbery, looting and rape." "... [Read More]

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