Magazine article America in WWII

112 Gripes about the French: The 1945 Handbook for American GIs in Occupied France

Magazine article America in WWII

112 Gripes about the French: The 1945 Handbook for American GIs in Occupied France

Article excerpt

112 Gripes about the French: The 1945 Handbook for American GIs in Occupied France, Bodleian Library, 120 pages, $12.

The US government famously issued thousands of guides and pamphlets to its military during World War II. The bulk addressed technical subjects, and many were about hygiene. But it also published guidebooks to help service personnel cope with living in alien, sometimes hostile cultures. To this day, these short works are fascinating glimpses inside 1940s American society and are often hilariously politically incorrect. Oxford University's Bodleian Library is reprinting this series, and its most recent release is the amusing and insightful 112 Gripes about the French.

This small book is a worthwhile buy for anyone interested in the GI experience in 1945 France during the first months of the postwar period. It is easy to imagine some young guy from a rural Iowa community getting set down in war-ravaged France prepared with no more information than his grandfather's anecdotes about his own WWI experience and memories of the old popular song "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (after They've Seen Paree)?" The young guy is shocked.

There are stereotypes and prejudices associated with almost every nationality and ethnic group on the planet. It is the lot of the French to have been labeled at various times as contrary, effete, disdainful, unfriendly, lascivious, and insincere--and during the American army's time there in the 1940s, wine-soaked, unclean, lazy, and scheming. The unknown authors of Gripes tackle these perceptions head-on along with the green American troops' befuddlement at French domestic politics and French driving habits, manners, and business practices.

There were gripes like "The French are always criticizing. Nothing is right; everything has something wrong with it." And there was "The French drive like lunatics! They don't obey traffic rules; they don't even use common sense." Some compared the French unfavorably to the conquered Germans in industry, cleanliness, and obedience. The government writers' answers to these remarks are consistent: the French are our partners and coworkers, and you can argue with a partner or coworker, but the Germans are a defeated people who were obedient to Hitler and are now living under occupation. The US government line, put bluntly, was that Germans were bootlickers: Does the prisoner argue with the warden?

The Gripes title comes on the heels of the Bodleian Library's reprinting of the 1944 publication Instructions for American Servicemen in France, which was issued to members of US invasion forces. …

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