The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Lettersby Frances Stonor Saunders
During the Cold War, freedom of expression was vaunted as liberal democracy’s most cherished possessionbut such freedom was put in service of a hidden agenda. In The Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders reveals the extraordinary efforts of a secret campaign in which some of the most vocal exponents of intellectual freedom in the West were/i>
During the Cold War, freedom of expression was vaunted as liberal democracy’s most cherished possessionbut such freedom was put in service of a hidden agenda. In The Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders reveals the extraordinary efforts of a secret campaign in which some of the most vocal exponents of intellectual freedom in the West were working for or subsidized by the CIAwhether they knew it or not.
Called “the most comprehensive account yet of the [CIA’s] activities between 1947 and 1967” by the New York Times, The Cultural Cold War presents shocking evidence of the CIA’s undercover program of cultural interventions in Western Europe and at home. This “impressively detailed” (Kirkus Reviews) book draws together declassified documents and exclusive interviews to expose the CIA’s astonishing campaign to deploy the likes of Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Lowell, George Orwell, and Jackson Pollock as weapons in the Cold War.
Widely reviewed upon its original publication in 2000, awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Memorial Prize, and translated into ten languages, the book is “a real contribution to popular understanding of the postwar period” (The Wall Street Journal). This edition includes a new preface by the author recalling the complexity of writing the book and its impact on publication.
London Review of Books
"A tale of intrigue and betrayal, with scene after scene as thrilling as any in a John le Carré novel." —Chronicle of Higher Education
"A major work of investigative history [and] an extremely valuable contribution to the all-important post–World War II record." —Edward Said, London Review of Books
"[Saunders] writes with a sense of humor and an appreciation of the historical circumstances. . . . [She] avoids polemic and fits the fragments of elusive fact into a coherent and persuasive narrative." —Lewis Lapham, Los Angeles Times
"Makes clear the sinuous interlocking nature of American governmental, corporate and
cultural life . . . consistently fascinating." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
"Saunders negotiates an ocean of factual material deftly and . . . is very good on the ethical and political ironies of the CIA’s cultural projects." —San Francisco Chronicle
"The comprehensive guide to the CIA’s involvement with the arts." —The Awl
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Read an Excerpt
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light
T. S. Eliot, `Burnt Norton'
Europe awoke to a freezing post-war dawn. The winter of 1947 was the worst ever recorded. From January to late March, it opened a front across Germany, Italy, France and Britain, and advanced with complete lack of mercy. Snow fell in St Tropez, gale-force winds building up impenetrable drifts; ice floes drifted to the mouth of the Thames; trains carrying food supplies froze fast to the tracks; barges bringing coal into Paris became ice-bound. There, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin found himself `terrified' by the city's coldness, `empty and hollow and dead, like an exquisite corpse'.
Across Europe, water services, sewage disposal, and most other essential amenities collapsed; food supplies dwindled and coal reserves slumped to an all-time low as miners struggled to operate winding-gear which was frozen solid. A slight thaw was followed by a further freeze-up, locking canals and roads under a thick layer of ice. In Britain, unemployment rose by one million in two months. The government and industry stalled in the snow and ice. Life itself seemed to freeze: more than four million sheep and 30,000 cattle died.
In Berlin, Willy Brandt, the future Chancellor, saw a `new terror' grip the city which most symbolized the collapse of Europe. The icy cold `attacked the people like a savage beast, driving them into their homes. But there they found no respite.The windows had no panes, they were nailed up with planks and plasterboard. The walls and ceilings were full of cracks and holes, which people covered over with paper and rags. People heated their rooms with benches from public parks ... the old and sick froze to death in their beds by the hundreds.' In an emergency measure, each German family was allotted one tree for heating. By early 1946, the Tiergarten had already been hacked down to stumps, its statues left standing in a wilderness of frozen mud; by the winter of 1947, the woods in the famous Grünewald had been razed. The snow drifts which buried the rubble of a bombed-out city could not conceal the devastating legacy of Hitler's mythomaniacal dream for Germany. Berlin, like a ruined Carthage, was a desperate, cold, haunted place defeated, conquered, occupied.
The weather cruelly drove home the physical reality of the Cold War, carving its way into the new, post-Yalta topography of Europe, its national territories mutilated, the composition of its populations fractured. Allied occupation governments in France, Germany, Austria and Italy struggled to cope with the thirteen million people who were displaced, homeless, demobilized. The swelling ranks of Allied personnel arriving in the occupied territories exacerbated the problem. More and more people were turned out of their homes, to join those already sleeping in halls, stairways, cellars, and bombsites. Clarissa Churchill, as a guest of the British Control Commission in Berlin, found herself `protected both geographically and materially from the full impact of the chaos and misery existing in the city. Waking in the warm bedroom of some Nazi's ex-home, feeling the lace-edged sheets, studying his shelf of books, even these simple experiences gave me a warning tinge of conqueror's delirium, which a short walk in the streets or a visit to an unheated German flat immediately dissipated.'
These were heady days for the victors. In 1947, a carton of American cigarettes, costing fifty cents in an American base, was worth 1,800 Reichsmarks on the black market, or $180 at the legal rate of exchange. For four cartons of cigarettes, at this rate, you could hire a German orchestra for the evening. Or for twenty-four cartons, you could acquire a 1939 Mercedes-Benz. Penicillin and `Persilscheine' (whiter than white) certificates, which cleared the holder of any Nazi connections, commanded the highest prices. With this kind of economic whammy, working-class soldiers from Idaho could live like modern tsars.
