87. Address by the Director of the United States Information Agency (Marks)1

The Truth—America’s Best Propaganda

On Monday night2 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York the Bolshoi Ballet opened its current tour of the United States. There was standing room only and a thunderous ovation greeted the performers at the conclusion of each number. The newspaper reviews were ecstatic.

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When Texas’ Van Cliburn3 plays in Moscow, Leningrad or other Russian cities, tickets are at a premium and the audience shouts a roar of approval and stamps its feet in enthusiastic praise.

Last night I listened to Radio Moscow. The commentary referred to American butchers, the greed of American imperialists, the $2 billion dollar income of General Motors,4 made at the expense of the working class, the oppression of the average man, and the fact that the DuPont Company5 believes in war so that it may sell munitions.

Why, today with all the modern improvements in communications, do we find such anomalies? Great acclaim is given by the people for the culture, the art, the literature of respective countries and yet official condemnation and cascades of hatred are poured out over the air waves.

We in the United States earnestly desire that the people of the Soviet Union know something about our way of life, our aspirations, the views of our people and our international policies. Only a few weeks ago we signed a cultural exchange agreement with the Soviet Union6 which will allow for the further exchange of professional people, periodicals, and exhibits. We look forward to the full development of these programs of exchange which bulk so large in building what President Johnson has described as “bridges of understanding” between our country and the USSR and the other nations in Eastern Europe.7

Our exhibits in the Soviet Union have been immensely popular. These major efforts—which have covered such subjects as transportation, medicine, communications, and architecture—have been seen by millions of Soviet citizens in a wide geographic range of cities and areas. One on graphic arts, for example, was seen by more than one and one half million people in Alma Ata, Moscow, Yerevan, and Leningrad—smashing all records for attendance at an American exhibit in the Soviet Union.8 In Moscow alone, more than 700,000 visitors saw it. Queues hundreds of yards long formed in the 20-degree cold. Even [Page 256] though the exhibit was located more than a half a mile from the nearest public transportation stop, 60,000 viewers toured the show in the first two days alone.

From the Soviet Union, Graphic Arts—USA moved to Rumania. In Ploesti, 156,841 visitors enthusiastically elbowed their way through the exhibit—an attendance several thousand people more than the total population of the city.

At the exhibits, our young, Russian-speaking American guides are invariably as popular as the items on display—and sometimes perhaps more so. They answer an insistent flood of questions about every conceivable aspect of life in America.

Here are some of the questions asked most frequently at one of our exhibits in Leningrad.

“How much do you make a month? How much does a new car cost? How much does a kilogram of butter cost? Of sugar? Of bread? Of meat? How come you have so many unemployed people in America? How do the unemployed live? Where do they get the money to live on? How do you pay for medical service? Higher education? Do you jam Radio Moscow? How much does an apartment cost to rent each month? How long must you wait to buy a car? A phone? A house? Do you have all the produce you need in the stores? Are there a lot of gangsters in the USA? What will you do when your workers revolt? Can a worker in America really save enough money to start his own business?”

Another highly effective means of communication with the USSR and Poland is our full color magazine America Illustrated, which covers the entire range of American life.9

An independent observer, the Moscow correspondent of the Swedish daily, Svenska Dagbladet, wrote a couple of months ago:

“It happened on Gorky Street in Moscow, which could rightly be described as the main shopping street of the capital. On the sidewalk, there formed a line of people about a hundred yards long, which is quite long even for Russian lines. The people crowded and scuffled. I joined the line to find out what sensational items could possibly be on sale. Maybe nylon stockings, foreign woolen sweaters, bananas, Polish beer or newly pickled cucumbers? . . . At long last, I elbowed myself to the objective—an ordinary news stand, where they were selling the American magazine ‘America.’ The buyers literally snatched the magazines out of the hands of the clerk, started leafing through the publication and discussing it among themselves.”

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We have also direct, instantaneous contact with the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe every day of the week through our overseas radio giant—the Voice of America. The Voice broadcasts a blend of programming designed to inform a wide range of listeners. This blend includes an objective and balanced presentation of the news, commentaries on American foreign and domestic policy positions, music and features.

These broadcasts are getting through loud and clear with increasing effectiveness, especially to young people and the intellectual and economic elite. A New York Times dispatch reported recently it is the impression of foreign travelers in the Soviet Union that “the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and other stations are almost as frequent fare for Soviet listeners as the official controlled Soviet radio”.10

Hundreds of thousands of letters arrive annually from people who listen to our Voice. One letter from Eastern Europe said that the writer was a factory worker and a faithful listener. He said he dreamed of leaving his country some day. He wound up: “In the meantime, please play for me ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’”11

Our operations in Eastern Europe are only one part of our international information effort which extends into more than 100 countries around the globe.

