The Sound of Forgetting Meets the United States of Amnesia
An Introduction to the Relations between Strange Bedfellows

Reinhold Wagnleitner

Relations between societies across national, cultural, ethnic, religious, linguistic, social, and economic lines are usually complicated and often ambiguous, ambivalent, and even paradoxical.1)  These connections may be hidden, but they are nearly always there, somewhere below the surface. This is especially the case in the uneasy relations between Austria and the United States of America where the superficially smooth surface became more than troubled waters once more when the new ÖVP/FPÖ coalition took over power in February 2000. The European Union boycott as well as the official American criticism of the new Austrian government has received unparalleled scrutiny and attention in American media coverage.

The American reaction, for sure, did not come like a bolt out of the blue surprising only those who have no awareness (or inclination) for the understanding of the general complexities of Austro-American history. Still, the sheer size of the opposition to the new right-wing coalition, which has by far exceeded the precedent of the Waldheim-complex, should have acted as an eye-opener, not only for those directly involved. Many Austrians suddenly had to realize again that quite a few things were seriously out of balance, that much more was wrong than they had ever imagined. The tenor of the American accusations, ranged from bitter political assaults of “Austria’s Attack of Amnesia” to the slightly mocking “No Dance Partners? Austria Becomes a Wallflower”.2)
Still, it is no real secret that many Americans, too, belong to “a creatively forgetful people in many ways”.3)  Hence, The Sound of Forgetting Meets the United States of Amnesia.
The original title of the symposium that was hosted by the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota in November 1994 and forms the basis for David F. Good’s and Ruth Wodak’s “From World War to Waldheim: Culture and Politics in Austria and the United States” was “A Small State in the Shadow of a Super-power: Austria and the United States since 1945”. In the case of the United States, many Austrians would probably argue that where there is shadow there is light, but the rather dark thematic reference of the title does contain an important element of analytical weight. Austria’s twentieth-century history is necessarily interpreted against the background of (mostly fallen) empires and the resulting multitude of traumatic identity crises: the empires of the Habsburg monarchy and Nazi Germany (and the complicated role played by Austria – or, more correctly, many Austrians – during that period), the (military) empire of the Soviet Union, the (economic) empire of the Federal Republic of Germany, and, last but not least, the (informal) empire of the United States.

The connections between the United States and Austria during the last half century were so pervasive that a random selection of topics shows the scope of any such undertaking: the Anschluss and the expulsion and mass murder of Austrian Jews and many other “undesirables” (some of whom, though not nearly enough, found refuge in the United States); the fighting and bombing during World War II; the liberation and occupation of Austria by the ‘Four in the Jeep’; ‘The Third Man’; the cold war; the Marshall Plan; the Berlin airlift; NATO and the Warsaw Pact; the Austrian State Treaty and neutrality; the flood of refugees after the Hungarian revolution of 1956; the summit meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna; the Cuban missile crisis; the wars in Indochina; the occupation of Czechoslovakia; the moon landing; the visit of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford to Salzburg; Bruno Kreisky’s independent Ostpolitik and Middle East policy; the creation of United Nations offices in Vienna; the signing by Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev of SALT II in Vienna; Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program, the deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, the peace movement, and détente; Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev; George Bush, the New World Order, and the war against Iraq; Kurt Waldheim; the opening of the iron curtain; the war against Serbia; and a “permanently neutral” Austria that is moving (full circle?) closer and closer to NATO.4) While it is hard to imagine that any single volume could address all of these topics, the situation becomes even more complicated when analysing other significant aspects of Austrian-American relations during the cold war. However important the political and economic cold war may have been, American relations with the rest of the world are befuddled by the plethora of images, symbols, and codes created and distributed by the American culture industries. From Humphrey Bogart to Arnold Schwarzenegger, from Marilyn Monroe to Meryl Streep, from Frank Sinatra to Whitney Houston, from Miles Davis to Joe Zawinul, from Elvis Presley to Public Enemy, from Ford to Chevrolet, from Chesterfield to Marlboro, from chewing gum to Coca-Cola, from New York to Chicago, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Buffalo Bill’s (and Karl May’s) Wild West to Route 66, American icons and myths have turned into an international soundtrack, a quasi-ubiquitous global household Muzak, and a second vernacular culture that symbolize for many the good life of consumption, youth, wealth, power, sexiness, optimism, and fun.

The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Zawinul are Austrian born does not make distinctions any easier, especially in the case of Schwarzenegger, who is a born-again American. But then, what does it matter that the World Wide Web is a “European” invention when the hypertext mostly hypes (real or imagined) Americana? While the question has recently been raised quite often whether the (political, military, economic) American Century isn’t coming to an end, there is very little doubt that the passing parade of the American Pop Culture Century is going stronger than ever.

The following seven vignettes (lively scenes or deadly sins?) from the Austrian-American multiplex kaleidoscope serve to demonstrate the point:

1. When Robert Wise, the director of ‘The Sound of Music’, was criticized for having the Trapp family leave Salzburg for Switzerland by climbing up and over the Untersberg, he quipped: “In Hollywood you make your own geography.” And history!

2. In a 25 October 1948 memorandum to director Carol Reed and author Graham Greene about the bleakness of their depiction of Viennese life in ‘The Third Man’, Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick suggested that they read an article on Vienna in Life to get a realistic picture of the situation!

