Interpreting France: American Perceptions of the French Nation During World War II
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World War II transformed the United States from a nation dominated by isolationist sentiments to one committed to preserving democracy worldwide. The defeat of France by Nazi Germany in 1940 was one of many factors contributing to this change. After France's fall, the U.S. media had to reconstitute the public's idea of the French nation, in the process revealing a blending of sentiment, ideology, and wartime allegiance to the government that all reflected the evolving understanding of the United States' own place in the world. The media's initial shock and sadness at France's collapse and its antagonism to the Vichy regime led it to present the French defeat in a way that encouraged U.S. intervention in the war. After the United States entered the war at the end of 1941, the mainstream media increasingly allowed the government to shape its idea of the value of wartime interests over the expression of democracy, thus altering its perception of what constituted the "real" France. In interpreting the interaction of the competing manifestations of the French nation, the media minimized the importance of a strict adherence to the ideals whose very defeat in France had propelled the United States into a war to defend them. The loss of France as the standard bearer of western civilization caused the United States to reexamine its own role as an isolationist country in a world where the survival of democracy was threatened. The U.S. entered the war to restore the ideals that had fallen in France, but discovered that their preservation often involves their temporary sacrifice.