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Nation Building and Rebuilding: The American Red Cross in Italy during the Great War (Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 2009).

During World War I, hundreds of Americans traveled to Italy as volunteers for the American Red Cross (ARC). Through their relief activities for Italian civilians, these individuals served both diplomatic and social-reform agendas. They packaged
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  Nation Building and Rebuilding: TheAmerican Red Cross in Italy Duringthe Great War 1 By Julia  F.  lrwin, Yale University During World War I, hundreds of Americans traveled to Italy as volunteers for the AmericanRed Cross (ARC). Through their relief activities for Italian civilians, these individuals servedboth diplomatic and social-reform agendas. They packaged medical and social aid with a clearmessage of American alliance, presenting the ARC as a vanguard of the U.S. military thatwas prepared to assist Italy's war effort in the absence of American troops. EmphasizingAmerican methods, expertise, and alliance, ARC representatives also enacted reforms withthe ambition to mold Italy into their vision of a modern western nation. This article arguesthat international humanitarian aid buttressed U.S. international involvement, both politicaland cultural, during the Wilsonian era. Further, by examining the connections between socialpolitics and foreign relations in Italy, it demonstrates that the boundaries of the transatlanticprogressive community extended beyond the North Atlantic. On December 13, 1917, a hundred khaki-clad American volunteersparaded forty Ford ambulances into the courtyard of a Milan palace. Thedrivers arranged their cars into a horseshoe, its points facing a raised stage.There, the mayor of Milan, members of the  Sanita  Militare,  the Italian Army'shealth division, representatives from the French and British military, and thepresident of the Italian Red Cross addressed die men, all members of theAmerican Red Cross (ARC) Ambulance Corps. 2  Our men were received asthe first American unit to reach the Italian front, to combat our commonenemy and to stand with the Italian soldiers immediately after our declarationof war on Austria, recalled Grayson Murphy, the ARC's chief commissionerin Europe. As our sections passed through the streets on their way to thefront, after the ceremony, the streets were  filled  with enthusiastic crowds andAmerican  flags  flew  everywhere. 3 The American Red Cross had staged a grand spectacle to introduce itsmen and its message to Italy, an event that did not escape criticism. We arehere for propaganda it seems—more than for ambulance work, complained 'I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms andsuggestions. Many thanks also to Glenda Gilmore, John Harley Warner, Alison Greene, JuliaGuarneri, Francesca Ammon, and K. Stephen Prince for reading and commenting on severaldrafts and to William Schneider for commenting on a version of this paper at the 2006 GreatLakes History Conference. 2 Paul U. Kellogg,  Seven  Weeks in Italy: The  Response  of  the  American Red  Cross  to the  Emergency (Paris, 1918), 25-26.'Grayson Murphy to Henry P. Davison, published in the  Red  Cross Bulletin  (U.S. ed.), Jan.14,1918,4. Journal of the Gilded Age and  Progressive  Era  8:3 (July 2009)  408  Journal  of  the  Gilded Age  and Progressive  Era  / July 2009 a twenty-one-year-old John Dos Passos, then a member of the AmbulanceCorps, about the dedication ceremony. We will be used in the mostconspicuous way possible—we must show Italy that America  is  behind them.. .  .  We are here to help cajole the poor devils of Italians into fighting. 4  DosPassos interpreted the Milan dedication ceremony far more cynically than didthe ARC's official chroniclers. Where Murphy celebrated the positive powerof American propaganda, Dos Passos dismissed it as a strategy to dupeItalian soldiers. Champion and critic alike, however, recognized the ARC'ssignificance as a vehicle for carrying American ideas, diplomatic and social,into Italy.Although novelists such as Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway latermemorialized the role that the ARC Ambulance Service played in the UnitedStates' commitment to the Italian war effort, it represented only one pieceof a much larger ARC bureaucracy in that country. 5  At the beginning of theEuropean conflict, Woodrow Wilson appointed a War Council to lead theARC, which oversaw the organization's domestic and foreign activities andfund appropriations. The ARC War Council allocated over $20 million infunds and material goods to Italy during the course of the war, more thanto any other country except France. 6  By the summer of 1918, the ARC'sCommission to Italy employed 949 surgeons, nurses, ambulance drivers, andother American personnel, as well as thousands of Italian workers. 