Cold War Games: Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy

Cold War Games: Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy

by Toby C Rider


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It is the early Cold War. The Soviet Union appears to be in irresistible ascendance, and moves to exploit the Olympic Games as a vehicle for promoting international communism. In response, the United States conceives a subtle, far-reaching psychological warfare campaign to blunt the Soviet advance. Drawing on newly declassified materials and archives, Toby C. Rider chronicles how the US government used the Olympics to promote democracy and its own policy aims during the tense early phase of the Cold War. Rider shows how the government, though constrained by traditions against interference in the Games, eluded detection by cooperating with private groups, including secretly funded émigré organizations bent on liberating their home countries from Soviet control. At the same time, the United States appropriated Olympic host cities to hype the American economic and political system while, behind the scenes, the government attempted clandestine manipulation of the International Olympic Committee. Rider also details the campaigns that sent propaganda materials around the globe as the United States mobilized culture in general, and sports in particular, to fight the communist threat.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252081699
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 05/30/2016
Series: Sport and Society Series
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Toby C. Rider is an assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton.

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Cold War Games

Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Toby C. Rider


Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-08169-9


The Cold War, Propaganda, and the State–Private Network

By the time Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961, the United States had developed a far-reaching capability to produce and disseminate propaganda across the globe, not to mention the resources and inclination to launch audacious covert operations. The United States did not, however, enter the Cold War with this machinery in place. These methods had been widely deployed during World War II, but the "usual American procedure of improvident disarmament" largely removed psychological warfare from the scene after the confrontation had ended. "The situation stood thus stagnant," assessed a later government report, "until eventually the realization dawned that here was a weapon which could be used in this twilight war zone in which we found ourselves living." But the reemergence of the U.S. psychological warfare apparatus was not simple, nor was it clear-cut. Those U.S. officials who advocated a resurgence of propaganda to combat communist incursions endured strong criticism from inside and outside government circles. Only in a time of war had the White House created such a structure, and the Cold War was not a conflict of the traditional kind. In spite of these challenges, the machinery for psychological warfare was designed, built, and refined under the presidency of Harry S. Truman and eagerly molded by his successor, Dwight Eisenhower. That both administrations decided to pour time and energy into propaganda also reveals much about the history of the twentieth century. In fact, the United States and many other nations developed mechanisms for shaping public opinion only in response to the peculiarities of what Eric Hobsbawm has called, an "age of extremes."

The U.S. Experience with Propaganda and Psychological Warfare to 1945

Although mankind has engaged in propaganda since ancient times, during the twentieth century it came to the fore as a persuasive technique. The explosion of communications and transportation technology, linking disparate and remote peoples from the four corners of the earth, made it increasingly feasible to spread information and far easier for people to consume it. Higher levels of literacy, moreover, meant that the opinions and attitudes of a global population could be fashioned and influenced by various media of communication, be it the written word, radio, or film. International politics also was transformed. Diplomacy ceased to be a private matter deliberated only by high-level officials behind closed doors; it was propelled into the public domain, where it could be debated and judged by those who read or wrote about it. As a result of these developments, public opinion had to be considered more than ever in the formulation of foreign policy. This fact became abundantly clear in an age that witnessed the phenomenon of total war. The "wars of the twentieth century" notes Hobsbawm, occurred "on a vaster scale than anything previously experienced." They were more demanding to those who fought in them and, furthermore, to those who stayed at home. Not only were citizens required to help make the endless products that sustain a war effort, but national leaders needed them to emotionally support the cause. For that reason, the warring governments used propaganda to mobilize civilians, soldiers, and allies or as a means to demoralize the enemy.

To some degree, propaganda has always played a role in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 soon led to the establishment of the country's first official propaganda agency. A week after declaring war on Germany, the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) and selected a journalist named George Creel to run it. "Under the pressure of tremendous necessities," Creel explained, "an organization grew that not only reached deep into every American community, but that carried to every corner of the civilized globe the full message of America's idealism, unselfishness, and indomitable purpose." After all, he argued, the "approval of the world" would lead to a "steady flow of inspiration to the trenches." The CPI provided domestic and foreign audiences with movies, literature, periodicals, booklets, and carefully selected articles to defend the U.S. entry into the war and to promote all aspects of U.S. life and culture. Private groups and citizens also rallied to assist the objectives of Creel's committee. Patriotic volunteers, known as the "Four Minute Men," delivered short speeches across the country to rouse support for the war, while numerous other private initiatives plowed a similar furrow during this time of national emergency. The CPI was primarily focused on domestic public opinion, but Creel was confident of the impact abroad and claimed that a "world that was either inimical, contemptuous, or indifferent" to the United States "was changed into a world of friends and well-wishers." Even if Creel was proud of what he and his committee had achieved, it did not lead to a permanent governmental information agency. Crucially, as it turned out, Congress was far less supportive of a peacetime information program and, at the war's end, shut the CPI down.