In Paris, Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Rothschild, the first British soldier to arrive on the day of liberation in his capacity as bomb-disposal expert, had reclaimed his family house on Avenue de Marigny, which had been requisitioned by the Nazis. There, he entertained the young intelligence officer Malcolm Muggeridge with vintage champagne. The family butler, who had worked on in the house under the Germans, remarked that nothing seemed to have changed. The Ritz Hotel, requisitioned by millionaire intelligence officer John Hay Whitney, received David Bruce, a Princeton friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who turned up with Ernest Hemingway and a private army of liberators, and put in an order for fifty martini cocktails from the manager. Hemingway who, like David Bruce, had fought in America's wartime secret service, the Office of Strategic Services, set himself and his whisky bottles up at the Ritz, and there, in an alcoholic daze, received a nervous Eric Blair (George Orwell), and the more forthright Simone de Beauvoir with her lover Jean-Paul Sartre (who drank himself to oblivion, and recorded the worst hangover of his life).
The philosopher and intelligence officer A. J. `Freddie' Ayer, author of Language, Truth and Logic, became a familiar sight in Paris as he sped about in a large chauffeur-driven Bugatti, complete with army radio. Arthur Koestler and his lover Mamaine Paget `got tight' dining with André Malraux on vodka, caviare and blinis, balyk and soufflé sibérienne. Also in Paris, Susan Mary Alsop, a young American diplomat's wife, hosted a series of parties in her `lovely house full of Aubusson carpets and good American soap'. But when she stepped outside, she found that the faces were `all hard and worn and full of suffering. There really is no food except for people who can afford the black market and not much for them. The pastry shops are empty in the windows of teashops like Rumplemayer's, one sees one elaborate cardboard cake or an empty box of chocolates, with a sign saying "model" and nothing else. In the windows of shops on the Faubourg St Honoré are proudly displayed one pair of shoes marked "real leather" or "model" surrounded by hideous things made of straw. Outside the Ritz I threw away a cigarette butt and a well-dressed old gentleman pounced for it.'
At much the same time, the young composer Nicolas Nabokov, cousin of the novelist Vladimir, was throwing away a cigarette butt in the Soviet sector of Berlin: `When I started back, a figure bolted out of the dark and picked up the cigarette I had thrown away.' As the super-race scavenged for cigarette ends or firewood or food, the ruins of the Führer's bunker were left unmarked and barely noticed by Berliners. But on Saturdays, Americans serving with the military government would explore with torches the cellars of Hitler's ruined Reichs Chancellery, and pocket their exotic finds: Romanian pistols, thick rolls of half-burned currency, iron crosses and other decorations. One looter discovered the ladies' cloakroom and lifted some brass coat tags inscribed with the Nazi eagle and the word Reichskanzlei. Vogue photographer Lee Miller, who had once been Man Ray's muse, posed fully dressed in Hitler's bunker bathtub.
The fun soon wore off. Divided into four sectors, and sitting like a crow's nest in a sea of Soviet-controlled territory, Berlin had become `the traumatic synecdoche of the Cold War.' Ostensibly working together in the allied Kommandatura to achieve the `denazification' and `reorientation' of Germany, the four powers struggled against strengthening ideological winds which revealed a bleak international situation. `I felt no animosity to the Soviets,' wrote Michael Josselson, an American officer of Estonian-Russian extraction. `In fact I was apolitical at that time and this made it much easier for me to maintain excellent personal relationships with most of the Soviet officers I came to know.' But with the imposition of `friendly' governments in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, the mass show trials and swelling gulags in Russia itself, this collaborative spirit was severely tested. By the winter of 1947, less than two years after American and Russian soldiers had hugged each other on the banks of the Elbe, that embrace had dissolved into a snarl. `It was only after Soviet policies became openly aggressive, and when stories of atrocities committed in the Soviet zone of occupation became a daily occurrence ... and when the Soviet propaganda became crudely anti-Western, that my political conscience was awakened,' Josselson recorded.
The headquarters of the Office of Military Government US was known as `OMGUS', which Germans initially took to mean `bus' in English because it was painted on the sides of double-decker buses requisitioned by the Americans. When they were not spying on the other three powers, OMGUS officers found themselves behind desks piled high with columns of the ubiquitous Fragebogen which every German seeking a job was obliged to fill in, answering questions relating to nationality, religion, criminal record, education, professional qualifications, employment and military service, writings and speeches, income and assets, travel abroad and, of course, political affiliations. Screening the entire German population for even the faintest trace of `Nazism and militarism' was a deadly, bureaucratic task and often frustrating. Whilst a janitor could be blacklisted for having swept the corridors of the Reichs Chancellery, many of Hitler's industrialists, scientists, administrators, and even high-ranking officers, were being quietly reinstated by the allied powers in a desperate effort to keep Germany from collapsing.
For one intelligence officer, the filling out of endless forms was no way to deal with the complex legacy of the Nazi regime. Michael Josselson adopted a different approach. `I didn't know Josselson then, but I had heard of him,' recalled the philosopher Stuart Hampshire, who at that time was working for MI6 in London. `His reputation had spread across Europe's intelligence grapevine. He was the big fixer, the man who could get anything done. Anything. If you wanted to get across the Russian border, which was virtually impossible, Josselson would fix it. If you needed a symphonic orchestra, Josselson would fix it.'
Speaking four languages fluently without a hint of an accent, Michael Josselson was a valuable asset in the ranks of American occupation officers. Furthermore, he knew Berlin inside out. Born in Tartu, Estonia, in 1908, the son of a Jewish timber merchant, he had arrived in Berlin for the first time in the early 1920s, swept along in the Baltic diaspora which followed the 1917 revolution. With most of his close family murdered by the Bolsheviks, return to Tartu was impossible, and he became a member of that generation of men and women whom Arthur Koestler referred to as the `scum of the earth' the déracinés, people whose lives had been broken by the twentieth century, their identity with their homelands ruptured. Josselson had attended the University of Berlin, but left before taking a degree to join the Gimbels-Saks department stores as a buyer, becoming their representative in Paris. In 1936 he emigrated to the States, and shortly thereafter became an American citizen.
