The Cultural Cold WarThe CIA and the World of Arts and Letters
New PressCopyright © 2001 Frances Stonor Saunders
All right reserved.ISBN: 1565846648
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light
T. S. Eliot, `Burnt Norton'
Europe awoke to a freezing post-war dawn. The winter of1947 was the worst ever recorded. From January to lateMarch, it opened a front across Germany, Italy, France andBritain, and advanced with complete lack of mercy. Snow fellin St Tropez, gale-force winds building up impenetrable drifts;ice floes drifted to the mouth of the Thames; trains carryingfood supplies froze fast to the tracks; barges bringing coal intoParis became ice-bound. There, the philosopher Isaiah Berlinfound himself `terrified' by the city's coldness, `empty andhollow and dead, like an exquisite corpse'.
Across Europe, water services, sewage disposal, and mostother essential amenities collapsed; food supplies dwindled andcoal reserves slumped to an all-time low as miners struggled tooperate winding-gear which was frozen solid. A slight thawwas followed by a further freeze-up, locking canals and roadsunder a thick layer of ice. In Britain, unemployment rose byone million in two months. The government and industrystalled in the snow and ice. Life itself seemed to freeze: morethan four million sheep and 30,000 cattle died.
In Berlin, Willy Brandt, the future Chancellor, saw a `newterror' grip the city which most symbolized the collapse ofEurope. The icy cold `attacked the people like a savage beast,driving them into their homes. But there they found no respite.The windows had no panes, they were nailed up with planksand plasterboard. The walls and ceilings were full of cracksand holes, which people covered over with paper and rags.People heated their rooms with benches from public parks ... theold and sick froze to death in their beds by the hundreds.'In an emergency measure, each German family was allottedone tree for heating. By early 1946, the Tiergarten had alreadybeen hacked down to stumps, its statues left standing in awilderness of frozen mud; by the winter of 1947, the woods inthe famous Grünewald had been razed. The snow drifts whichburied the rubble of a bombed-out city could not conceal thedevastating legacy of Hitler's mythomaniacal dream forGermany. Berlin, like a ruined Carthage, was a desperate, cold,haunted place defeated, conquered, occupied.
The weather cruelly drove home the physical reality ofthe Cold War, carving its way into the new, post-Yaltatopography of Europe, its national territories mutilated, thecomposition of its populations fractured. Allied occupationgovernments in France, Germany, Austria and Italy struggledto cope with the thirteen million people who were displaced,homeless, demobilized. The swelling ranks of Allied personnelarriving in the occupied territories exacerbated the problem.More and more people were turned out of their homes, to jointhose already sleeping in halls, stairways, cellars, and bombsites.Clarissa Churchill, as a guest of the British ControlCommission in Berlin, found herself `protected both geographicallyand materially from the full impact of the chaosand misery existing in the city. Waking in the warm bedroomof some Nazi's ex-home, feeling the lace-edged sheets, studyinghis shelf of books, even these simple experiences gave mea warning tinge of conqueror's delirium, which a short walkin the streets or a visit to an unheated German flat immediatelydissipated.'
These were heady days for the victors. In 1947, a carton ofAmerican cigarettes, costing fifty cents in an American base,was worth 1,800 Reichsmarks on the black market, or $180at the legal rate of exchange. For four cartons of cigarettes, atthis rate, you could hire a German orchestra for the evening.Or for twenty-four cartons, you could acquire a 1939Mercedes-Benz. Penicillin and `Persilscheine' (whiter thanwhite) certificates, which cleared the holder of any Nazi connections,commanded the highest prices. With this kind ofeconomic whammy, working-class soldiers from Idaho couldlive like modern tsars.
In Paris, Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Rothschild, the firstBritish soldier to arrive on the day of liberation in his capacityas bomb-disposal expert, had reclaimed his family house onAvenue de Marigny, which had been requisitioned by theNazis. There, he entertained the young intelligence officerMalcolm Muggeridge with vintage champagne. The familybutler, who had worked on in the house under the Germans,remarked that nothing seemed to have changed. The RitzHotel, requisitioned by millionaire intelligence officer JohnHay Whitney, received David Bruce, a Princeton friend of F.Scott Fitzgerald, who turned up with Ernest Hemingway and aprivate army of liberators, and put in an order for fifty martinicocktails from the manager. Hemingway who, like DavidBruce, had fought in America's wartime secret service, theOffice of Strategic Services, set himself and his whisky bottlesup at the Ritz, and there, in an alcoholic daze, received a nervousEric Blair (George Orwell), and the more forthrightSimone de Beauvoir with her lover Jean-Paul Sartre (whodrank himself to oblivion, and recorded the worst hangover ofhis life).
