Recalling History: Secretary of State testifies for information activities

Below is testimony and questions from a hearing before a special subcommittee of the House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 16, 1947. The subject is HR 3342, a bill that would become known as the US Information and Education Exchange Act of 1948, also referred to as the Smith-Mundt Act. George C. Marshall was General of the Army (5-stars), Ambassador to China, Secretary of State, and later Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He was the third Secretary of State in two years. Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., served 1 Dec 1944 – 27 June 1945. James F. Byrnes served 3 July 1945 to 21 January 1947. Marshall served 21 January 1947 to 20 January 1949.

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Mr. John Davis LODGE (R-CT). I am tremendously interested, naturally, to get the Secretary’s views on this. There is a question which I wanted to throw open for discussion, though I have no set views on it. In a military propaganda program, there is selection in a great deal of the material, and I felt that it was important that we should present our attitude as a dynamic force and conviction and not a sort of apathetic tolerance of the views of others. We have more to offer than just a negative approach. We have a positive and affirmative attitude for our own concept of living. It would seem to me that without calling it by the more ugly name of propaganda, that that suggestion might very well at least be considered. I do not feel that we can win any competition, General, whether on the field of battle or in peacetime conflicts or disagreements, by an attitude that is too remote and too equivocal. We have to have some enthusiasm and faith in our system, it seems to me. I believe I would agree with you, General.

Secretary of State George C. MARSHALL. I think the main basis for criticism at the present time of what we have been doing is that we expect perfection in the first weeks and they do not get it. Agencies that are now lauded were bitterly condemned at one stage of their career. I used an illustration just the other day, of when we were getting under way with the B-29 program and we had to push it. The demand was urgent, and we had to do something, and do it more rapidly than we wanted to.

When we started these ships out of Calcutta on experimental runs, we had very heavy losses. These losses were not from the enemy, but they were merely operational troubles and we were very strongly criticized. Shortly thereafter, I think in the last few days of the war, we had either 1,000 ships in two 3,000-mile runs of about 400 or 500 ships each in an operation over Japan. We lost but one ship. Now suppose we had stopped when we started at Calcutta to make our first efforts, because we had the accidents. I think this is a comparable situation. My own concern has been, and I have been very emphatic about it, if we went over into the propaganda belt, then I am against it. I felt that the important thing is to have people believe implicitly what we say. That was the first. requirement. How we get that is a matter of technique and it comes up in connection with what you have just said.

I want to be certain though when we are doing this thing, we do not lay ourselves open to the criticism that we are presenting something entirely from our own point of view. Now, what is said here in Congress or in the actions we take, if it is truthfully reported, is the affirmative procedure. Perhaps we might take the situation at the Conference at Moscow. We had a complete record presented on one side, but I would find myself being reported as having stated that “I was forced to admit,” and that “I defended this,” and so forth. I was doing nothing of the kind, I was stating something affirmatively, but that was not the way it was being propagandized.

Mr. Pete JARMAN (D-AL). Mr. Secretary, in emphasis of your reference to the fact, that we sometimes expect too much of a new program–and, in other words, that we must crawl before we can walk, and because of the fact that that is true of people as well as programs–we have the same thing here in this copy of the magazine America. My recollection is that President Lincoln was defeated 13 times before he was ever elected. Now there is very appropriately a great memorial to him in this city, and pictures of him and the cabin in which he was born in this magazine. However, he was not so successful in those first 13 elections.

Secretary MARSHALL. Take my own performance in China and in Moscow. Maybe your statement encourages me a little. People have said that it took me 13 months to fail in China but only 45 days to fail in Moscow.

Mr. JARMAN. I have every confidence that it will not take 13 failures for the Secretary to succeed.

Mr. William BENTON (Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs). I hope you are not implying that we are not still crawling on this program. We are, at least, to the walking stage.

Mr. JARMAN. We are still crawling in comparison to what we should be doing 5 years from now.

Mr. Karl MUNDT (R-SD, Chairman of the subcommittee). Mr Secretary, reverting back now to the days when you were Chief of  Staff, it was dramatically demonstrated to us during the war that psychological warfare was helpful in directing the thinking of the people. While there is no psychological warfare connected with this, it indicates that information made available to the people in different countries could help them arrive at concepts which would otherwise not be achieved.

Secretary MARSHALL. That is correct; but I must qualify it by stating that during the war, psychological warfare involved a great many things. It was intended at times deliberately to deceive our enemies as to our intentions.

Mr. MUNDT. It indicates that you can lead the conclusions of the people.

Secretary MARSHALL. That is an important part of psychological warfare procedure, of course. We had to protect ourselves and our troops by deceiving the enemy as far as we could as to what we were going to do and, of course, that involved infinite finesse. Sometimes we almost fooled ourselves by our own broadcasts.

Mr. MUNDT. And the type of mental diet which involves necessary deceit in times of war can be effective. A mental diet which through the years demonstrates its adherence to truth can be more effective in the long run; can it not?

Secretary MARSHALL. That is my contention.

Mr. LODGE. Mr. Secretary, do you feel it would be desirable for us to appropriate a great deal more money to have our program of a size more commensurate with the size of the other countries?

Secretary MARSHALL. I do not think that would be desirable at the present time. It should be more of an evolution. We may find it more economical to follow some other procedure in some respects, and we may find it necessary to extend in some other direction. I would not be prepared at the present time to make such a proposal. I again go back to my military experience. Probably very few recall that I was opposed to a rapid development of the Army because I knew we could not carry the initial load and we would do ourselves more harm than good. I think we should go along on a reasonable basis with this, taking all the necessary requirements and functions into consideration. I would not advocate an increase in personnel.

Mr. MUNDT. In other words, we are still feeling our way?

Secretary MARSHALL. It is a new business.

Mr. MUNDT. We must adapt it to the conditions.

Secretary MARSHALL. It is new business to the State Department.

Mr. MUNDT. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

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

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