What do we do? We tell the truth about America—in balance and in perspective.

When I was sworn in as USIA’s director eight months ago the President said: “Truth wears no uniform and bears no flag. But it is the most loyal ally that freedom knows. It is the mission, therefore, of the USIA to be always loyal and always faithful and always vigilant to the course of the truth.”12

And I replied that as a lawyer “I had had many clients and appeared in many forums. Today I put that behind me. I have only one client—the United States of America. No man can ask for a better client, no cause can be more just.”13

In this job I am indeed fortunate to have as my deputy and close adviser, a man with a distinguished name in Texas journalism—Bob [Page 258] Akers, long-time editor and executive officer of the Beaumont Enterprise and Journal.

Let me tell you something about our mission. By Presidential directive, the mission of the United States Information Agency is to advance U.S. objectives by (1) informing audiences overseas of American foreign and domestic policies and views, (2) influencing attitudes in foreign countries, and (3) advising your Government on foreign public opinion relating to American policies.14

To do this my Agency maintains posts in 105 countries; we use almost every known means of communication from ancient Asian morality plays to modern orbiting relay satellites. But I say, that the most effective means of communication is face-to-face contact. We have American personnel—whom I often call the unsung heroes of our Service—from the high reaches of the Andes to the jungle swamps of the Mekong River delta.

The Voice of America is one of our principal instruments to get the word through—not only to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe—but around the world and around the clock. We broadcast, live and direct from Washington, 838 hours of short wave programs a week, and place another 15,000 hours on tapes and disks weekly on some 3,000 local radio stations at points scattered around the globe.

We use 100 transmitters, here and overseas, with a total power of about 15 million watts or, to put it in familiar perspective, the equivalent of 300 maximum-power domestic radio stations. The VOA’s transmitting complex at Greenville, North Carolina, is the largest and most powerful long range broadcasting station in the world, packing a 4,800,000-watt punch.

And then there is television. TV is expanding across the globe at a startling rate. Our USIA television programs are screened now in more than 86 countries—and reach an estimated audience of almost 393 million. In Latin America, for example, 211 TV stations in 25 countries carry USIA programs.

Or take motion pictures. We now produce about 600 documentaries and shorts each year for audiences that number in the hundreds of millions. People see them in their own commercial theaters, in our USIS auditoriums, in universities, and associations and organizations of every type that bring important audiences together. Our USIS mobile units take films into the provinces and villages. Our newsreel, Africa [Page 259] Today, is seen by some 20 million Africans monthly in 1,540 theaters across that crucial continent.

Our movies win many prizes—both domestic and international. Nine From Little Rock, a documentary portraying the useful and responsible roles in American life assumed by the nine Negro students originally integrated into Central High School at Little Rock, last year won an Oscar in the Academy Awards.15

Books are vital in our program. USIA libraries, reading rooms and bi-national centers constitute more than 400 points of book lending, in more than 80 countries stretching from Tokyo to Tegucigalpa. Every year more than 30 million people visit our libraries, borrowing about six and one half million volumes, and consulting twice that number on the premises.

In the past four years we have produced and distributed in Latin America alone more than 50 million cartoon books—books which graphically support democratic processes and the Alliance for Progress16 and expose Castro’s efforts to subvert the Hemisphere.

To give a recent example of our foreign information program, let me point out that our media extensively covered the President’s visit last week to Mexico.17 Incidentally, Mexican press comment on his journey was heavy and enthusiastic. El Sol de Mexico, for instance, saw the visit as having “written one of the most important pages in history, not only as it pertains to Mexico and the nation of Lincoln, but also with respect to all of the Americas.”

Utilizing a Mexico City radio station as the originating source, the Voice of America broadcast coverage of the ceremonies over a network of more than one hundred stations in Latin America.

An inevitable question in all of this is the one of effectiveness. Well, one way to measure that is the reaction of our adversaries. Let me cite just one instance of that.

In a French language broadcast to Africa on January 28, Radio Moscow said:

“The U.S. Information Centers stop at nothing to attain their aims. They deceive public opinion, spread false rumors and interfere in the internal affairs of African peoples. There are some Africans who close [Page 260] their eyes and believe American propaganda, but they are those whose economic interests depend upon the foreign monopolies. One thing is certain, however: it is becoming more and more difficult for U.S. propaganda to poison African consciences, particularly that of the fighting youth who thirst for knowledge.”