The philosopher and intelligence officer A. J. `Freddie' Ayer,author of Language, Truth and Logic, became a familiar sightin Paris as he sped about in a large chauffeur-driven Bugatti,complete with army radio. Arthur Koestler and his loverMamaine Paget `got tight' dining with André Malraux onvodka, caviare and blinis, balyk and soufflé sibérienne. Also inParis, Susan Mary Alsop, a young American diplomat's wife,hosted a series of parties in her `lovely house full of Aubussoncarpets and good American soap'. But when she stepped outside,she found that the faces were `all hard and worn and fullof suffering. There really is no food except for people whocan afford the black market and not much for them. Thepastry shops are empty in the windows of teashops likeRumplemayer's, one sees one elaborate cardboard cake or anempty box of chocolates, with a sign saying "model" andnothing else. In the windows of shops on the Faubourg StHonoré are proudly displayed one pair of shoes marked "realleather" or "model" surrounded by hideous things made ofstraw. Outside the Ritz I threw away a cigarette butt and awell-dressed old gentleman pounced for it.'
At much the same time, the young composer NicolasNabokov, cousin of the novelist Vladimir, was throwing awaya cigarette butt in the Soviet sector of Berlin: `When I startedback, a figure bolted out of the dark and picked up the cigaretteI had thrown away.' As the super-race scavenged forcigarette ends or firewood or food, the ruins of the Führer'sbunker were left unmarked and barely noticed by Berliners.But on Saturdays, Americans serving with the military governmentwould explore with torches the cellars of Hitler'sruined Reichs Chancellery, and pocket their exotic finds:Romanian pistols, thick rolls of half-burned currency, ironcrosses and other decorations. One looter discovered theladies' cloakroom and lifted some brass coat tags inscribedwith the Nazi eagle and the word Reichskanzlei. Vogue photographerLee Miller, who had once been Man Ray's muse,posed fully dressed in Hitler's bunker bathtub.
The fun soon wore off. Divided into four sectors, and sittinglike a crow's nest in a sea of Soviet-controlled territory, Berlinhad become `the traumatic synecdoche of the Cold War.'Ostensibly working together in the allied Kommandatura toachieve the `denazification' and `reorientation' of Germany,the four powers struggled against strengthening ideologicalwinds which revealed a bleak international situation. `I felt noanimosity to the Soviets,' wrote Michael Josselson, anAmerican officer of Estonian-Russian extraction. `In fact I wasapolitical at that time and this made it much easier for me tomaintain excellent personal relationships with most of theSoviet officers I came to know.' But with the imposition of`friendly' governments in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence,the mass show trials and swelling gulags in Russia itself,this collaborative spirit was severely tested. By the winter of1947, less than two years after American and Russian soldiershad hugged each other on the banks of the Elbe, that embracehad dissolved into a snarl. `It was only after Soviet policiesbecame openly aggressive, and when stories of atrocities committedin the Soviet zone of occupation became a dailyoccurrence ... and when the Soviet propaganda becamecrudely anti-Western, that my political conscience was awakened,'Josselson recorded.
The headquarters of the Office of Military Government USwas known as `OMGUS', which Germans initially took tomean `bus' in English because it was painted on the sides ofdouble-decker buses requisitioned by the Americans. Whenthey were not spying on the other three powers, OMGUS officersfound themselves behind desks piled high with columns ofthe ubiquitous Fragebogen which every German seeking a jobwas obliged to fill in, answering questions relating to nationality,religion, criminal record, education, professionalqualifications, employment and military service, writings andspeeches, income and assets, travel abroad and, of course,political affiliations. Screening the entire German populationfor even the faintest trace of `Nazism and militarism' was adeadly, bureaucratic task and often frustrating. Whilst a janitorcould be blacklisted for having swept the corridors of theReichs Chancellery, many of Hitler's industrialists, scientists,administrators, and even high-ranking officers, were being quietlyreinstated by the allied powers in a desperate effort tokeep Germany from collapsing.
