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Americans did not simply retain their national identification when they went abroad. More precisely, they often discovered overseas just how they wanted to be American. Writers and artists in Paris most famously contributed to this process. Rather than retreating into their own private worlds of exile, expatriates consumed themselves with the task of defining and even promoting a modern national culture. Encouraged in their endeavors by small but select sets of European intellectuals enamored of the machine-age artifacts of American life—from the architect Le Corbusier and the painter Fernand Léger to surrealists and négritude writers—Americans in Paris began to see how they might capture vibrant national idioms, how they could construct new aesthetics and attitudes by rubbing them up against other subjects, traditions, and techniques.

That spring, Dos Passos remembered, “it looked as if every man or woman in the United States who could read or write had wrangled an overseas job. ”20 After Versailles, the wave of unruly doughboys and conspicuous convention-goers would ebb, but the journalists were there to stay, and they helped to set the tone of the postwar American colony. The growth of syndicated news networks and the war itself had stoked interest back in the United States for overseas news of all kinds. Once considered career suicide, appointments to posts in continental Europe became some of the most coveted positions in journalism.

Manufacturing in the United States soared, and the principles of industrial organization piloted by Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management and Henry Ford’s factory work system became famous the world over. The emergence of a vibrant, distinctively American culture during the first half of the century, however, entailed not just these new modes of production but other, more subtle or diffuse changes—innovations smuggled into everyday life by the bold graphics of Madison Avenue, the blinking neon lights of the Great White Way, the fast talk and streamlined fashions of Hollywood films, the blowout sounds of big band jazz.

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French Army 1939-45


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