190. News Release Prepared in the United States Information Agency1

No. 26


I came to the United States Information Agency, and became your colleague, three years and three months ago.2

In accepting this assignment, I resigned from the practice of law, representing clients whose business was “communicating”, to take on the task of being the communicator for a single client. Sometimes frustrating—but always exciting, often difficult—but ultimately rewarding, the experience has been a unique privilege.

While I did not enter USIA as a novice in the field of communications, I was aware that I had a lot to learn. One thing I have learned is that the learning process never ceases. The need to be alert continuously to changing world affairs and to technical changes in the art of communication is the unyielding demand of our profession—and its greatest appeal.

There is no orientation program for agency directors. My post-graduate education began immediately.

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When I appeared before the Senate for confirmation, after President Johnson had appointed me Director, I said, in my opening statement:

“I am aware of the vital role which the USIA plays in explaining and interpreting U.S. policies, actions, and culture to the rest of the world. I am aware that there is today a struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, and that the battleground extends over a wide area. I am confident of the strength of our democracy and of the virtues of our way of life, and I have long contended that communications can serve as a vital force in bringing peoples of the world closer together, creating mutual understanding and trust and removing the barriers which currently separate us.”

Very soon after assuming office, however, I realized that my awareness did not take in

—The full extent of USIA’s vital role, nor

—The magnitude and complexity of the problem involved.

I entered upon my duties within weeks of U.S. military landings in the Dominican Republic and the destructive, tragic riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles.3 Internationally, we were involved in a most trying military-political situation. At home, we were experiencing explosive difficulties.

Some of the questions I immediately faced were:

—What do such events do to our image abroad?, and to our influence?

—How do they affect our capacity for leadership in the world?

Must we expose our predicaments, and explain them, overseas?

—Should USIA mount crash information programs with each crisis?

—In times like these, to what extent can this country draw upon the reservoir of trust and confidence, created in part by USIA’s long-range programs, among foreign peoples?

These questions themselves reflect the scope of USIA responsibility, arising out of this decade’s rapid changes—both political and technological. This Agency’s contribution to national security today involves much more than the “cold war” assignments of an earlier and less complex era. It is not likely that we shall again live in a world comprised [Page 607] mainly of those “for” and those “against” us; a world in which one could, without argument, designate as “against” us anybody who was not “for” us.

Communist initiatives, of course, must still be met. But in the overall job of psychological support of American foreign policy, USIA must now deal with a rising tide of participation in the modern world by populations whose attitudes can no longer be defined in simple ideological terms.

The “revolution of rising expectations” threatens to give way to a “revolution of rising frustrations.”

To encourage the first without setting off the second calls for extreme sensitivity and skill. Realities—such as a nation’s resources and its development timetable—must determine the degree of encouragement. There are new pressures, which leaders must constructively direct, rather than use as tides upon which to be swept to temporary popularity.

The new pressures, and opportunities, of awakening public opinion are a result of a modern two-edged development: the worldwide communications and education “explosion.” My official travels abroad confirmed what I had already observed privately—the transistor radio, television, motion pictures, the jet airplane, and a massive assault on illiteracy are transforming the entire world. For the first time, the remotest villages of the most distant lands are figuratively and literally plugging into the modern world. Information, ideas, and opinions are spreading with the speed of light. Now, people discuss subjects which, until recently, they were not even aware existed as problems.

In this new environment, trouble or tension in one part of the world travels like a shock wave to every other part. A seemingly minor incident in a small, far-away place can upset a far wider balance. Isolation is no longer possible for any country—neither physical, political, nor moral.

For the work of our Agency, this new rising tide of public involvement in the contemporary world has enormous significance. The potential of American influence on the course of the world is without modern precedent. In the words of those who drafted it, the Declaration of Independence was brought forth “out of a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” As the power of public opinion has increased, that respect—that responsibility—has become all the more awesome. USIA must lend voice to America’s world influence—and must lend an ear to the words of others—to help place our country in meaningful communication with other people.