Inducted into the Army in 1943, his European background made him an obvious candidate for either intelligence work or psychological warfare. He was duly assigned to the Intelligence Section of the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) in Germany, where he joined a special seven-man interrogation team (nicknamed `Kampfgruppe Rosenberg', after its leader Captain Albert G. Rosenberg). The team's mission was to interrogate hundreds of German prisoners every week, for the purpose of `rapidly separating strong Nazis from non-Nazis, lies from truthful responses, voluble from tongue-tied personalities'. Discharged in 1946, Josselson stayed on in Berlin with the American Military Government as Cultural Affairs Officer, then with the State Department and the US High Commission as a Public Affairs Officer. In this capacity, he was assigned to the `screening of personnel' in the German press, radio and entertainment media, all of which were suspended `pending the removal of Nazis'.
Assigned to the same division was Nicolas Nabokov, a White Russian émigré who had lived in Berlin before emigrating to the United States in 1933. Tall, handsome, expansive, Nabokov was a man who cultivated friendships (and wives) with great ease and charm. During the 1920s, his flat in Berlin had become a centre of émigré cultural life, an intellectual goulash of writers, scholars, artists, politicians and journalists. Amongst this cosmopolitan group of exiles was Michael Josselson. In the mid-1930s, Nabokov went to America, where he wrote what he modestly described as `the first American ballet', Union Pacific, with Archibald MacLeish. He shared a small studio with Henri Cartier-Bresson in New York for a while, when neither had any money. Nabokov later wrote that `to Cartier-Bresson the Communist movement was the bearer of history, of mankind's future ... I shared many of [his] views, but, despite the gnawing longing for my Russian fatherland, I could not accept nor espouse the philo-Communist attitude of so many Western European and American intellectuals. I felt that they were curiously blind to the realities of Russian Communism and were only reacting to the fascist tides that were sweeping Europe in the wake of the Depression. To a certain degree I felt that the philo-Communism of the mid-thirties was a passing fad, cleverly nurtured by a mythology about the Russian Bolshevik Revolution shaped by the Soviet Agitprop Apparat.'
In 1945, alongside W. H. Auden and J. K. Galbraith, Nabokov joined the Morale Division of the US Strategic Bombing Survey Unit in Germany, where he met psychological warfare personnel, and subsequently got a job in the Information Control Division, alongside his old acquaintance, Michael Josselson. As a composer, Nabokov was assigned to the music section, where he was expected to `establish good psychological and cultural weapons with which to destroy Nazism and promote a genuine desire for a democratic Germany'. His task was `to eject the Nazis from German musical life and license those German musicians (giving them the right to exercise their profession) whom we believed to be "clean" Germans,' and to `control the programmes of German concerts and see to it that they would not turn into nationalist manifestations.' Introducing Nabokov at a party, one American general said, `He's hep on music and tells the Krauts how to go about it.'
Josselson and Nabokov became a congenial, if unlikely, pair. Nabokov was emotionally extravagant, physically demonstrative and always late; Josselson was reserved, high-minded, scrupulous. But they did share the same language of exile, and of attachment to the new world, America, which both believed to be the only place where the future of the old world could be secured. The drama and intrigue of post-war Berlin appealed to something in both men, giving them scope to exercise their talents as operators and innovators. Together, Nabokov later wrote, they both `did a good deal of successful Nazi-hunting and put on ice a few famous conductors, pianists, singers and a number of orchestral musicians (most of whom had well deserved it and some of whom should be there today)'. Often going against the grain of official thinking, they took a pragmatic view of denazification. They refused to accept that the actions of artists under Germany's Nazi past could be treated as a phenomenon sui generis, with judgement meted out according to the rendering of a Fragebogen. `Josselson genuinely believed that the role of intellectuals in a very difficult situation shouldn't be decided in an instant,' a colleague later explained. `He understood that Nazism in Germany had all been a mixed grotesquerie. Americans had no idea, in general. They just waded in and pointed the finger.'
In 1947, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was the subject of particular opprobrium. Although he had openly defied the branding of Paul Hindemith as a `degenerate', he later arrived at a mutually beneficial accommodation with the Nazi regime. Furtwängler, who was appointed Prussian State Councillor, as well as holding other high posts bestowed by the Nazis, continued to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera throughout the Third Reich. By December 1946, a year and a half after his case had first been brought to the attention of the Allied Control Commission, the conductor was due to appear before the Tribunal for Artists assembled in Berlin. The case was heard over two days. The outcome was vague, and the tribunal sat on his file for months. Then, out of the blue, Furtwängler learned that the Allied Kommandatura had cleared him, and that he was free to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic on 25 May 1947 at the American-requisitioned Titania Palast. Amongst the papers left by Michael Josselson is a note which refers to his part in what insiders referred to as the `jumping' of Furtwängler. `I played a major role in sparing the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler the humiliation of having to go through the denazification procedure despite the fact that he had never been a member of the Nazi Party,' Josselson wrote. This manoeuvre was achieved with Nabokov's help, though years later both were vague about the details of the case. `I wonder whether you remember when was the approximate date that Furtwängler came to East Berlin and gave a press conference there threatening to go to Moscow if we would not clear him at once,' Nabokov asked Josselson in 1977. `I seem to remember that you had something to do with bringing him out of the Soviet sector (hadn't you?) to my billet. I remember General McClure's [chief of Information Control Division] gentle fury at Furtwängler's behaviour then ...'
