Between 1945 and the mid-1950s, Western Germany was Europe´s most popular destination for private US-American humanitarian aid. This circumstance leads to the preliminary question, why “ordinary” US citizens were so eager to send financial and material resources to a country that had recently been a wartime enemy?
After the Second World War, the US military government had trouble providing the necessary food rations for the malnourished German population. This posed a serious threat to the credibility of the U.S. as an occupant and as a future global defender of democracy and liberal capitalism. The work of private US-American humanitarian organizations proved a vital contribution that filled empty stomachs and strengthened German morale. My project suggests that the popularity of private aid stemmed from elaborate media campaigns and government cooperation. Humanitarian organizations portrayed their donors as diplomats of American cultural and political values, contributing to the promotion US global leadership.
An analysis of the interplay of US government objectives in Germany, the intentions of humanitarian actors, and their mediation through newspapers and magazines traces the developing public and political discourse around American humanitarian engagement in Germany. It involves debates about American national identity and responsibility as a global power, as well as German war guilt and the country´s western integration. The discourse will be followed into the early 1960s, when the major humanitarian agencies shut down their German operations.
I intend to show that humanitarianism can have motivations other than altruism. For Germany, it functioned as a form of cultural diplomacy, improving the reputation of the U.S. as an occupant. Furthermore, I suggest that cultural diplomacy is not just an outbound activity. Through intense public discourse on the subject matter, Americans had to scrutinize their country´s values and their suitability for global leadership, thereby shaping an understanding of their own national identity after World War II.