Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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.

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