One American official reacted angrily to the discovery that figures like Furtwängler were being `whitewashed'. In April 1947, Newell Jenkins, Chief of Theater and Music for the American military government of Württemberg-Baden, angrily demanded an explanation for `how it happens that so many prominent nazis in the field of musicology are still active'. As well as Furtwängler, both Herbert von Karajan and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were soon to be cleared by allied commissions, despite their murky records. In von Karajan's case, this was virtually undisputed. He had been a party member since 1933, and never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazi favourite `Horst Wessel Lied'. His enemies referred to him as `SS Colonel von Karajan'. But despite favouring the Nazi regime, he was quickly reinstated as the undisputed king of the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra which in the post-war years was built up as the symbolic bulwark against Soviet totalitarianism.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had given concerts for the Waffen SS on the eastern front, starred in Goebbels' propaganda films, and was included by him on a list of artists `blessed by God'. Her National Socialist Party membership number was 7548960. `Should a baker stop baking bread if he doesn't like the government?' asked her half-Jewish accompanist, Peter Gellhorn (who himself had to flee Germany in the 1930s). Obviously not. Schwarzkopf was cleared by the Allied Control Commission, and her career soared. She was later made a Dame of the British Empire.
The question of how, if at all, artists should be held to account for an engagement with the politics of their time could never be resolved by a hit-and-miss denazification programme. Josselson and Nabokov were keenly aware of the limitations of such a programme, and as such their motivation in leapfrogging its procedures could be viewed as humane, even courageous. On the other hand, they were victims of a moral confusion: the need to create symbolic anti-Communist rallying points introduced an urgent and hidden political imperative to clear those suspected of accommodating the Nazi regime. This produced a tolerance of suspected proximity to Fascism if the subject could be put to use against Communism someone had to wield a baton against the Soviets. Nabokov's 1977 letter to Josselson reveals that they actually had to wrest Furtwängler from the Soviets (who had approached the conductor with an offer to take over the Staatsoper Unter den Linden), whilst Furtwängler himself was playing both sides against each other. His appearance at the Titania Palast in May 1947 clearly signalled that the allies were not going to be upstaged by the Soviets in `the battle of the orchestras'. By 1949, Furtwängler was listed amongst German artists travelling to foreign countries under American-sponsored cultural programmes. In 1951, he conducted at the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, which had been handed back to the Wagner family, despite the official ban on Richard Wagner (for `nationalism').
William Donovan, head of America's wartime intelligence service, once said famously, `I'd put Stalin on the payroll if I thought it would help us defeat Hitler.' In an-all-too easy reversal, it was now apparent that the Germans `were to be our new friends, and the saviour-Russians the enemy'. This, to Arthur Miller, was `an ignoble thing. It seemed to me in later years that this wrenching shift, this ripping off of Good and Evil labels from one nation and pasting them onto another, had done something to wither the very notion of a world even theoretically moral. If last month's friend could so quickly become this month's enemy, what depth of reality could good and evil have? The nihilism even worse, the yawning amusement toward the very concept of a moral imperative, which would become a hallmark of international culture, was born in these eight or ten years of realignment after Hitler's death.'
Of course, there were good reasons for opposing the Soviets, who were moving in swiftly behind the cold weather front. Communists came to power in Poland in January. In Italy and France there were rumours of Communist coups d'état. Soviet strategists had been quick to grasp the potential of the widespread instability of post-war Europe. With an energy and resourcefulness which showed that Stalin's regime, for all its monolithic intractability, could avail itself of an imaginative vigour unmatched by western governments, the Soviet Union deployed a battery of unconventional weapons to nudge itself into the European consciousness, and soften up opinion in its favour. A vast network of fronts was established, some new, some revived from a dormant state since the death in 1940 of Willi Munzenberg, the brain behind the Kremlin's secret pre-war campaign of persuasion. Labour unions, women's movements, youth groups, cultural institutions, the press, publishing all were targeted.
Experts in the use of culture as a tool of political persuasion, the Soviets did much in these early years of the Cold War to establish its central paradigm as a cultural one. Lacking the economic power of the United States and, above all, still without a nuclear capability, Stalin's regime concentrated on winning `the battle for men's minds'. America, despite a massive marshalling of the arts in the New Deal period, was a virgin in the practice of international Kulturkampf. As early as 1945, one intelligence officer had predicted the unconventional tactics which were now being adopted by the Soviets: `The invention of the atomic bomb will cause a shift in the balance between "peaceful" and "warlike" methods of exerting international pressure,' he reported to the chief of the Office of Strategic Services, General Donovan. `And we must expect a very marked increase in the importance of "peaceful" methods. Our enemies will be even freer than [ever] to propagandize, subvert, sabotage and exert ... pressures upon us, and we ourselves shall be more willing to bear these affronts and ourselves to indulge in such methods in our eagerness to avoid at all costs the tragedy of open war; "peaceful" techniques will become more vital in times of pre-war softening up, actual overt war, and in times of post-war manipulation.'
This report shows exceptional prescience. It offers a definition of the Cold War as a psychological contest, of the manufacturing of consent by `peaceful' methods, of the use of propaganda to erode hostile positions. And, as the opening sallies in Berlin amply demonstrated, the `operational weapon' was to be culture. The cultural Cold War was on.
So it was that amidst the degradation an unnaturally elaborate cultural life was dragged to its feet by the occupying powers as they vied with each other to score propaganda points. As early as 1945, `when the stench of human bodies still hung about the ruins', the Russians had staged a brilliant opening for the State Opera with a performance of Gluck's Orpheus, in the beautifully lit, red plush Admiralspalast. Stocky, pomaded Russian colonels grinned smugly at American military personnel as they listened together to performances of Eugène Onegin, or to an explicitly anti-Fascist interpretation of Rigoletto, the music punctuated by the tinkle of medals.
