Recalling History: Secretary of State testifies before House Appropriations

On March 3, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall testified before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on the issue of the Department of State Appropriation Bill for 1948.

Secretary Marshall:

One effective way to promote peace is to dispel misunderstanding, fear, and ignorance. Foreign peoples should know the nature and objectives of our foreign policy. They should have a true understanding of American life. This is the purpose of the information and cultural relations program. This includes the exchange of students, scholars, and technical experts with other countries, the maintenance of information libraries abroad, the distribution of documentary motion pictures, film strips, and still pictures, documentary information material, and international broadcasting. The total of the estimate is $37,000,000, which includes $5,800,000 for the program of cultural cooperation with the other American Republics. I regard this program as an integral and essential part of the conduct of foreign relations. In China I observed at first hand the consequences of misrepresentation and lack of understanding of the facts about the United States and its policies.

For our day-to-day as well as long-range decisions on the conduct of foreign affairs, we must have complete, timely, and objective knowledge of facts. The intelligence program provides a centralized service within the Department to acquire and analyze objectively all foreign political and economic information. We cannot afford to be without full and accurate intelligence. Only when we are fully informed of the acts and intentions of others can we avoid fatal miscalculation of their future policies and objectives. The estimate for this program is $4,700,000.

Question from Chairman Karl Stefan (R-NE):

Mr. STEFAN. You say you are continuing to advocate measures to remove conditions which lead to war. Do you care to tell us what some of those conditions are at the present time?

Secretary MARSHALL. Of course, the two primary conditions, I would say, are a combination of complete mistrust on all sides of the motives that arc behind each proposition, and then the uncertainty as to what the aspirations are of the nations concerned. The elimination of this mistrust is almost an impossible proposition, but it should be worked on all the time. That relates to some of the things that are involved in this budget, notably, the broadcasting. This will have no immediate effect. I would say that it would be better than a year before we can get any positive results. It could he wrecked almost in a single week if we engage in any misstatements that would not hold up as being factual and without prejudice. Along with that goes the very acute problem of having us understood in the world. It is amazing the degree of misrepresentation and misunderstanding and misconception that is had of the United States, its people, and the purposes of this country.

I have, been puzzled more about what to do about meeting this propaganda than any other single thing in connection with our international relations. It has been a matter of astonishment to me that however raw, however extreme the propaganda is, it seems to have a definite effect. The individual concerned may be highly educated and generally fair-minded in his ordinary thinking, but unless he is in the middle of this thing where the innermost secrets are all exposed, he subconsciously reaches a conclusion which is prejudicial to our interests.

Now, in relation to the maintenance of peace, as I say, we are concerned with trying to lessen the degree of suspicion of our motives, of our purposes, and to lessen the misunderstanding of our people and our ideals. We also have to guard very carefully certain, I may put it, geographical interests that affect, we think, the stability of any peace agreements that may be reached. … So, in general, we are trying to reach in our own minds a very definite understanding or conception of what our stand must be in order that we do not expose the United States in a fatal manner to crises that may develop in the world; yet at the same time we must seek to combine that effort with one of trying to avoid the possibility of these recurring crises which may provoke war.

Of course, your question can be answered by a book. I am merely trying to touch in a general way on my own conceptions at the moment.

Question from Mr. Walt HORAN (R-WA):

I want to know what organization in the State Department maintains relationships with the radio and the movie industries to make sure that our cultural presentations abroad are controlled and that they are of a truly representative type.

Secretary MARSHALL. I would have to ask that that be answered by Mr. Benton, as to the details of those arrangements. I do not know. I have not had an opportunity as yet to go into that question except as to amounts and as to general purpose.

Mr. HORAN. I have had the feeling for some time, I might say, Mr. Secretary–and I will say to Mr. Benton that I shall ask you when your budget comes before the committee to give us the details.

Mr. William BENTON (Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs). I shall he glad to answer that question, Mr. Horan.

Mr. HORAN. I have had the feeling that we are trying to do with money alone what can best be done with American talent; much of which can be had gratis. And this is what I have in mind. I am wondering what the State Department is doing in the following situation: We know there is quite a demand for "Tobacco Road" and "Grapes of Wrath," on the part of the Russians, and so forth. Mr. Eric Johnston, representing our responsible movie industry, has denied them those pictures and has said in effect, "Here is a Iist of the pictures that you may have that are representative of the American people."

In the field of the radio, I have listened to radio programs that were psychopathic, presentations which, if directed abroad would completely misrepresent the American people. I feel that there can be better cooperation between established industries in America, and that we do not have to set up an entirely new organization to achieve maximum results.

I personally shall attack the amount that is in here for this item and shall expect you to justify it fully; that is in the cultural field. Perhaps by exploring that we may find some other avenues so that we may get all of our 140 million people in this affair to assist the Secretary. You cannot do it all, Mr. Secretary. We do expect you, however, now that you are going into action, to have some idea of the whole picture and we shall want that before we complete our hearings. I feel that perhaps we can save money and we might be able, by talking frankly, to improve the program.

Secretary MARSHALL. I have already talked to Mr. Eric Johnston and my former secretary of the General Staff is now the representative of the American motion-picture industry in France.

Mr. HORAN. You realize that there is a very fertile field there?

Secretary MARSHALL. Yes, sir; I am quite aware of that. We did a great deal during the war of that nature; we almost educated the Army through the motion pictures.

Mr. BENTON. Mr. Johnson is very cooperative.

Mr. HORAN. Yes; he loves to cooperate. And I think you will find the vast majority of our American industrialists will be glad to cooperate. I think we should build a real team. Perhaps we are doing that and I await your appearance before the subcommittee with a good deal of interest.

Questions by J. Vaughan GARY (D-VA):

Mr. GARY. … I think there is a definite need for the information and cultural program.

Secretary MARSHALL. You will always have trouble in governmental action along any line like that; a cultural program, books, and so forth. I
understand that there has been criticism of the type of books we have been putting into these little libraries. I found on investigation that the American Library Association were the
recommenders of those books. And that is presumably a very normal agency to advise the State Department in such a matter. We might have turned to the Congressional Library and had them advise us, just as they gave me a little library to take to China with me. But that does seem to be the normal procedure and these criticisms that we receive are perhaps to be expected. During the war I had a difficult time because people over there were objecting to almost everything that was being sent. They would object to various periodicals like Readers’ Digest, and so forth, perhaps because of disagreement with some particular article. But, as a matter of fact, to my mind that is democracy. And the question is: Do we go off half-cocked as it were, or are we properly advised? I think that is the main issue. Of course, this is an activity which has just been thrown into the Department from the old OWI and the OIAA, I believe. I think there were some 6,000 new people who came into the Department, who have had to be assimilated in that and other activities. And I think they have come through remarkably well, considering the tremendous increase in the personnel that has had to be absorbed in a short period. But I am very grateful for your sympathetic attitude.

Mr. GARY. But you do think that this program conducted by the information and cultural division is not only desirable but is necessary for a proper understanding of the United States abroad?

Secretary MARSHALL. I think so.

Mr. GARY. And is essential to the conduct of our foreign relations?

Secretary MARSHALL. Yes, sir. I think the whole matter is an offset to the type of propaganda, newspaper articles, and so forth, that appear in various countries. We have to do something about it. If propaganda is fire, I do not think it is advisable that we fight fire with fire in this particular case, because it is not in accord with our traditions.

The above is courtesy the online archives of the George C. Marshall Foundation.