December 18, 2000
When Riva Mandelbaum, a researcher for mega-movie-maker Warner Bros., producer of the award-winning “The West Wing,,” needed information for a series on American soldiers in Germany during the 1950s and ‘60s, she called Dr. Dewey Browder, professor of history and chair of the department of history and philosophy at Austin Peay State University.
“I gave her a reading list that should help make their production more authentic,” Browder says. A call from Hollywood means far less to Browder than his participation in an international conference held Nov. 9-11 at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
With all expenses paid by the host university and the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., Browder attended to comment on one of the panels, “Problems of Interaction: The German Population and the U.S. Military.” Browder is well qualified to discuss this topic based on his years of experience in Germany and his scholarly work.
He is the author of “Americans in Post-World War II Germany: Teachers, Tinkers, Neighbors and Nuisances,” a book published in 1998 by The Edwin Mellen Press.
The unique topic, which captured Browder's attention long before many others saw its worth, was the subject of his 1987 doctoral dissertation. Prior to 1987, the focus was on “the grand scale,” as Browder calls it, such as U.S leadership in NATO.
In contrast, Browder put the era under a microscope and discovered that, although such grand subjects as NATO, the two German states and the Warsaw Pact were treated during the Cold War, “grassroots” activities, with significant socioeconomic ramifications, also occurred.
American influences had become integrated into the societal fabric of Germany. Many Germans worked for Americans; American soldiers and their families spent money for rent, food, clothing and entertainment. Americans and Germans fell in love and married.
Browder says, “The American military pumped more money into the German economy than the Marshall Plan.” The impact of the GIs' presence in Germany was not realized fully until soldiers were brought home after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“With the end of the Cold War, U.S. Army units got smaller and many came home. Their absence was noted quickly,” Browder said. “While there always had been both a positive and a negative side to the GIs' presence, the positive memories seem to have prevailed in the public memory. Scholars now are sorting it out.”
In 1995, a three-day symposium was convened in Ramstein, Germany, to discuss this suddenly interesting historical phenomenon. In concert with the symposium, a book was written to celebrate 50 years of Americans in Germany. Browder, as one of the first historians to realize the significance of grassroots events in post-WWII Germany, was invited to write the lead chapter of the book and present a paper at the symposium.
The November 2000 conference was a big step toward recognizing the nationwide significance of this “cultural transfer” process. “Recently, social history has been getting more attention,” Browder says, “and our symposium in Heidelberg covered a wide array of topics from barroom brawls to German-American Friendship Clubs.”
The previous month at the German Studies Association meeting in Houston, two panels discussed the American military experience in Germany. Months earlier, Browder had been charged with assembling the panels. He was a bit apprehensive about whether or not he would find enough historians interested in the topic.
“I surfaced the idea on the Internet,” Browder says, “and was flooded by responses from professors who traced their interests in Germany back to their military service there. They were eager to discuss their experiences as a ‘seedbed of scholarship.'”
In part, the Heidelberg proceedings sprung from this“seedbed.” Approximately 25 people participated in the conference, including such preeminent scholars as Dr. Guenter Bischof, professor of history and executive director of Center Austria at the University of New Orleans, Dr. Detlef Junker, professor of American history at the University of Heidelberg and former director of the German Historical Institute, and Gen. Montgomery Meiggs, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army in Europe. (See sidebar article)
Bischof, who was responsible for monitoring the entire symposium, delivered closing comments, which provided participants with ideas for continued, focused research. According to Bischof, Browder was “a central character” at the Heidelberg conference.
“As both a leading scholar on the U. S. military presence in postwar Germany and a former high officer in the U.S. Army in Germany, Professor Browder combined the best of both worlds of scholar and practitioner,” Bischof says.
“In the field of studies of American GIs abroad, he is considered one of the chief authorities.”