For one intelligence officer, the filling out of endless formswas no way to deal with the complex legacy of the Naziregime. Michael Josselson adopted a different approach. `Ididn't know Josselson then, but I had heard of him,' recalledthe philosopher Stuart Hampshire, who at that time was workingfor MI6 in London. `His reputation had spread acrossEurope's intelligence grapevine. He was the big fixer, the manwho could get anything done. Anything. If you wanted toget across the Russian border, which was virtually impossible,Josselson would fix it. If you needed a symphonicorchestra, Josselson would fix it.'
Speaking four languages fluently without a hint of an accent,Michael Josselson was a valuable asset in the ranks ofAmerican occupation officers. Furthermore, he knew Berlininside out. Born in Tartu, Estonia, in 1908, the son of a Jewishtimber merchant, he had arrived in Berlin for the first time inthe early 1920s, swept along in the Baltic diaspora which followedthe 1917 revolution. With most of his close familymurdered by the Bolsheviks, return to Tartu was impossible,and he became a member of that generation of men andwomen whom Arthur Koestler referred to as the `scum of theearth' the déracinés, people whose lives had been broken bythe twentieth century, their identity with their homelands ruptured.Josselson had attended the University of Berlin, but leftbefore taking a degree to join the Gimbels-Saks departmentstores as a buyer, becoming their representative in Paris. In1936 he emigrated to the States, and shortly thereafter becamean American citizen.
Inducted into the Army in 1943, his European backgroundmade him an obvious candidate for either intelligence work orpsychological warfare. He was duly assigned to the IntelligenceSection of the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) inGermany, where he joined a special seven-man interrogationteam (nicknamed `Kampfgruppe Rosenberg', after its leaderCaptain Albert G. Rosenberg). The team's mission was tointerrogate hundreds of German prisoners every week, for thepurpose of `rapidly separating strong Nazis from non-Nazis,lies from truthful responses, voluble from tongue-tied personalities'.Discharged in 1946, Josselson stayed on in Berlin withthe American Military Government as Cultural Affairs Officer,then with the State Department and the US High Commissionas a Public Affairs Officer. In this capacity, he was assigned tothe `screening of personnel' in the German press, radio andentertainment media, all of which were suspended `pendingthe removal of Nazis'.
Assigned to the same division was Nicolas Nabokov, aWhite Russian émigré who had lived in Berlin before emigratingto the United States in 1933. Tall, handsome, expansive,Nabokov was a man who cultivated friendships (and wives)with great ease and charm. During the 1920s, his flat in Berlinhad become a centre of émigré cultural life, an intellectualgoulash of writers, scholars, artists, politicians and journalists.Amongst this cosmopolitan group of exiles was MichaelJosselson. In the mid-1930s, Nabokov went to America, wherehe wrote what he modestly described as `the first Americanballet', Union Pacific, with Archibald MacLeish. He shared asmall studio with Henri Cartier-Bresson in New York for awhile, when neither had any money. Nabokov later wrote that`to Cartier-Bresson the Communist movement was the bearerof history, of mankind's future ... I shared many of [his] views,but, despite the gnawing longing for my Russian fatherland, Icould not accept nor espouse the philo-Communist attitude ofso many Western European and American intellectuals. I feltthat they were curiously blind to the realities of RussianCommunism and were only reacting to the fascist tides thatwere sweeping Europe in the wake of the Depression. To a certaindegree I felt that the philo-Communism of the mid-thirtieswas a passing fad, cleverly nurtured by a mythology about theRussian Bolshevik Revolution shaped by the Soviet AgitpropApparat.'
In 1945, alongside W. H. Auden and J. K. Galbraith,Nabokov joined the Morale Division of the US StrategicBombing Survey Unit in Germany, where he met psychologicalwarfare personnel, and subsequently got a job in theInformation Control Division, alongside his old acquaintance,Michael Josselson. As a composer, Nabokov was assigned tothe music section, where he was expected to `establish goodpsychological and cultural weapons with which to destroyNazism and promote a genuine desire for a democraticGermany'. His task was `to eject the Nazis from Germanmusical life and license those German musicians (giving themthe right to exercise their profession) whom we believed to be"clean" Germans,' and to `control the programmes of Germanconcerts and see to it that they would not turn into nationalistmanifestations.' Introducing Nabokov at a party, oneAmerican general said, `He's hep on music and tells the Krautshow to go about it.'