3. After having watched the road-show engagement of ‘The Sound of Music’ in Detroit with her eighth-grade classmates in 1965, the American historian of Austria, Laura Gellott, recalls the following: When she listened to the student reports of the show, she heard each of them telling the story of the communist invasion of Austria in 1938! Her attempts at correction were met by an utterly confused teacher who said it didn’t matter it was all the same thing anyway. 5)

4. Only the concerted protests by the International Alliance for Women in Music (Union of International Congress for Women in Music, American Women Composers, and International League of Women Composers) and other American women’s organizations seemed to be able to change the males-only policy of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Of course, the potential loss of revenues might have been much more embarrassing than a few lonely posters reading “A Woman’s Place is in the Orchestra”, “VPO Needs a Lesson in Harmony”, and “I Am Woman, Hear Me Play” before the concert halls in Los Angeles and New York during the February-March tour of 1997.

5. The weapons no one felt sorry about. When about eighty secret American arms depots from the early cold-war years were discovered in Austria in 1996, creating an embarrassing situation between the United States and a (probably not so very) neutral country, the whole affair had to be downplayed as a little, juvenile cold-war adventure. Upon being informed about the typical gold-fever greed of many Austrians who dreamed of hidden Nazi treasures, U. S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt, a public-relations genius, appropriately remarked: “Sorry, no gold, guys!”

6. In 1996 the Austrian Association of Musicians, Composers, and Authors (MKAG) reported that the share of Austrian pop music on the pop radio station Ö3 had hit a new all-time low between 6:00 A.M. and 12:00 P.M., 1.44 percent; the remaining 98.56 percent was devoted to international pop music (read: American and British). Of all CDs, cassettes, and albums sold in Austria in 1994, 78.1 percent were international pop music, 8.2 percent Austropop, 4.6 percent Volksmusik, and 9.1 percent classical music. Between 1987 and 1992, the share of international pop in Austria rose from 71.8 to 76.8 percent, while Austropop sank from 12.2 to 8.5 percent. The Austrian market may be small, but it is not insignificant: in 1995 the turnover was 4.149 billion schillings.6)  The situation in the film, television, and video markets is comparable. All over Europe, American movies nearly crowded out local products during the 1980s and accounted for about 85 percent of movies shown. Between 1985 and 1990, the international market for American films grew by 124 percent, while the domestic market grew by a meagre 39 percent. The explosion of private cable and satellite channels more than tripled the European market for American films and other forms of entertainment during the 1990s.7)  But even better days are yet to come: in 1997 Blockbuster Video and Pizza Hut were opening their doors to Austrian customers, and Austrian neo-Nazis are receiving support from their “Aryan resistance” brethren in the United States via the Internet.

7. The highly fascinating cultural crosscurrents in the cinematic representation of Austrian (and American) history are not only visible in Austrian (Heimat) films but also in their Hollywood models (Vor-Bilder). Hollywood casting, which was more than friendly toward “the typical Austrian”, was maybe less considerate to Austrian actors. After all, it seems more than significant that Leon Askin, an Austrian actor, who had been kicked out of the country in 1938, assumed prominence in two typical roles, no doubt brilliantly acted: as the German general Albert Burkhalter, a character in the cult TV series Hogan’s Heroes, and the Soviet commissar Peripetchikoff in Billy Wilder’s cold-war cult comedy One, Two, Three (1961), who was no less clumsy than General Burkhalter but more drunk. Dr. Strangelove as an Austrian seemed wildly off the mark, and it should not come as a surprise, however unfortunate, that Austrian central casting proved even milder.

These vignettes and the contributions of this volume must be seen against the backdrop of the Marshall Plan, which stands as the single-most concerted effort to shape the world in the American image in the post-war era. For Austria in particular, the importance of the plan should not be underestimated. The American aid of thirteen to fifteen billion dollars under the European Recovery Program (ERP), which in Austria still amounts to nearly thirty-two billion schillings in ERP reserves from the Counterpart Funds, was deeply rooted in the conviction that the political blunders and economic disasters of the interwar period were to be avoided at all costs. 8)  Marshall Plan measures do appear to have strengthened the potential for long-lasting coalitions and compromises between formerly antagonistic groups, 9)  and Austria is among a handful of European countries whose citizens have enjoyed consistently low rates of unemployment and inflation, high rates of economic growth, and a high degree of social peace. Yet the Social Partnership, the institutional symbol of Austria’s post-war settlement, has been attacked violently in the mid-1990s, especially after the decision to join the European Union. More importantly, most contemporary modernizers on both sides of the Atlantic seem hardly aware – or at least do not want to be reminded – that the Austrian, European, and American economic miracles were not only a result of hard work and market forces but also of large-scale economic planning, the New Deal being the original example. Why else would Austrians, who received approximately one billion dollars as a gift, be strangely mute about the Marshall Plan in the year of its fiftieth anniversary? 10)
The Marshall Plan may have made Austria even more Austrian by strengthening some aspects of corporatism.11) Yet, the presence of the Red Army and the question of German external assets (which differentiated Austria from all other small states receiving ERP funds), the participation of many Austrians in Nazi war crimes, the reality that most leading Austrian politicians and trade-union leaders had learned their (political and economic) lessons, all of this, too, has to be put into the equation along with direct and indirect American interference. It was precisely the economic interference and budgetary control initiated by the Marshall Plan and its economic governing bodies that made the “neocorporatism” of the Second Republic so different (and, especially, so successful) when compared with the institutional legacy of corporatism from the Habsburg monarchy and the corporate system messily propagated by “Austrofascism”, which was hardly built on coordination, consensus, and compromise.

