We only have to teach German kids how to play baseball-- then they'll understand the meaning of democracy.
--An American general in Berlin, autumn 1945
When I was born in Upper Austria in 1949, Mauerkirchen was a small, sleepy market town--but it was also situated in the American occupation zone of Austria. Although during the period of occupation, 1945-55, the U.S. Army was barely visible in our part of the woods, we children religiously waited for the best action of the year: the annual U.S. Army maneuvers and our rations of chewing gum.
For us, the horrors of the Second World War were in the distant past, but still they were everywhere. Our everyday experience included quite a few mutilated men, and for the nicer ones we picked up cigarette butts from the streets. It seemed absolutely normal that most men and many women looked old and tired--and not only because we were children and they wore dark clothes. But what a contrast when we saw pictures of GIs or, even better, met "the real thing." Somehow, they clashed with our images of soldiers. They looked young and healthy. Contrasted to our poverty, they seemed incredibly rich, and many were generous to us kids. Of course, their casualness and loudness were proverbial--but we admired them precisely for that.
Although most families with a Nazi past repressed and hid this past from the children, the war remained everywhere--and we did not need a war memorial to be reminded of the many ghosts roaming our streets. Unspoken Nazi-past or not, it was clear that most adults objected to those crass boys from across the Atlantic. "We" had indeed lost the war, but look at those uncultured American guys who chewed gum and put their feet on the table. (This, it seemed, was the utmost crime!) How could an army manned by such unmilitaristic, childish, and undisciplined boys (even blacks!) win a war, especially one against Germany! A few of us children, however, secretly suspected that an army advancing to the rhythm of swing music deserved to win the war. It did not help our elders to warn us that if we chewed gum we would look like Americans: that was exactly what we wanted to look like!
In my family, I was spared this routine of Austrian cultural superiority versus American cultural inferiority mostly for two reasons. First, my parents and grandparents had not been Nazis, and my mother loved American music,