Josselson and Nabokov became a congenial, if unlikely, pair.Nabokov was emotionally extravagant, physically demonstrativeand always late; Josselson was reserved, high-minded,scrupulous. But they did share the same language of exile, andof attachment to the new world, America, which both believedto be the only place where the future of the old world could besecured. The drama and intrigue of post-war Berlin appealedto something in both men, giving them scope to exercise theirtalents as operators and innovators. Together, Nabokov laterwrote, they both `did a good deal of successful Nazi-huntingand put on ice a few famous conductors, pianists, singers anda number of orchestral musicians (most of whom had welldeserved it and some of whom should be there today)'. Oftengoing against the grain of official thinking, they took a pragmaticview of denazification. They refused to accept that theactions of artists under Germany's Nazi past could be treatedas a phenomenon sui generis, with judgement meted out accordingto the rendering of a Fragebogen. `Josselson genuinelybelieved that the role of intellectuals in a very difficult situationshouldn't be decided in an instant,' a colleague later explained.`He understood that Nazism in Germany had all been a mixedgrotesquerie. Americans had no idea, in general. They justwaded in and pointed the finger.'
In 1947, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was the subjectof particular opprobrium. Although he had openly defied thebranding of Paul Hindemith as a `degenerate', he later arrivedat a mutually beneficial accommodation with the Nazi regime.Furtwängler, who was appointed Prussian State Councillor, aswell as holding other high posts bestowed by the Nazis, continuedto conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and theBerlin State Opera throughout the Third Reich. By December1946, a year and a half after his case had first been brought tothe attention of the Allied Control Commission, the conductorwas due to appear before the Tribunal for Artists assembled inBerlin. The case was heard over two days. The outcome wasvague, and the tribunal sat on his file for months. Then, out ofthe blue, Furtwängler learned that the Allied Kommandaturahad cleared him, and that he was free to conduct the BerlinPhilharmonic on 25 May 1947 at the American-requisitionedTitania Palast. Amongst the papers left by Michael Josselson isa note which refers to his part in what insiders referred to asthe `jumping' of Furtwängler. `I played a major role in sparingthe great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler the humiliationof having to go through the denazification proceduredespite the fact that he had never been a member of the NaziParty,' Josselson wrote. This manoeuvre was achieved withNabokov's help, though years later both were vague about thedetails of the case. `I wonder whether you remember whenwas the approximate date that Furtwängler came to East Berlinand gave a press conference there threatening to go to Moscowif we would not clear him at once,' Nabokov asked Josselsonin 1977. `I seem to remember that you had something to dowith bringing him out of the Soviet sector (hadn't you?) to mybillet. I remember General McClure's [chief of InformationControl Division] gentle fury at Furtwängler's behaviourthen ...'
One American official reacted angrily to the discovery thatfigures like Furtwängler were being `whitewashed'. In April1947, Newell Jenkins, Chief of Theater and Music for theAmerican military government of Württemberg-Baden, angrilydemanded an explanation for `how it happens that so manyprominent nazis in the field of musicology are still active'. Aswell as Furtwängler, both Herbert von Karajan and ElisabethSchwarzkopf were soon to be cleared by allied commissions,despite their murky records. In von Karajan's case, this was virtuallyundisputed. He had been a party member since 1933,and never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazifavourite `Horst Wessel Lied'. His enemies referred to him as`SS Colonel von Karajan'. But despite favouring the Naziregime, he was quickly reinstated as the undisputed king of theBerlin Philharmonic, the orchestra which in the post-war yearswas built up as the symbolic bulwark against Soviet totalitarianism.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had given concerts for the Waffen SSon the eastern front, starred in Goebbels' propaganda films,and was included by him on a list of artists `blessed by God'.Her National Socialist Party membership number was7548960. `Should a baker stop baking bread if he doesn't likethe government?' asked her half-Jewish accompanist, PeterGellhorn (who himself had to flee Germany in the 1930s).Obviously not. Schwarzkopf was cleared by the Allied ControlCommission, and her career soared. She was later made aDame of the British Empire.