John Bunzl’s essay “American Attitudes toward Austria and Austrian-German Relations since 1945” shows that the problem of deciding what is Austrian has an even longer history, both inside and outside the United States. 12)  Since the period of the Habsburg monarchy, Austrian immigration to America did not result in a hyphenated interest group with a vocal lobby for the old country. On the contrary, the majority of immigrants came from ethnic groups that fostered the image of the “Prison of Peoples”, while many members of the smaller group of German Austrians tended to seek adoption by the much larger group of German Americans. This, ironically, only mirrored the nationalist allegiances of many of those who stayed in the old world.

For the victorious powers after 1945, of course, interests in Austria were always dominated by global considerations, especially for the new Western superpower, the United States. Wartime plans and the wartime necessity of weakening (Nazi) Germany soon were washed away by the “global containment” of communism. Wartime necessity transformed into cold-war reality; strengthening the former adversary against the former ally promoted European anticommunism. The feat of keeping West Germany and Austria out of the Soviet sphere may only have been possible by cooperation with sympathizers of the former powers. Still, it must be noted that despite the vociferous recent accusations from the (not so) New Right, which claim that denazification resulted in an American brainwashing of Germans and Austrians (and other Europeans), the historical record is somewhat different. Vigorous early attempts at denazification were soon followed by a quick accommodation between the new masters and many followers of the Nazi gospel. Denazification withered away, and the new situation became part and parcel of another global confrontation, the cold war. Radical antifascists soon found themselves in the awkward position of appearing to favor Soviet power, whereas the old Nazi Party members and collaborators had the best anticommunist record.

These cold-war strategies are part of the real story behind the making of Austria into the first victim of Nazi aggression, the other part, of course, being that millions of Austrians, predominantly but not exclusively Jewish Austrians, really were victims. The all-important need to keep Austria neutral but still within the Western camp overrode Jewish claims for restitution and played into the hands of those who wanted to put a blanket over the horrors of Austrian participation in the Third Reich. But the history of collaboration is not only a peculiarly Austrian problem; it has a European dimension, as even the “gnomes of Zurich” and French art museums are now finding out with some difficulty.

The image of a depoliticized and dehistoricized Austria as a kind of Sound of Music Disneyland created by the American media industry was more than welcome in the former Ostmark, even though hardly any Austrian liked the film itself But then even kitsch that is deemed “alien” has a hard time in the land of gemütlicher Walzerseligkeit. But the media’s image of “harmlessness” found favor in this small state, which was busily creating a new national identity and concentrating on rebuilding from the rubble of war–a state that had the Red Army on parts of its territory for ten years and was partly surrounded by the iron curtain for nearly forty years more.

Only revolutionary changes in the international scene – who, besides many Austrians (this one included), would want a neutral Austria after the breakdown of the Soviet Union – and domestic developments within the United States following the Americanization of the Holocaust led to drastic changes of the perception of Austria in the United States. Moreover, Bruno Kreisky’s mediation policies in the Middle East and his attempts to deepen trade relations with COMECON states (including goods that had been banned as strategic by Washington), Kurt Waldheim’s insistence that he had only done his duty and the massive popular support during his presidential “campaign” provided all the ingredients for the reversal of roles: Germany as the enlightened NATO ally, Austria as the new pariah. Future developments, for example, a decline in American support for a muscle-flexing, German-dominated European Union as a result of a shift in American global interests, must await later historical analysis.

Whatever period in the postwar era they scrutinize, analysts will always have to bear in mind the complex web of the global ramifications of “American national interests”. An American diplomat in Vienna, Martin F. Herz, clearly had this in mind when he commented on the massive lack of any feeling of guilt for World War II by most Austrians in an Information Services Branch opinion poll in early 1947: “Since as a matter of national policy we encourage a separate Austrian nationalism, we cannot be surprised, and should in fact find comfort in the fact that most Austrians deny ever having had anything to do with Germany.” 13) Of course, Herz, who had strong personal and cultural roots in Austria, was the last to share any sympathy for Nazism, but cold-war realpolitik won the day: “It stands to reason that the emphasis on Austria’s separateness from Germany results in a corresponding feeling of guiltlessness.” 14)  In the same way, one does not have to agree with the implications of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s correct, if somewhat exaggerated, claim that for every single American citizen who knows about the Holocaust a million are fans of ‘The Sound of Music’.15)

Oliver Rathkolb’s piece “Bruno Kreisky’s Perceptions of the United States” demonstrates the limits of independent foreign relations for a small country caught within the tight web of American global considerations.16)  Kreisky was clearly untainted by fascism as a result of his socialist roots most evident in his role as political prisoner and exile in Sweden in the late 1930s and his important contributions to Social Democratic diplomacy and politics starting immediately after the war. Yet his critical views on American domestic issues for example, the situation of African Americans, and on foreign policy had already raised suspicions when he became Austrian foreign minister in 1959. Kreisky was a confirmed anticommunist who thought that American power was necessary to defend Europe and who regarded the Marshall Plan not only as the most important answer for Europe’s economic chaos but also as a model for massive solidarity programs for the Third World.17)  Despite these views, Kreisky maintained his critical intellect and dared to express some doubts, as well as offer some alternative solutions, about certain aspects of American foreign policy in coping with the communists. Kreisky’s early Ostpolitik and initiatives on behalf of détente, as well as his insistence on the necessity of continuous talks between the superpowers and on strengthening economic ties as trust-building measures for a peaceful de-escalation of East-West (and North-South) conflicts, were not looked on with favour by successive American administrations, at least not as long as Austria took the lead.