Yet Creel's attempts to project U.S. "ideals" and culture to foreign lands was an undertaking that complicated and compromised the U.S. government's traditional boundaries of public diplomacy. In general, Americans preferred that "cultural proselytizing" be left to private entities, and not to the state. Reifying these ideas, several philanthropic foundations, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Institute of International Education, encouraged cultural and educational exchanges between the United States and foreign countries under the banner of "nongovernmental internationalism." The founder of the latter group, Stephen Duggen, spoke effusively about "a unity among men which transcends differences in the forms of government." But "to know it and understand it," he said in 1934, people "must be brought together." Although the work of Duggen and other private organizations satisfied the U.S. public's preference for keeping state interference to a minimum in cultural relations, the U.S. government did not completely decline to organize or administer some foreign exchanges. In 1908, for instance, Washington set aside funds for Chinese citizens to receive education in the United States through the Boxer Indemnity Scheme.

The emergence of totalitarian regimes, particularly in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, provided Americans with more ammunition to have doubts about the prospect of the state overseeing culture and information. At the same time, however, the rise of the Third Reich also created an imposing reason for Washington to reconsider its need for a propaganda program, as Adolf Hitler's agents sought to sow seeds of "disunity" in the Western Hemisphere through radio, subsidized press agencies, movies, cultural centers, athletic clubs, and German businesses. By this point, though, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was already beginning to reconsider the nation's political isolation and wanted to start redressing the imbalance in Latin America. Cultural exchanges with Latin American countries would thus counter fascist and Axis power encroachments and complement the administration's new "Good Neighbor Policy." In 1938, Roosevelt created the Division of Cultural Affairs to organize these exchanges and to prove that Americans were truly good neighbors and not just an exploitative capitalistic force. With a nod to tradition, these cultural relations were organized and financed in tandem with private groups, as the government declined to take full control of cultural matters, or to even acknowledge that it was partaking in propaganda in the first place. Regardless, cultural affairs were starting to bleed into foreign policy.

U.S. activities in Latin America escalated with the outbreak of World War II and began to drastically erode the government's distancing of itself from cultural relations. In 1940, Roosevelt established a new propaganda agency called the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA). Led by Nelson A. Rockefeller, the CIAA aimed to use "Governmental and private facilities in such fields as arts and sciences, education and travel, the radio, press, and cinema" to "further national defense and strengthen the bonds between the nations of the Western Hemisphere." This strategy of defending the U.S. image and combating Nazi propaganda involved a number of "cultural tactics" facilitated by state and private actors. A Music Committee, for instance, was charged with sending the nation's "best and most representative" music and musicians to Latin America "to bolster American cultural prestige and to refute the widely held belief that the United States was a culturally and musically impoverished country." Other committees worked in areas such as film, art, and sport. With a budget that rose to $60 million in 1943, notes Frank Ninkovich, the CIAAs program "far exceeded" the output of the Division of Cultural Affairs and the "limited initiatives of the philanthropic pioneers"

Such was the fervor that Nazi propaganda had stirred in the United States that Roosevelt came under increasing pressure — from determined private groups and citizens as well as from those in his administration — to form a special state agency for information activities. In 1941, the president acted upon these calls and created the Coordinator of Information (COI) to sculpt public opinion overseas. Although this agency, under the command of William J. Donovan, supplied audiences with "honest" information about the United States through its Foreign Information Service division, it also gathered intelligence and pursued clandestine operations. The balance between overt and covert strategies soon resulted in schisms within the COI and, in time, the agency's downfall. On the one hand, Donovan wanted to "beat the Germans at their own game" by utilizing subversive tactics while, on the other hand, a strong faction within the Foreign Information Service wanted to avoid such immoral" methods and simply follow a "strategy of truth" that remained faithful to democratic principles. These fundamental differences could not be overcome and pressed Roosevelt to make some essential adjustments.

