150. Memorandum From the Acting Director of the U.S. Information Agency (Wilson) to President Kennedy1
- Reactions to Your European Trip
Here is a summary of media reaction to your trip to Europe.
Western European media were almost unanimous that the visit was an overwhelming personal and psychological success but a limited political success.
You were widely viewed as projecting the image of a spirited and determined leader whose personal warmth and dynamism had previously been underestimated. The themes developed in your speeches most widely acclaimed were: Western unity, your categorical pledges to stand by our European allies, the promotion of peace, and your efforts to find better relations with the East. Comments on counteracting Gaullist policies and the quest for a multilateral nuclear force were divided and more critical. In only a few instances did commentators judge the trip an unqualified success.
The Visit to Germany:
Following the official welcome at Wahn Airport, the crescendo of popular and press acclaim rose rapidly. Even strongly Gaullist papers conceded that your reception by the Germans surpassed that of De Gaulle.
Prior to your visit, Die Welt of Hamburg had pictured you as “a political manager without passion, an engineer or a manufacturer of power.” Subsequent to the Berlin visit, it wrote: “This was a Kennedy we had not seen before. His former coolness gave way to passion and to an unconditional personal commitment for this city.”
A number of papers credited the visit with changing your views on Germany. The independent Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger said “if Kennedy ever [Page 286] had reservations vis-a-vis the Germans—and there are indications that this was the case—his Berlin visit has certainly lessened them.”
Your statements on European unity drew support from Scandinavia to Italy, but were also widely interpreted as directed in part against de Gaulle. Many papers found a positive aspect in this approach, crediting you with “opening the way (to European integration) which de Gaulle has barred, (something) which no European politician has been able to do since the break in Brussels” (Berlinske Tidende, conservative, Copenhagen).
Several German papers appeared uneasy at the prospect of an ultimate choice between the U.S. and France, and tried to ride the fence. The Social-Democratic Neue Rhein Zeitung of Cologne wrote: “Kennedy will not hesitate to make political capital out of his new friendship with the Germans, but he also will not overtax this friendship to the disadvantage of our solidarity with France.”
French papers were less outspoken on this issue. Le Figaro’s comment that West Germany needed both American and French friendship and “could not choose between the two” was representative.
The Western European press was as one in praise of your renewed pledges to defend our allies, including some French papers. The anti-Gaullist Depeche du Midi of Toulouse, one of the most influential provincial papers, spoke of the “categoric manner” in which the U.S. assured the security of Europe and that its contribution was both “necessary and sufficient.”
The Social-Democratic Neue Rhein Ruhr Zeitung of Essen summed up the views of many papers when it wrote “nobody in the White House, nobody in Germany had expected the President to identify himself so unreservedly and so courageously with the cause of Berlin and with the German cause as he did in his address at the Schoneberg city hall. Never before has a foreign statesman identified himself with the German cause in this form, on such a stage and so convincingly.”
A sour note was sounded by the hyper-Gaullist Paris Presse which complained that your pronouncements in Berlin might have gone beyond assuring Europeans of U.S. determination to stand by its pledges and that “the U.S. President is now accountable for the enthusiasm he aroused.”
Your statements on relations with the Iron Curtain countries were generally supported. The left-center Frankfurter Rundschau said, for example, “Mr. Kennedy’s great peace offensive nourished our hopes for a rapprochement with the young progressive forces in the East.”[Page 287]
In Europe generally, your visit to Ireland was seen as a “sentimental journey” and a “homecoming” without political implications. Within Ireland, no event in modern times has received such detailed press, photographic, and TV coverage. There is still no consensus about the political significance of the visit, but there has been speculation about Ireland’s role in world events and relationships with NATO.
Papers of all political colorations welcomed you for what was described by the pro-Labor Daily Mirror as “a hustling working visit.”
The majority of papers welcomed the decision to delay the multilateral force. The conservative Daily Telegraph said, “Mr. Macmillan convinced the President of the strength of British misgivings and the American plan . . . is unlikely to reemerge in its present form.” Among the minority of papers still favoring the force, the conservative Daily Mail expressed the hope that mixed-crew surface fleet with Polaris missiles would ultimately be accepted “because the advantages are much greater than the objections.”
Papers elsewhere construed the postponement of the multilateral force as a victory for Macmillan, particularly in France. Said the Gaullist mouthpiece La Nation: “Reality will prevail.”