Consequently, Kreisky’s conflicts with supposed American interests became most evident not when he began to build bridges toward former Austrian National Socialists but when he initiated his Middle East policy in the mid-1960s, already ten years before the oil shock of 1974 woke up the rest of Europe and many other parts of the world. His conviction that only the official recognition of the PLO would lead to a long-lasting solution was anathema to the United States and many of its Western allies. Rathkolb is convincing in showing Kreisky´s effectiveness as a mediator: despite grave ideological differences with the Reagan administration, in his last years as chancellor (and afterwards), he supported the Reagan plan (1982–84) as well as the Arab Fez plan, which sought the integration of the PLO as an official player, a policy that slowly but surely became conventional wisdom in the United States and the European Union.

While Bruno Kreisky’s relationship with the United States was not free from friction, he still was, for most of his career, the most diligent Austrian student of modern American politics. His brilliant use of the power of the media and his suave handling of public opinion resembled the much-admired style of John F. Kennedy. After all, Kreisky was the first Austrian politician to hire a PR man for his highly visible lecture tours through the United States in the 1960s. It may be typical of Bruno Kreisky’s multifaceted personality and intellect – and of the complicated relations between Austria and the United States more generally – that he, more convincingly than most, represented the last major politician to be deeply rooted in and socialized by Austrian (and European) culture and history while at the same time becoming the first brilliant example of “Americanized” politics in Austria.

Save handling of the media would have been necessary, but certainly not enough, to stave off the greatest crisis of Austrian-American relations after World War II: the unprecedented act of placing Kurt Waldheim, president of a friendly country, on the “watch list” of undesirable aliens under the 1981 Holtzman amendment. Richard Mitten’s meticulously researched and thoughtful analysis “Bitburg, Waldheim, and the Politics of Remembering and Forgetting” represents a state-of-the-art study, especially in the perspective of the long-range implications of the politics of remembering and forgetting and their political use in the context of cold-war geopolitics.

While there is no doubt that Kurt Waldheim’s inept reactions and unreliable statements fanned the flames of criticism inside and outside Austria, the gravely deficient and inadequate historical knowledge of many journalists dealing with the affair proved that “Waldheimer’s disease” is not only an Austrian but an international condition. Notwithstanding the clear political and moral issues, none of the historical and juridical commissions that examined the evidence found that there was a case for criminal proceedings against Kurt Waldheim. Even the watch-list decision was issued because his Balkan activities fell under the terms of the Holtzman amendment, not because they were criminal under American law.

The double standards of the Reagan administration become even more vividly clear in Mitten’s analysis of the handling of President Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg cemetery in 1985 and the treatment of Waldheim in the following years. The power of the Federal Republic of West Germany as well as its importance as a military ally pushed aside all critical arguments. The willingness of the West German political elites to “assume the burdens of history” had long silenced questions about the quiet reintegration of many former National Socialists, especially high-ranking Wehrmacht officers and secret-service specialists brought into service under the pretext of “defending the West”. Moreover, West German presidents with interesting Third Reich biographies had escaped closer American scrutiny in earlier decades, at least in public.18)
It may be stretching the argument too far to say that after Bitburg Washington saw the Waldheim affair as a useful vehicle for demonstrating its vigorous commitment to fight Nazism; no real political price had to be paid because it involved Austria, and “politics” and “morality” could converge again. In addition, the most important question could be evaded: How could Kurt Waldheim – if he had been what he was made out to be, become a career diplomat and secretary general of the United Nations when he only could do so after having been cleared by Allied, especially American, secret services after the war? All of a sudden Austrian historians were attacked in the United States for having been asleep. They answered that they had been asking for relevant American documents for a long time, but the files remained closed to them. Richard Mitten’s biting assessment of this Western morality play, which cast Kurt Waldheim as a symbol not entirely commensurate with either his shortcomings or his importance, reminds us that we still need much more knowledge about continuities in the history of fascism and collaboration during the cold war, not only within Austria but on a global scale as well.

Egon Schwarz’s essay “Mass Emigration and Intellectual Exile from National Socialism: The Austrian Case” reaches the core of the book by touching on the heart of Austrian-American relations since the 1930s. Schwarz is a perfect illustration of the notion that what was Austria’s loss has become America’s gain. Like many others in his youth, Schwarz was hounded out of Austria with his family. His personal story belongs to that short but probably most extreme period of contemporary history when Austrians (as Germans) indulged in what amounts to the most massive and violent export of culture, scientific knowledge, practical expertise, artistic quality, and human beings in history! After all, what other country would kick out all Nobel Prize winners active in its universities?

The German emigrants, refugees, and exiles had had a couple of years of warning, so most of them did not experience the brutality that was suffered especially by Viennese Jews. The persecution in what was formerly Austria started relatively late, which meant that only the least desirable destinations remained open for many Austrian Jews who were forced out of the country. Their final settlement in the United States had to take a circuitous route.

Egon Schwarz’s story is chilling: his family’s flight to Bratislava, their deportation to the no-man’s-land between Slovakia and Hungary, their lucky escape to Prague, their even luckier acquisition of Bolivian visas, their journey to South America via Paris, the port of La Rochelle-Pallice, and the harsh conditions during the transatlantic trip on a freighter, including their feelings of not really being welcome at their final destination. Just as chilling is his reference to the conference of Evian in 1938, which could not produce any satisfactory solution for the many thousands of European refugees and proves that contemporary history really is contemporary.