7  Theiractivities ranged from supporting hospitals, canteens, and rest houses forItalian soldiers to funding schools, orphanages, and workhouses for refugeesand soldiers' dependents (See  figure  1).The ARC's unique position during World War I sustained these endeavors.With its membership numbering more than 33 million Americans in 1918(20 percent of the U.S. population) and its designation as the official U.S.organization for foreign relief by the Geneva Treaty and Congressionalmandate, the ARC was neither a wholly private relief organization nor anofficial arm of government. 8  This quasi-governmental status held greatsignificance, for it allowed the ARC to secure a level of credibility, support,and power that was unavailable to other relief organizations such as theYMCA or Knights of Columbus. Nevertheless, the ARC was not simply a 4 John Dos Passos, Diary, Jan. 1, 1918, in  The  Fourteenth  Chronicle: Letters and  Diaries  of  John Dos Passos,  ed. Townsend Ludington (Boston, 1973), 115-16. 5 John Dos Passos,  1919  (New York, 1932); Ernest Hemingway,  A  Farewell to  Arms  (NewYork, 1929). Hemingway also served in the ARC Ambulance Service in Italy.'American Red Cross Annual Report, for the years endingjune 30,1918 and June 30,1919.'Charles M. Bakewell,  The Story of  the  American Red  Cross  in Italy  (New York, 1920), 37. 8 Emily Rosenberg has called the Red Cross and similar organizations as choseninstruments, which she defines as governmentally favored private companies], informallydesignated to carry out national security functions ; Rosenberg,  Spreading the American  Dream:American  Economic  and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945  (New York, 1982), 13.  Irwin I Nation Building and Rebuilding  409 Figure 1: Map showing types of relief work started or assisted by the Commission to Italy.Charles M. Bakewell,  The Story of the American Red  Cross  in Italy  (New York, 1920), 109.  militarized charity organized to support American soldiers and their Allies. 9 As an organization financed solely by private donations, the ARC had moreflexibility than purely governmental organizations to set its own agenda. Itsleaders chose to support the  U.S.  government in many  ways  but also pursuedaims that differed from those of military or political policymakers. Throughits relief and reconstruction projects for the civilian populations of Italy, 'For Red Cross organizations as militarized charities, see John F. Hutchinson,  Championsof Charity: War and  the  Rise of the Red  Cross  (Boulder, CO, 1996). Most authors focus on theInternational Red Cross, rather than on national Red Cross societies; see Nicholas O. Berry, War and  the  Red Cross: The  Unspoken  Mission  (New York, 1997); Caroline Moorehead,  Dunant'sDream:  War, Switzerland,  and  the  History of the Red  Cross  (London, 1999). The only book-lengthtext on the ARC's history remains Foster Rhea Dulles's  The American Red Cross: A History  (NewYork, 1950).  410  Journal  of  the  Gilded Age  and Progressive  Era  / July 2009 the ARC created an infrastructure that spanned the Italian countryside andundergirded these two different but related types of American interactionwith Italy—the governmental and the private.Red Cross projects directed towards the immediate relief of civilian hunger,homelessness, and other material  wants  bolstered the aims and mission of the U.S.  government during the  war.  The first members of the ARC came to Italynearly a year before  U.S.  troops. They presented the Red Cross as  a  vanguardof the U.S. military through visible and public demonstrations of Americanassistance. Employees received instructions that all work should have anAmerican character pronounced enough to constantly remind everyoneconnected with it that this help comes from America. 10  By assisting Italiansmaterially and psychologically, the ARC believed that it could establish firmdiplomatic ties and prove the U.S. commitment to the Italian war effort. Asthe head of the ARC's Department of Public Information declared, theCommission to Italy symbolized the fraternity of Italy and America, thealliance in a holy cause, the pledge to stand side by side through the trial ofwar until victory crowned the efforts of the Allies to save civilization. 11 Such efforts underscore the ARC's position as a fundamental player in thedevelopment of the discourse of the United States' benevolent, progressiveinternationalism during World War I. 12  Red Cross workers acknowledgedtheir ties to the  U.S.  government  as  they attempted  to win  the hearts and mindsof Italian civilians with material assistance and moral support. In turn, the U.S.  government supported the Red Cross in these endeavors, demonstratingits early recognition of soft power as  a  tool of American foreign relations. 13 Both the  ARC  and the  U.S.  government hoped that relief would create lasting 10 Chester A. Aldrich, Letter to All Delegates, Aug. 27, 1918, Charles Montague BakewellPapers, 2004-M-090, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University (hereafter CMB), box 4, folder 26.  William R. Hereford, untitled ms, page 6, Feb. 4, 1918, CMB, folder 30, box 4. 