The Greatest Generation of Rapists
Review of Aaron Hiltner, Taking Leave, Taking Liberties: American Troops on the World War II Home Front (University of Chicago Press, 2020), vi 285 pgs.
They are called the greatest generation. They came of age during the Great Depression and went to fight the Nazis and the Japs in World War II. They were the greatest generation, but it is not just fighting that they were great at.
Just after the D-Day anniversary in 2019, I reviewed another University of Chicago Press book titled What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France, by Mary Louise Roberts. That book proved and meticulously documented, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that U.S. soldiers in World War II were the greatest generation of whoremongers in the history of the American military.
But that book focused on the actions of U.S. soldiers overseas. Now we have Aaron Hiltner’s Taking Leave, Taking Liberties: American Troops on the World War II Home Front (hereafter Taking Leave, Taking Liberties). It shows, in like manner, that U.S. soldiers home in America during World War II were the greatest generation of fornicators and carousers.
Hiltner has a Ph.D. in history from Boston University. He is a historian of U.S. military and transnational history and an assistant faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Taking Leave, Taking Liberties is his first book. And what a book it is.
In between an introduction and an epilogue titled “Postwar Invasions and Occupations,” Taking Leave, Taking Liberties has four long chapters: (1) Making the Military Man, (2) Taking Liberty, (3) Women Face the Uniform, and (4) The Militarized City. The book ends with acknowledgments; a list of abbreviations; fifty-six pages of notes; a bibliography of primary sources—including the National Archives, documentaries and films, newspapers and periodicals, collections, guides, memoirs, novels, and oral histories, and previously unseen military archival records—and an index.
Hiltner sets the stage in his introduction. He reminds us of the realities of the U.S. troop presence overseas:
GI carousing from Australia, China, and Okinawa to Britain, France, and Germany was enormously disruptive. Rape, assault, petty crime, and casual violence became all too common hallmarks of American liberations and occupations. In Commonwealth nations, the phrase overpaid, oversexed, and over here served as a shorthand description of GIs. … The growing contingent of American personnel in Brisbane erupted into conflicts with Australian troops over women and increasingly scarce goods like cigarettes. … In Britain, Americans caused similar disturbances. … Across the Channel in France, troops arrived as liberators and armed tourists but also as persistent threats to local women an
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