Gebhardt: US Soldiers Raped 190,000 Germans

Add the post-WWII rapes of hundreds of thousands of Germans, by American troops, to the things Americans are not taught in school. Der Spiegel reported on Miriam Gebhardt’s new history of the post-war era, When The Soldiers Came, which compared the US Army to the Soviet Army. Discourse of Soviet crimes, rapes, has been commonly taught in the United States. The fact of widespread sexual abuse by American GI’s, however, has been kept quiet.

Early discourse on the rapes committed by Americans was decidedly misogynistic: the idea was perpetuated that, despite widespread knowledge of rape, the stories could be discounted because German women were just dying to get into bed with the sexy American troops. That was the only rationale needed to ignore reports of rape, particularly given that the German perception of Americans was, by and large, that of the “good guys.” The Soviets were the “bad guys,” so there was no barrier nor dissonance to discussing rapes committed by the Soviet Army.

If 190,000 seems like an incredibly high number, Der Spiegel also quotes Robert Lilly, who found that 11,000 sexual assaults were prosecuted in American military courts of justice. When we contrast sexual assaults prosecuted, versus those unreported, the statistic seems makes sense. Most sexual assaults are unreported; most sexual assaults that were reported, particularly in the 40s, were not prosecuted. It isn’t surprising that for every one prosecution in the WWII era there were ten or twenty sexual assaults that never ended up in a court.

WWII is often thought of as the last “just war.” Even many people who oppose war as a general rule hold this opinion. Just or unjust, the fact is that war itself, any war, brings out the worst in people. The combat theater provides an environment where violence is encouraged and praised. And rape is a fundamental expression of violence.

We can only expect, then, for rapes to occur wherever soldiers are.

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