War brides have been a part of American culture since World War I. Through them we came to know and appreciate more cultures than just our own, and we learned something about ourselves. Today we’re at war on two fronts with an enemy most in the United States don’t understand, but it remains to be seen if many of our soldiers will bring home wedded enlightenment.
Prior to WWII, immigration was a touchy subject for Americans, as it didn’t fit into that era’s isolationist and ethnocentric policies. However, it was love that bloomed outside our borders during that terrible war that helped reverse some of our ancestors’ ignorance-fueled legislation.
The love I’m talking about came in the form of war brides. A war bride is typically defined as a woman who marries a soldier from another country during wartime, and the term is more often than not connected with marriages that occurred during World War I and especially World War II.
Allied servicemen coming home from various locales around the globe following the end of the Second World War sought to bring back foreign flings that flourished in some of the worst conditions. Estimates say 150,000 to 200,000 or more brides came from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, and other countries.
The nations involved dealt with the great move in their own ways. Australia, for instance, took away the exiting brides’ Australian citizenship, and in recent years, many of these women have been trying to gain back their lost status to no avail. The Canberra Times reported that Australian girls who left their country for an American were subject to antagonism and were thought to be “betraying the nation.”
Canada, as a recipient state of many of these brides, seemed to welcome the flood of wedded women. Former Prime Minister Mackenzie King even addressed a substantial gathering of war brides immigrating to Canada on board the Queen Mary in 1946 congratulating them on their unions with his country’s soldiers and their newfound citizenship. Now, though, some of these women, and their children as well, are starting to find out they’ve never been officially declared Canadian citizens, and their adopted government is fighting their appeals.
The United States went about modifying existing immigration laws when GIs started trying to bring back their new partners in marriage. In 1945 the War Brides Act allowed the spouses and adopted children of American servicemen to enter the country. Also, the ban on Asian immigration established by the Immigration Act of 1924 was momentarily eased by this same piece of legislation.
Furthermore, the Soldier Brides Acts of 1946 and 1947 expanded the terms of the War Brides Act so that even more women and their children could bypass existing immigration statutes. Congress then passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which finally did away with the racial restrictions in previous immigration-limiting regulations, and war brides from South Korea and Vietnam were finally allowed to enter the U.S.
I read a New York Times article about the lives of the estimated 70,000 British war brides who came to America following World War II. After enduring the bombing of their homeland and the fear of German invasion, they had to wait to see if the American legislature would pass a bill that would allow them to come to the U.S. After that, it would be ten days on a cramped ship filled with women and children, crossing the Atlantic amid rumors of brides being raped by the crew.
Finally arriving in the States, these women still didn’t have it easy. Work was sometimes hard to find. Some found they had barely traded up on their living conditions, moving from bombed-out cities to dilapidated tenements infested with mice and cockroaches.
Eventually some of these war brides formed support groups and initiate social clubs for women like themselves, where they could trade stories, do lunches, and have parties, and most important, trade their homesickness for a feeling of familiarity.
That was then. What about now? We’re engaged in two wars. Will we be inundated with Iraqi women coming over with their new American husbands? Are we going to find ourselves shopping alongside a GI’s Afghan newlywed in the local Target?