"We say all the real things. And we believe them": the establishment of the United States Information Agency, 1953




Logan, Matthew J.

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As the world became at once more interconnected and more polarized during the twentieth century, the need for the major powers to effectively communicate their perspective to the rest of the world through propaganda grew stronger. However, although the United States was undeniably gaining prestige and influence by the late 1930s, the upstart global power struggled to implement a lasting and successful propaganda program. In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, when the United States was targeted by both Axis and Soviet propaganda, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt proved reluctant to implement a peacetime state-sponsored propaganda program. Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman, on the other hand, did not share this reluctance and throughout the first years of the Cold War sanctioned the establishment of several peacetime programs. However, because of Truman’s lack of understanding of and personal commitment to the use of propaganda, U.S. efforts in this field were uncoordinated, expensive, and largely ineffective. As a result, the highly centralized Soviet propaganda machine constantly tried to divide the United States and its allies and draw more countries into the communist camp. It was not until Dwight Eisenhower, arguably the first true psychological warrior to become president, took office in 1953 that U.S. Cold War propagandists began to match the efforts of their Soviet counterparts. Eisenhower used his organizational talents and military experiences with psychological warfare to restructure U.S. foreign information services into highly coordinated, cost-effective, and efficient Cold War weapons. With the establishment of the United States Information Agency in October 1953, the United States gained more control of its image abroad, casting both U.S. domestic and foreign policies in as favourable a light as possible while simultaneously condemning communists as disingenuous, autocratic imperialists. While U.S. officials struggled to implement effective psychological warfare programs, they were inevitably forced to confront difficult questions concerning the role of propaganda in a democratic society. Whereas a majority of Americans in the interwar period regarded propaganda as anathema, and a tool to which only fascists and communists resorted, by the time Eisenhower took office a growing number of officials had concluded that the stakes in the Cold War were simply too high to leave anything to chance. As a result, these officials argued, it was imperative that the U.S. government target not only international, but also domestic audiences with state-sponsored propaganda in order to ‘educate’ the public on U.S. Cold War objectives and the perils of communism.



United States, Eisenhower, Psychological Warfare, Propaganda, Cold War, United States Information Agency, CIA