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Pocket Guides: Navigating New Cultures Abroad

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Imagine being a young soldier who has never left home before and finding yourself in a faraway country. Millions of US servicemen and women experienced this culture shock when they were stationed overseas during World War II. To assist in making the transition easier, the United States military issued pocket guides, which taught soldiers about the customs, geography, language and other cultural details of each country.

Additionally, these details were instrumental for the war effort. By learning about the terrain, language and customs, soldiers were better equipped to recognize and win against an enemy combatant. Knowing basic phrases could be the difference between life and death. Each guide was designed to fit in a soldier’s back pocket and could be read during down time.

These pocket and language guides can tell us a great deal about United States culture during World War II, such as how a lot of Americans perceived the people of other nations. These perceptions were not always kind, as we can see in this cartoon from A Pocket Guide to New Guinea.

To further explore images like these, check out our new online gallery, Take a Closer Look at Pocket Guides!

Posted by Gemma Birnbaum, Digital Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

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