And then a report came across my desk a few days ago stating that at the height of the recent coup d’état in one of the African countries, many of the thousands of demonstrators who marched past the U.S. Cultural Center shouted, “Don’t touch these windows. They are our friends.” Immediately after burning several buildings nearby, the demonstrators stationed themselves in front of the USIA center as protectors.

I also know that the president of another African country takes daily English language lessons with Peace Corps volunteers and at the same time is deep in works on American Government and democracy supplied to him by the local USIA library.

And it was heartening for me to note only last week that Senator Saltonstall devoted his entire Report to Massachusetts18 to the work of my Agency. I appreciated that because it is of cardinal importance that the people of the United States know of the USIA, what its aims are and what is is able to accomplish.

The Senator concluded his Report: “The basic idea behind the operation of the USIA is that understanding is fundamental to any kind of rapport with people of other countries. Through the USIA we are trying to let our friends in other lands know what we stand for, and, from the reports I get through the Appropriations Committee, I believe we are making progress in doing so.”

I have come to believe that as long as ideas influence the minds of men and as long as men and their aspirations are a major component of power, ideas—both good and evil—will continue to upset nations, defy armies and write history.

America’s ideas are good ideas and they are ideas of essential truth. Thus USIA’s task is a straightforward and honest one—to tell them to the world.

I began my remarks by asking you a question. Why, today do we find the anomaly that although the people of the Soviet Union appreciate and applaud our culture and literature, official media condemn the United States and its actions around the world? It is my sincere belief [Page 261] that if the people of the Soviet Union were permitted to travel freely and visit our country and see for themselves, if they were permitted to read our literature—our daily newspapers, our magazines, our books—if they were permitted to view our films, and exchange views with our people here in the United States or in the Soviet Union, the abyss of misunderstanding would soon disappear. They would find that we are a peaceful nation, that we covet no territory, that we have no desire to dominate foreign cultures, and that all we seek is a better way of life for all mankind. Our efforts have been greeted with some success and the hope that improvements can and will result, makes us strive daily to further this very important mission.

  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, 1966–1967. Marks addressed the membership meeting of the 48th Annual Convention of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce at the Green Oaks Inn in Fort Worth, Texas.
  2. April 18.
  3. Reference is to American classical pianist Harvey Levan “Van” Cliburn.
  4. Reference is to the American automobile manufacturer.
  5. Reference is to the American chemical company.
  6. U.S. and Soviet officials signed the cultural exchange agreement on March 19. This agreement was the fifth in a series of 2-year exchanges agreements signed between the United States and the Soviet Union. The first was signed in 1958. For more information, see “Soviet Cultural Exchange Pact Signed After White House Delay,” New York Times, March 20, 1966, p. 56. For text of the joint communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, April 4, 1966, pp. 543–544.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 21.
  8. The exhibit is detailed in a June 1, 1964, memorandum from Wilson to Rowan, printed as Document 34 in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Soviet Union.
  9. See footnote 6, Document 21.
  10. Reference is to Peter Grose, “Leaders in Soviet Fear West’s Radio is Ensnaring Youth,” New York Times, March 25, 1966, p. 1.
  11. Reference is to an American folk song popularized in the 1950s by the Mitch Miller singers.
  12. See Document 56.
  13. For text of Marks’ remarks, see Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, September 6, 1965, pp. 182–183; and Johnson Library, Office of the President File, Box 7, Marks, Leonard [3 of 3].
  14. Reference is to a January 25, 1963, memorandum from Kennedy to Murrow in which Kennedy stated USIA’s mission and outlined guidelines for the Agency to follow. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XXV, Document 144; and Foreign Relations, 1917–1972, vol. VI, Public Diplomacy, 1961–1963, Document 109.
  15. See Document 39 and Appendix A.1.
  16. See footnote 2, Document 68.
  17. Johnson visited Mexico April 14 and 15. He met with Díaz Ordaz on April 14 and dedicated a statue of Lincoln in Mexico City on April 15. For the memorandum of conversation detailing their meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXI, South and Central America; Mexico, Document 356. For text of Johnson’s remarks at the dedication ceremony, see Public Papers: Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 417–421.
  18. Reference is to Saltonstall’s April 14 newsletter sent to his Massachusetts constituents. A copy of “Report to Massachusetts,” which Marks sent to the President under an April 15 covering memorandum, is in the National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1963–1967, Entry UD WW 101, Box 2, Congressional Relations A thru Z 1966.