The president did just that in 1942 by consolidating the Foreign Information Service into the newly established Office of War Information (OWI) and moving Donovan's operations into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This decision split the U.S. information program along overt (OWI) and covert (OSS) lines. Roosevelt handed the leadership of the OWI to Elmer Davis, a highly educated and nationally well-liked CBS radio broadcaster, who eventually oversaw a sprawling agency with 10,000 employees worldwide. The OWI was formed to explain the U.S. participation in the war to audiences at home and abroad by widely disseminating material such as pictures, leaflets, magazines, films, and cartoons. United States Information Service (USIS) posts in dozens of countries received reams of government material that was designed to present the Allied war aims in a favorable light. Perhaps the most powerful tool at the OWI's disposal was the newly formed government radio network, the Voice of America (VOA). Broadcasting only to foreign audiences, by mid-1944, the VOA was transmitting twenty-four hours a day in forty languages. It confidently stated in its first broadcast, "The news may be good. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth."

From the early stages of the war, the U.S. military had also started to branch out into activities that were broadly termed "psychological warfare" For William J. Donovan, the head of the OSS, psychological warfare "consisted of all means, physical as well as moral, which could be used to break the will of the enemy." Donovan had eagerly studied the art of psychological warfare in the lead up to World War II and felt that he could replicate Nazi methods in a way that could complement Allied military operations. Many of the individuals who filled the OSS were as unorthodox as the organization's leader. In addition to military personnel, Donovan recruited a host of men from the U.S. northeastern elite, many of whom had been educated at the Ivy League schools, were Republicans, and had very little time for Roosevelt or Democratic New Deal policies. Nonetheless, they wanted to contribute to the downfall of Hitler and performed covert assignments such as sabotage, espionage, guerrilla warfare, intelligence, and counterintelligence. One infamous OSS branch focused on "morale operations" or "black" propaganda, by disseminating false information to "incite and spread dissension, confusion and disorder within enemy countries."

As the war progressed, the United States gradually established psychological warfare divisions in the major theaters of battle. In 1942, for instance, General Dwight D. Eisenhower created a Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB) to assist in the Allied invasion of North Africa. The venture included representatives from the OWI, OSS, the U.S. Army, and the British Political Warfare Executive. Under the authority of General Robert McClure and a publisher named Charles Douglas Jackson, the PWB aimed to facilitate the mass surrender and demoralization of the Axis powers. Although these joint operations were often riddled with internal disputes between civilian and army personnel, the working relationship became more harmonious over time. Indeed, Army leaders eventually developed an appreciation for propaganda as an aid to conventional warfare. Others needed less convincing. When the PWB's activities expanded in Italy, Jackson wrote enthusiastically about the organization's efforts. "We really have quite a show over here now" he commented in 1943. Jackson applauded the PWB's ability to "print and distribute between seven and ten million leaflets a week;" and he praised the branch's mobile radio units, the "communications channels," and the close cooperation with the British. Overall, Jackson judged the spectrum of work as "pretty terrific." Eisenhower was also convinced that propaganda had a vital role in battle and later established a huge Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force to prepare the way for the D-Day landings in 1944. "Without doubt," Eisenhower concluded, "psychological warfare has proved its right to a place of dignity in our military arsenal."

Remobilizing Propaganda for the Cold War

At the end of the war, though, the U.S. propaganda apparatus was almost totally dismantled and dissolved. Nevertheless, Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman, still held that the "nature of present-day foreign relations" made "informational activities abroad ... an integral part of the conduct of our foreign affairs." For that reason, he wanted to ensure that "other peoples receive a full and fair picture of American life and of the aims and policies of the United States Government." Rather than abolishing propaganda, as had been the fate of the CPI after World War I, Truman placed the overseas functions of the OWI and CIAA in the State Department under the aegis of William Benton, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs. For Benton and those who championed the information program, a period of struggle followed. Many in Congress, especially Republicans, had criticized the manner in which propaganda had been used to project America during the war, and their views only hardened in the postwar climate. Some critics charged that the information program was just a mouthpiece for the Democrats, fiscal conservatives charged that propaganda was a "capricious extravagance," and there were even scandals about spies having infiltrated the VOA's staff. Amid this crisis, the government's budget for information and cultural affairs was almost halved from $45 million in 1946 to $25.4 million in 1947. "Modest is perhaps too flattering a word to describe our information activities abroad" Benton complained in one public address.


Excerpted from Cold War Games by Toby C. Rider. Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Abbreviations ix

Introduction 1

1 The Cold War, Propaganda, and the State-Private Network 9

2 The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Olympic Games 29

3 A Campaign of Truth 49

4 The Union of Free Eastern European Sportsmen 67

5 A New Olympic Challenge 83

6 Sports Illustrated and the Melbourne Defection 103

7 Symbols of Freedom 122

8 Operation Rome 141

Conclusion 163

Notes 171

Bibliography 221

Index 233

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