35. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

Because we are approaching the point of decision with regard to USIS libraries in Indonesia, the UAR and elsewhere, I believe that I ought to set forth my views2 as to what U.S. policies and actions ought to be.

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I believe that there are two fundamental questions the answers to which should form the basis for our future actions:

(1) Do these libraries serve the U.S. national interest to such a degree as to justify extraordinary efforts on our part to maintain them in countries where efforts are being made to pressure them out?

(2) At what point does national pride require us to withdraw voluntarily rather than accept further abuses and affronts?

In my view, the answer to the first question is an unequivocal “yes.” Chalmers Roberts wrote in the Washington Post recently: “In travels around the world I have been more impressed, as a generality, by the USIS library operations than by any other American endeavor. Almost without exception they have offered an eagerly sought source of perception about the United States. . . .

“Whatever their cost to the American taxpayer, they are worth it and more. There should be more, not less, of them. And every one sacked or burned should be rebuilt and restocked in a hurry, as is USIS policy.”3

Roberts’ comments are generous—but praise which we think can be substantiated.

We avoid saying this publicly, but many of the attacks on USIS libraries arise clearly from Communist and left-wing beliefs that the libraries are a force running counter to their objectives. Nowhere is this stated more blatantly than in a recent editorial in the Ghanaian Times (reported in Accra’s 474—tab A).4 In Indonesia there can be no doubt as to the political motivation of the PKI and the youth groups, though they are less direct in saying that they dislike the political impact our libraries have on those who frequent them.

I feel that in countries like Ghana, the UAR, and Indonesia, we must spare no effort to influence students and other youth groups. We must gamble on the long haul—even as we gambled in Stalin’s time that by persistently telling our story bit-by-bit we would eventually cause some stirrings in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Thus, I feel strongly that we must not become so piqued or angered by a Sukarno, Nasser or Nkrumah that we voluntarily withdraw our informational and propaganda programs, leaving the Communists to win the youth groups by default.

I am for being hard-nosed; for making it clear that we regard these attacks on U.S. mission property as unfriendly acts, and for taking [Page 101] stiff diplomatic retaliatory acts—but for withdrawing the libraries only when forced out, or when the situation becomes intolerable.

This raises anew the second question: When must we regard the situation as intolerable? It is not an easy point to specify in theory; but I do not believe that we have reached it. Both the UAR and Indonesian governments have expressed regrets, of a sort, as well as the intention to compensate for damages.5 The UAR has now offered a building, free of charge, in which library activities can be conducted until a new center is built. I think that we ought to accept the offer and, through the VOA and other means, try to make sure that the UAR people know that the offer of a building has followed an apology—and that we expect further compensation.

I feel that we should not reject out-of-hand even an apology that does not seem as enthusiastic as we believe we deserve. While evidences of governmental complicity were obvious in the recent burnings, I emphasize that in some instances governments may be less to blame than we think. The fact is that demonstrations at our libraries have become a fad—there have been as many in Latin America (9) this year as in Africa (1), the Middle East (2), and Asia (6) combined. When the demonstrators claim to be protesting “imperialism” or “racism,” I am sure that African and Asian leaders find it as difficult, politically, to oppose them publicly as it would be for a Negro congressman publicly to oppose a civil rights demonstration. This does not make the attacks on our libraries any more palatable, but it is a factor we ought to weigh in considering the acceptance of proffered apologies.

In summary, I believe that our long-term national interest requires us to stand firm and to pressure these governments mightily as we seek to maintain the vital channels through which we contact and influence the future leaders of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Indonesia it will surely involve some waste of money and personnel while the “battle of nerves” goes on, but if we can hold on it will be money well spent in the larger view of our objectives in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Carl T. Rowan 6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, Federal Government Organizations, Box FG–33, FG 296 U.S. Information Agency (1964–1966). Confidential. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Copies were sent to William Bundy, Talbot, Mann, and G. Mennen Williams. Rowan’s memorandum is attached to a December 31 memorandum from Rowan to President Johnson, in which Rowan expressed that he had “been very disturbed by the recent attacks on USIS libraries overseas, and by anti-American demonstrations in general.”
  2. The text of Rowan’s memorandum was also shared with USIS PAOs worldwide in a January 9, 1965, USIA Official-Informal (O/I). According to the O/I, Rowan’s text was shared “Because of the recent incidents involving a number of USIS libraries, and because there is a point of view being expressed, at least in the United States, that we should not replace these libraries but rather should leave the burned-out hulks standing as a monument to the irresponsibility of the mobs who burned them.” The O/I recommended: “If there is controversy in your area about this subject, you might find the views expressed above useful as talking points.” (National Archives, RG 306, DIRCTR Subj. Files, 1963–69, Bx 6–29 63–69: Acc: #72A5121, Entry UD WW 257, Box 26, Field—Near East—1965)
  3. Chalmers M. Roberts, “Ideals Written in Burned Books,” Washington Post, December 12, 1964, p. A12.
  4. A copy of Tab A is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–1966, POL GHANA–US.
  5. For information about the attacks on USIS libraries in Indonesia and the United Arabic Republic, see, respectively, Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXVI, Indonesia, Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, Documents 5991, and Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1964–1967, Document 117.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.