Guardian" 03/27/07 - -- - N
that Channel 4 is to broadcast a controversial film
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 -
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.
Even so, Bob Lilly faced a torrent of abuse when
his book started to be reviewed in France and then
news of the book's contents surfaced in the United
States. He shared one of the many abusive emails
with me: "Update: I just checked, and this guy
Robert Lilly isn't an historian at all. He's a
fucking sociologist ... sociology is a
methodologically unsound, innately political, airy,
unfounded, slippery and BS-laden field that ...
deserves to slide into history as a blot on the face
of 'social science'."
For all our sakes, I hope that it does not, and
that sociology continues to uncover unpopular truths
and dares to venture into territory that many of us
would prefer to ignore.
The Mark of Cain is to be shown on Channel 4
on April 5, and Taken by Force will be published by
Palgrave Macmillan in August 2007.