Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2005 / 11 Kislev,
I AM SHOCKED SHOCKED!
What's this? The Pentagon is planting pro-American, anti-terrorist stories in the Iraqi press? It's even paying Iraqi papers to print them either as advertisements or editorials, and sometimes without revealing the source. There are even reports that foreign journalists might be on the American payroll!
Shocking. To quote John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: "A free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a democracy, and I am concerned abut any actions which may erode the independence of the Iraqi media."
On the other hand, Sen. Warner recognizes the need to get our side of the story to the Iraqi people. "The disinformation that's going on in that country," says the senator, "is really affecting the effectiveness of what we're achieving, and we have no recourse but to try and do some rebuttal information."
And on the third hand . . . . Well, we all have a pretty good idea how this story is going to pan out, don't we? Indeed, by the time this column hits print, this little sandstorm may have passed and a consensus will have emerged: Yes, the forces of freedom, justice and the American Way need to plant stories in the Iraqi press but more subtly. And with more respect for journalistic norms. And above all, not get caught.
Unaccustomed as Americans are to remembering history, it might help restore perspective to recall another worldwide struggle against a dynamic ideology that was going to bury us:
Back in 1949, when the Cold War was still young, many Americans were shocked at the hard line the Truman administration was taking against poor, misunderstood Joe Stalin. After all, he'd been kindly Uncle Joe just a few years before, when the Communists were still Our Fighting Russian Allies. It wasn't easy making the mental adjustment.
In March of 1949, a massive pro-Soviet rally was held in New York to denounce "U.S. warmongering." Among the headliners: Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer, and Clifford Odets. It was the 1940ish version of today's Hollywood gliberaldom. The audience was typecast, too. Just picture Barbra Streisand's character in "The Way We Were." Or, for that matter, Barbra Streisand today.
As it turned out, the enlightened had picked the wrong city for their rally. At the time New York probably had more political refugees from both Nazism and communism than any other American city, and they put together a counter-rally. It was organized by Sydney Hook, a professor who would go on to oppose communism and every other threat to intellectual freedom during his long lifetime. Like Whittaker Chambers, he had once been a member of the Party, and ex-Communists make the best anti-Communists. They know the enemy.
Professor Hook called his outfit Americans for Intellectual Freedom, and among its big names were Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy and Max Eastman all certifiably liberal thinkers. They organized a counter-demonstration in Bryant Park while the other side was gathering at the elegant Waldorf-Astoria. (No one is more class-conscious than those who dream of freeing the proletariat.)
Arnold Beichman, who's now a professional thinker at Stanford's Hoover Institution and as delightful a raconteur as ever, was a young labor reporter back then, and he was in the thick of the anti-Communist demonstration. "The only paper that was against us in (its) reporting," he recalls, "was the New York Times." The more things change . . . .
Sydney Hook didn't stop with one demonstration. As usual, he had an idea. Which he turned into a proposal for a government program: "Give me a hundred million dollars and a thousand dedicated people and I will guarantee to generate such a wave of democratic unrest among the masses yes, even among the soldiers of Stalin's own empire, that all his problems for a long period of time to come will be internal." And he added: "I can find the people." He did.
The professor's initiative blossomed into the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which convened in Berlin on June 26, 1950 the day after North Korea had invaded the South. Nothing could have better punctuated the Congress' warnings about the totalitarian threat. Among those serving as honorary chairmen of the event were John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Benedetto Croce, Karl Jaspers and Jacques Maritain.
There was no need to go into detail about just who was putting up the money for this counter-offensive in the war of ideas: the American taxpayer. And this was just the start. At its peak, to quote one historian, the Congress for Cultural Freedom "had offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and feature service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances."
The Congress was particularly interested in promoting left-wing anti-Communists, a la George Orwell, who was happy to cooperate with British intelligence. In Europe, it recruited Andre Malraux, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone and Stephen Spender some of the most prominent literati of the time.
In this country, the operation was organized by the likes of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., whose history was more politics even then, and Irving Kristol, father of the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and godfather of American neo-conservatism.
The Congress' finest product had to be Encounter magazine, a vigorous proponent of free thought (so long as the thought wasn't critical of American foreign policy). Some of us still miss it.
If word had ever got out about who was financing all this intellectual ferment, i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency through a variety of high-sounding fronts, the whole venture would have collapsed. The source of its money had to be kept secret not only from its critics abroad but, even more so, from the Neanderthal right in this country. (Joe McCarthy would have launched another of his witch hunts if he had learned about all this tax money going to liberals, socialists and, worst of all, intellectuals.)
Eventually word did get out, but not till the '60s, when American intelligence agencies were under fire the world over. By then the Congress for Cultural Freedom was in decline, but what a run it had had!
"The project was clownish in some ways and totally undemocratic," the Canadian columnist Robert Fulford would write decades later in the National Post. "It left unwitting readers of CIA publications with highly conflicted feelings. I, for one, sternly disapprove of the whole idea but also remain permanently grateful for it."
The anti-American line the Congress for Cultural Freedom battled has scarcely changed in some respects: America is the world's greatest aggressor! Its talk of peace and freedom is nothing but a cover for imperialism! Its lying, warmongering president is the greatest threat to world peace! It even secretly finances propaganda!
Back in the fall of 2001, when September 11th was still fresh in American minds, George W. Bush told us what to expect in the war he proposed to wage against terror: "Our response involves more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success."
This president has been as good as his word or as bad if what he promised to do in 2001, which now seems so distant, shocks more delicate sensibilities. For it is one thing to declare war on terror just after a devastating attack on this country and quite another actually to wage such a war year after year, with all that involves in blood and suffering and, yes, secrecy even in success.
Critics of such a secretive war, like those who would have been shocked to find that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was a CIA front, live in an imaginary world where good can triumph over evil without ever getting its hands dirty. In that unreal world, the West should be able to prevail against enemies who operate from the shadows without conducting covert operations, including a secret propaganda war. Such a world doesn't exist and never did.
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