An ephemeral relationship: American non-governmental organizations, the reconstruction of France, and Franco-American relations, 1914-1924
McGuire, Michael E.
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This dissertation assesses the significance for Franco-American relations of five American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that assisted devastated French civilians during and after the First World War. It considers why five American NGOs that extensively and intensively helped restore French territories devastated by that war failed to improve relations between France and the United States during or after these NGOs' reconstructive activities. From 1917 to 1924, the Civilian Division of the American Fund for French Wounded (later the American Committee for Devastated France), the American Friends Service Committee, and the Smith, Wellesley, and Vassar College relief units helped rehabilitate French communes and farmlands in the Aisne, Somme, Marne and Meuse departements. Despite the duration and effectiveness of their work, and the hundreds of volunteers and millions of dollars they spent for France, few individuals in either the U.S. or France know of the reconstruction these American NGOs made possible. The exclusion ofthese societies from French and American historical memory stems not from prewar French anti-Americanism, postwar Franco-American international disputes, or transnational cultural disputes these American NGOs precipitated vis-a-vis their French counterparts. The aforementioned societies surmounted these French cultural and governmental concerns by cooperating with French and American authorities, assigning qualified volunteers to devastated French villages, and appreciating the cultural differences between French and American relations between the sexes and attitudes toward material culture. Instead, the unduly-overlooked history of these American NGOs and the civilian relief they accomplished derived from the manner in which these five American NGOs concluded their postwar relief programs in France. Rather than present their wartime, post-Armistice (November 11, 1918-June 28, 1919), and postwar (June 28, 1919-April 1924) work in France as portents of improved Franco-American international and transnational relations, they simplistically announced that the tasks of these NGOs had been accomplished, and that the relations between American NGOs and the French civilians they had benefited had formally concluded. Consequently, although they endowed scholarships, distributed material goods, and erected buildings as monuments to their work, the presentation of these gifts dissolved the relationship between American NGO volunteers and French civilians.
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