Recalling history: the 1947 Smith-Mundt CODEL to Europe

For two months in the Autumn of 1947, a Congressional delegation (CODEL) traveled Europe. Their purpose was to study America’s current information and educational exchange service, the conditions affecting it, with the goal of formulating recommendations to shape and make more effective US programs which “can fully implement US foreign policy.” Led by Congressman Karl Mundt (R-SD) and Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-NJ), the delegation was sponsored by the special Mundt subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the pending Smith-Mundt Bill.

Much of their twenty-three page trip report and recommendations is timeless. A brief example is below:

United States foreign policy should be explained not only to the citizens of this country but to those of other countries as well. During recent years our power and influence has grown to greater proportions than even we realize. At the same time the world has shrunk to a point which brings forcibly before the nations the fact that this new and unpredictable intimacy can benefit man, or it can destroy him. As the most powerful nation in the world today, our motives are often misunderstood. It is quite natural that the smaller nations, particularly those so situated in Europe as to be most affected by Soviet Russia, are eager to know the facts of our foreign policy and what motives are inherent in them. Are we intent on expansion and control in Europe to offset Soviet aggression? Are the aid-for-Europe proposals of Secretary Marshall just an economic smoke screen to blind the nations of Europe to our true and carefully hidden designs? There is doubt in many minds, especially in the face of the deluge of Soviet propaganda flooding Europe today. It is essential to clarify this issue. We have nothing to hide. To fail to tell the truth effectively is to risk defeat for our policy abroad. …

We substitute knowledge and truth for ignorance and falsehood. Inasmuch as truth is our best weapon, we should not hesitate to make effective use of it.

… It is also probable that only by winning this word war can we protect the peace. If we try and fail we will have spent relatively little in the effort, but if we fail to try we may have vainly squandered all that is spent elsewhere.

The Congress and people of the United States have now under consideration a multibillion dollar program to restore Europe and thwart Communism [the Marshall Plan]. Commendable and necessary as this is, we have nevertheless been too preoccupied in the past with feeding the stomachs of people while the Soviets have concentrated on feeding their minds. … We may help avert starvation but in the process produce a generation of healthy Europeans whose minds are poisoned against us and whose loyalties are to the red star of Soviet Russia. If this occurs, our generosity would be surpassed only by our own ineptitude. 

Shaping their experiences, as indicated above, was foreign aid. What was still becoming known as the Marshall Plan – but was yet to be authorized and funded by Congress – was already a target of lies and distortions. The group would report back that the Marshall Plan may be a waste of money if it was not supported by information activities.

The group, known as the Smith-Mundt Congressional Group, visited twenty-two countries during September and October 1947. Besides Smith and Mundt, the delegation included Vice President Alben Barkley, Senators Carl Hatch (D-NM), Bourke Hickenlooper (R-IA), and Congressmen John Davis Lodge (R-CT), brother of Senator Lodge, Lawrence H. Smith (R-WI), Walter Judd (R-MN), Mike Mansfield (R-MT), Pete Jarman (D-AL), and Thomas S. Gordon (D-IL). Also included were staff and Milton Rewinkel of the State Department and Colonel Paul E. Tombaugh of the Army Department.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (R-MA) was also a member of the group, but he toured Europe independently. His comments were attached the report. Highlights include:

It is clear to me that in western Europe, we are losing the battle for men’s minds. Wide circulation is given to statements about America which are both fantastic and insulting. Moreover, these statements are also widely believed. Here are two illustrations:

(a) A French physician, wealthy and of good reputation in his community, made this socking statement: “Of course, we realize that medical science is way ahead in America… but then we also know that you have all those underprivileged people over there on whom your doctors constantly experiment.”

(b) A deputy of one of the conservative French political parties, a substantial landholder and of considerable private means, told me: “We know that you Americans are trying to build up Germany industrially faster than you want to build up France. … The reason you do this is because you intend to have a war with Russia and you want to get Germany into shape as your ally. … Because Russia has taken away so much of your export trade.” …

It is all very well to talk of the Voice of America in the abstract, but we must remember that the true voice of America in the eyes of the world is the President of the United States, and, only to slightly lesser degree, the Secretary of State. …

The report continues. Both the group report and Lodge’s annex were filled with recommendations echoed in recent years, including even many of the recommendations found in the last report by the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

As much as things change, so much stays the same. In the case of public diplomacy, it reverts as we lost touch with importance and essence of the struggle for minds and wills in the shift from minds to bombers and boomers that shaped our collective memory of the thing called public diplomacy.