Sunday, January 25, 2015

Walter Roberts: The First USIA Directors -- "As I Look Back Upon All USIA Directors...George Allen Is At The Top"

Walter worked closely with USIA's first directors -- several of whom he admired, one of whom he did not.

First, Ted Streibert.  I always think that Ted Streibert was a very good man to start the U.S. Information Agency, for various reasons.  One of them I would like to stress here is that when USIA was created, the overwhelming part of USIA was the Voice of America.  Only eight years had passed since the end of the war in which the Department of State was able to establish information programs in the different countries of the world.  Let’s take France, for instance.  It was a very small program.  The budget for the Voice of America was the overwhelming part of the budget of USIA.  There was one other very large area of USIA, where programs were really very developed, and that was in the occupied areas:  Germany, Austria and Japan.
Theodore C. Streibert, USIA Director 1953-57

So when Eisenhower appointed Streibert, who was a station manager of a radio station in New Jersey, if I remember correctly, and a good administrator, I had the feeling that the President did the right thing.  I personally got along famously with Streibert.  We became friends, and stayed friends after he left.  May I tell an anecdote?  One day I sat in my office, and Streibert called me, and he said: “Walter, can you arrange for me to see the Pope next week?”  I said:  “What?”  And he had a slightly Brooklyn accent and said:  “You hurd me.”  And I was absolutely flabbergasted.  That was something that I had never been connected with.  So finally I got up and went down to his office, went in there and I said:  “Ted, why in the world would you want to see the Pope?”  He said to me:  “Walter, you don’t understand.  He’s in the anti-communist business; I’m in the anti-communist business.  Don’t you think he and I should talk?”  That was Ted Streibert.  He was a very good witness before the appropriations committees; we did quite well under Streibert.  But he wanted to stay only one term.   

So then, for reasons which I often thought about a great deal and never quite understood, the President appointed the Under Secretary for Labor, a lawyer, with the name of Arthur Larson.  And he was a disaster.  And it was all due to one stupid speech that he gave in Hawaii, in which he called the New Deal “an importation from socialist Europe.  And that annoyed Lyndon Johnson very much, who at that time was the chairman of the subcommittee that handled USIA appropriations.  I was at that hearing.  There was only blood on the floor.  We lost 25 % of our budget.
Arthur Larson in ABC Interview with Mike Wallace, 1958

Now, I happened to have been in a carpool, with the Assistant Secretary of State for public affairs, a former high official of USIA, the third ranking official, who had gone to the meetings with the Russians in Geneva as USIA policy representative, obviously made a very good impression on John Foster Dulles and John Foster Dulles one day asked him to be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  His name was Andy Berding, and I told him about this disastrous appropriations committee hearing, and obviously Andy told John Foster Dulles.  And John Foster Dulles for various other reasons already had some doubts about Arthur Larson.   And the story goes that he asked for his car for an immediate appointment with the President, and went to the President and said:  “Mr. President, we need another USIA director.”   And again, according to what I’ve heard, Eisenhower did not object.  In view of the history that says that John Foster Dulles was utterly disinterested in information and cultural programs, he took a great interest in leadership of USIA and he selected in his own mind one of the top Foreign Service officers, a man with the rank of career ambassador, George Allen.   And he asked George whether he wanted to be USIA director, and George said yes. 

George V. Allen, USIA Director, 1957-60
George had a public affairs, public diplomacy background.  In 1948, he was assistant secretary for public affairs, and therefore,  at that time, had already supervision over the programs from the OWI and the OCIAA, meaning the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, that came into the State Department.  So he knew about the programs from way back.  So this was 1957 and 1948  -- so this was nine years.

George was brought back for a meeting with the President, the meeting went well, and George Allen was appointed USIA director in 1957.  As I look back upon all USIA directors – and I knew them all – George Allen is at the very top.   One of the finest minds, fully aware of what this was all about and I can again tell an anecdote which indicates how his thinking developed.

