Children settlers: Jonna Perrillo, ‘At Home on the Range: Cowboy Culture, Indians, and the Assimilation of Enemy Children in the Cold War Borderlands’, American Quarterly, 71, 4, 2019 pp. 945-967


Excerpt: One winter afternoon in 1946, Alicia Swann, an elementary school principal in El Paso, received an unusual phone call. Lois Godfrey, the American military liaison for the families of Nazi scientists relocated to nearby Fort Bliss, called Swann to ask if Crockett Elementary might accept some of the ninety school-aged children who would arrive in El Paso that spring. A year earlier, in one of the first acts of the Cold War, the US Army had launched Operation Paperclip, recruiting 118 scientists and technicians who designed the V-2 missile for the Third Reich to build an American missile program. The scientists’ wives and children were now beginning to arrive, and Swann was faced with a difficult decision. Could she “consent to let German children—enemy children—come through the door?” She decided that she could. Within months of the children’s arrival, Swann found her instincts had been right. By her measure, the Paperclip children fit in easily, learned English quickly, and possessed “no class barriers” from the school’s other students. At Crockett and in their intensive English-language classes at Fort Bliss, the children learned to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Eyes of Texas.” When asked how she reconciled the fact that the children’s fathers had worked for Adolf Hitler, Swann responded, “I cannot concern myself with whatever [the parents] are or have been. It is with the children that I rest my hopes. … In spirit and in thinking they are American, for they have a happiness here they have never known before.” Crockett’s embrace of the German children, she argued, was simply American. To exemplify the students’ easy assimilation, Swann pointed to the example of Peter Lange. In class, another student had referred to him as “our German boy.” Lange corrected him, explaining that he was no longer German but just another “Davy Crockett.” To Swann, Lange’s story illustrated that the Paperclip students were like any American children, in their values and their imaginations. Still, the transformation was not predestined. Instead, Lange’s choice to figure himself in the mold of the frontiersman, Texan migrant, and Alamo martyr for whom his school was named underscores the purposeful role that schools like Swann’s played in upholding western heroes as models of patriotism.

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