Woodrow Wilson and the American Myth in Italy: Culture, Diplomacy, and War Propaganda

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Overview

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson’s image as leader of the free world and the image of America as dispenser of democracy spread throughout Italy, filling an ideological void after the rout of Caporetto and diverting attention from a hapless ruling class. Wilson’s popularity depended not only on the modernity of his democratic message, but also on a massive propaganda campaign he conducted across Italy, using as conduits the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Committee on Public Information.

American popularity, though, did not ensure mutual understanding. The Paris peace negotiations revealed the limits of policies on both sides, illustrated most clearly in Wilson’s disastrous direct appeal to the Italian public. The estranged countries pulled inward, the Americans headed toward isolationism, the Italians toward fascism.

Rossini sets the Italian-American political confrontation within the full context of the two countries’ cultural perceptions of each other, different war experiences, and ideas about participatory democracy and peace. A stellar example of the new international history, this timely book highlights the impact of American ideology and sense of mission in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Il Mestiere di Storico

The result of almost twenty years of research, this study of Italian-American relations at the moment of the first direct political impact gives us an exhaustive and stimulating analysis of two incompatible worlds, forced to collaborate in order to reach a peace for Southern Europe after the great catastrophe. So wide was the chasm between the two countries in terms of political culture, grasp of on-going developments, mentality and morality, that the failure of their projects was inevitable... Authoritative, original, lucid, the book is unique in its genre in Western European historiography.
— David W. Ellwood

L'Indice

Rossini's reconstruction of the American eruption into Italy during the Great War is accurate and full of nuances: it embraces the relief work of the American Red Cross and of the Young Men's Christian Association, which was also precious to propaganda owing to their material abundance, and the activity of the "propaganda professionals" of the Committee on Public Information, who spread Wilsonian idealism at home and abroad through advertising and moving pictures, which were completely new to the Italian public...Daniela Rossini's book is a stimulating example of international history. In synthesis, it is a history essay on international relations whose scope has been widened to include non-governmental subjects—individuals, private associations, companies—in order to obtain a firmer grasp of the cultural roots of international politics.
— Marco Mariano

Scaffale

Seldom are well-researched history books engaging. The critical apparatus employed and the analytical mode of exposition can make heavy reading, especially when the subject is not well known. But Daniela Rossini's book on Italy and the United States during World War I succeeds in combining a solid scientific approach with a pleasing narration of events. This is the result of both the author's fluent writing style and, especially, her strong grasp of the events of the time, the fruit of long study and reflection. Particularly interesting are the pages describing the differences and similarities between Italy and the United States (already an economic giant with an industrial production equal to that of the UK and Germany) at the beginning of the twentieth century, and those outlining the images Italy and the USA had of each other. Her portrait of Fiorello LaGuardia vividly evokes the impulsive temperament of the first Italian to play a significant role in American political life, while the analysis of Woodrow Wilson's policy and personality reveals the author's familiarity with the most representative President of his generation. Rossini's analysis of American policy towards Italy during and after World War I has a lot to tell anyone interested in understanding the ideological and procedural aspects of American diplomacy, also today.
— Roberto Morozzo della Rocca

Il Corriere della Sera

A remarkable book...A comprehensive picture which sheds light on previously unknown aspects of Italian-American relations.
— Sandro Gerbi

Journal of American History

Culture matters in diplomacy. Daniela Rossini certainly confirms the validity of that premise for Italian-American relations during World War I and at the Paris Peace Conference. Taking inspiration from the historian Akira Iriye, the author adds a much welcome international perspective to the recent European trend of studies on culture and national identities...Rossini provides an illuminating example of how diplomatic and cultural history can be usefully merged.
— Alessandro Brogi

Choice

This engaging, thought—provoking work argues that the cultural differences between Italy and the U.S. contributed to the Italian public being more responsive to U.S. propaganda.
— J. B. Cook