As you know, the USIA, when it was created, contained only more or less information programs.  The cultural programs, and by this I mean really only the exchange program, which Senator Fulbright sponsored and had so much faith in.  When the USIA was created, Fulbright put his foot down and he said “Well, that’s going to be a propaganda agency.  I don’t want the exchange program to be there.”   And he insisted that the exchange program stay in the Department of State, which it did.  But sometime in 1958, after George had been USIA director for a year or so, he wrote a memorandum to Loy Henderson, who was then the Under Secretary for Management in the Department, suggesting that CU -- Cultural Affairs from the State Department -- be transferred to USIA.  Henderson was very taken aback and asked George to go to lunch with him.  George Allen took me along, so I’m a first witness to that conversation. 

Loy Henderson started the meeting, to the best of my recollection, by saying “You know, in 1953, when USIA was created, we sent a memorandum to all top ambassadors and asked whether the split between information and culture made any sense, and what our position should be.  And you sent back a telegram saying that’s a very good idea to separate the two.  And now you want to reunite it?  What happened?

Livy Merchant
And George Allen, who always had wonderful stories, said:  Loy, let me tell you, when Livingston Merchant was assigned to Australia in the late forties, early fifties, he sent a memorandum to the Department saying “Times have changed, Australia and New Zealand should not be in the European Bureau any more, it should be in the Far Eastern Bureau.”  When Eisenhower became President, he appointed Livy Merchant as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs.  One of the first memoranda that he had to sign is that the Office of European Affairs had to give up Australia and New Zealand.  He objected, and they pointed out to him “But Livy, this was your idea in the first place.”  And Livy answered saying, “Now that I’m Assistant Secretary of European Affairs, I’m being more objective.”  Loy, now that I’m USIA Director, I’m being more objective, and that’s why I want CU in USIA.  He was one of the finest minds I ever encountered in the Foreign Service.  A very, very nice guy.  And a superb USIA director.


Walter Roberts: Evaluating Success -- "Evidence of Effectiveness Has Haunted USIA Since Its Beginning"

When I asked Walter what successes USIA had known in its early years, he pivoted to answer the question more broadly.  The challenge of measuring success of public diplomacy programs remains to this day.  How can one prove that any specific program or initiative "moved the needle," especially in a complex world?

You know, this item called evidence of effectiveness has haunted USIA since its beginning.  It is extremely difficult to correlate a USIA activity with a success.  All you can do with what we called evidence of effectiveness is, again [to come] back to public opinion surveys, for instance, in Austria and in Germany, of which I know a little.  

The atmosphere regarding the United States, and the German and Austrian view of the United States, was very high.  I always felt that our information programs in Germany and Austria were extremely successful.  
Leonard Bernstein conducting in Vienna, early 1970s
You turned a population that was at war with the United States into one that basically loved the United States.  Public opinion figures in Austria and in Germany in the fifties and sixties were extremely high.  Now, you can say of course that when Arthur Rubinstein came and played in Vienna, or Leonard Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and there were rave reviews, you might use that as evidence of effectiveness of our programs…

We opened an information center [in Paris] on the Left Bank, not far from the Sorbonne, and that was full every day, from opening to closing.   Again, you might say, what kind of evidence is that?  But I think it is better to know that it was full, and all seats were taken, than to say, for instance, nobody came. 
American artist Beauford Delaney at Rue du Dragon USIS Cultural Center, 1969
You can also talk about evidence of effectiveness of people who were Fulbright scholars in the United States and later became prime ministers and presidents of countries.  Their view of the United States was certainly more open-minded than if they had not been in the United States.  Sadat, for instance, was an exchange student in the United States.   