More horrible than the corporeal abuse, Schwarz reminds us, “was the mental agony: the feeling of impotence, the sense of humiliation, the loss of dignity, the lack of recourse, the terror of an unimaginable future”. His individual story was experienced by many who represented the cream of Viennese intellectual life: economists, psychoanalysts, musicologists, the Vienna Circle of logical positivists, writers, musicians, actors, and directors; (more than three thousand) physicians; art historians, architects, and social scientists; one-third of empirical and all theoretical physicists; and many in the school of positivistic jurisprudence, technicians, and engineers. Corresponding to what Stuart Hughes calls the “deprovincializing” of American intellectual life, the provincializing of Austria was to be felt for several decades.19)
This rupture in one prototypically modern discipline lies at the heart of Bernhard Handlbauer’s article “The Influence of Austrian Émigrés on the Development and Expansion of Psychoanalysis in the United States after 1945”. Probably more than in any other field, the exiling of the most creative thinkers of modern psychoanalysis left a vacuum in Austria that remains to this day. The consequences for American intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century were just as deep. Many students of major figures like Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Karl Bühler became prominent and successful doctors, pedagogues, and social workers and exerted an enormous influence on the development of psychoanalysis, individual psychology, and other schools of psychotherapy after the 1940s, especially in New York and California but also in Boston and Chicago. About 40 percent of the Austrian psychoanalysts who emigrated were women whose qualitative contribution to the field was at least as important as their numbers.

The proverbial lack of roots of the conditio Americana certainly contributed to the tremendous success of these Viennese psychoanalysts in the United States. As the vanguard of the modern life-style, they were particularly qualified to understand the problems of life in America because, Handlbauer reminds us, many of the later emigrants had already experienced an earlier migration from the periphery of the former Habsburg Empire to Vienna. This double exile and double (e)migration certainly motivated these psychoanalysts who had lost their roots to dedicate their lives to the restitution of those who were uprooted emotionally, and their personal traumas at the same time significantly influenced the development of psychoanalysis itself.

It seemed that psychoanalysis had arrived at the right place at the right time, soon popularizing notions of repression, the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, dream analysis, Freudian slips, infantile sexuality, defence mechanisms, castration fear, penis envy, identity, and identity crisis became household words that permeated both American popular culture and academic disciplines from ethnology to history, from sociology to literary studies.20)  But chicness has its price, and psychoanalysis underwent dramatic transformations in its new haven. It seems that with the transplantation to the new world psychoanalysis itself experienced a deep identity crisis, as few analysts dared to criticize openly the social conditions of cold-war America.

The former outsiders became prestigious insiders, and their goals of therapy shifted from liberation to adjustment, from emancipation to correction, from revolt against the norms of the old culture to submission to the new. The Americanization of psychoanalysis resulted in the removal of Freud’s cultural critique – no more the pessimistic notion of a death wish. Handlbauer views the petrification of American psychoanalysis, with its glorification of the past and orthodoxy, as the main reason for the present anti-Freudian mode in the United States. His most acerbic and provocative critique, however, is hidden in a note: “Where ‘liberal’ has become an invective, where new prisons and the death penalty are the ultimate answers to social disintegration, and where Prozac is the general solution to depressing conditions of life, there is no longer fertile ground for psychoanalysis to thrive.”

Jonathan Munby’s essay “Heimat Hollywood: Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Edgar Ulmer, and the Criminal Cinema of the Austrian-Jewish Diaspora” concerns another group of Austrian-Jewish exiles who dealt with the problems of modern existence on quite another level of expression, although their understanding of Freud and psychoanalysis is quite evident. The connections between Austrian and American psychoanalysis are common knowledge, but the indebtedness of Hollywood’s darkest film genre to Austrian-Jewish artists is known only to the most avid film buffs. Even those French critics, who coined the term “film noir” after having seen five American thrillers in 1946, were completely unaware that three of these films – Laura, Double Indemnity, and Woman in the Window – had been created under the direction of exiled Austrian-Jewish directors: Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, and Fritz Lang.

Just like most psychoanalysts, the artists who achieved prominence in post-war Hollywood experienced a double exile – from Vienna via Babelsberg (Berlin) or Paris to New York and Hollywood – and just as in the case of the psychoanalysts, their emigration did not result in a simple transplanting of European modernist sensibilities to American soil. Still, Munby clearly shows that behind this visually dark and thematically pessimistic body of film work that was deeply influenced by these exiled directors – and subsequently attacked as “un-American” by the House Un-American Activities Committee – lay the horrors of the gas chambers, the mass destruction of two world wars, and the “red scare” of the early cold-war years.

For Munby these Austrian-Jewish artists represent modernity’s chosen subjects, who, in the context of anti-semitism in Vienna, had experienced the crisis of the individual earlier and more threateningly than others. The films noir – with their dark moods and feelings of displacement, alienation, disillusionment, and an inescapable conspiring fate – formed the avant-garde of a sentiment that was typical for many European artists but became implanted in America only when the possibility of nuclear annihilation had to be faced.21)
The contribution of Austrian-Jewish directors to the modernist critique of modem (American) life as dehumanizing was central within American film art and may even be as important as the Austrian contribution to American psychoanalysis. After all, there can be no doubt that throughout the twentieth century American film and television have been the dominant institutions for the creation and dissemination of America’s self-image both at home and abroad. It certainly was no mean feat, therefore, that Billy Wilder and his colleagues identified Hollywood as the prime site of American self-deception.