The question of how, if at all, artists should be held toaccount for an engagement with the politics of their time couldnever be resolved by a hit-and-miss denazification programme.Josselson and Nabokov were keenly aware of the limitationsof such a programme, and as such their motivation inleapfrogging its procedures could be viewed as humane, evencourageous. On the other hand, they were victims of a moralconfusion: the need to create symbolic anti-Communistrallying points introduced an urgent and hidden politicalimperative to clear those suspected of accommodating the Naziregime. This produced a tolerance of suspected proximity toFascism if the subject could be put to use againstCommunism someone had to wield a baton against theSoviets. Nabokov's 1977 letter to Josselson reveals that theyactually had to wrest Furtwängler from the Soviets (who hadapproached the conductor with an offer to take over theStaatsoper Unter den Linden), whilst Furtwängler himself wasplaying both sides against each other. His appearance at theTitania Palast in May 1947 clearly signalled that the allieswere not going to be upstaged by the Soviets in `the battle ofthe orchestras'. By 1949, Furtwängler was listed amongstGerman artists travelling to foreign countries under American-sponsoredcultural programmes. In 1951, he conducted at thereopening of the Bayreuth Festival, which had been handedback to the Wagner family, despite the official ban on RichardWagner (for `nationalism').
William Donovan, head of America's wartime intelligenceservice, once said famously, `I'd put Stalin on the payroll if Ithought it would help us defeat Hitler.' In an-all-too easyreversal, it was now apparent that the Germans `were to beour new friends, and the saviour-Russians the enemy'. This, toArthur Miller, was `an ignoble thing. It seemed to me in lateryears that this wrenching shift, this ripping off of Good andEvil labels from one nation and pasting them onto another,had done something to wither the very notion of a world eventheoretically moral. If last month's friend could so quicklybecome this month's enemy, what depth of reality could goodand evil have? The nihilism even worse, the yawning amusement towardthe very concept of a moral imperative, whichwould become a hallmark of international culture, was bornin these eight or ten years of realignment after Hitler'sdeath.'
Of course, there were good reasons for opposing the Soviets,who were moving in swiftly behind the cold weather front.Communists came to power in Poland in January. In Italy andFrance there were rumours of Communist coups d'état. Sovietstrategists had been quick to grasp the potential of the widespreadinstability of post-war Europe. With an energy andresourcefulness which showed that Stalin's regime, for all itsmonolithic intractability, could avail itself of an imaginativevigour unmatched by western governments, the Soviet Uniondeployed a battery of unconventional weapons to nudge itselfinto the European consciousness, and soften up opinion in itsfavour. A vast network of fronts was established, some new,some revived from a dormant state since the death in 1940 ofWilli Munzenberg, the brain behind the Kremlin's secret pre-warcampaign of persuasion. Labour unions, women'smovements, youth groups, cultural institutions, the press,publishing all were targeted.
Experts in the use of culture as a tool of political persuasion,the Soviets did much in these early years of the Cold War toestablish its central paradigm as a cultural one. Lacking theeconomic power of the United States and, above all, still withouta nuclear capability, Stalin's regime concentrated onwinning `the battle for men's minds'. America, despite a massivemarshalling of the arts in the New Deal period, was avirgin in the practice of international Kulturkampf. As early as1945, one intelligence officer had predicted the unconventionaltactics which were now being adopted by the Soviets: `Theinvention of the atomic bomb will cause a shift in the balancebetween "peaceful" and "warlike" methods of exerting internationalpressure,' he reported to the chief of the Office ofStrategic Services, General Donovan. `And we must expect avery marked increase in the importance of "peaceful" methods.Our enemies will be even freer than [ever] to propagandize,subvert, sabotage and exert ... pressures upon us, and we ourselvesshall be more willing to bear these affronts and ourselvesto indulge in such methods in our eagerness to avoid at allcosts the tragedy of open war; "peaceful" techniques willbecome more vital in times of pre-war softening up, actualovert war, and in times of post-war manipulation.'
