At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States was growing
by fits and starts into its new role as a global power. Unlike
European empires, it sought to distinguish itself as a new kind of
power. Corporations and media outlets were spreading American
brands, ideas, and commodities worldwide, increasing we would today
call soft power. Meanwhile, American citizens and government
officials grappled with their nation's rising prominence and
debated how best to engage with the wider world. One of those ways
was to use foreign aid to define the nation's new role and
responsibilities with regards to the international community. This
first book narrates the early history of American foreign relief
and assistance as a way of guiding the international community in
peaceful cooperation and modernization towards greater stability
and democracy. It tells the story of how the United States
government came to realize the value of overseas aid as a tool of
statecraft. A prime case in point is the American Red Cross, a
quasi-private, quasi-state organization. Established in 1882, the
ARC was a privately funded and staffed organization, primarily
dependent on volunteer labor. However, it shared a special
relationship with the U.S. government, formalized by Congressional
charters, which made it the "official voluntary" aid association of
the United States in times of war and natural disaster. Together,
international-minded American progressives-a generation of American
health professionals, social scientists, and public
intellectuals-made the ARC into a vehicle for the global
dissemination of their ideas about health, social welfare, and
education. They urged their fellow citizens to reject their
traditional attachments to isolationism and non-entanglement and to
commit to "humanitarian internationalism." Their international
activities included feeding, housing, and anti-epidemic projects in
wartime France, Italy, Russia, and Serbia; the development of
playgrounds, education initiatives, and child health clinics in
postwar Poland and Czechoslovakia; correspondence programs to unite
American children and their international peers; and the extension
of all of these efforts to U.S. territories, sites where the
conceptual lines between foreign and domestic blurred in the U.S.
imagination. This history calls attention to the ways that private
organizations have served the diplomatic needs of the U.S. state,
as well as been an institutional space for Americans who wanted to
participate in international affairs in ways that deviated from
official state agendas. By the mid-1920s, voluntary humanitarian
interventionism had become the basis for a new set of American
civic and political obligations to the world community.
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