November 23, 2014

1947. The Sentiment Toward Americans Abroad

An Unpredictable People
"U.S. Corporal Stanley Suski, left, and Miss Tamako, a Geisha girl, whirl a bit of Jitterbug, in a bar, in Tokyo, Japan," October 1, 1945 (source)
From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, pp. 10-11:

Charming and brutal, generous and selfish, an unpredictable people are the prime movers of the world's future

The American sergeant on your left and his German girlfriend, Veronica, were in Berlin's Rainbow Corner. He wears a lot of fruit salad on his left breast but "I was one of the first replacements over here. I didn't get to see the war."

"I'll tell you something—you'll find some girls over here just as nice as an American girl."

Veronica is an actress out of work. She met Jack at a party: "He's very nice—a very good attractive man. All the Americans I meet are kind but sometimes they are like children. They don't take things seriously, you know. They want to be happy all the time."

Her German fiancé has spent the last four and a half years in a Russian prison camp.

Veronica is is only one of millions of people around the world who are meeting Americans for the first time—and trying to make up their minds about them.

All over Europe and the Pacific, where our forces arrived by invitation or not, the question was obvious: Are you glad the Americans came? Straight answers were hard to get, because Uncle Sam is regarded as a very rich uncle, and people everywhere act like careful poor relations.

On Kwajalein, in mid-Pacific, the Naval officer in charge of local government replied: "Yes, decidedly—the natives are satisfied." But then he added: "Of course, that answer from a native would be somewhat impelled by his desire to please."

All over France and Belgium the competition between war towns for American adoption—for our largesse and our tourist trade—is strenuous and fierce.

In Aachen, the inhabitants have never been able to understand the changeable American personality that is kind today and stern tomorrow. Nevertheless, they recall dreamily the days of American occupation because of the enormous amount of food and materiel that travels with our Army. They miss the luxuries bitterly.

Talk to dozens of citizens of Hiroshima. Not one will confess the slightest grudge against America. They are glad we did it. They welcome the occupation. The conduct of Allied troops is blameless.

Everywhere beyond our borders, people are adopting American habits. One impact of our culture can be seen wherever our troops have visited. The world is jitterbugging. It is peculiarly embarrassing to see a 60-year-old German with white hair going through the energetic jumps of a jitterbug session. But apparently Berlin figures that this is the thing to do.

In Hiroshima, one of the first fresh structures to rise out of the wreckage is the International Dance Hall. One pretty hostess thanks the war for innovations: "Japanese society today has a better understanding of Western dancing. They don't look at it with that prewar feeling. Now I am very much interested in jitterbugging."

At the red schoolhouse in Reims, 16-year-old student Marcel Ladue fondly remembers the chewing gum, candy and clothing American soldiers used to give to French boys. But he is also young enough to criticize: "Now I can walk across the street without being afraid of getting killed. There were so many accidents with your GI drivers. Some of them were good friends. Then they went away. And they never answer our letters. Never."

You get all kinds of feeling expressed about the Americans—hate, love, warmth, nostalgia, envy. You get them all—except one very important one: nobody talks about having a feeling of confidence in Americans.

There is a confusion between our words and our actions: "You Americans aren't realists." Our visiting GI's just help prove that notion. Because of their training and background—or lack of it—they are far from being the best salesmen for the American dream.

And there's nothing that American dream needs more than good and honest salesman.