One of Josselson's first assignments was to retrieve the thousands of costumes belonging to the former German State Opera (the Deutsches Opernhaus Company, the only serious rival to the Russian State Opera), which had been safely stored by the Nazis at the bottom of a salt mine located outside Berlin in the US zone of occupation. On a dismal, rainy day Josselson set off with Nabokov to retrieve the costumes. On their way back to Berlin, Josselson's jeep, which preceded Nabokov's requisitioned Mercedes, hit a Soviet road block at full speed. Josselson, unconscious and suffering from multiple cuts and bruising, was taken to a Russian military hospital, where Soviet women medical officers stitched him together again. When he was well enough, he was retrieved back to his billet in the American zone, which he shared with an aspiring actor called Peter van Eyck. But for the care of his Soviet doctors, Josselson might not have survived to become the Diaghilev of America's counter-Soviet cultural propaganda campaign. The Soviets had saved the man who was, for the next two decades, to do most to undermine their attempts at cultural hegemony.
In 1947, the Russians fired another salvo when they opened up a `House of Culture' on the Unter den Linden. The initiative dazzled a British cultural affairs officer, who reported enviously that the institute `surpasses anything the other allies have done and puts our poor little effort right in the shade ... It is most luxuriously appointed good furniture, much of it antique, carpets in every room, a brilliance of lights, almost overheated and everything newly painted ... the Russians have simply requisitioned all they wanted ... there is a bar and smoking room ... which looks most inviting and almost Ritzy with its soft carpets and chandeliers ... [This is a] grandiose cultural institute which will reach the broad masses and do much to counteract the generally accepted idea here that the Russians are uncivilized. This latest venture is depressing as far as we are concerned our contribution is so small one information centre and a few reading rooms which have had to be closed down because of lack of coal! ... We should be spurred on by this latest Russian entry into the Kulturkampf to answer with an equally bold scheme for putting over British achievements here in Berlin.'
Whilst the British lacked the coal to heat a reading room, the Americans were emboldened to return fire at the Soviets by opening the Amerika-Häuser. Set up as `outposts of American culture', these institutes offered respite from the bitter weather in comfortably furnished reading rooms, and gave film showings, music recitals, talks and art exhibits, all with `overwhelming emphasis on America'. In a speech entitled `Out of the Rubble', the Director of Education and Cultural Relations emphasized to Amerika-Häuser personnel the epic nature of their task: `Few people ever have been privileged to be a part of a more important or more challenging mission, or one more replete with pitfalls than you who have been chosen to aid in the intellectual, moral, spiritual and cultural reorientation of a defeated, conquered and occupied Germany.' But he noted that `in spite of the great contribution which has been made by America in the cultural field, it is not generally known even to Germany or the rest of the world. Our culture is regarded as materialistic and frequently one will hear the comment, "We have the skill, the brains, and you have the money."'
Thanks largely to Russian propaganda, America was widely regarded as culturally barren, a nation of gum-chewing, Chevy-driving, Dupont-sheathed philistines, and the Amerika-Häuser did much to reverse this negative stereotype. `One thing is absolutely certain,' wrote one enthusiastic Amerika-Häuser administrator, `the printed material brought here from the United States ... makes a deep and profound impression upon those circles in Germany which for generations have thought of America as culturally backward and who have condemned the whole for the faults of a few parts.' Old clichés based on an historic `presupposition about American cultural retardation' had been eroded by the `good books' programme, and those same circles who had upheld these slurs were now reported to be `quietly and deeply impressed'.
Some clichés were harder to dispel. When one Amerika-Haus lecturer offered a view of the `present-day position of the Negro in America', he was met with questions `some of which were not inspired by good will'. The lecturer `dealt vigorously with the questioners, who may or may not have been communists'. Fortunately for the organizers, the talk was followed `by songs performed by a colored quintet. The Negroes continued to sing long after official closing time and ... the spirit of the occasion seemed so congenial that it was decided to invite this Negro group for a repeat performance.' The problem of race relations in America was much exploited by Soviet propaganda, and left many Europeans uneasy about America's ability to practise the democracy she now claimed to be offering the world. It was therefore reasoned that the exporting of African-Americans to perform in Europe would dispel such damaging perceptions. An American military government report of March 1947 revealed plans `to have top-rank American negro vocalists give concerts in Germany ... Marian Anderson or Dorothy Maynor appearances before German audiences would be of great importance.' The promotion of black artists was to become an urgent priority for American cultural Cold Warriors.
The American response to the Soviet cultural offensive now began to gather pace. The full arsenal of contemporary American achievement was shipped to Europe and showcased in Berlin. Fresh new opera talent was imported from America's most noble academies: the Juilliard, the Curtis, the Eastman, the Peabody. The military government took control of eighteen German symphony orchestras, and almost as many opera companies. With many native composers banned, the market for American composers was exponentially increased and exploited. Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Gian Carlo Menotti, Virgil Thomson these and many other American composers premièred their work in Europe under government auspices.
In consultation with American academics, playwrights and directors, a massive theatre programme was also launched. Plays by Lillian Hellman, Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan, Clifford Odets and John Steinbeck were offered to enthusiastic audiences huddled in freezing theatres where icicles hung menacingly from the ceiling. Following Schiller's principle of theatre as `moralische Anstalt', where men can see presented the basic principles of life, the American authorities devised a hit list of desirable moral lessons. Thus, under `Liberty and Democracy' came Ibsen's Peer Gynt, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, and Robert Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois. `Power of Faith' was expressed in the drama of Faust, Goethe, Strindberg, Shaw. `Equality of Man' was the message to be extracted from Maxim Gorki's Lower Depths and Franz Grillparzer's Medea. Under `War and Peace' came Aristophanes' Lysistrata, R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End, Thornton Wilder's Skin of our Teeth, and John Hersey's A Bell for Adano. `Corruption and Justice' was deemed to be the theme of Hamlet, Gogol's Revisor, Beaumarchais's Figaro's Wedding, and most of Ibsen's uvre. And so on, through `Crime Does Not Pay', `Morals, Taste and Manners', `Pursuit of Happiness', to the darker imperative of `Exposure of Nazism'. Deemed inappropriate `for the present mental and psychological status of Germans' were `all plays that accept the blind mastery of fate that unescapably [sic] leads to destruction and self-destruction, as the Greek classics.' Also blacklisted were Julius Caesar and Coriolanus (`glorifications of dictatorship'); Prinz von Homburg and Kleist (for `chauvinism'); Tolstoy's Living Corpse (`Righteous criticism of society runs to asocial ends'); all Hamsun plays (`plain Nazi ideology'), and all plays by anybody else who `readily shifted to the service of Nazism'.
