‘The Most Revolutionary Force’: When American Armies Arrive . . .

David Ellwood

in The Shock of America

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780198228790
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741739 | DOI:

Series: Oxford History of Modern Europe

‘The Most Revolutionary Force’: When American Armies Arrive . . .

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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The chapter debates the role of the US armed services as transmission agents for American models of modernity, conscious and otherwise, and their reception as such in a variety of European contexts from 1943 onwards. The evidence suggests that the Americans brought to the war a variety of distinctive features, of which the most obvious were their opulence and technological grandeur, coupled with a fine sense of detachment regarding the meaning of the conflict for the war torn lands and peoples of western Europe. For their part these peoples projected on the Americans a series of hopes, fears and prejudices, so that when the two sides finally met on the ground before (in the British case) or at the moment of liberation, a great range of experiences emerged, by no means always corresponding to what was expected. Young women bore the brunt of the encounter more than anyone, and were often changed by what they lived through. But the Americans too were forced to adapt as they moved forward from liberation to occupation and back again, and then to nation-building in the cases of Austria and Germany. These were great tasks that they were not prepared for, least of all in a context of radical alientation from their erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union.

Keywords: US armed forces; liberation; occupation; civil affairs; World War II; Italy; Britain; France; Austria; Germany

Chapter.  30472 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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