Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Voice of America III

[continued from here]

Before 1948, the émigré editors and reporters of the Neue Zeitung had to satisfy the U.S. authorities' ambitions to denazify Germany. Operating mostly without direct oversight, and fending off critics in the U.S. government, they managed to build a strong readership base among the German people, and to instil, by example, the principles of free speech, free press, tolerance and individualism that would be essential for Germany's transition from totalitarianism to democracy.

But as the Cold War dawned, the authorities began to try to use the newspaper in direct competition with the Soviets for the hearts and minds of the Germans. Shortly before the ratification of the German Basic Law, and the emergence of the Federal Republic of Germany as a sovereign nation, U.S. authorities took charge of the paper in a disastrous bid to turn it into a propaganda instrument.

... In 1945 the Neue Zeitung was no more than an accidental by-product of information policy and a model of sound democratic journalism. In 1946 it was supposed to be a vital tool of denazification but also a reminder of Soviet-American friendship. Less than one year later, the Neue Zeitung emerged as an anticommunist propaganda tool. And in 1949 it was ordered to combine anticommunist, antinationalist, and pro-American viewpoints.

The Neue Zeitung's effort of denazification and re-education never was abandoned, but more missions were layered on top of it. The editors juggled the contradictory directives handed down to them in the shifting winds of the early Cold War. At first, they emphasized Allied cooperation as a bulwark against German nationalists' hope of a split. At this early stage of the post-war era, German locals still hesitated to cooperate with the American occupation for fear the Nazis would be back and punish them for it. Ironically, the Neue Zeitung was criticized in the early post-war months for being too harsh on the communists. Such issues as the dismantling of eastern German industries and the rapes of German women by Soviet troops were raised in its pages.

But as inter-Allied cooperation crumbled, the newspaper's mission shifted to pulling Germany into the Western orbit in the emerging conflict with Stalin. The State Department came to recognize its utility for promoting American ideology in the Soviet zone, where the Soviets already had tried to ban it.

The last of the émigré editors quit in 1947 out of frustration with U.S. oversight. Their mission to give the German people -- not American propaganda -- but a sense of the truth and hope for the future had been a winning formula everywhere but in the halls of power.

The new editor was Kendall Foss, American-born, Harvard educated, a pious Quaker, fiercly anti-communist but a great admirer of German Kultur. The newspaper's readers at once noticed the change. The U.S. authorities began shipping the editions as much as possible into the Soviet zone, but that cut its readership in the west. Between 1947 and '48, the percentage who found the paper "too American" doubled.

Overall relationships between the Germans and the occupiers were taking a turn for the worse. Drunken troops chased whores, assaulted locals, and engaged in black-market activities. The propaganda drive compounded this frustration among the locals, who felt betrayed. They saw the lesson of journalistic objectivity they had learned in the Neue Zeitung turned on its head. "Many Germans disliked not so much the 'ideological' message as America's readiness to spend money on propaganda rather than food, despite the widespread poverty in Germany."

Even some U.S. voices criticized the change.

Journalists such as Walter Lippmann and Marguerite Higgins castigated the propaganda campaign on the grounds that it completely ignored the German experience. While Soviet propaganda played on the Germans' hunger, Edward Hartrich wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, "too many military government and Army officers in making statements or speeches to Germans indulge in rhapsodies of 'democracy' as if it could be eaten, worn, or spent." Even a few officers in military government dared to criticize the "Vigorous Information Program." "Let us avoid any suggestion of superior wisdom or racial superiority in this program," the Bavarian press chief, James Clark, advised [ICD chief Gordon E.] Textor in December 1947. "Ours is a big country and a powerful one -- but neither is it utopia, nor do we have all the answers."

As the West German elections approached, and the restoration of German sovereignty loomed, U.S. policy makers grew worried that their "democratic experiment" would backfire. Their worst-case scenario was that the elections would increase German nationalism, which would make the new government responsive to Soviet overtures of reunification under the Eastern Bloc.

They responded in part by trying to rein in the Neue Zeitung even further. Foss' efforts were found to be insufficiently propagandistic. The authorities particularly criticized an essay about a poor German farmer who wanted to sell one of his eyeballs to a blind American farmer for $10,000 because he needed the money.

Foss was told basically to make the paper a house sheet of the occupying forces. He resisted, the staff revolted, and U.S. authorities cleaned house and started the paper afresh, with their avowed mision to disseminate "U.S. ideas" as fast as possible, since the election was only months away.

Philosophical discussions on politics ceased completely. Now the Germans were told what was right and wrong and what their future was to be. The only enemies of German democracy, authors pointed out repeatedly, were communism and neo-Nazism. ... Virtually every major field of interest -- including the coverage of television, advertising, politics, philosophy, and history -- reflected the effort to propagandize a Western way of life, defended by the United States of America.

Circulation plummeted. By June 2, 1949, the press run was a mere 351,000 copies per issue. By contrast, the Soviet Army's equivalent voice, the Tägliche Rundschau, sent 700,000 copies every day to Berlin and the Western Zone alone.

The paper was shut down shortly after the election. Gienow-Hecht's conclusion is that the Neue Zeitung was a great success at instilling democratic values in the Germans, as long as it was run by people who had roots in, and admired, the local culture yet had lived in America long enough to understand the U.S.

During the past two decades or so, scholars such as Kenneth Thompson, Inis Claude, Michael Hunt, and others have increasingly criticized attempts of U.S. officials to impose American ideology, culture, and products on foreign (particularly vanquished) countries. Driven by a sense of superiority, racism, moralism, and a mission, they argue, Americans substituted the export of market goods for an international cultural dialogue. Looking at postwar conditions in Germany, Ralph Willett concluded in 1989 that U.S. efforts to tie Germany into a Western orbit succeeded best on the material level.

This study takes a different view. It may very well be true that U.S. policy makers in the State and War departments had their own selfish motives when pondering what picture of the United States should be presented in postwar Germany. But they displayed indifference regarding the implementation of their cultural policy there.

And that opened the door for the people who had their hands on the machinery. But then as now, U.S. authorities concentrated on material, programs, and content in cultural foreign policy. They overlooked the importance of the transmitters, the bodies in the seats.

One wonders if the trasmitters of U.S. values should never be American-born. Perhaps they should preferably be natives of the target country with fairly recent exposure to U.S. culture. People who have gone through a process of assimilation from one culture to another -- as many of the émigrés did -- are better equipped to bridge the gulf of understading between them than are persons who stand on one side or the other.

America was and is uniquely stocked with such personnel. People live here who were born and raised in any country you can hit with a dart on a wall map, and any of them could be indispensible ambassadors between clashing civilizations. When this worked in Germany after World War II, however, it did so in spite of, not because of, the U.S. authorities. And the key that opened the door was bureaucratic incompetence.

When questioned about the paper's objectives, officials often displayed a stunning ignorance. In October 1948 a graduate student from the University of California asked for information on the Neue Zeitung, but the Civil Affairs Division in the Department of Defense was not "able to find an authoritative statement of the paper's official policy."

Into the vacuum stepped just the right men and women for the job.

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