A number of papers interpreted the decision on the multilateral force as a move to improve chances for a nuclear test ban with the Soviets.
Italian editorialists were embarrassed by the relatively small crowds which greeted you in Rome, but following your appearance and speech in Naples papers from Socialist to Right supported your views with enthusiasm.
Conservative Corriere Della Sera wrote that De Gaulle’s concept is designed to “isolate Europe,” but that you, Segni, and Leone were agreed on the necessity of “European unity within the framework of the interdependence of Europe and the U.S.”
Christian-Democratic Gazetta del Popolo said that your trip ended “with the solemn reaffirmation of a pledge of united effort… The special atmosphere created around this welcome American guest confirms the existence of the deep and vital roots of the Alliance, which the Italian people want as a guarantee and token of freedom, and which Italy now reaffirms, not only as a guarantee of security but as a new pledge and a hope of progress and peace.”[Page 288]
Socialist Avanti gave heavy and generally friendly coverage to your visit, emphasizing the “peaceful” line. You have a “bag of ideas which deserve close consideration,” Avanti commented.
A complete report on Western European reactions is attached.
Papers gave heavy coverage to the early part of the trip and to the audience with Pope Paul VI. Major dailies in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Chile had editorials supporting your objectives, particularly strengthening the Atlantic Alliance. The only non-communist negative reaction received was from La Prensa of Mexico City, which said that “not only North American … but also our own Mexican cities will be destroyed (in a third World War) and no one can dispose of our destiny so carelessly as the President of the United States seems to do.” The editorial recommended a protest to the United Nations and censure by it of you.
African media gave the trip moderate coverage, but there was little editorial comment. Radio Accra and other stations reported favorably on your remarks in Bonn welcoming African unity efforts. But Radio Accra also reported a statement by Malcolm X criticizing you for talking of freedom in Europe while “millions of Afro-Americans are denied freedom in the United States.” The Tunisian Neo-Destour daily L’Action spoke highly of your “courage, frankness, and determination in defining the new trends of (your) strategy” and of your decision-making capability, “a clear-cut end to the indecision of (your) predecessors.”
Near East and South Asia:
There was extensive news coverage and limited editorial comment, except in India and Pakistan. Editorialists in these two countries dwelt heavily on the reference in the communique from Britain to military aid for India, the Indians largely favorably, the Pakistani critically.
Several papers in the Near East reported that your trip had failed to change De Gaulle’s policy, and criticized you for not visiting France.
News coverage was moderate. Japanese commentators were inclined to agree that you had allayed German fears over West Berlin, and also interpreted the journey as an effort to form a unified base for negotiations with the Soviets. Comments in Viet-Nam were similar.
The Taipei press supported your efforts for Western unity, but, typically, called for a greater U.S. effort in Asia with the comment that “the root of the international communist evil is in Asia and not in Europe.”[Page 289]
Soviet output on your trip was relatively mild in tone and low in volume, never exceeding more than two per cent of total radio comment. Among the propaganda themes were Western disunity, failure of the multilateral force, the alleged discrepancy between your American University and German speeches, and the opportunity your visit provided for “revanchist” leaders to fan “the slanderous campaign against East Germany.” Moscow concluded that you were “evaded” in Italy, “approved only in principle” in Britain, and “warmly received” by the revanchists in Bonn.
Peking was harshly critical, picturing the tour as a “cunning diplomatic move with evil designs.” A New China News Agency report of June 27 said you had made “five provocative and aggressive speeches … unscrupulously slandering the socialist system and expressing U.S. determination to … subvert the German Democratic Republic and other East European socialist countries.” A Red Chinese labor official asked: “How can this satan incarnate be viewed as an envoy of the people?”
Cuban media interpreted the trip as an effort to gain approval for U.S. “aggressive policies” and adjudged it a complete failure.
- Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA Files: FRC 72 A 5121, Government Agencies: White House, Jul-Dec/63. No classification marking. In a July 3 memorandum to President Kennedy, Murrow noted that the U.S. Information Agency was making a special survey in France of the President’s trip to Europe. (Ibid.) President Kennedy’s Personal Secretary Evelyn Lincoln replied in a July 5 note to Murrow that the President wanted “a commentary on his entire trip.” (Ibid.) This memorandum is the apparent result. A research report, “Western European Reaction to President Kennedy’s Trip,” is attached but not printed.↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