We made it our business to have libraries in as many countries as we could.  We called them information centers.  As far as the film program is concerned, we were dealing of course with Hollywood.  We were not responsible for Hollywood launching a film in Paris.  That was Hollywood’s business.  But, if we could in the course of negotiations and so on, create a little enhancing role, we did.  We also made a number of documentaries.  One of the great documentaries that was made was about Kennedy, and his death.  That Kennedy film had an enormous attraction overseas, I remember that.
Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (1965)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Duvergier de Hauranne: A Frenchman in Lincoln's Washington -- "...This Great Work of Patriotism and Charity"

Like many other visitors to these shores before and after,  Duvergier de Hauranne is much impressed by the spirit and practice of American volunteerism.   One organization he visits in Washington stands out above all others.
Outside the Sanitary Commission Home Lodge, Washington D.C., April 1865

Duvergier de Hauranne's foray to the United States Sanitary Commission’s offices and storerooms leaves him astounded by a “marvelous” private benevolent organization that “performs three-fourths of a task the government should do but doesn’t.”  The Commission was the brainchild of a who’s who of prominent Northerners, including renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and leading clergyman Henry Whitney Bellows.  
Henry Whitney Bellows, President, Sanitary Commission

Raising funds from private sources was only one of their tasks.  During a matter of months, an entire volunteer benevolent organization was built across the Northern states, from the ground up.  In a meeting with the Commission’s regional director – a young volunteer himself -- Duvergier de Hauranne is astounded to learn that over one million soldiers had passed through the Commission’s hands since the beginning of the war.  He lauds the efforts of the tens of thousands of private citizens, including many women, who provide practically the only care the North’s sick and wounded soldiers could count on receiving following their evacuation from the battlefield -- including via a network of “Soldier’s Homes” to aid in their convalescence.    (Duvergier de Hauranne reports, to his surprise, that three-fourths of the Union’s losses were attributable to disease rather than to combat.)

In an age long before bulging government bureaucracies and pervasive databases, Duvergier de Hauranne describes how well-organized the United States Sanitary Commission’s efforts are, and adds that its role often extended beyond care and provisioning to outright advocacy for wounded and discharged soldiers who had fallen off the Army’s chaotic rolls:

In the city of Washington alone, the expenses of the Soldier’s Home, where discharged or furloughed solders stay during the long time it takes to get their papers in order, amount to $12,000 a week.  What is even more astonishing than these large donations is the order, the dependability and the perfect discipline of this improvised administration.  Most astonishing of all is the dedication of those who are giving several years of their lives to this great work of patriotism and charity.  This achievement teaches us to admire America and the philanthropists of the Old World would do well to take some lessons from it.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission, formally chartered under Congress as the "National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers" just two months after Duvergier de Hauranne’s account, laid the foundation for what would in the nineteen-thirties become the Veterans Administration.   Were the Frenchman miraculously to return to Washington in 2015, it is not entirely clear he would be as favorably impressed by today's Department of Veterans Affairs, including its organizational acumen and determination to provide the best possible service…

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Duvergier de Hauranne: A Frenchman in Lincoln's Washington -- Impressions of The Civil War Congress

Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Massachusettts)
Congress remained a source of fascination for Duvergier de Hauranne during his first week back in the District of Columbia.  Thanks to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who had taken an interest in the young Frenchman, Duvergier de Hauranne was able to attend the next sessions on the very floor of the House, at one point even occupying the seat of Henry Winter Davis, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

A speech by Missouri Democrat James Sidney Rollins piques his interest; Rollins, formerly a fierce opponent of the abolitionists, speaks out in favor of the 13th Amendment.  Duvergier de Hauranne has a keen eye and a strong writerly touch: 
Rep. James P. Rollins (D-Missouri)

He has the rough exterior one expects of men from the West, but along with that there is a strain of candor and native tact that raises him above the ordinary…He would have agreed, he said, to the preservation or even the expansion of slavery if that would have saved the Union.  He agreed now to accept abolition because it had become necessary to win the war and restore the public peace.  It was strange to hear this slave-owner, impoverished only yesterday by the new principles, defying the Democrats to find any religious, moral or even economic or political argument to justify slavery.

