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Mary Louise Roberts on “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War Two France, 1944-46.”

On Thursday April 6, Mary Louise Roberts presented her most recent research, “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War Two France, 1944-46.” The professor of European History at the University of Wisconsin was brought to the College by the German and French departments.

Roberts presented sex as an integral part of US military framing, war tactics and their eventual victory in Europe. Her work posits an interconnectedness between the body, the national and transnational politics. She steers away from the liberation narrative and image of the American G.I. as war heroes acknowledging their reputation in committing rape in several wars.

“Since I’m an historian, I really truly believe that this story is important for activists to know,” Roberts said.

Roberts recounts other instances in which the American justice system has ruled unjustly, such as in the case of Rodney King, and numerous other current examples.

“Black men are frequently accused of crimes they didn’t commit,” Roberts said. “[Black men] are murdered when they are innocent. It’s a whole pattern of injustice in our system.”

“I know this from the LeRoy Henry case, African Americans were accused of rape (or this one was) because according to the courts, there is no reason why a white woman would ever be attracted to a black man. And so if there’s a relationship between them, it’s rape.”

The rape cases filed by white women against black men cited minimal or no evidence, though numerous African American soldiers were charged and hanged. Roberts in her work critiques desensitization by the public.

“My theory about how change happens is that things are naturalized, and it’s only when someone says wait a minute, this isn’t natural, this is wrong, and not only is it wrong, it’s historical and there’s a pattern here,” she said.

Misogynoir, Roberts added, is a huge problem too.

“It’s typical that there’s been a lot more noise about black men getting killed than black women disappearing in Washington D.C., because there’s sexism there too, so somebody’s got to get outraged about it.”

When asked how her positionality impacted her writing experience, Roberts admits difficulty in coming to terms with the intersectionality of race and sex.

“It was really hard to read and write this. One of the real problems was that I’m a feminist so I grew up really protective of women who were raped,” Roberts said. “These cases were really hard to get through because I was a white girl from Massachusetts and it was an awakening for me but it was also hard for me because I didn’t have anyone I wanted to blame.”

Her work calls for audiences to interrogate their knowledge base and information they receive, and encourages seeking out knowledge.

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