Quote: There was a time…

There was a time we could afford—or thought we could afford —to be unconcerned about what other people thought of us… That time is past. We shall be making decisions, within the U.N. and independently, that will have repercussions affecting the lives of ordinary people all over the globe. Our attitude and our actions—and rumors thereof—will be matters of concern everywhere.

Secretary of State James F. Byrnes in April 14, 1947

This is a quote from the past on the need to directly reach people abroad in the interest of US foreign policy. Today, we may call this public diplomacy, but then it was simply “public affairs.” The term “public diplomacy” would not be adopted for another two decades for the purpose of defending the independence of a bureaucracy.

Ben Bradlee and Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’

Cover page for a USIS daily news bulletin from September 1945, eight years before USIA was established.

This article was originally published on January 5, 2015. It has been revised and republished to spark new conversations.


There was a time before the United States Information Agency when the State Department held the entire portfolio of what we now call public diplomacy, and then some. A fact often that is forgotten or ignored. There was also a United States Information Service that existed for nearly two decades before USIA was created by the Eisenhower Administration in 1953, as the lesser of a two-part reorganization of government to improve the nation’s management of foreign policy. This is also forgotten, ignored, or, most likely, unknown. The misrepresentation of history not only misstates the trajectory of the government’s struggle with organizing public diplomacy, but it is also a disservice to those who worked hard to establish peacetime public diplomacy programs and those who carried out these programs before USIA. An example of this was seen in 2014 with the unfortunate passing of Mr. Ben Bradlee.

Continue reading “Ben Bradlee and Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’

1957: Eisenhower, Dulles and merging USIA back into State, or Not

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Foster_Dulles

On Friday morning, January 18, 1957, Arthur Larson gave a lengthy and wide-ranging presentation on the United States Information Agency to President Eisenhower’s cabinet. After 22 months as under secretary at the Labor Department, and now one month as USIA Director, Larson used charts, maps, and film clips to describe the barely four-year-old agency. The nearly three dozen attendees included the President, Vice President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Attorney General Herbert Brownell. Larson’s objective was positioning the agency at the center of a whole of government engagement program. Larson stressed “the need for the help of all Cabinet members, since the program for telling the United States’ story can succeed only if everyone in public and private life is alert to the impact of our actions on world opinion.”

Continue reading “1957: Eisenhower, Dulles and merging USIA back into State, or Not

Loy Henderson: supporter of public diplomacy, but perhaps not jazz

Loy Henderson
Source: Wikipedia

In the world of U.S. public diplomacy, jazz is often portrayed as an “instrument” of “soft power”, and presumably of “public diplomacy”. The music is democratic by nature. It communicates, as does all music, but it has a particular way of “freeing” the listener to transport and convey messages. It is an art form that inspires. The Public Diplomacy Council recently co-hosted an event on this. 
Continue reading “Loy Henderson: supporter of public diplomacy, but perhaps not jazz

1949: “You’ve told us why the Voice, but you haven’t told us what it is”

"INP Kept Busy 'Untwisting' News of U.S."

In August 1949, George V. Allen wrote an article for the Washington Star newspaper responding to a frequent question of the time: why were Voice of America programs not conveniently heard inside the United States. Allen was the best person to answer the question as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, and thus the “owner” of VOA and the rest of what we today would call “public diplomacy.”

Continue reading “1949: “You’ve told us why the Voice, but you haven’t told us what it is”

VOA in 1967

Source: http://www.ontheshortwaves.com/VOA_Stamp.html

In May 1967, The New York Times reported that the Voice of America was:

  • Broadcasting using 35 transmitters inside the United States;
  • Broadcasting using 57 transmitters outside the United States;
  • Broadcasting in 38 languages, although one-quarter of the total output was in English; and,
  • Rebroadcast by 3,000 radio stations using taped programs, adding 15,000 transmitter hours each week.

Continue reading “VOA in 1967

From the past: FBIS and World War II

In late 1940, many in the U.S. Government harbored concerns about foreign governments using radio to send propaganda and instructions to covert operatives. The State Department was concerned about “anti-American propaganda being short-waved hourly to Latin America.” The Department of Justice wanted to know whether “Axis agents in the United States received direction and guidance from Nazi short-wave programs” and wanted to stay on top of “the growing aggressiveness of Japan as reflected in her radio broadcasts.” 

Continue reading “From the past: FBIS and World War II

Quoting History: Information as an essential component of foreign policy

Events in the past year have made a United States Government information program more important than ever. Information is one of the three essential components in carrying out United States foreign policy — the other two, of course, being military and economic. Each has its function to perform in this great struggle for the minds of men, and each has, or should have, an equally high place in the strategic plan.

First Semiannual Report of the Advisory Commission on Information, March 1949.

In 1949, the Cold War was in full swing. Barely four years earlier, the White House and the Congress set about to make various programs permanent in the post-war world. These efforts included various information programs — radio, libraries, press feeds, motion pictures, books, and other publications — and various exchange programs — educational, cultural, and technical. There was one primary authority for these — the eventually named Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 — and several supplementary programs — the Fulbright Act and Defense Department information programs run in Japan and Germany/Austria. 

Continue reading “Quoting History: Information as an essential component of foreign policy

The Smith-Mundt Act: A legislative history from 1953 by Burton Paulu

This 1953 Journalism Quarterly article by Burton Paulu entitled “Smith-Mundt Act- A legislative history” (3.7mb PDF) is an interesting and short read for anyone wanting to know more about the early discussions around the start of U.S. public diplomacy. The timing of this particular paper is interesting. Continue reading “The Smith-Mundt Act: A legislative history from 1953 by Burton Paulu

George Kennan’s Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia

Source: Truman Library, Acheson Papers, Box 27, Correspondence Under Secretary 1945-1947

It is a pity that our press plays up our diplomatic relations like a ball game, stressing victories and defeats. Good diplomacy results in satisfaction for both sides as far as possible; if one side really feels defeated, they try to make up for it later, and thus relations deteriorate. In general the daily press and commentators dramatize short-term conflicts at the expense of long-term prospects for achieving a stable balance.

— Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia by George Kennan, July 22, 1946.

Continue reading “George Kennan’s Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia

The Brookings Institute on U.S. International Information… in 1948

“Brookings Report Sees Flaws in U.S. Information Service” was the headline on page 2 in the December 13, 1948, edition of The Washington Post. The report, Overseas Information Service of the United States Government by Charles Thomson, examined the government’s information activities during World War II, the changes immediately after, and made recommendations for the future.  Continue reading “The Brookings Institute on U.S. International Information… in 1948

Willis Conover & Smith-Mundt, a more complete picture

If you missed yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article by Doug Ramsey on Willis Conover, you should read it. The article is part of a campaign to get Mr. Conover on a U.S. postage stamp.

There was one passage from the article that stuck out to me, as anyone who knows me or knows the book I am writing (it’s nearly finished, by the way) would know it would. Here is the sentence: 

Continue reading “Willis Conover & Smith-Mundt, a more complete picture

A news hungry Europe

This cartoon appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on October 21, 1947. I found it in the Truman library (Truman Library, President’s Personal File, Box 540, PPF 1971) attached to a letter from Bill Benton to the President dated October 25. Benton had just departed as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and was working as a Special Consultant for State on UNESCO, an effort he had long been involved as, while preparing for a bid for the Senate. In his letter, Benton mentions he meant to give the cartoon to the President when they met the day before and had a suggestion:  Continue reading “A news hungry Europe

Certain Aspects of the European Recovery Problem from the U.S. Standpoint

Here Helps the Marshall Plan, not ‘Courtesy Of’ (Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-20671-0014 / CC-BY-SA)

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered a “routine commencement speech” at Harvard University. The only pomp and circumstance was for the graduates and the lone reporter in the crowd was there only because of a friend. It was, however, a speech that changed history as the retired General of the Army proposed a program for Europe based on building local economic strength, governance, and self-confidence.  Continue reading “Certain Aspects of the European Recovery Problem from the U.S. Standpoint

The basic right upon which freedom rests

Department of State organizational chart after the ‘basic reorganization’ of 1944. (Source: Department of State Bulletin, December 17, 1944 Supplement, p794-795.)

There is much talk today about Internet Freedom and the Freedom of Expression. While worthy and laudable, they are myopic, misleading, and inadvertently shift supporting conversations away from the core requirements. Internet Freedom encourages ignorance of actual information flows to, from, and within audiences. Freedom of Expression is more about one-way outbound communication than it is about inputs. Both divert attention from the fundamental rights to hear and to speak. At the beginning of the Cold War, we were not focused on sound bites but instead the basic concepts toward clear purposes. Continue reading “The basic right upon which freedom rests

FDR on working with the State Department

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

Dealing with the State Department is like watching an elephant become pregnant. Everything’s done on a very high level, there’s a lot of commotion, and it takes twenty-two months for anything to happen.

Source: Cary Reich, The life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: worlds to conquer, 1908-1958, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday). 182.

Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’ & Ben Bradlee

Cover page for USIS daily news bulletin from Sep 1945

There was a time before USIA when the U.S. Government practiced what we now call public diplomacy. This period is often forgotten or ignored.  For too many, the history of U.S. public diplomacy begins with the establishment of the United States Information Agency, or USIA.  However, it did not and pretending it did start with USIA not only misrepresents the past and subsequent trajectories, but it is also a disservice to those who worked hard to establish peacetime public diplomacy.

Continue reading “Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’ & Ben Bradlee

Ambassador George V. Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America

George Allen, Jan 1948

George Allen served as the State Department’s third Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, following William Benton and Archibald MacLeish.  MacLeish, the former Librarian of Congress, was the first incumbent when the title was Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations. Benton dropped the “and Cultural,” which he saw as a kind of lightning rod with Congress, and changed “Relations” to “Affairs.” Throughout, however, the role was fundamentally the modern equivalent to the combined responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Allen’s comments on the purpose, and temporary nature, of the Voice of America are interesting with respect to the modern interpretation of the Smith-Mundt Act.  Continue reading “Ambassador George V. Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America

George Allen, Jan 1948

George Allen served as the State Department’s third Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, following William Benton and Archibald MacLeish.  MacLeish, the former Librarian of Congress, was the first incumbent when the title was Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations. Benton dropped the “and Cultural,” which he saw as a kind of lightning rod with Congress, and changed “Relations” to “Affairs.” Throughout, however, the role was fundamentally the modern equivalent to the combined responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Allen’s comments on the purpose, and temporary nature, of the Voice of America are interesting with respect to the modern interpretation of the Smith-Mundt Act.  Continue reading “Ambassador George V. Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America

George Allen, Jan 1948

George Allen served as the State Department’s third Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, following William Benton and Archibald MacLeish.  MacLeish, the former Librarian of Congress, was the first incumbent when the title was Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations. Benton dropped the “and Cultural,” which he saw as a kind of lightning rod with Congress, and changed “Relations” to “Affairs.” Throughout, however, the role was fundamentally the modern equivalent to the combined responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Allen’s comments on the purpose, and temporary nature, of the Voice of America are interesting with respect to the modern interpretation of the Smith-Mundt Act.  Continue reading “Ambassador George V. Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America