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In the Shadows of a World at War

American Exiles and Expatriates and a World at War (1914 – 1945)

African American Artists And Intellectuals

African American artists and intellectuals

A group of African American artists, intellectuals, and filmmakers on board the ship Bremen-Europa bound for the Soviet Union in 1932.  The group includes the noted poet, Langston Hughes, future civil rights attorney Loren Miller, the author Dorothy West, actor Wyland Rudd, and the painter Mildred Jones.  Hughes later joined fellow American writers John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway as chroniclers of the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939).  (Photo courtesy of the James Weldon Johnson Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book, and Manuscript Library)

John Dos Passos And Ernest Hemingway

John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway

American expatriate writers John Dos Passos (1896 – 1970) and Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) served as ambulance drivers in WWI.  Both returned to Europe for extended stays after the war’s end.  (Public domain)

The period from the outbreak of World War I (1914) through the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) to allied victories over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in World War II (1945) is best understood as a single protracted global war.

World War I transformed Europe from a network of imperial monarchies to modern industrialized nation-states.  The politics, culture, and art within this modernized Europe were abuzz with new philosophies (existentialism, phenomenology, nihilism) and aesthetics (surrealism).  In the United States, the Jazz Age introduced the world to one of America’s most enduring exports – the American blue note.

World War I & the Jazz Age

  • Writers, Painters, and Artists
  • Europe
  • American WWI Veterans
Gertrude Stein bids goodbye to Sgt. Robert Ashley

Gertrude Stein bids goodbye to Sgt. Robert Ashley, right, of Portland Oregon, at her home in Paris, c. 1945.  (Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley)

Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment were called the Harlem Hellfighters

Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment were called the Harlem Hellfighters.  The unit is believed to have spent more time in active combat in World War I than any other American unit of its size.  The 369th’s band, led by Lieutenant James Resse Europe, is credited by music historians as having brought American jazz to the European continent, opening the path for generations of exiled jazz musicians in Europe.

The waging of World War II mobilized nearly the whole of American society.  Domestically, tens of thousands of American women and minorities entered war industries previously denied to them.  Abroad, American servicemembers were exposed to the people and cultural landscapes of their European, Asian, and North African theaters of operation.

The end of World War II gave rise to American geopolitical primacy and a desire for a return to relative domestic stability.  The post-war American artists, writers, and intellectuals who left the United States for lives abroad were, by-and-large, skeptical of the presumed saliency of American power and sensitive to the price that the pursuit of American social tranquility was exacting from their freedom.

World War II & the Postwar World

  • American War Deserters and Resisters
  • Global
  • American War Veterans
  • Writers, Painters, and Artists
  • Europe, Asia
  • American Jews
  • Israel