During the controversy surrounding the exhibition “The Third World in World War II“, German historian Götz Aly not only defamed the ‘forced‘ contribution of people of color in the fight against fascism, he also publicly accused Black American G.I.’s of systematic rape of German women similar to that perpetrated by Russian troops.
The history of blacks in the military in the US is certainly not without controversy. While tradition has it that the first martyr to American independence from British rule was himself black – Crispus Attucks – the patriotism, ability and bravery of American Blacks in the service has often been questioned. Although most often relegated to menial tasks, in their struggle for equality many volunteered for military service (not only during World War II!) as a way to prove to society as a whole that they wanted nothing more than to be considered 100% American with all the rights – but also all the responsibilities – that go along with that privilege.
Now as then military service is often the (only?) way for some minorities and the poor to secure for themselves the type of income, professional advancement and educational opportunities that – otherwise – might not be available to them. This is an obvious testimony to existing class and racial inequality in America. But can or should this argument be used as a device to (once again? still?) question the patriotism and sincerity of any-/everyone taking advantage of the opportunity?
While studying in Heidelberg, I spent quite a lot of time in the library of what was then called the Amerika-Haus. It was there that I read up on the subject of blacks in the American military: their treatment by the military as an organization and by their white fellow servicemen, as well as their reception by local populations. In those days before the easy access of information via the internet I read about efforts to discredit black soldiers with the – often friendly – locals by white officers and enlisted men. It was their way of attempting to replicate the racial segregation with which (esp. southern) Americans were familiar.
How cynical that black soldiers risked and lost their lives in an attempt to liberate people on foreign soil when they themselves weren’t recognized as equals on their own.
I’m certainly not the only Black American with numerous family members proud of having served their country. And I’m also not the only one who has heard the positive stories many told about the time they spent in “Dootchland”. Especially those soldiers from the South basked in a new-found freedom of movement and association they weren’t familiar with back home! Although Germany was a popular station for a lot of American soldiers, it long held as special place in the hearts of many Black G.I.’s similar to the one that Paris held for black artists and entertainers of a bygone era.
By willfully disregarding the context within which many Black G.I.’s saw their military service, as well as for maliciously singling out any rapes committed by Black G.I.’s (just in case you believe White G.I.’s don’t commit such heinous crimes, please have a look here and here), Götz Aly has effectively prolonged the tradition of casting people of color – esp. black men – as monsters or animals. Ask Susan Smith or – more recently – Bonnie Sweeten how that game is played.
As a woman, I in no way, shape or form minimalize the atrocity of rape. It is a vicious weapon used systematically around the world by men of all colors, ethnicities and religions to oppress/subjugate those they deem to be of less value than themselves. To insinuate, however, that the horror of rape in its essence is somehow magnified by the personal make-up of the perpetrator – and thereby de facto relativating the horror of rapes perpetrated by other groups – is an example of the basest form of prejudice.
There’s an old African proverb that says: “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”
Click here for a more balanced view of the rôle of the Black American soldier in Germany during and after World War II.