Title

The Louvain Library and U.S. Ambition in Interwar Belgium

Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Contemporary History

Volume

50

Issue

2

Publisher

SAGE Publications

Publication Date

2015

First Page

147

Last Page

167

DOI

10.1177/0022009414552867

Abstract

This article analyzes the ordeal that became the ‘Louvain Library Controversy' in order to demonstrate competing visions of postwar memory and reconstruction that emerged in the 1920s. As a country trying to mediate between the claims of its larger neighbors (Germany, France, and Britain), Belgium provides an excellent window into the climate of postwar Europe and US intervention. I argue that the controversies that surrounded the Louvain Library reconstruction reflect three main themes that plagued European–US relations in the 1920s: first, US pretensions as Europe’s cultural protector; second, US economic power over debt and reparation questions; and last, the question of reconciliation in the wake of war. For Belgium and other European nations, the experience of being the object of aid for the United States of America led to a reassertion of sovereignty and autonomy in the face of external interference, exposing the gaps between Americans’ assumptions about their roles and responsibilities in Europe and Europeans’ sense of their own role in rebuilding their world. For Americans, the controversy demonstrated the perils of US ‘generosity' and its price in postwar Europe.

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