In contrast, Duvergier de Hauranne archly dismisses the overblown rhetoric of an unnamed abolitionist Congressman:

I will pass in silence over the speech made by a loud-mouthed representative who delivered himself of a string of anti-slavery platitudes.  He seems to be one of those who don’t believe they are speaking eloquently until they are blue in the face and have bloodshot eyes.

The French visitor is impressed by Thaddeus Stevens, whom he characterizes as among the last of the great orators of the antebellum legislature, comparing him to the likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun. 

Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R- Pennsylvania)
At his very first word I was able to recognize a born orator.  Mr. Stevens is a strong, vigorous old man with deep-set eyes whose expressive, haughty face is heavily furrowed by wrinkles. ..The House of Representatives, which is usually so disorderly, lending only half an ear to partisan clamor, suddenly grows quiet when Mr. Stevens rises to speak, rendering an involuntary tribute to an eloquence and dignity whose secret it has lost.

In conclusion, Duvergier de Hauranne allows that the House is not, “as I may sometimes have led you to believe,” made up entirely of opportunists and “barroom politicians.”  He remarks that “ugly faces and home-made haircuts abound…but when you are once accustomed to the typical American face and costume – a strange mixture of stiff formality and unbuttoned negligence – you realize that the greater part of the House is composed of ‘gentlemen.’”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walter Roberts: A Brush with Joe McCarthy -- "You Are Excused, But You Will Be Called Back"

A phone call to be "interviewed" by the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy was never a welcome thing.  But Walter's brief taste of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was milder than that of many -- his career, happily, was not destroyed on the alter of "anti-Communism" as happened to dozens of other State Department and VOA officials.

...Since you mentioned McCarthy, I will recall a story for you which is very typical of McCarthy.  One day, in spring of 1953, that’s before USIA was created, when I was still in the Department of State, I got a phone call from the security people in the Department of State, asking me to go up to room so and so in the Dirksen Building or whatever it is.  Senator McCarthy would like to interview me.   And I said, is a lawyer from the Department of State going to accompany me?  They said, no, you’re on your own.  So I went.  

As I entered the committee room, there was a witness there whom I remember well from the days when I was assigned to Austria.  He was an engineer, and he bought the transmitters to replace old ones in Vienna, Linz and Salzburg.  Beautiful 500 kW transmitters.  All that was really required for Austria would have been a 25 or 50 kW transmitter.   And I sat down in the committee room and Gillett -- Mr. Gillett was his name -- talked about how he helped install the transmitters for the Red White Red network in Austria.
Excerpt from March 12, 1953 UP story
  And that one day it was decided to lower the antenna, and thereby our reach into Kyiv and other Eastern European cities was reduced or cut off. 
Roy Cohn (l), Joe McCarthy
I remember vividly, Senator McCarthy asked:  And who authorized the reduction of the antennas?  And he said:  Mr. Walter Roberts.  Whereupon, Mr. Cohn, who was one of the assistants to Mr. McCarthy, took a large blue book and leafed through it.  It was clear that he looked at the letter "R," whether he could find anything on me, that I was the head of the Socialist Youth at Harvard, or something like that.  But apparently he didn’t find anything.  And he whispered to McCarthy.  And McCarthy said:  Is Mr. Roberts here?  I said:  Yes, sir.  He said:  Well, you are excused, but you will be called back.

Walter J. Donnelly (l), 1951 with U.S. defense officials
Now what really happened was this.  One day, while I was in Vienna, the civilian High Commissioner, Walter J. Donnelly, he was the first civilian high commissioner,  called me in.  I went over to the Embassy, and there was the British High Commissioner, Sir Harold Caccia.  And Donnelly said to me:  “Walter, Sir Harold came to me and asked whether we could reduce the antennas because it interferes with the air traffic to the British airport outside Vienna."  I said:  "Mr Ambassador, I cannot say since I’m not a technical person but let me ask the engineers and I’ll be back to you."   So I asked the engineers and I said:  "They want it [lowered] by 25 feet [sic], would that be alright for Linz, Salzburg and Vienna?" And they said, sure, we don’t need that kind of antenna, only if we want to reach far into eastern Europe.  But that was not the purpose of the indigenous Austrian network.  It did not do any psychological warfare.  We informed the Austrians in Linz, Vienna and Salzburg about the news and other matters.

Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador to the U.S., with President Kennedy, 1961
So what happened there was obviously, Mr. Gillett was very unhappy with me, because his dream of having created in Austria a network for eastern Europe and the Soviet Union did not come to pass.    And I never saw McCarthy again, except on television.

Walter Roberts: Creating USIA -- "It Was Very Clear...That There Would Be An Agency"

Thanks to Walter's experience building a public diplomacy program in Austria, he was in demand in Washington as the new Eisenhower presidential transition team began to draw up plans for an independent U.S. agency to run international information programs.

From 1950 to 1953, I worked on the Austrian desk of the Department of State.  It was divided at that time into three positions:  political, economic and public affairs.  The political officer was a man with the name of Francis Williamson.  The economic affairs officer was Mrs. Dulles, the sister of John Foster and Allen Dulles.  And the public affairs officer was I.

Abbott Washburn with Edward R. Murrow, 1961
In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower won the election and the transition team that came in included people like Abbott Washburn and Henry Loomis.  And for one reason or another, these two people, who were clearly assigned to at least present a blueprint of a new agency, were interested in me.  And I was literally an assistant to them.  It was made clear that the information and the cultural program was dominated not only by people but also by funds by the Voice of America.  It was basically the information and cultural program.  Yes, we had exchange programs.  Yes, we sent dance groups and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera overseas and so on and so forth.  But the mainstay of the information program was the Voice of America.   And so between Washburn and Loomis and myself and others of course, we tried to establish a program that would perhaps also emphasize other media.  So we came to the conclusion that USIA should be divided into four media:  radio, libraries, films and press and publications.  Those were the four media directors.  And then it was decided to have four area directors.  And then it was decided that there would be a policy chief, and an administrative chief. 
Henry Loomis

There were lots of commissions; they all came up with the idea there should be a separate agency.  John Foster Dulles did not like the program to be in the Department of State.  He had a very constricted idea about the functions of the Department of State, that it was a policy agency, and not a program agency.  That is on one side.  On the other side, Dwight Eisenhower had very positive recollections about how psychological warfare helped him when he was Allied Supreme Commander.  It was very clear -- Dulles didn’t want to have this in the State Department, Eisenhower was interested in an information program -- that there would be an agency.   And so the Agency was created in the summer of 1953.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
…I think deep down in his mind, Dulles heard that there were quote “hundreds of communists” in the State Department.  And I think he was convinced, as I later heard from my good friend Andy Berding, who was Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs under John Foster Dulles, in Dulles’ second term.  So John Foster Dulles, I think, while he never said so, was convinced that part of the problem of communists in the State Department, is the information program – which contained newspaper people – and the cultural program – which contained academics -- all of whom were more likely to be Communists than straight State Department officers, because of their backgrounds and so on.  So I think he was very happy to be rid of it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Duvergier de Hauranne: A Frenchman in Lincoln's Washington -- Congress is Not Exactly "A Festival of Eloquence"