Within this wider concept of Agency responsibility, I attach great importance to USIA collaboration with other elements of the nation’s [Page 608] foreign affairs community, as well as private organizations active abroad. USIA is spokesman overseas for the Department of State; AID; the Peace Corps; the Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, and Commerce; the Atomic Energy Commission; NASA; and other departments and agencies. As spokesman, our Agency cooperates in their programs directed against poverty, hunger, disease, over-population, under-development, and illiteracy. Just as a USIA broadcast or pamphlet refuting a communist distortion about our actions or intentions serves our national interest, so is that interest served by stimulating dialogues between Americans and the peoples of other countries on the great issues of common security and mutual well-being.

When I came to USIA as your sixth director,4 I found an organization well staffed and deployed for what I regard as one of the most varied, subtle, and trying tasks of the U.S. Government. Years of planning and creative effort by previous directors and by the Agency’s senior officers had developed effective patterns of staffing, media production, policy guidance, external relations, and self-evaluation. There was a welcome, unmistakable air of professionalism about the organization.

I immediately began my search for more efficient methods and more sharply defined goals. Innovations were introduced. New products and services were added; out-dated ones were pruned away. To existing procedures I have tried to apply new management criteria, to introduce new technologies. Progress has been made in adapting the Program-Planning-Budget-System to USIA’s work.5 Experiments were undertaken, and are now under way, in computerization, miniaturization, and multimedia use of products.

I tried to reduce paper work, abolish ancient report forms, and simplify our communication with each other. You have responded to the challenge to modernize by eliminating 546 forms, by cutting down on our cable traffic, and by making reports readable as reports—rather than as doctoral theses.

As you know, I have never shied away from the word propaganda. But I have operated on the premise that truth is our best propaganda. While that may seem self-evident, it is well to remind ourselves that there are still many countries which would not dare to adopt such a policy. They have imitated our magazine formats, and they have copied the style of our VOA broadcasts. But they have refused to accept the [Page 609] thesis that it is important to tell it as it is. When they do, we will all move to a new stage of international togetherness.

I have shared with you the joys of success, but also occasional impatience about what seemed too small an accomplishment in this or that place or fleeting disappointment that, on some occasion, we have not been able to make ourselves fully understood. But I take refuge in the philosophy that “it is better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.”

Like you, I have sometimes felt discouraged about the hard fact that there are places where we cannot hope to achieve agreement—where even the creation of a little understanding must be attempted in the face of great odds. As Woodrow Wilson pointed out, “Comprehension must be the soil in which grow all the fruits of friendship.”6

Much has been done but more remains. Our kaleidoscopic world refuses to let us rest on past accomplishments and shoves us forward with changes which we sometimes cannot fathom.

Whether it is electronic music, “put-ons” or “happenings”—we must “get with it.” Words and ideas are our tools and we must use today’s advanced vocabulary and not yesterday’s classic speech. And we are—that’s why there never has been a dull period nor is there likely to be.

Above all, I have devoted my energies to nurturing the Agency’s most precious resource: our personnel. From my pre-Agency travels abroad, when I had seen USIA officers in action, I knew the pressures placed upon them in the field. And I knew how they met those pressures, facing skeptical or downright hostile audiences, combatting local prejudice in an effort to win understanding and respect for our country.

And I recognize the valued contributions of our foreign national employees, who provide the continuity and essential experience for our overseas operations.

To the seasoned ranks we have brought in new blood, including numbers of bright young people fresh from college. At the same time, we have not turned our backs on the corps of older, experienced officers. Those who entered USIA from the ranks of many professions in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, with zeal and idealism, remain the backbone of the Agency. New programs of mid-career training update skills and knowledge of contemporary Americana—reinvigorating the contribution of senior officers already rich in media, language, area, and managerial competence.

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I take special pride in the performance of our field officers, the junior officer trainees, and the management interns. From my experience in professional life, I well know that most of these people could choose other careers—with far higher rewards, both financial and in terms of public recognition.

