Louisiana Tech associate professor of history Dr. Brian C. Etheridge has been selected as the 2009 recipient of the Stuart L. Bernath Research Article Prize.

Presented by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Bernath Prize recognizes the best article by a younger scholar on a topic related to the history of U.S. foreign relations. Etheridge received the award for his article, “The Desert Fox, Memory Diplomacy, and the German Question in Early Cold War America,” which appeared last April in the scholarly journal Diplomatic History. In the article, Etheridge focused on efforts to influence U.S. public opinion of the German people following World War II.

Drawing on U.S. government records, as well as those of various Jewish and other interest groups and the motion picture industry, Etheridge examined a dispute over the production and distribution of the 1951 Hollywood film “The Desert Fox.” Based on the life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the film provoked controversy among critics who complained that it took too favorable a view of the famous World War II German commander.

Immediately after the war, Etheridge explained, opinion in the United States was divided as to how much responsibility the German people themselves bore for the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.

“Some people said that the Germans were a warlike people, who, if not kept under control, would eventually cause another world war,” Etheridge said, “while others argued that the Germans were essentially good people, who like everyone else were simply victims of the Nazi dictatorship.”

According to Etheridge, this debate was complicated by the fact that during the early Cold War period the United States wanted to rebuild Germany as an ally against the Soviet Union.

“A plan like that needed American public opinion to think of Germans as good people who had simply had the misfortune to have a bad government,” said history department head Stephen Webre.

The Bernath Prize means international recognition for Etheridge’s work, which Webre described as being on “the cutting edge of an important trend in the history of international relations.”

“Dr. Etheridge belongs to a new generation of scholars of American foreign relations who are reshaping their field,” Webre said. “They recognize that it is not just the White House and the State Department that make U.S. foreign policy. In fact, relations between the United States and the outside world are influenced by a wide variety of actors, both inside and outside of government.”

Webre also cited the importance of Etheridge’s award for the department of history, the College of Liberal Arts, and the university itself.

“All universities have three basic missions,” Webre said, “teaching, research and service. An honor like the Bernath Prize is just one of many recent events that tell the world that original research is flourishing at Louisiana Tech.”

A member of the Tech faculty since 2002, Etheridge is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He received his master’s degree in history at the University of Georgia and his Ph.D. at Ohio State University. Etheridge is a specialist in contemporary American history, U.S. diplomatic history and German history.

Written by Judith Roberts