If We're Gonna Fight the Last War, Let's at Least Understand it


If I can convince you to read a single cajillion-word, three-year-old policy-journal essay today, please let it be this extended book review [PDF] by Kenneth Osgood, from the Spring 2002 Journal of Cold War Studies, in which he surveys the then-recent bounty of scholarship on the role of the CIA and American cultural/information-ops on both U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War.

It's a very balanced (at least to my eyes) and wide-ranging summary/discussion, so excerpting it will be misleading, but here was one of many tidbits I found intriguing:

The Columbia Broadcasting System aired a series in 1957 entitled Conquest of the Air. The first episode, narrated by Walter Cronkite, simulated "The Day North America Is Attacked." Generals played themselves in a mock attack staged at the Continental Air Defense Command, while across the screen a message advised: "AN ATTACK IS NOT TAKING PLACE. THIS IS A MILITARY EXERCISE."

These programs were made possible by a cooperative relationship between government officials and representatives of powerful media organizations in the United States. Government officials reviewed scripts, provided footage, developed ideas for stories, subsidized production costs, and, in some cases, produced whole programs with only a minimum of assistance from the networks. In return, the television networks received free or inexpensive programming and fulfilled their patriotic duty in a time of national emergency. […]

Bernhard suggests that government and industry professionals "clearly knew" they violated precepts of a free and independent press but that they justified it to themselves as a necessary patriotic duty in a fearsome age.

The "Bernhard" in question is Nancy, author of US Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960 (1999); other interesting-sounding books in Osgood's review include Scott Lucas' Freedom's War: The American Crusade Against the Soviet Union (1999), and Gregory Mitrovich's Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956 (2000).

For a more recent roundup, see this July essay (scroll to the bottom) by John Brown of USC's Center for Public Diplomacy, who includes in his multi-book survey the fascinating-sounding The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy During the Cold War, by David Caute (2003). Oh—and I see Kenneth Osgood has got a new book coming out in February on the topic, called Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home And Abroad. In which he

chronicles the secret psychological warfare programs America developed at the height of the Cold War. These programs–which were often indistinguishable from CIA covert operations–went well beyond campaigns to foment unrest behind the Iron Curtain. The effort was global: U.S. propaganda campaigns targeted virtually every country in the free world.

Total Cold War also shows that Eisenhower waged his propaganda war not just abroad, but also at home. U.S. psychological warfare programs blurred the lines between foreign and domestic propaganda with campaigns that both targeted the American people and enlisted them as active participants in global contest for public opinion.

Very interesting stuff, given the times we live in.