85. Memorandum From the Chairman of the USIA Young Officers’ Policy Panel (Canning) to the Director of the United States Information Agency (Shakespeare)1

Dear Mr. Shakespeare:

In establishing the Young Officers’ Policy Panel in your memorandum of February 24, 1969, you charged the Panel to “receive and screen the ideas of all young officers” and to “keep open the Agency’s lines of communications with college students and their organizations.”2 Recognizing this dual responsibility, the Panel feels it must try to portray to you the mood of urgency and crisis among many young Americans that has stemmed from the events of the past two weeks.3 We frankly acknowledge that elements of that mood are shared by many young USIA officers.

The Cambodian action, the Kent State deaths, the university strikes and demonstrations—all these have led to a notable change in attitude among many American college students. The change is towards a widening bitterness, with more students becoming outspokenly anti-government than heretofore. More politically sensitive young people now see their attempts to alter existing policies as futile, see their choices being cut away from them. The frustration is such that fewer sincere dissenters are capable of recognizing Administration efforts to appreciate their concerns.

Trying to capture some of that sense of urgency, YOPP offers the enclosed paper, “The Mood of Dissent”, an impressionistic account that reflects the minds of many who demonstrated in Washington last May 9th.4

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It is essential that Agency leadership also know of younger officers’ lack of confidence in our ability to advocate public affairs positions at the highest levels of government. The Cambodian action and its aftermath have heightened that feeling. From what we have learned, the Agency was not even called upon officially to present a position before the act.5

Clearly, the opportunities are limited for USIA participation in any before-the-decision consultation effort. Nevertheless, we want to know that the Agency leadership is aggressively and courageously advocating public affairs positions on key foreign policy issues, whether requested or not.

Finally, the events of the past two weeks have kindled YOPP’s interest in how USIA as a communications agency has treated such events. Our preliminary investigation of IBS and IPS output shows a wide-ranging and consistent coverage of these events as news, yet a general lack of a deeper treatment of the background to the complex issues involved. A full report on our media review findings will be presented upon their completion.6

The Panel earnestly hopes we can discuss the concerns raised in this letter with you and other Agency officers at your earliest convenience.


Michael P. Canning


Paper Prepared By the USIA Young Officers’ Policy Panel7


“We are the voice of America”—a Black Panther news vendor hawked his paper on the Ellipse last Saturday8 and was cheered with “right on” from the predominantly white young people everywhere he went. Who are the kids who came to tell the President they’re mad [Page 210] about Cambodia and the deaths of their fellow students at Kent State? They were the Future Farmers of America, the BusAd9 and Engineering majors, the varsity athletes from mid-western colleges. There were government officials, and some older people who had brought their kids risking the tear gas that many said was inevitable. Many were out protesting for the first time. These were the people the SDS has never been able to move, the ones who usually watched and went home mumbling about the damn anarchists. They’re the ones who always believed in the system. Now they’re active and convinced that they are the voice of America. Has the middle dropped out? Why?

The “Movement” had been telling them for over a year that President Nixon had no intention of winding down the war. He’s going to expand it, they were told, because he wants to win. The Pentagon will never let us “lose”. But he brought over a hundred thousand troops home. We haven’t started bombing the North again, and Secretary Rogers said there would never be any American ground forces in Laos or Cambodia. The New Left told them to wait and see. What can they believe? The “Movement” also told them that oppression was coming and that dissent would be crushed. They didn’t believe it. This is the United States, after all. Then the Vice-President seemed to be appealing to hate; and then “college bums;” and then Kent State. Some construction workers in New York reacted in the finest brown shirt tradition while the police looked on.10 New Left propaganda? What can they believe? Who’s telling it like it is, a glib young aide who comes out of the White House with his bullhorn to “listen” or a buddy who’s had his head busted by some crypto-fascist yelling “love it or leave it.”

“The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might and the Republic is in danger. Yes, danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Without law and order our nation can not survive.”

Sound familiar? Most students today know that Adolph Hitler said it in 1932.

Alienation is that sense of not being able to control one’s life, of the inability to affect anything by one’s action. It’s frustrating, maddening, depressing, destructive—especially when you’re 20. All of the young [Page 211] people who have been protesting about Cambodia have done so out of frustration, many of them because they are angry, but not yet entirely alienated. No, they probably haven’t dropped out yet. They are, after all, appealing to the system, and in the only way they think will work. You don’t stand outside the White House shouting at your President unless you expect him to hear. You don’t go into the streets and beg for change unless you think change is possible. Those that have been through it before are alienated, and they’re more than frustrated or angry. They were in the streets too. How long will it take the new-comers to become that alienated? They still believe in the system enough to go to Congress, to pledge to work in the next elections to change things. And change is what they want, not just sympathetic ears. How long will it take them to become alienated?

Things like Earth Day11 won’t buy them off. The wasted environment for them is like Vietnam, another example of a bankrupt system. Sure, they are not a majority. They are a good part of the country’s young people and for a youth-oriented culture that’s a pretty important hunk. And, if they don’t buy the system, who will? They are the future middle class leaders. Where they go the society will eventually go, willingly or not.

Options slip away and more ask whose side they are on, someone who screams that the killing must stop in Asia because we made a massive mistake and must correct it, or someone who says, when four students are killed in Ohio, that they got what they deserved.

[Omitted here is a listing of the members of the USIA Young Officers’ Policy Panel.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1968–1972, Entry A1–42, Box 16, IOP—Youth Activities 1970. No classification marking. A typed notation in the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum reads: “Wednesday, 5/20 11:15 a.m.” O’Brien and Shakespeare initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. According to an attached distribution list, copies were also sent to White, Strasburg, Loomis, Halsema, Rosenfeld, Ablard, McNichol, Hutchinson, Hemsing, Oleksiw, Amerson, Nalle, Jenkins, Posner, Mosley, Giddens, Dunlap, Herschensohn, Towery, and Olom.
  2. Attached and printed as Document 9.
  3. Reference is to the U.S. and South Vietnamese military incursion into Cambodia to destroy sanctuaries on the border, which the President announced during his televised address on April 30 (see footnote 2, Document 83), and the May 4 shooting of 13 people, 4 of them fatally, on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Later that week, protests and student strikes took place at many U.S. colleges and universities, prompting these institutions to end the spring academic semester early.
  4. The protest took place on the Ellipse, attended by an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people. (Congress and the Nation, vol. III, 1969–1972, p. 910) See also John Herbers, “Big Capital Rally Asks U.S. Pullout in Southeast Asia,” New York Times, May 10, 1970, p. 1.
  5. An unknown hand, presumably O’Brien’s, placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph.
  6. An unknown hand, presumably O’Brien’s, placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph. The report on media review findings was not found.
  7. No classification marking.
  8. May 9.
  9. Business Administration.
  10. Reference is to the “hard hat riot.” Following the Kent State shootings on May 4 (see footnote 3, above), a student anti-war protest in New York’s financial district turned violent when construction workers began attacking protestors. For additional information, see Homer Bigart, “War Foes Here Attacked by Construction Workers,” New York Times, May 9, 1970, p. 1.
  11. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) proposed an Earth Day celebration designed to bring attention to various environmental issues. The first Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970. Activities, including “teach-ins” and community cleanups, took place in many U.S. cities.