"You Can't Say 'No' To A Soldier": Sexual Violence In The United States During World War Ii

Michaele Smith
Between 1939 and 1946 the number of rapes in the United States increased approximately 45 percent. This project strives to explain the cultural factors the fueled this increase. Existing societal beliefs and the legal system of this period held rape victims responsible for their own victimization. Additionally, the wartime mobilization of the 1940s liberated millions of young men from community and family moral surveillance. Some men experienced this liberation as license to coerce sex from
more » ... n. Popular culture accepted and even praised sexual aggressiveness in men, especially military men, and linked women's sexuality to their patriotism. The combination of all of these factors contributed to the sharp increase in sexual violence against women that we see for this period. My dissertation fills a gap in the current scholarship on the American home front during WWII and that addressing the general relationship between rape and war. There has long been a link between war and rape, but not much has been written about civilian populations outside of the warzone. Susan Brownmiller discusses this link, arguing that, "Rape is more than a symptom of war or evidence of its violent excess. Rape in war is a familiar act with a familiar excuse."2 While focusing on rape in the context of combat, she argues that war gives men an excuse to vent their hatred of women, which could help explain the increase in rape in the United States during the war. She continues, Men who rape in war are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world...The very maleness of the military -the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders obeyed, the simple logic of hierarchical command -confirms for men what they long suspect, that women are peripheral, irrelevant to the world that counts, passive spectators to the action in center ring.3 Rape was a part of combat; something done to enemy women by conquering soldiers, access to the women of those defeated was reward for the victory.4 However, Brownmiller asserts that the female victim was chosen not because she is an enemy, "but precisely because she is a woman and therefore an enemy."5 This is partially why I decided to focus on rape outside of the context of combat against a group's own civilian population. Perhaps war gives men
doi:10.21220/s2-ynb8-6077 fatcat:midpo7kjtrbsvhhsps2n5ckt5q