Even if the scent of censorship didn't bring journalists running, the substance of Bob Lilly's new book, Taken by Force, should have. It's the little-known American story of race, sex, interracial sex and violence during World War II.
Lilly writes about GI rapists in the European Theater of Operations. Working from Army records, this Regents Professor of sociology at Northern Kentucky University identified more than 500 GIs convicted of raping civilians.
At least 55 were hanged and the rest sentenced to life in prison. Those were the choices under military law. Of those executed by the U.S. Army in England and France, about 80 percent were black — though they provided only about 10 percent of the segregated Army there.
This was no accident. Transcripts reflected then-common white anxieties about black sexuality; at times, prosecutors focused on victims' race and the size of an accused black GI's penis.
No GI was executed for raping a German civilian during the war.
Lilly concedes that Taken by Force faces handicaps in its search for audiences. There is the omnipresent anxiety about violent interracial sex. It challenges the "greatest generation mythology." The book came out in French in France after 9/11, coincidental with our invasion of Iraq. And you know what Americans think of the French.
So how much worse could it get? Well, no one has been willing to publish Taken by Force in English to complement French and Italian editions.
There is the blackout in American and most British news media. Exceptions are two mentions in London's Guardian newspaper and a 2001 British Channel 4 TV documentary finally broadcast in November 2004 early one morning.
It's not as if the book and its contents are hidden from reporters in Europe; Taken by Force was published to favorable reviews there.
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· Mea culpa. Being a critic does not insulate me from sins I damn in others. Last month I warned against the polemic misuse of the deaths of black men in encounters with Cincinnati Police. After Timothy Thomas was shot dead, we repeatedly heard about "15 black men killed by Cincinnati Police since 1995." Few were passive victims. However, I wrongly said, "Most shot or shot at police." As reported in the local dailies, Adam Wheeler, Jeffrey Irons, Carey Tompkins, James King, Jermaine Lowe, Alfred Pope and Daniel Williams shot, shot at or pointed handguns at officers. That's seven — not "most." Also among the 15 were Harvey Price, who tried to stab officers; driver Courtney Mathis, who dragged an officer to his death; and Randy Black, who attacked an officer with a nail-studded board after discarding a handgun used in a robbery.
· The battered and politically sensitive BBC resists calling people "terrorists." It suggests "bombers" or something else. I agree for a different reason: if terror means that killing a few people forces governments to change policies, 9/11 and 7/7 attacks didn't terrorize Londoners or New Yorkers. We can at least disarm these killers semantically, denying them the scary label "terrorist."
· The New York Times' Judith Miller kept her promise to protect an unnamed source and went to jail. Miller broke a law she disagreed with and is paying the penalty. That's the essence of honorable civil disobedience. Time magazine's Matthew Cooper made similar promises on the same story but his unnamed source(s) freed him from his promise of confidentiality and he testified before a grand jury. No dishonor in that.
· Jailing reporters hurts all of us. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's editor says, "Two stories of profound importance languish in our hands. The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them." Publishing them "would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now." Actually, one of those stories — about an FBI probe of former Cleveland Mayor Michael White — later showed up on the cover of Cleveland's alt weekly Scene, which had obtained the same documents leaked to The Plain Dealer. The very next day, its embarrassment at being scooped apparently outweighing its cautiousness, The Plain Dealer ran the FBI probe on its front page.
· Lois Sutherland, grande dame of journalism education in Northern Kentucky, used a handout with the headline, "Avoid Clichés Like the Plague." Students who laughed got it. Journalists love clichés because they survive editing where precise, nuanced and thoughtful language might not survive. So here is a suggestion that will save 50 percent of the space now devoted to America's latest favorite cliché: "security guards." Delete the adjective. Just "guards." If they don't provide security, there's your story.
· We need a "development" story about folks who move into low-rent, UC-fringe apartments after students leave for new campus housing. Has UC financed a vacuum that will suck Over-the-Rhine problems into its costly and cosmetic redevelopment? Or will that be a running "police" story?
· Headline writers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer and The New York Times, failed to meet the challenge when the United Church of Christ (UCC) voted to approve same sex unions. Church of Christ fit one-column headlines better. Not only was that wrong, but few denominations differ more than the Church of Christ and UCC. If the Church of Christ approves such unions, it will rate far more than a one-column headline on an inside page. But don't wait.
· Congrats to The Toledo Blade for forcing Ohio's workers compensation bureaucrats to disgorge unedited records in the Taft administration's coin investment scandal. The Ohio Supreme Court said the records were public and could not be hidden.
Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University