A/MS files, lot 54 D 291, USIA–Cultural Study: Circular airgram

The Director of the United States Information Agency (Streibert) to All USIS Posts1

No.: USIA CA–8
  • Subject:
  • Cultural Program

Because of the fundamental importance and lasting quality of cultural relations I have been firmly convinced that this side of the Agency’s work must be strengthened, and strengthened in a practical way which will achieve results. My recent trip to South Asia and the Far East has reemphasized this conviction. We must develop an understanding and appreciation of the culture of our people, as a people. A realization of American cultural achievement and aspirations can influence political attitudes and actions.

[Page 1774]

In the past the Soviets have fanned the suspicion that the United States is a nation of materialists interested primarily in mass production products, that we have no culture, and for this reason cannot be trusted with political leadership. We must seek to overcome this suspicion.

We are now observing, too, an immense effort by the Soviets in the cultural field. They are spending vast sums of money in a “cultural offensive” to send their ballet and theater on tour, to finance the trips of Soviet artists to many countries (particularly in the Near and Far East where the culture of the West is comparatively little known or is regarded as part of the European colonialism of the past century) and to engage in a variety of other undertakings with a cultural impact.

Our own cultural work must be carried forward in the spirit of paragraph 2 d of the statement of basic mission established by the President on October 22, 1953.2 This stated that the purpose of the Agency should be carried out, in part, “by delineating those important aspects of the life and culture of the people of the United States which facilitate understanding of the policies and objectives of the Government of the United States”.

It is important to note that, in accordance with this mandate, we are interested in portraying the culture of the people of the United States—not the culture of an elite or an intelligentsia.

Too often in the past a cultural program has been thought of as something which is conducted by cultural officers, almost completely separate from anything else we do. The cultural heritage of our people, however, must be and necessarily is reflected in innumerable actions of our Government and of our Agency, and all program activities should be planned in this knowledge.

The job I am asking our Agency to carry out will cut across all of our work and all elements of the Agency. I hope we will be able to get outstanding people to further these programs in our posts abroad. We will also make a determined effort to secure maximum utilization of the cultural resources already available through foundations, universities, museums, and the like. We will establish closer contact with the leader grants exchange of persons program in the Department of State.

To work out the programming of the Agency in this endeavor, we are creating a new function, that of Cultural Affairs Adviser in the Office of Policy and Programs. To this post we have appointed Dr. Jacob Canter, now Public Affairs Officer in Havana. In order to get the benefit of long experience and acquaintance in this field, we have obtained the services, as a consultant, of Dr. Guy Snaveley, [Page 1775] who is now retiring as President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

We cannot spend millions of dollars, as the Soviets are doing, to finance and publicize trips of our most famous artists. But we certainly can create an awareness abroad of the long cultural heritage of the United States, growing out of the European tradition and contributing something more to it, a heritage which is worthy of our role in the world today. The help and ideas of our staff here and abroad are needed toward this end.

We shall require time to develop a set of working instructions in this field, but I should like to make one point clear now. Culture is a broad term which encompasses not only scholarly and artistic fields but all significant manifestations and aspirations of the spirit of America, from athletics to political oratory. The cultural program is not the exclusive concern of the cultural officers, although they have certain essential responsibilities, but it should be an integral part of all our efforts and activities.

  1. The source text is an unsigned typed copy on which drafting information is not indicated.
  2. Reference is to NSC 165/1, Oct. 24, 1953, p. 1752.