Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Barrett)1


In the light of the extraordinary progress made by this team in the President’s Campaign of Truth in the last couple of years, I think it’s time to review the whole role of our psychological offensive in the so-called cold war.

We Americans started out in this business as amateurs some ten years ago. We blundered a bit early in the last war, then learned some [Page 958] lessons, and were functioning fairly efficiently by the war’s end. Then the Congress all but cut off all overseas information activities. However, in 1946 and 1947, an interesting thing happened. The great majority of members of Congress took trips abroad. They came smack up against the gross misrepresentation abroad of the United States, its actions and its policies. They thereupon voted to establish, as a permanent part of the U.S. Government, a U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Program. It was designed to present to the world “a full and fair picture of America”2 and to combat distortions and misrepresentations about America.

After that date, 1948, America began conducting a modest information and cultural program around the world. It has paid off without question—in terms of combatting misrepresentations about this country, in terms of making millions understand us better. Its relative success has resulted in part from the amazingly loyal devotion of several thousand men and women, many of whom could readily draw better salaries elsewhere.

In 1948 and 1949, this nation in effect extended such activities in an open, typically honest American sort of way. When numerous Americans from both the executive and legislative branches of our Government traveled abroad and noted that the Marshall Plan was not widely recognized, they acted promptly. They provided an added information program3 to prove to Western Europe that the Marshall Plan had been that area’s salvation—hence that they owed great thanks to the United States. When the Military Assistance Program came into existence, Americans similarly took steps to make certain that America got credit abroad for the help that was being given.4

Few stopped to ask whether what we really wanted, in all cases, was credit for the Marshall Plan—or to just what extent we wanted gratitude (which too often blends into envy)—or whether what we basically wanted was a spirit of mutual self-help and the economic progress that would undercut communism.

Eighteen-odd months ago, the President recognized that, on the whole, the U.S. Government was not doing nearly enough in the international information field. He called for a much greater and more militant campaign of truth.

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In preparing that program, a somewhat new approach was tried, with Charlie Hulten5 taking the lead. To the extent practicable, the program was mapped out country by country, target group by target group, area by area. Then all the strings were pulled together in Washington and, on that basis, a world-wide program was laid out.

That process was an added milestone on the U.S. road to the most useful kind of international information program.

Another milestone was passed when the two U.S. Advisory Commissions,6 with active cooperation from Jim Webb, insisted on the government’s putting international propaganda operations into a new role. This meant ceasing to consider the psychological as just a minor but necessary adjunct to the handling of international affairs; it meant considering the psychological as one of the four major arms of government in the world field—the political (or diplomatic), the economic, the psychological, and the military. This new concept began to bear fruit at headquarters to the extent that the psychological planners were taken into full partnership in overall foreign policy handling—in, for example, the Eisenhower appointment, the Korean war handling, and the President’s disarmament plan.

Over the years—and particularly in the last two years—we have begun to learn much more about the potentialities of this work. We have learned that often subtlety pays off in terms of long-range ends far more than direct, sledge-hammer techniques. We have learned that psychological factors must be taken into account when policy is being formulated—not just when it is being announced and publicized. We have learned that, to be truly effective, the media must be carefully tailored to meet the individual problems of each target area and each target group.

In brief: We started out with a program of presenting “a full and fair picture of America” around the world, utilizing information and educational channels. The goal that we see now is that of utilizing the psychological as one of the government’s major arms in international affairs and utilizing it, often in subtle ways, not simply to bring credit to America but to attain the conditions that are necessary, country by country, area by area.

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I would say that, as a government, we have covered about 50% of the road.

The ideal, as I see it now, looks like this:

Continue a modest world-wide program of combatting misrepresentations about this country and presenting a full and fair picture of it in all countries, area by area—but doing so in a way that provides for careful tailoring in each area. (This part of the work should total no more than 25 per cent of the whole, roughly speaking.)
Devote the major share of manpower and funds in the expanded Campaign of Truth to a psychological program—carefully integrated into a broader program—for achieving the objectives most important in each country. This would mean undermining Communist regimes in some areas, strengthening anti-Communist political forces in another, bolstering anti-Communist labor groups in a third, inducing the regime in another to make major economic adjustments. To do this, the following mechanism is required:
In each critical country the Ambassador should serve as chief of a cold-war staff—or strategy board. Directly under him on that board should be his four key men—his chief political officer, the chief economic officer in the country, the chief information officer, and a top military liaison officer (in those countries where there is important U.S. military representation).
This strategy board would lay out the major objectives and the means best calculated to achieve that objective. Such strategy may mean, on occasion, that we let local authorities take the major share of credit for some U.S. aid, or that we play down our own part in a local economic reform—if information work is to make its maximum contribution to the most important objectives.
It follows axiomatically that there must be one key information officer in each country. Except for minimum personnel attached to specialized operations abroad for special work, all information operators in each country would be in a single information organization reporting to the key man.
In the U.S. we would have whatever mechanism is needed to backstop these foreign operations. For maximum efficiency, this would mean a quasi-independent U.S. Information Service, with maximum administrative independence and flexibility but tied into the State Department. It would be headed by a director or administrator who would report to the Secretary and Under Secretary of State.
Paralleling this administrator would be the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. His concern would be the coordinated planning and supervision of what we say world-wide, without regard to the mechanisms involved. It would be his function to work closely and full-time with the top planners of overall foreign policy. Through his deputy, he would also have administrative responsibility for PA, SA/M and P/POL. He would not, however, concern himself with USIE budgets or administrative matters in any way; nor would he concern himself with “fronting” for that operation, a function left to the program’s administrator. (In a sense, his relationship to the Director would be roughly that of the Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs to the Director of TCA).
To an increasing degree, a major share of the total U.S. funds in this field should go into the gray and covert operations that we have found to pay off so importantly. Such major new operations as transmitters ringing the Iron Curtain should, if possible, be so handled as to produce a minimum of fanfare and debate.

Edward W. Barrett
  1. Barrett sent this memorandum to Under Secretary of State Webb with a covering memorandum of November 30, 1951.
  2. The reference is to a statement by President Truman on August 31, 1945, in which he declared that the purpose of the information program was to give other peoples “a full and fair picture of American life and of the aims and policies of the United States Government.” For the text of the statement, see the Department of State Bulletin, September 2, 1945, pp. 306–307.
  3. The ECA information program.
  4. The Mutual Security Act of 1951 abolished the ECA and established the Mutual Security Agency, which was given all powers of the ECA, effective December 30, 1951 (Public Law 165, approved October 10, 1951; 65 Stat. 373).
  5. Charles M. Hulten, former General Manager of the International Information and Educational Exchange Program.
  6. The United States Advisory Commission on Information and the United States Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange were created by the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to formulate and recommend to the Secretary of State policies and programs for the carrying out of the Act and to report to Congress on the programs and activities carried on under the authority of the Act (Public Law 402, approved January 27, 1948: 62 Stat. 6). See U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, Semiannual Report to the Congress (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949–) and U.S. Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange, Semiannual Report to the Congress (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949–).