Il Mestiere di Storico - David W. Ellwood
The result of almost twenty years of research, this study of Italian-American relations at the moment of the first direct political impact gives us an exhaustive and stimulating analysis of two incompatible worlds, forced to collaborate in order to reach a peace for Southern Europe after the great catastrophe. So wide was the chasm between the two countries in terms of political culture, grasp of on-going developments, mentality and morality, that the failure of their projects was inevitable... Authoritative, original, lucid, the book is unique in its genre in Western European historiography.
L'Indice - Marco Mariano
Rossini's reconstruction of the American eruption into Italy during the Great War is accurate and full of nuances: it embraces the relief work of the American Red Cross and of the Young Men's Christian Association, which was also precious to propaganda owing to their material abundance, and the activity of the "propaganda professionals" of the Committee on Public Information, who spread Wilsonian idealism at home and abroad through advertising and moving pictures, which were completely new to the Italian public...Daniela Rossini's book is a stimulating example of international history. In synthesis, it is a history essay on international relations whose scope has been widened to include non-governmental subjects--individuals, private associations, companies--in order to obtain a firmer grasp of the cultural roots of international politics.
Scaffale - Roberto Morozzo Della Rocca
Seldom are well-researched history books engaging. The critical apparatus employed and the analytical mode of exposition can make heavy reading, especially when the subject is not well known. But Daniela Rossini's book on Italy and the United States during World War I succeeds in combining a solid scientific approach with a pleasing narration of events. This is the result of both the author's fluent writing style and, especially, her strong grasp of the events of the time, the fruit of long study and reflection. Particularly interesting are the pages describing the differences and similarities between Italy and the United States (already an economic giant with an industrial production equal to that of the UK and Germany) at the beginning of the twentieth century, and those outlining the images Italy and the USA had of each other. Her portrait of Fiorello LaGuardia vividly evokes the impulsive temperament of the first Italian to play a significant role in American political life, while the analysis of Woodrow Wilson's policy and personality reveals the author's familiarity with the most representative President of his generation. Rossini's analysis of American policy towards Italy during and after World War I has a lot to tell anyone interested in understanding the ideological and procedural aspects of American diplomacy, also today.
Il Corriere della Sera - Sandro Gerbi
A remarkable book...A comprehensive picture which sheds light on previously unknown aspects of Italian-American relations.
Journal of American History - Alessandro Brogi
Culture matters in diplomacy. Daniela Rossini certainly confirms the validity of that premise for Italian-American relations during World War I and at the Paris Peace Conference. Taking inspiration from the historian Akira Iriye, the author adds a much welcome international perspective to the recent European trend of studies on culture and national identities...Rossini provides an illuminating example of how diplomatic and cultural history can be usefully merged.
Richard Drake
A compelling study of nationalist arrogance misrepresented as selfless idealism. Rossini's edifying study concerns the impact of Wilsonian idealism on U.S.-Italian relations and the disastrous unintended consequences of the United States' first war to remake the world in its own image. Her book should have the effect of a fire bell in the night.
Akira Iriye
A thoroughly researched and brilliantly presented study of the impact of Woodrow Wilson on Italy during the First World War. Rossini shows that this was the first instance when massive propaganda became a tool of U.S. foreign policy and that it succeeded in creating a sense of mass nationalism in a country where people's identities had been more fragmented. What Wilson and the emissaries of the 'American myth' tried out in Italy would be repeated on many future occasions. Thus the book provides a superb examination of American exceptionalism in the service of the world.
William R. Keylor
In a well-written and judicious book, Rossini demonstrates how the Italian public constructed a distorted, idealized image of the American president and his foreign policy goals, owing to the skillful spinning of his image by the U.S. propaganda machine--the Committee on Public Information--and to wishful thinking on the part of an Italian public aching for a savior from across the Atlantic. This is a valuable addition to the literature on Wilsonianism, the First World War, and the Paris Peace Conference.
Choice - J. B. Cook
This engaging, thought--provoking work argues that the cultural differences between Italy and the U.S. contributed to the Italian public being more responsive to U.S. propaganda.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674028241
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Series: Harvard Historical Studies Series , #161
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniela Rossini is Associate Professor of Contemporary History, Università di Roma Tre.
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Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction

  1. Reciprocal Images before the Great War
  2. Two Parallel Wars
  3. Woodrow Wilson, World Leader
  4. Propaganda in Uniform
  5. The Arrival of the Professional Propagandists
  6. Wilson’s Diplomacy toward Italy
  7. The Paradox of the Fiume Dispute

  • Notes
  • Index

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