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Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

Americanization

Dating back to the late eighteenth century, native-born Americans worried about assimilating immigrants; the nation's entrance into the war heightened this already palpable concern. In 1917, one out of every three U.S. citizens was either a first- or second-generation American. Nearly one fifth of the army had been born abroad. Despite scant evidence of disloyalty, U.S. political and military leaders wondered if citizens could balance allegiances between their nation of ancestry and their new home. "Americanization," the name given to the process of imbuing in immigrants an American identity, took numerous forms. Roughly speaking, however, Americans divided into two camps regarding Americanization. One side demanded what many called "100% Americanism" or the complete abandonment of Old World languages, traditions, and loyalties. In contrast, progressive reformers, and eventually military leaders, encouraged the adoption of American values while still respecting Old World traditions and culture. Some communities found 100% Americanization far more oppressive. German Americans lived under increased government and public surveillance, and were sometimes subject to vilification and violence.

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