In the days that followed, Duvergier de Hauranne reacquainted himself with wartime Washington, D.C., which he had first visited at the outset of his U.S. travels during the summer of 1864.  Outside the city, he finds the same "vast, level spaces that have been turned into wastelands by military encampments; everything has been scraped clean to the ground; there remains not a tree, not a blade of grass, nothing but tents and barracks."  Likewise, inside the city:  "the same monotonous stretches of mud and the same vain and pitiful attempts at grandeur."  But the city had come alive, dramaticallly so, roused from the August doldrums, with "the clatter of carriages, the screeching of the horsecars on their iron rails and the hum of pedestrians who crowd the sidewalks."  The destiny of Washington, Duvergier de Hauranne believes, would be tied to the fortunes of the federal government.  If the capital were to fall back into "its earlier insignificance," it would simply wither away; if everything added to the permanent features of the city by the wartime exigencies were swept away, "scarely anything but a desert would remain."  Looking ahead, Duvergier de Hauranne cannot help but comment, as he anticipates the country's rapid expansion westwards, that Washington, D.C. -- "a badly situated fulcrum of the American nation" -- would need to be supplanted by another city in the Mississippi basin, perhaps St. Louis.

Gen. Benjamin F. Butler
The news of the day:  the replacement of General Benjamin Butler -- announced, per Duvergier de Hauranne, "like a thunderbolt from the mysterious cloud that conceals the government's august summit."  The Frenchman, reviewing Butler's career, dismisses him as a poor military leader and an unscrupulous politician whom Grant had protected but whose failures and misdeeds had become too glaring to ignore any longer.  (Even now, 150 years later, it is hard to find any historians who have much that is positive to say about this son of Massachusetts other than his fierce anti-slavery convictions.)  Yet Butler's dubious wartime record did not prevent him from being returned to Congress by the state's voters as well as elected governor in 1882.  Duvergier de Hauranne also reports rumors of a secret peace mission to the Confederacy undertaken by an informal advisor of Lincoln's, Francis P. Blair.  While welcoming the idea of the North making such overtures, he dismisses the notion that they would bear fruit due to "the blind obstinacy of the Richmond government."

U.S. Capitol, 1861
Meanwhile, the politics of the moment remains front and center in Duvergier de Hauranne's account. His first visit to Congress, he reports, is "a waste of time."  Describing two contrasting schools of rhetoric -- comparing the staid Senate and the raucous House -- the Frenchman comments that Congress is not exactly "a festival of eloquence."  The Senate debates, he relates, resemble more "a conversation, interrupted by courteous, muted disagreements," before a mostly empty gallery and a slumbering presiding officer.  The House, on the other hand, is like "a storm-tossed sea," surrounded by galleries packed with noisy spectators.  Duvergier de Hauranne is clearly not enamored of the House's "general atmosphere of indiscipline, insubordination and irreverance":

Few speakers are accorded more than five minutes of attentive silence; the debates are carried on at one end of the room, while at the other end no one is any longer paying the slightest heed.  It is therefore necessary to speak like Demosthenes so as to be heard above the sound of the waves, to go right on speaking without giving any thought to ones audience and to shout loudly enough for the stenographers to hear.  Hence the oratory of the House is full of long-winded bluster, accompanied by gesticulations -- in fact, the very image of a public meeting.

As usual, Duvergier de Hauranne demonstrates he is a keen observer of the political scene.  With perhaps as little as five votes needed in the House to pass the anti-slavery Thirteenth Amendment, he describes how difficult the naysaying Democrats will be to win over but notes that the Republicans at the same time have the luxury of allowing their adversaries "to tear themselves to pieces" knowing the anti-slavery cause will ultimately prevail.

Rep. Fernando Wood (D-NY)
Duvergier de Hauranne is scathing about the arguments of Copperhead holdouts like Fernando Wood, a former mayor of New York and Tammany Hall figure par excellence, who insist the proposed amendment would be "unconstitutional" and unfairly reviewed in the absence of Southern representatives in Congress.  The Frenchman cooly observes that the Constitution had always been subject to amendment, so the true motivation is simply "to preserve forever the equivocal silence of the Constitution on the question and thus retain the pretext it offers for rebellion."  As for the lament over the absence of a voice from the  Confederate South in the debate, Duvergier de Hauranne exclaims:  "But if representatives of the South are not in Congress today to oppose the amendment, whose fault is that?  Who drove them out?"