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    September 7, 2006
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Fulbright Scholarship Sends History Professor to Belgium

William Hitchcock
Hitchcock
 

From the Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda films of the 1960s to the recent best-selling book Band of Brothers, Americans have been inundated with stories of their country’s bravery in World War II for decades. Like many people, history professor William Hitchcock says he enjoys these cultural touch-points, but adds that there is much more to the story.

“I am a big fan of World War II films, memoirs and stories about American heroism in liberating Europeans in 1945. But as a European historian, I realized I didn't really know much about what liberation looked like from the European perspective,” said Hitchcock. “What is it like to be liberated? I wanted to find out.”

This fall, courtesy of a Fulbright Scholarship, Hitchcock will travel to Brussels to find the answer to his question.

Hitchcock will conduct research at the Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society, an archive facility that houses Belgium’s original World War II documents. The research will contribute to his study of the civilian experience of liberation in Belgium in 1944 and 1945, which will be part of his upcoming book, Liberation ’45: Americans, Europeans and the Recovery of Freedom at the Close of World War II.

Hitchcock said he is particularly interested in the civilian response to Belgium’s Battle of the Bulge, the epic fight between the German and the British-American armies that “ripped much of the country to pieces,” yet was necessary for liberation.

Although the story Hitchcock will tell takes place more than 60 years ago, he says that the liberation of Europe in 1945 has important implications for the present.

“I was motivated to write this book in part because ‘liberation’ is once again a term in the forefront of our national politics. But my impression is that American leaders talk about ‘liberation’ today without seeming to know just how complex and difficult the process has been in the past,” he says, asking, “How did Americans transform victory in battle into genuine liberation — that is, the creation of a lasting peace and democracy in Europe?”

Hitchcock believes that a number of factors contributed to the success of the American-led liberation of Europe in 1945. He noted, for example, the size of the U.S. armed forces, the number and strength of its allies, and the articulation of a clear mission from FDR. He believes that a major part of that success stemmed from the American public’s decision to rally around the cause of a free Europe.

“In 1945, American leaders spoke honestly to the public about the cost of war and the great effort it would require. President Roosevelt said Americans must pay more taxes and eat less white bread and meat so Europeans would not starve.

Americans sent canned goods and gave billions of dollars of donations to help refugees in France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy and even the former arch enemy, Germany. In short, the country was fully mobilized for the enormous challenge of liberation,” he said. “The contrast with today is pretty striking.”

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

For additional information on the Fulbright Program, please visit: http://exchanges.state.gov/education/fulbright/

Alix Gerz

 

 


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