Jacqueline Vansant in “Robert Wise’s ‘The Sound of Music’ and the ‘Denazification’ of Austria in American Cinema” deals with one of the most important examples of this self-deception. As is true for most films with a historical setting, this Hollywood musical tells us more about the period and society in which it was produced – the United States in the mid-1960s – than about Austria before the Anschluss. While the American self-deception has been working ever since the opening night of the movie and ‘The Sound of Music’ still belongs to the top ten of all-time movie hits, the deception of the “other” did not function as well: the movie was a complete flop in the Austrian and German markets. Actually, in Austria, the film did not even survive a week, hardly faring better in Germany with a running time of less than a month.22)
In her recently published essay “American Imperialism or Local Patriotism? The Sound of Music (1965) fails in Germany and Austria” Ruth A. Starkman attributes this lack of enthusiasm on the side of local audiences to an Austrian and German unwillingness to confront the past – (neo-)Nazi sentiments disguised as local cultural protectionism struggling “to preserve its sense of cultural sovereignty against Hollywood, the unlikely, unintended and unsuccessful cosmopolitan bearer of enlightenment [sic].”23)  Needless to say, this interpretation holds true in some instances of historical amnesia in Austria and Germany. Still, many more worthy causes immediately come to mind to substantiate such an allegation than this tepid and syrupy movie, which, despite its immense success – not without reason it became nicknamed “The Sound of Money” –, still may be just called what it is: after all being said and done, ‘The Sound of Music’ probably is the greatest heap of schmaltz and kitsch I have ever come across.24)
Hollywood’s construction of a particularly idyllic Austria with Austrian characters (and scenery) removed from, if not outside of, history was rooted in a long American tradition of depicting Austria as an aristocratic fairyland of waltzes and frivolous decadence, a tradition going back as far as World War I. And, ironically, this “American” filmic construct aesthetically was not altogether that far away from the prevalent escapist productions in Austria and Germany, including that by Nazi-directors. Robert Wise (and the writers of the ‘The Sound of Music’) did indeed create their own history and geography. While the geography was purely European, albeit cut by Hollywood scissors in the best Wilsonian tradition, the history was not. To be sure, the studio created a Heimatfilm, but the Heimat (homeland) at stake was the United States, not Austria!

In 1965, ‘The Sound of Music’ was a respite from a highly complicated and unstable world. The problem, however, was not the Anschluss – remember, West Germany had God on its side now, too – but the escalating war in Indochina and the burning inner cities in the United States. The absolute loyalty and unquestioned patriotism of the Trapp family represented a bulwark against conflict over civil rights and antiwar protests, and the hymn (Hohelied) for the virtues and strength of the patriarchal family was especially timely in an age of exploding divorce rates. While it is true that quite a few Austrians have been and still are pretending to exist outside of history, many Americans keep them good company. ‘The Sound of Music’ is at least as much a film about the American longing and search for the “good old days” as it is about the escape (!) of an Austrian family. It is a revealing indication for the “revolutionary” character of the 1960s that this film is the single most important and successful product of popular culture of the decade and not, as some would have it, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”.

In the Austria of the 1960s, the Trapp family was anything but a predominant model, and many Austrian women, just like their American sisters, faced quite different problems. Similar social trends in both countries – more and better educated women in the workforce, rising divorce rates and sinking marriage rates, and the availability of new forms of contraception – brought the demands of women for control over their reproductive rights to the center of public debate.

In her essay on “Political Culture and the Abortion Conflict: A Comparison of Austria and the United States”, Maria Mesner discusses the enormous influence of the “new” American women’s movement in Western Europe, especially in West Germany and Austria. The pro-choice stance, which was adopted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) only in 1967, became a highly symbolic issue for women’s liberation on both sides of the Atlantic, while the opposition manned the ban on abortion as the symbolic dike against all evils of decadent and materialistic modernity. It is hardly a coincidence that the final decisions to legalize abortions on demand during the first term of pregnancy – Roe vs. Wade on 22 January 1973 and the Austrian law of 23 January 1974 – were issued exactly within a year of each other.

At the same time, the political conflicts over abortion and the dissimilar strategies of the debates in Austria and the United States allow interesting insights into two alternative weltanschauungen based on different political traditions and cultures. Very similar demands came from women’s organizations with quite different histories. While the American women’s movement was deeply rooted in Evangelical Protestant moral movements that had promoted temperance and the abolition of slavery, demands for the liberation of Austrian women had mostly been issued within traditional party structures, especially by Social Democrats.

While NOW hesitated until 1967 to adopt the abortion issue and achieved success by grassroots lobbying and addressing the courts, Austrian feminism could build on much earlier traditions that focused on political solutions through parliamentary legislation. Nothing proved more different than the further development of the issue: while abortion lost its symbolic relevance – outside of a small group of (mostly Catholic) traditionalists – and was put on the back burner in Austria, the Evangelical tradition as well as the activist policies of the Catholic Church in the United States fuelled the conflict toward a bitter confrontation and heated polarization of society that has resulted in terrorism and even murder.