Mindful of Disraeli's injunction that `A book may be as great a thing as a battle', a vast books programme was launched, aimed primarily at `projecting the American story before the German reader in the most effective manner possible'. Appealing to commercial publishers, the occupation government ensured a constant flow of `general books' which were deemed `more acceptable than government-sponsored publications, because they do not have the taint of propaganda'. But propaganda they were certainly intended to be. Translations commissioned by the Psychological Warfare Division of American Military Government alone ran to hundreds of titles, ranging from Howard Fast's Citizen Tom Paine to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr's The New Deal in Action, to the Museum of Modern Art's Built in the USA. There were also German editions of books `suitable for children at their most impressionable age', such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's Wonder Tales, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie.
The post-war reputations in Germany (and the other occupied territories) of many Americans were significantly helped by these publishing programmes. And America's cultural cachet soared with distribution of works by Louisa May Alcott, Pearl Buck, Jacques Barzun, James Burnham, Willa Cather, Norman Cousins, William Faulkner, Ellen Glasgow, Ernest Hemingway, F. O. Matthiessen, Reinhold Niebuhr, Carl Sandburg, James Thurber, Edith Wharton and Thomas Wolfe.
European authors were also promoted as part of an explicitly `anti-Communist program'. Suitable texts were `whatever critiques of Soviet foreign policy and of Communism as a form of government we find to be objective, convincingly written, and timely'. Meeting these criteria were André Gide's account of his disillusioning experiences in Russia, Return from the Soviet Union; Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; and Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone. For Koestler and Silone, this was the first of many appearances under the wing of the American government. Approval for publication was withheld for some books. One early casualty was John Foster Dulles's by now anachronistic Russia and America: Pacific Neighbours.
In art, Mrs Moholy-Nagy appeared before German audiences to talk about the work of her late husband, László, and the new and exciting direction taken by the `New Bauhaus' in Chicago. Her lecture, wrote one sympathetic journalist, `was a very informative contribution to the incomplete conception we have of American culture and art'. This conception was further enhanced by an exhibition of `Non-Objective paintings' from the Guggenheim Museum. This was the first appearance under government sponsorship of the New York School, otherwise known as Abstract Expressionism. Lest the new be thought too shocking, audiences were nursed with lectures on `Fundamental Thoughts on Modern Art' which used comfortably familiar medieval paintings to introduce `the abstract possibilities of artistic expression'.
With the memory of the Entartekunst exhibitions and the subsequent exodus of so many artists to America still painfully fresh, the impression now was of a European culture broken up by the high tides of Fascism, and washed up on the shores of the new Byzantium America. Audiences who had experienced the mass rallies of Nuremberg were reportedly awed by one lecturer who `told of immense symphonic concerts in the open air at night attended by audiences equalling in numbers those which usually only attend special sport events in our stadiums'.
Not all efforts were of the highest calibre. The launch of the German edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine left people like Michael Josselson stone cold. And not everyone was convinced that the Yale Glee Club was the best vehicle for proving beyond all doubt `the tremendous importance of the arts in the curriculum of the universities as an antidote against collectivism'. Even the Darmstadt School got off to a shaky start. A bold initiative of the American military government, the `Darmstadt Holiday Courses for New Music' nearly ended in a riot after disagreement about radical new music spilled over into open hostility. One official evaluation concluded: `It was generally conceded that much of this music was worthless and had better been left unplayed. The over-emphasis on twelve-tone music was regretted. One critic described the concerts as "The Triumph of Dilettantism" ... The French students remained aloof from the others and acted in a snobbish way [and] their teacher, Leibowitz, represents and admits as valid only the most radical kind of music and is openly disdainful of any other. His attitude is aped by his students. It was generally felt that next year's [course] must follow a different, more catholic pattern.' Darmstadt, of course, was to become the citadel of progressive experimentation in music within a few years.
But all the symphony concerts and plays and exhibitions could not hide the one stark truth of that long, harsh winter of 1947: Europe was going broke. A rampant black market, civil unrest and a series of crippling strikes (largely orchestrated by Communist trades unions) produced levels of degradation and privation equal to anything experienced during the darkest moments of the war. In Germany, money had lost its value, medicine and clothes were impossible to obtain, whole families were living in underground bunkers with no water or light, and young girls and boys offered sex to American GIs in exchange for a bar of chocolate.
On 5 June 1947, General George Catlett Marshall, the US Army's wartime Chief of Staff, and now Truman's Secretary of State, announced a plan to deal with the `great crisis'. Delivered at the 296th Harvard Commencement, which was attended by atomic physicist Robert Oppenheimer, D-Day commander General Omar Bradley, and T. S. Eliot (all of whom, like Marshall, were receiving honorary degrees), Marshall's ten-minute address marked a catalytic moment in the fate of post-war Europe. Warning that `the whole world [and] ... the way of life we have known is literally in the balance', he called upon the New World to step into the breach with a crash programme of financial credits and large-scale material assistance, and thus prevent the collapse of the Old World. `There is widespread instability. There are concerted efforts to change the whole face of Europe as we know it, contrary to the interests of free mankind and free civilization,' Marshall declared. `Left to their own resources there will be no escape from economic distress so intense, social discontents so violent, and political confusion so widespread that the historic base of Western civilization, of which we are by belief and inheritance an integral part, will take on a new form in the image of the tyranny that we fought to destroy in Germany.'
