Rich Relations

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David Reynolds, Rich Relations: The American Occupation of Britain. 1942-1945. New York: Random House, 1995.

Summary

In his work Reynolds examines the diverse experiences of Americans in Britain during World War II. He uncovers how contact between primarily American GI’s and British citizens and Tommies influenced both the British and the Americans involved and by extension both nations. The different attitudes and cultural identities of the two nations had an impact on all areas of contact (diplomatic, military, civilian). Reynolds argues that each encounter between Britain and the US during WWII in some way demonstrates the rise of the US as the dominant partner.

In his account of America’s occupation of wartime Britain Reynolds contends that the two main issues of this time were sex and race, according to officials. It was believed that the best way to solve these problems was to encourage friendship between the “Yanks” and the Brits. The book’s main focus, however, is not the policy and the thoughts of the higher ups but the everyday lives and interactions of GI’s, Tommies and British civilians. Reynolds discovered that US soldiers represented not just America but also the prosperity of America. These Americans in Britain provided personal demonstrations of the power and wealth of the US. This contributed to the image of GIs as “oversexed, overpaid, overfed, and over here.” British women during the war also underwent a transformation, an increased freedom, that undoubtedly increased the fraternization between GI’s and British females, further supporting the common image of the oversexed GI.

Reynolds also examines the US Army’s attempt to impose American southern standards of racism and segregation on British society as well as the experiences of African American soldiers in Britain. African American GI’s found a much freer and more accepting atmosphere is Britain. Reynolds argues that the experiences overseas often increased the discontent of African American GI’s at the situation in America.

Reynolds argues that although Americans greatly “Americanized” Europe while serving overseas they did not change traditionally British institution and many British ideas and beliefs. He also argues that service abroad had an equally profound effect on America, as American soldiers returned to the US following the war.

Commentary

Rebecca Adams, Spring 2016

In his work, Rich Relations, David Reynolds studies American experiences abroad, in Great Britain, while serving in the military during World War II. This transnational history examines how people (mainly American GIs) and ideas move from America to Britain and from Britain to America and the impact of this transnational movement. Looking not at the government interaction of the two nations but at the grassroots interactions among soldiers, both American and British, and British citizens, Reynolds seems to argue that despite the Americanization caused by GIs overseas, in most regards British institutions and traditional ideas and beliefs remained unaltered. In fact he seems to argue that the more important changes occurred in America as a result of GIs experiences abroad- specifically the unification of diverse Americans, and increasing discontent among African Americans.

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