12 Emily S. Rosenberg, Ian Tyrrell, and Victoria de Grazia, among others, have argued thatthroughout the twentieth century, the U.S. federal government gave increasing financial andpolitical support to international projects srcinated by private interests. Rosenberg,  Spreading the American Dream;  Tyrrell,  Woman's  World,  Woman's  Empire: The WCTU  in  International Perspective,1880-1930  (Chapel Hill, 1991); de Grazia,  Irresistible  Empire: America's Advance  through  Twentieth-Century Europe  (Cambridge, MA, 2005). For progressive internationalism, see ThomasKnock,  To End All Wars:  Woodrow  Wilson and the Quest or a New World  Order  (Princeton, 1992);Alan Dawley,  Changing  the  World:  American  Progressives  in War and  devolution  (Princeton, 2003).Also useful to the U.S. conception of the ARC's ideological role is Melani McAlister's analysisof U.S. benevolent supremacy. McAlister focuses on the Middle East after World War II,but it is helpful to consider the roots of this discourse in Great War Europe. McAlister,  EpicEncounters: Culture, Media, and U.S.  Interests  in  the  Middle East, 1945-2000  (Berkeley, 2001), 1. Joseph S. Nye coined the term soft power in the 1980s to describe diplomacy based onattracting and persuading citizens of other nations rather than coercing them through displaysof economic and military superiority. See Nye,  Bound  to  Lead:  The  Changing  Nature of American Power  (New York, 1990).  Irwin I Nation Building and Rebuilding  411 support from Italy's government and civilian population and ensure enduringties between the two nations. Humanitarian assistance  was  inherently politicaland inextricably linked to  U.S.  foreign policy agendas. 14 But to consider the ARC as purely an arm of the state is to ignore itsrole as a forum for the transnational exchange of ideas about social reform.With an eye toward permanent reform and reconstruction of Italian socialpolitics rather than emergency  relief,  hundreds of ARC workers wagedantituberculosis crusades, founded nursing schools, and developed child-welfare projects. 15  The organization, construction, and even personnel ofthese activities resembled similar reform activities in the United States overthe previous two decades. 16  In introducing American  ideas  about public healthand social welfare, these Americans acted as what Daniel T. Rodgers hasreferred to as brokers of ideas —men and women who facilitated thetransatlantic exchange on the methods and philosophies of social reform.Rodgers argues that prior to WWI, Americans had been primarily therecipients of ideas coming from Paris, Berlin, and London; but by the late1910s and into the 1920s, Americans contributed increasingly to this milieu. 17 The story of the Red Cross in Italy supports these conclusions. But it alsoforces a reconsideration of what Rodgers and others have delineated as thetransatlantic community.  Louis John Nigro's study on the work of the Committee of Public Information (CPI) inItaly argues that the ARC and the YMCA laid the ground for more intensive CPI activities. Nigro,  New  Diplomacy  in Italy: American  Propaganda  and  U.S.-Italian  Relations, 1917—1919  (New York, 1999). For Wilsonian foreign policy, see Arthur Stanley link,  Wilson the  Diplomatist:  A Look at His Ma/or  Foreign Policies  (Baltimore, 1957); Lloyd E. Ambrosius,  Wilsonianism:  Woodrow Wilson and His  Legacy  in American  Foreign Relations  (New York, 2002); David M. Kennedy,  OverHere:  The  First  World  War and American  Society  (New York, 1982). For Italian-American relationsin World War I and the 1920s, see Piero Melograni,  Storia politico  della grande guerra  (Bari, Italy,1969); Liliana Saiu,  Stati Uniti e Italia  nella grande  guerra, 1914-1918  (Florence, 2003); DanielaRossini,  America  riscopre  ltalia : I'inqmry di Wilson e le  srcini della questione  Adriatica, 1917-1919 (Rome, 1992). 15  Report of the Department of Medical Affairs, issued by the ARC Department ofPublic Information, Rome, Nov. 1, 1918, CMB, folder  45,  box 5. 16 And for good reason. In the early twentieth century, the ARC reorganized and began tohire many of its leaders from charity-organization societies, health and welfare philanthropies,and prominent schools of nursing and social work. In 1908, the ARC recruited Ernest P.Bicknell, general secretary of the Chicago Bureau of Associated Charities, to become itsnational director. During the war, many notable progressive reformers worked for the ARC inItaly and elsewhere in Europe, including Edward  T.  Devine, director of the New York Schoolof Philanthropy; Homer Folks, secretary of the New York State Charities Aid Association;Paul U. Kellogg, editor of the  Survey;  and Jane Delano, director of the Bellevue HospitalTraining School for Nurses. The ARC must be understood as a product of this intellectualmilieu. For the scientific-charity movement in Chicago, New York, and nationally, see John Louis Recchiuti,  Civic  Engagement:  Social  Science  and  Progressive-Era  Reform in New York City (Philadelphia, 2006); Lawrence J. Friedman, ed.,  Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in AmericanHistory  (Cambridge, 2002); Robert H. Bremmer,  American  Philanthropy  (Chicago, 1988). Daniel T. Rodgers,  Atlantic Crossings: Social  Politics  in a  Progressive  Age  (Cambridge, MA,1998).
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