49. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant Special Counsel (Goodwin) to President Kennedy1

During the past few months, and especially during the Punta del Este Conference,2 I have discussed our information program with friendly officials from several Latin American governments. There has been general agreement that this program is not as effective as it should be, that it does not reach enough people, especially among those groups which we are trying to reach—e.g., students, intellectuals, workers and rural workers.

This is not a reflection upon the operations of USIA, but upon the assumptions which underlie our present information programs.

This assumption is that official U.S. Government propaganda is capable of swaying the minds and feelings of Latin American peoples toward democracy and away from communism.

This kind of propaganda can be most effective behind the iron curtain, where access to normal media of information is cut off and where governments are unfriendly. It is not completely effective in Latin America—with its thousands of free newspapers and radio programs, and where the basic concern is with urgent national and personal problems. Official propaganda is also limited by its inability to appeal to the most powerful political emotions, e.g., militant nationalism, the desire for radical social reform, etc., and many other things for which active U.S. espousal would constitute “interference” in the affairs of a friendly government. Our problem in Latin America is not “unfriendly” governments; it is unfriendly people in friendly countries—an almost impossible situation for official and overt propaganda agencies. Thus we are only able to play around the edges of the real problems and the vital issues which strike emotional chords in each country.

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I believe that the answer to this problem lies in dissemination of the means of propaganda, rather than the direct dissemination of propaganda. We must place in the hands of effective democratic groups in each country—political parties, labor organizations, church groups, etc.—the instruments of propaganda. This can range from the donation of radio transmitters to making available leaflets, paperback books; and technical assistance in programming, movie making, etc.

The mileage we would get from our propaganda dollar in this way would be, I am convinced, far greater than anything we have hitherto achieved.

It would be necessary to organize for such an effort, since neither the USIA nor CIA is presently equipped to carry it on—and much of it would have to be covert to avoid compromising the position of the groups we are aiding.

My first thought is the establishment—within the State Department—of a small office of information which would select recipients, distribute funds and have access to USIA and CIA staff for the technical work necessary. Probably no more than half a dozen people could administer this program for Latin America.

But regardless of the ultimate organization, this is an urgent problem. No matter how great the volume of resources we pour into Latin America, or how fast, it will be a long time before the tangible effects of foreign aid are felt by the average citizen. In the interim, the problem is to create a sense of movement, of concern for the people, and to combat the effective propaganda of the communists. The battle is a psychological one, and will be for some time.

Therefore, I recommend you establish a small committee of State, USIA, CIA and White House—four men—to formulate the details of organization for such an effort and to come up with tentative budget suggestions. This work can be done in two to three weeks. Of course, most of the present USIA activities are useful and should be continued.

I have shown this memorandum to Secretary Dillon and Assistant Secretary Woodward, who completely concur in its major thesis and in the recommendation.

Richard N. Goodwin3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 288, Box 131, White House Correspondence 1961. No classification marking. Harris initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum and wrote “9/7” next to his initials. Goodwin sent the memorandum to Murrow under a September 6 typewritten note. Murrow wrote “To Tom Sorensen—For Comment” on the note. (Ibid.) Another copy of the memorandum is in the Kennedy Library, Schlesinger Papers, White House Files, Subject File, 1961–1964, Box WH–16, Political Warfare.
  2. The extraordinary meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council was held in Punta del Este August 5–16. Dillon headed the U.S. delegation. For Dillon’s August 7 statement, see Department of State Bulletin, August 28, 1961, pp. 356–360. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XII, American Republics, Documents 1931.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.