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.


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