Edward Larkey’s chapter on the impact of economic and cultural hegemony on Austrian identity “Americanization, Cultural Change, and Austrian Identity” serves as an excellent conclusion to the volume. Like people from other small states (and not so small states, like Canada), Austrians had to construct identities within the cultural framework of the world system. Yet the Austrian case is even more complicated; the construction of a modern Austrian, that is, non-German, identity after the Second World War had to be managed in the shadow of two hegemonic powers, the United States and West Germany.

While it can be argued that the Austrian culture and economy are now effectively dominated by German capital, the resulting cultural identities contain interesting ambiguities. For many, the crafting of a non-German cultural identity in the face of German hegemony achieved a central political, ideological, and even moral importance after the Holocaust. But the de-Germanization of Austrian popular culture could be achieved only by introducing the homogenizing tendencies of global cultural industries. The Catch-22 of this murky situation contained a further ironic twist: much of the de-Germanization (Americanization) of Austrian popular culture was actually managed under the economic tutelage of the American cohegemon, West Germany.

Austropop is a good case in point. For Larkey, this genre, which achieved popularity in the early 1970s, primarily represents a discourse strategy that provided a political foundation for aesthetic judgment: combining American pop music idioms – from orchestration to instrumentation, from blues to hip-hop – with lyrics in various dialects of Austrian German helped, at least in the best cases, to achieve an artistic emancipation from the German tradition of Schlager (hits) and Schnulzen (tearjerkers). It is no secret that this strategy sometimes achieved highly problematic and ambiguous results. Re-creating Austrian popular music strengthened and affirmed the more general (economic) hegemonic framework and allowed a critical cultural distance from within the system.25)
In this context, Americanization stands for a cultural strategy that aimed at promoting the good life by connecting leisure, relaxation, and entertainment with a consumerist social utopia. This strategy was reintroduced in Europe after World War II by the United States, the world’s most powerful capitalist society, but neither capitalism nor consumerism is an exclusively American invention. The development of these cultural processes, which had actually begun much earlier than 1945, may best be termed “creolization”.26)  But we should not forget that America was first to be creolized by Europeans before Europe could become creolized in turn. It is no wonder that to this day the best remembered Coca-Cola advertisement campaign during the hardworking days of reconstruction and the nascent economic miracle is “Mach mal Pause!” (Take a break!). Even historians must pay heed to this summons, whatever they will eventually imbibe.

Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (London, 1993).

Lewis Coser, “Die österreichische Emigration als Kulturtransfer Europa-Amerika.” In: E. Stadler, Vertriebene Vernunft. Emigration und Exil österreichischer Wissenschaft. Internationales Symposion 19. bis 23. Oktober 1987 (Wien, 1988): 93–101.

R. W. Kindley, “International Trade, Domestic Bargaining and the Structure of Corporatist Arrangements: The Marshall Plan and Institution-Building in Postwar Austria.” Paper presented at the symposium, “A Small State in the Shadow of a Superpower: Austria and the United States since 1945,” 3–6 November, at the Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota, 1994.

Rob Kroes, “Americanisation: What are We Talking About?” In: Cultural Transmissions and Receptions: American Mass Culture in Europe, ed. By R. Kroes, R. W Rydell, and E J. Bosscher Doeko, (Amsterdam, 1993): 302–18.

Anthony Lane, “The Maria Problem: Going wild for ‘The Sound of Music’ – with subtitles” The New Yorker February 14, 2000: 30–34.

Jonathan Munby, Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil (Chicago, London: Chicago Univerity Press, 1999).

Oliver Rathkolb, Washington ruft Wien (Köln: Böhlau, 1997).

Rudolf Renger, “Audio-Industrie”. In: Medien in Österreich. Medienbericht 4 interaktiv, ed. Institut Par Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft der Universität Salzburg. (Wien 1995) Vienna. CD-ROM.

Ruth A. Starkman, “American Imperialism or Local Protectionism? The Sound of Music (1965) fails in Germany and Austria” in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television vol. 20, No 1, 2000: 63–78.

Reinhold Wagnleitner (ed.), Understanding Austria: The Political Reports and Analyses of Martin E. Herz, Political Officer of the US Legation in Vienna, 1945–1948 (Salzburg: Verlag Wolfgang Neugebauer, 1984).

Reinhold Wagnleitner, “American Cultural Diplomacy, Hollywood, and the Cold War in Central Europe.” Rethinking Marxism 7, no. I (spring 1994): 31–47.

Reinhold Wagnleitner, “Der kulturelle Einfluß der US-Besatzung” in Erich Marx (Hg.), Befreit und Besetzt. Stadt Salzburg (Salzburg, München: Verlag Anton Pustet, 1996):137–146.

Reinhold Wagnleitner, “Die Marilyn-Monroe-Doktrin oder das Streben nach Glück durch Konsum: Die US-Popkultur und die Demokratisierung Österreichs im Kalten Krieg”.IWM Working Papers No. 5/1997

Reinhold Wagnleitner, “The Empire of the Fun, or Talkin’ Soviet Union Blues: The Sound of Freedom and U.S. Cultural Hegemony in Europe“ in Diplomatic History vol. 2, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 499–524.

Reinhold Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria after the Second World War (netLibrary 1999: eBook ISBN: 0585028982. Publisher: Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c1994 Print ISBN: 0807844551).

Reinhold Wagnleitner, “Sili-Colonisation, Geschichte und Internet: Global denken, lokal handeln” e.journal literatur primär neue.medien (November 1999)

Reinhold Wagnleitner and Elaine Tyler May (eds.), “Here, There and Everywhere”: The Foreign Politics of American Popular Culture (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000).