Good, healthy patriotism draws such men and women to the Agency, and the challenge of the job keeps them there. It has been most gratifying to me to identify the magnetism of this challenge on Agency personnel and performance. I was particularly pleased to see it recognized this year in the Congressional enactment of the Pell-Hays Act, establishing a permanent USIA foreign service corps on the same footing as the foreign service of the Department of State.7 The commissioning of 592 men and women as the first Foreign Service Information Officers was, for me, an outstanding highlight of my three-year tenure.

Last week, a reporter, interviewing me for a roundup feature story on my USIA years, asked me what I would expect to be the most enduring contribution of my administration. I have thought about that question since and would now answer it: “An advancement of the stature and role of our personnel; greater emphasis on their training, with resulting higher standards of professionalism.” It is trite to say that we are no better than the people we employ; but you, the Agency career people, the civil service and the local staffs everywhere, are the vital resource which must always be nurtured. On your efforts rests the success or failure of our mission.

USIA’s work is the kind of activity whose effectiveness cannot be measured fully, nor does it lend itself to public recognition.

Within the family, however, it is another matter, and that is why this ceremony is so vital to me.

These annual honor awards ceremonies have rightly come to occupy a special place in our scheme of things. They represent professional recognition of professional accomplishment. The outside observer could not be expected to understand the significance or intrinsic value of our honor awards. But within the family, the importance of the occasion and the reception by one’s colleagues make it very special. And so, I salute those of you who are honored today and congratulate the Agency on your achievements. As we honor you, you honor us by your presence.

I have been spoiled, and I hope my successors will be, by the performance standards of USIA. Excellence has become the criterion against which we measure satisfactory performance. And this, in my mind, further enhances the significance of the annual honor awards.

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I have said that my greatest concern has been with the Agency’s most precious asset—the human resource.

It is difficult to express how strongly I have felt about that.

But let me underscore it:

I have delayed my departure from USIA, and postponed the assumption of my new duties, because I wanted to preside at today’s honor award ceremonies—and to thank you for the great satisfaction you have given me during the three years I have had the honor to be your Director. And now that chapter ends.

Today is my last day as Director of USIA.

And this will be my last official act.

I thank you for the unstinting cooperation you have given me, and I salute you for what you are doing on behalf of our country.

My thoughts will be with you.

I will miss you more than you will miss me. I will look back upon happy years, exciting experiences, new and lasting friendships; and I will always remember colleagues with whom I shared satisfying achievements, laughter, anger, sadness, excitement, and, sometimes, frustration—but never boredom.

And so, may it always be.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Office of the Director, Biographic Files Relating to USIA Directors and Other Senior Officials, 1953–2000, Entry A1–1069, Box 13, Leonard H. Marks, Speeches, 1966–1968. No classification marking. Additional copies are in the Johnson Library, Marks Papers, Box 21, Speeches by Leonard H. Marks; and the National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Agency History Program Subject Files, 1926–1972, Entry A1–1072, Box 5, L. Marks, Reports, 1968.
  2. Marks started his official duties as USIA Director on September 1, 1965; see Document 56.
  3. On August 11, 1965, riots broke out in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California following the arrest of an African American motorist. The riots continued for approximately a week. An official investigation report suggested that the causes for the riots were deeper and included poverty, inequality, and racial discrimination. (Dave Smith, “Los Angeles Area Tense After Riot,” Washington Post, August 13, 1965, p. A2; Peter Bart, “New Negro Riots Erupt on Coast,” New York Times, August 13, 1965, p. 1; and Alfred Friendly, “Official Watts Riot Report Pulls No Punches,” Washington Post, December 13, 1965, p. A4)
  4. The prior USIA Directors from its inception were: Theodore Cuyler Steibert (1953–1956), Arthur Larson (1956–1957), George Venable Allen (1957–1960), Edward R. Murrow (1961–1964), and Carl T. Rowan (1964–1965).
  5. Regarding the PPBS, see footnote 2, Document 108.
  6. Marks is quoting from an address President Wilson delivered before the Southern Commercial Congress in Mobile, Alabama, on October 27, 1913. (“No Conquest, Wilson’s Pledge,” New York Times, October 28, 1913, p. 1)
  7. See footnote 2, Document 30.