As he spoke these words, General Marshall surveyed the faces of students gathered in the spring sunshine and he saw, like John Crowe Ransom before him, `the youngling bachelors of Harvard/Lit like torches, and scrambling to disperse/Like aimless firebrands pitiful to slake.' It was no coincidence that he had decided to deliver his speech here, rather than on some formal government podium. For these were the men assigned to realize America's `manifest destiny', the elite charged with organizing the world around values which the Communist darkness threatened to obscure. The fulfilment of the Marshall Plan, as it became known, was their inheritance.
Marshall's address was designed to reinforce President Truman's ideological call-to-arms of a few months earlier, which had been immediately enshrined as the Truman Doctrine. Addressing Congress in March 1947 on the situation in Greece, where a Communist takeover threatened, Truman had appealed in apocalyptic language for a new age of American intervention: `At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life,' he declared. `The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority ... The second ... is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections and the suppression of personal freedoms. I believe that it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjection by armed minorities or by outside pressure. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.'
After Truman's speech, Secretary of State Dean Acheson told Congressmen: `We had arrived at a situation unparalleled since ancient times. Not since Rome and Carthage had there been such a polarization of power on this earth. Moreover the two great powers were divided by an unbridgeable ideological chasm.' Joseph Jones, the State Department official who drafted Truman's appeal to Congress, understood the enormous impact of the President's words: `All barriers to bold action were indeed down,' he said. Among policy makers it was felt that `a new chapter in world history had opened, and they were the most privileged of men, participants in a drama such as rarely occurs even in the long life of a great nation'.
The heightened sense of the classical dimensions of America's post-war role evoked by Truman's address gave the rhetorical context to General Marshall's later, less conspicuously anti-Communist, speech. The combination of the two a package of economic assistance coupled with a doctrinal imperative delivered an unambiguous message: the future of western Europe, if western Europe was to have a future at all, must now be harnessed to a pax Americana.
On 17 June, the Soviet daily Pravda attacked Marshall's proposal as an extension of Truman's `plan for political pressures with dollars and a programme for interference in the internal affairs of other states'. Although the Soviets had been invited by Marshall to participate in his all-European recovery programme, the offer was, said George Kennan, `disingenuous, designed to be rejected'. As anticipated, they refused to be part of the plan. Their objection may have been overstated, but in essence the Soviets were right to conflate the humanitarian intentions of the plan with a less obvious political agenda. Far from envisioning cooperation with the Soviet Union, it was designed within the framework of a Cold War ethos which sought to drive a wedge between Moscow and its client regimes. `It was implicit all along that it was important that we didn't give the Communists the opportunity to stick their oar into these places,' Marshall-planner Dennis Fitzgerald later wrote. `There was always the argument advanced that if we failed to fully appreciate the requirements of X, Y, and Z, that the Communists would take advantage of this situation to promote their interests.' The plan's deputy director, Richard Bissell, supported this view: `Even before the outbreak of the Korean War, it was well understood that the Marshall Plan was never meant to be a wholly altruistic affair. The hope was that strengthening their economies would enhance the value of the Western European countries as members of the NATO alliance, eventually enabling them to assume a defense responsibility in support of cold war efforts.' Secretly, these countries were also expected to assume other responsibilities `in support of cold war efforts', and to this end, Marshall Plan funds were soon being siphoned to boost the cultural struggle in the West.
On 5 October 1947, the Communist Information Bureau held its first meeting held in Belgrade. Formed in Moscow the previous September, the Cominform was Stalin's new operational base for political warfare, replacing the defunct Comintern. The Belgrade meeting was used to deliver an open challenge to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, both of which were denounced as `aggressive' ploys to satisfy `America's aspirations to world supremacy'. Andrei Zhdanov, architect of Stalin's ruthless cultural policy, told the Communists of western Europe that `If they are prepared to take the lead of all the forces prepared to defend the cause of national honour and independence in the struggle against attempts to subjugate their countries economically and politically, then no plan for the subjugation of Europe can succeed.' Just as Marshall had chosen to address the intellectual heartland of America, so Zhdanov called upon the intelligentsia of the world to rattle their pens under the banner of Communism, and hurl their ink against the American imperium. `The Communist parties of [Europe have] achieved considerable successes in conducting work among the Intelligentsia. Proof of this is the fact that in these countries the best people of science, art, and literature belong to the Communist Party, are heading the movement of the progressive struggle among the intelligentsia and by their creative and tireless struggle, are winning more and more intellectuals to the cause of Communism.'
Later that month, the Cominform's ideological storm troops were gathered at the East Berlin Writers' Congress at the Kammespiel Theatre. As the `debate' (it was nothing of the sort, of course) wore on, a young American with a pointed beard and looking strangely like Lenin stormed the platform and grabbed the microphone. Speaking in flawless German, he held his position for thirty-five minutes, praising those writers who had had the nerve to speak up against Hitler, and exposing similarities between the Nazi regime and the new Communist police state. These were dangerous times. To disrupt the proceedings and queer the pitch of a Communist propaganda exercise was an act of either madness or courage, or both. Melvin Lasky had arrived.
Born in 1920 in the Bronx, Melvin Jonah Lasky grew up in the `looming presence' of his Yiddish-speaking grandfather, a bearded, learned man who nourished the young Lasky with passages from the legends of the Jews. As one of the `best and brightest' graduates of New York's City College, Lasky emerged from its seething ideological debates a staunch anti-Stalinist with a taste for intellectual and occasionally physical confrontation. He joined the civil service and worked as a travel guide at the Statue of Liberty, before joining the staff of Sol Levitas's anti-Stalinist magazine, the New Leader. Drafted into the services, he became a combat historian with US 7th Army in France and Germany, and was later demobbed in Berlin, where he became German correspondent for both the New Leader and Partisan Review.