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, ”Absurd Reich” New Republic, 28 March 1988.


1) This slightly revised essay is reprinted with kind permission by Berghahn Books. Reinhold Wagnleitner’s contribution “The Sound of Forgetting Meets the United States of Amnesia: An Introduction to the Relations between Strange Bedfellows” originally appeared in David F. Good and Ruth Wodak (eds.), From World War to Waldheim: Culture and Politics in Austria and the United States (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999): 1–16.

2) Of the, literally, thousands of American news reports and analyses these two headlines of the New York Daily News of 21 March 2000 and the New York Times of 2 March 2000 may suffice. The quality of these reports ranged from many brilliant, correct and piercing analyses of the Austrian (and European) political woes past and present to primitive, at best, half-truths, at worst, misinformation.

3) Lance Morrow, “It’s no real wonder the French dislike us” 11 April 2000   HYPERLINK ""    [accessed 12 April 2000]

4) See Alexander Schröck, Österreich im Blickfeld der USA von Détente bis Reaganomics (Forschungsbericht für das Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft, Verkehr und Kunst, vorgelegt vom Ludwig Boltzmann-Institut für Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Projektleiter Oliver Rathkolb).

5) Personal communication with the author.

6) Rudolf Renger, “Audio-Industrie.” In: Medien in Österreich. Medienbericht 4 interaktiv, ed. Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft der Universität Salzburg (Vienna, 1995) CD-ROM.

7) Reinhold Wagnleitner, “American Cultural Diplomacy, Hollywood, and the Cold War in Central Europe.” Rethinking Marxism 7, no. I (spring 1994): 31–47.

8) Only the economic basket case Austria and civil-war-struck Greece received ERP funds as grants; all other participating countries received ERP aid as loans.

9) R. W. Kindley, “International Trade, Domestic Bargaining and the Structure of Corporatist Arrangements: The Marshall Plan and Institution-Building in Postwar Austria.” Paper presented at the symposium, “A Small State in the Shadow of a Superpower: Austria and the United States since 1945,” 3–6 November, at the Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota, 1994.

10) Granted, the Austrian official silence on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the announcement of the Marshall Plan in June 1997 may perhaps be explained by the fact that the actual program for Austria did not start until 1948. But the Marshall Plan, then, also was not on top of the list of Austrian official celebrations in 1998.

11) See Günter Bischof, Anton Pelinka, Dieter Stiefel (eds.), The Marshall Plan in Austria (New Brunswick: Transaction Pub., 2000) (= Contemporary Austrian Studies 8).

12) See John Bunzl, Wolfgang Hirczey and Jacqueline Vansant, The Sound of Austria: Österreichpolitik und öffentliche Meinung in den USA (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1995).

13) Reinhold Wagnleitner (ed.), Understanding Austria: The Political Reports and Analyses of Martin E. Herz, Political Officer of the US Legation in Vienna, 1945–1948 (Salzburg: Verlag Wolfgang Neugebauer, 1984): 132.

14) Ibid.

15) Geoffrey Wheatcroft, “Absurd Reich” New Republic, 28 March 1988.

16) See Oliver Rathkolb, Washington ruft Wien (Köln: Böhlau, 1997).

17) The initiatives of Bruno Kreisky and Willy Brandt on behalf of financial, economic, and moral support for the „underdeveloped” world had as much to do with their understanding of the development of underdevelopment as with the necessity of finding an economic balance for “First World”, especially American, post war policies, which, at least since the Korean War, very much resembled international military-oriented Keynesianism. See Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (London, 1993): 106–7.

18) These, of course, are historical and political arguments better not mentioned when promoting the inclusion of former Warsaw Pact states as well as neutral Austria as new members of NATO.

19) Lewis Coser, “Die österreichische Emigration als Kulturtransfer Europa-Amerika.” In: E. Stadler, Vertriebene Vernunft. Emigration und Exil österreichischer Wissenschaft. Internationales Symposion 19. bis 23. Oktober 1987 (Wien, 1988): 93–101.

20) Erik Erikson’s concept of identity and identity crisis perhaps owed as much to the situation of uprootedness as to the political culture of the cold war.

21) Jonathan Munby, Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil (Chicago, London: Chicago Univerity Press, 1999).

22) In Salzburg the film is still shown every day in one cinema during the summer holiday season – but exclusively for tourists from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Japan. It may be hard to find a Salzburger who has not yet been asked whether ‘Edelweiss’ isn’t the Austrian national anthem. The enthusiastic tourists are ever so surprised to find out that most Austrians do not even know the song.

23) Ruth A. Starkman, “American Imperialism or Local Protectionism? The Sound of Music (1965) fails in Germany and Austria” in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television vol. 20, No 1, 2000: 63–78.

24) Already in the late 1960s, Austrians interviewed about the movie by American journalists mocked the film’s utter lack of credibility. See Whitney Williams, “Salzburg snubs The Sound of Music but basks in the Bonanza of tourist booty leasing of 20th-Fox brought to the town” Variety 20 June 1969.

25) It is also no secret that some of the most popular interpreters of German Schlager and Schnulzen are Austrian artists.

26) Rob Kroes, “Americanisation: What are We Talking About?” In: Cultural Transmissions and Receptions: American Mass Culture in Europe, ed. by R. Kroes, R. W. Rydell, and E. J. Bosscher Doeko, (Amsterdam, 1993) 302–18.