Thursday, March 29, 2007

File under "Support the Troops"

Can't say that this is really much of a surprise:

News that Channel 4 is to broadcast a controversial film called Mark of Cain, written by Tony Marchant, about British soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in Basra in 2003, comes hard on the heels of a controversial book by the American sociologist Bob Lilly at long last finding a British publisher - Palgrave Macmillan.

Lilly's book, Taken by Force, was first published in France in 2003, and then in Italy in 2004, but initially failed to find either an American or British publisher. As one American publisher explained to Lilly, professor of sociology at Northern Kentucky University - "I wouldn't touch that book with a 10-foot long pole", given that the subject matter was concerned with the estimated 14,000 rapes committed by American soldiers in England, France and Germany between 1942 and 1945.

In short, at a time when "French fries" and "French toast" were being renamed "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast" because, unlike us, the French refused to join the Bush administration's war in Iraq, the American public did not want to be told that their fathers, uncles and brothers who had fought in the second world war - that "Band of Brothers" as the historian Stephen Ambrose christened them, and whose status as the "greatest generation" had been cemented by Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan - had, in fact, been involved in some of the worst crimes on mainland Europe, including black-market trading, armed robbery, looting, rape and murder.

Indeed, secret wartime files that were made public in this country only in April 2006 disclosed that GIs committed 26 murders, 31 manslaughters, 22 attempted murders and more than 400 sexual offences, including 126 rapes in England, during 1942-45.

Far from being the "greatest generation", Lilly exposes the ugly underbelly of the US army's behaviour in Europe, and it is that ugly underbelly that links his historical account of the murders and rapes committed by American soldiers between 1942-1945 with Merchant's film.

For the simple reality of both Marchant's film and Lilly's book is this: that young men - soldiers - who are given power over others, and have a structure surrounding them that closes ranks at the first sign of criticism, a structure which is, in turn, enclosed within a popular and political culture where members of the public want to invest in their father's or their brother's or their husband's decision to become a soldier and go to war with nobility and sacrifice are, in fact, the preconditions for abuse, torture and totalitarianism. As such, it is the duty of film-makers and historians and sociologists to expose that abuse - no matter how "noble" the individual soldier's sacrifice might seem.

The article goes on to note that Bob Lilly got a bit of the Ward Churchill treatment once word of his book made its way back to the US. I highlighted a few passages that I thought were particularly salient, given the propaganda that seems to surround "The Good War" as some like to refer to WWII as well as the current social climate that is fostering contemporary military (& mercenary) abuses and strengthening an already awakening undercurrent of totalitarianism in the US.

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