A short, stocky man, Lasky was given to drawing his shoulder blades back and pushing out his chest, as if primed for a fight. Using his oriental-shaped eyes to produce deadly squints, he had acquired from the brusque atmosphere of City College an ill-manner which rarely deserted him. In his militant anti-Communism he was, to use an epithet he bestowed on somebody else, `as unmovable as the rock of Gibraltar'. Lupine, grittily determined, Lasky was to become a force to reckon with as he stormed his way through the cultural campaigns of the Cold War. His explosive protest at the East German Writers' Congress earned him the title `Father of the Cold War in Berlin'. His action even upset the American authorities, who threatened to throw him out. Appalled by the timidity of his superiors, he compared Berlin to `what a frontier-town must have been like in the States in the middle of the 19th century Indians on the horizon, and you've simply got to have that rifle handy or [if] not your scalp is gone. But in those days a frontier-town was full of Indian-fighters ... Here very few people have any guts, and if they do they usually don't know in which direction to point their rifle.'
But Lasky knew the sheriff, and far from being run out of town, he was now taken under the wing of the military governor, General Lucius Clay. To him, Lasky protested that whilst the Soviet lie was travelling round the globe at lightning speed, the truth had yet to get its boots on. He made his case in a passionately argued document submitted on 7 December 1947 to Clay's office, which called for a radical shake-up in American propaganda. Referred to as `The Melvin Lasky Proposal', this document constituted Lasky's personal blueprint for staging the cultural Cold War. `High hopes for peace and international unity blinded us to the fact that a concerted political war against the USA was being prepared and executed, and nowhere more vigorously than in Germany,' he claimed. `The same old anti-democratic anti-American formulas [sic] on which many European generations have been fed, and which the Nazi propaganda machine under Goebbels brought to a peak, are now being reworked. Viz., the alleged economic selfishness of the USA (Uncle Sam as Shylock); its alleged deep political reaction (a "mercenary capitalistic press," etc.); its alleged cultural waywardness (the "jazz and swing mania", radio advertisements, Hollywood "inanities", "cheese-cake and leg-art"); its alleged moral hypocrisy (the Negro question, sharecroppers, Okies); etc. etc ...'
In extraordinary language, Lasky went on to define the challenge: `The time-honored U.S. formula of "Shed light and the people will find their own way" exaggerates the possibilities in Germany (and in Europe) for an easy conversion ... It would be foolish to expect to wean a primitive savage away from his conviction in mysterious jungle-herbs simply by the dissemination of modern scientific medical information ... We have not succeeded in combatting the variety of factors political, psychological, cultural which work against U.S. foreign policy, and in particular against the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe.' What was needed now, continued Lasky breathlessly, was an `active' truth, a truth bold enough to `enter the contest', not one which behaved like `an Olympian bystander'. Make no mistake, he warned, the substance of the Cold War was `cultural in range. And it is here that a serious void in the American program has been most exploited by the enemies of American foreign policy ... The void ... is real and grave.'
The `real and grave' void to which Lasky referred was the failure `to win the educated and cultured classes which, in the long run, provide moral and political leadership in the community ' to the American cause. This shortcoming, he argued, could be partly addressed by publishing a new journal, one which would `serve both as a constructive fillip to German-European thought', and also `as a demonstration that behind the official representatives of American democracy lies a great and progressive culture, with a richness of achievements in the arts, in literature, in philosophy, in all the aspects of culture which unite the free traditions of Europe and America.'
Two days later, Lasky submitted a `Prospectus for the "American Review"' whose purpose should be `to support the general objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe by illustrating the background of ideas, spiritual activity, literary and intellectual achievement, from which the American democracy takes its inspiration'. The review, he argued, would demonstrate that `America and Americans have achieved mature triumphs in all the spheres of the human spirit common to both the Old and the New Worlds', and thereby constitute the first really serious effort in `winning large sections of the German intelligentsia away from Communistic influence'.
The result was Der Monat, a monthly magazine designed to construct an ideological bridge between German and American intellectuals and, as explicitly set forth by Lasky, to ease the passage of American foreign policy interests by supporting `the general objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe'. Set up with General Clay's backing on 1 October 1948, under Lasky's editorship, it was printed initially in Munich and airlifted into Berlin aboard the allied cargo planes on which the city depended during the blockade. Across the years, Der Monat was financed through `confidential funds' of the Marshall Plan, then from the coffers of the Central Intelligence Agency, then with Ford Foundation money, and then again with CIA dollars. For its financing alone, the magazine was absolutely a product and an exemplar of American Cold War strategies in the cultural field.
Der Monat was a temple to the belief that an educated elite could steer the post-war world away from its own extinction. This, together with their affiliations to the American occupation government, was what united Lasky, Josselson and Nabokov. Like Jean Cocteau, who was soon to warn America, `You will not be saved by weaponry, nor by money, but by a thinking minority, because the world is expiring, as it does not think (pense) anymore, but merely spends (déense),' they understood that the dollars of the Marshall Plan would not be enough: financial assistance had to be supplemented by a concentrated programme of cultural warfare. This curious triumvirate Lasky the political militant, Josselson the former department store buyer, and Nabokov the composer now stood poised at the cutting edge of what was to become, under their guidance, one of the most ambitious secret operations of the Cold War: the winning over of the western intelligentsia to the American proposition.
Meet the Author
Frances Stonor Saunders is the author of The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press), The Devil’s Broker, and The Woman Who Shot Mussolini. She has worked as the arts editor of the New Statesman; writes and presents for BBC radio; and has written for Areté, The Guardian, Lapham’s Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in London.
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For generations we've heard how our Western Free Press owes its superiority to its objectivity, freedom from government oversight and censorship, etc. This book tells us what our hearts have said all along: don't believe it! Some readers will feel that the alliance between writers, artists and the CIA was justified due to the nature of the Soviet/Communist threat, but sincere Communist writers said the same thing in defending censorship in the Soviet bloc. Ugly is as ugly does.