This report shows exceptional prescience. It offers a definitionof the Cold War as a psychological contest, of themanufacturing of consent by `peaceful' methods, of the use ofpropaganda to erode hostile positions. And, as the openingsallies in Berlin amply demonstrated, the `operational weapon'was to be culture. The cultural Cold War was on.
So it was that amidst the degradation an unnaturallyelaborate cultural life was dragged to its feet by the occupyingpowers as they vied with each other to score propagandapoints. As early as 1945, `when the stench of human bodiesstill hung about the ruins', the Russians had staged a brilliantopening for the State Opera with a performance of Gluck'sOrpheus, in the beautifully lit, red plush Admiralspalast.Stocky, pomaded Russian colonels grinned smugly atAmerican military personnel as they listened together to performancesof Eugène Onegin, or to an explicitly anti-Fascistinterpretation of Rigoletto, the music punctuated by the tinkleof medals.
One of Josselson's first assignments was to retrieve the thousandsof costumes belonging to the former German StateOpera (the Deutsches Opernhaus Company, the only seriousrival to the Russian State Opera), which had been safely storedby the Nazis at the bottom of a salt mine located outside Berlinin the US zone of occupation. On a dismal, rainy day Josselsonset off with Nabokov to retrieve the costumes. On their wayback to Berlin, Josselson's jeep, which preceded Nabokov'srequisitioned Mercedes, hit a Soviet road block at full speed.Josselson, unconscious and suffering from multiple cuts andbruising, was taken to a Russian military hospital, whereSoviet women medical officers stitched him together again.When he was well enough, he was retrieved back to his billet inthe American zone, which he shared with an aspiring actorcalled Peter van Eyck. But for the care of his Soviet doctors,Josselson might not have survived to become the Diaghilev ofAmerica's counter-Soviet cultural propaganda campaign. TheSoviets had saved the man who was, for the next twodecades, to do most to undermine their attempts at culturalhegemony.
In 1947, the Russians fired another salvo when they openedup a `House of Culture' on the Unter den Linden. The initiativedazzled a British cultural affairs officer, who reported enviouslythat the institute `surpasses anything the other allies havedone and puts our poor little effort right in the shade ... It ismost luxuriously appointed good furniture, much of itantique, carpets in every room, a brilliance of lights, almostoverheated and everything newly painted ... the Russianshave simply requisitioned all they wanted ... there is a bar andsmoking room ... which looks most inviting and almost Ritzywith its soft carpets and chandeliers ... [This is a] grandiosecultural institute which will reach the broad masses and domuch to counteract the generally accepted idea here that theRussians are uncivilized. This latest venture is depressing as faras we are concerned our contribution is so small one informationcentre and a few reading rooms which have had to beclosed down because of lack of coal! ... We should be spurredon by this latest Russian entry into the Kulturkampf to answerwith an equally bold scheme for putting over British achievementshere in Berlin.'
Whilst the British lacked the coal to heat a reading room, theAmericans were emboldened to return fire at the Soviets byopening the Amerika-Häuser. Set up as `outposts of Americanculture', these institutes offered respite from the bitter weatherin comfortably furnished reading rooms, and gave film showings,music recitals, talks and art exhibits, all with`overwhelming emphasis on America'. In a speech entitled `Outof the Rubble', the Director of Education and CulturalRelations emphasized to Amerika-Häuser personnel the epicnature of their task: `Few people ever have been privileged tobe a part of a more important or more challenging mission, orone more replete with pitfalls than you who have been chosento aid in the intellectual, moral, spiritual and cultural reorientationof a defeated, conquered and occupied Germany.' But henoted that `in spite of the great contribution which has beenmade by America in the cultural field, it is not generally knowneven to Germany or the rest of the world. Our culture isregarded as materialistic and frequently one will hear the comment,"We have the skill, the brains, and you have themoney."'
Thanks largely to Russian propaganda, America was widelyregarded as culturally barren, a nation of gum-chewing,Chevy-driving, Dupont-sheathed philistines, and the Amerika-Häuserdid much to reverse this negative stereotype. `One thingis absolutely certain,' wrote one enthusiastic Amerika-Häuseradministrator, `the printed material brought here from theUnited States ... makes a deep and profound impression uponthose circles in Germany which for generations have thoughtof America as culturally backward and who have condemnedthe whole for the faults of a few parts.' Old clichés based on anhistoric `presupposition about American cultural retardation'had been eroded by the `good books' programme, and thosesame circles who had upheld these slurs were now reported tobe `quietly and deeply impressed'.
