Andreas Daum: Historian reflects on European love affair with JFK

Historians in the News

A UB historian called the signature phase from John F. Kenney's acclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech "one of the most famous phrases of political rhetoric ever," during a lecture yesterday about the unique historical climate that brought about a surge in U.S. popularity in Europe in the early 1960s, and the circumstances that caused it to decline later into the Cold War and present.

Andreas Daum, professor in the Department of History, College of Arts and Science, presented "'Ich bin ein Berliner': Why Europeans Once Loved an American President and What Has Changed Since Then," as part of the UBThisSummer lecture series. Daum is a former John F. Kennedy Fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University and author of "Kennedy in Berlin," the English translation of which will be published this fall by Cambridge University Press.

"How did it come that at the beginning of the 1960s, millions of Europeans admired an American president?" Daum asked. "Why did Europeans west and east of the so-called Iron Curtain...have high hopes in Kennedy? And why has the potential to hear an American president shrunk so dramatically since Kennedy's assassination?"

The United States' crucial combat and reconstruction roles in World War I and II help answer the first question, he said, as these events set the stage for the Kennedy's dramatic reception decades later. "World War I turned Great Britain from a creditor to a debtor nation, with the United States as the main source of support," said Daum, pointing out that by the end of World War II, "the United States represented the only economically sound power that would provide resources for the rebuilding of a devastated continent."

The spotlight remained on America into the Cold War, he added, presenting a counter-model to the Soviet regime that split the German nation into East and West. "In the 1950s and '60s," he said, "American's popular culture, lifestyle and Cold War pragmatism became important reference points for Europeans in the West in their attempt to find their own way out of the Cold War era."...

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