Some clichés were harder to dispel. When one Amerika-Hauslecturer offered a view of the `present-day position of theNegro in America', he was met with questions `some of whichwere not inspired by good will'. The lecturer `dealt vigorouslywith the questioners, who may or may not have been communists'.Fortunately for the organizers, the talk was followed `bysongs performed by a colored quintet. The Negroes continuedto sing long after official closing time and ... the spirit of theoccasion seemed so congenial that it was decided to invite thisNegro group for a repeat performance.' The problem of racerelations in America was much exploited by Soviet propaganda,and left many Europeans uneasy about America'sability to practise the democracy she now claimed to be offeringthe world. It was therefore reasoned that the exporting ofAfrican-Americans to perform in Europe would dispel suchdamaging perceptions. An American military governmentreport of March 1947 revealed plans `to have top-rankAmerican negro vocalists give concerts in Germany ... MarianAnderson or Dorothy Maynor appearances before Germanaudiences would be of great importance.' The promotion ofblack artists was to become an urgent priority for Americancultural Cold Warriors.
The American response to the Soviet cultural offensive nowbegan to gather pace. The full arsenal of contemporaryAmerican achievement was shipped to Europe and showcasedin Berlin. Fresh new opera talent was imported from America'smost noble academies: the Juilliard, the Curtis, the Eastman,the Peabody. The military government took control of eighteenGerman symphony orchestras, and almost as many opera companies.With many native composers banned, the market forAmerican composers was exponentially increased andexploited. Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter,Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Gian Carlo Menotti, VirgilThomson these and many other American composers premièredtheir work in Europe under government auspices.
In consultation with American academics, playwrights anddirectors, a massive theatre programme was also launched.Plays by Lillian Hellman, Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder,Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan, Clifford Odets and JohnSteinbeck were offered to enthusiastic audiences huddled infreezing theatres where icicles hung menacingly from the ceiling.Following Schiller's principle of theatre as `moralischeAnstalt', where men can see presented the basic principles oflife, the American authorities devised a hit list of desirablemoral lessons. Thus, under `Liberty and Democracy' cameIbsen's Peer Gynt, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, and RobertSherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois. `Power of Faith' wasexpressed in the drama of Faust, Goethe, Strindberg, Shaw.`Equality of Man' was the message to be extracted fromMaxim Gorki's Lower Depths and Franz Grillparzer's Medea.Under `War and Peace' came Aristophanes' Lysistrata, R. C.Sherriff's Journey's End, Thornton Wilder's Skin of our Teeth,and John Hersey's A Bell for Adano. `Corruption and Justice'was deemed to be the theme of Hamlet, Gogol's Revisor,Beaumarchais's Figaro's Wedding, and most of Ibsen's uvre.And so on, through `Crime Does Not Pay', `Morals, Taste andManners', `Pursuit of Happiness', to the darker imperative of`Exposure of Nazism'. Deemed inappropriate `for the presentmental and psychological status of Germans' were `all playsthat accept the blind mastery of fate that unescapably [sic]leads to destruction and self-destruction, as the Greek classics.'Also blacklisted were Julius Caesar and Coriolanus(`glorifications of dictatorship'); Prinz von Homburg and Kleist(for `chauvinism'); Tolstoy's Living Corpse (`Righteous criticismof society runs to asocial ends'); all Hamsun plays (`plainNazi ideology'), and all plays by anybody else who `readilyshifted to the service of Nazism'.
Mindful of Disraeli's injunction that `A book may be asgreat a thing as a battle', a vast books programme waslaunched, aimed primarily at `projecting the American storybefore the German reader in the most effective manner possible'.Appealing to commercial publishers, the occupationgovernment ensured a constant flow of `general books' whichwere deemed `more acceptable than government-sponsoredpublications, because they do not have the taint of propaganda'.But propaganda they were certainly intended to be.Translations commissioned by the Psychological WarfareDivision of American Military Government alone ran to hundredsof titles, ranging from Howard Fast's Citizen TomPaine to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr's The New Deal in Action,to the Museum of Modern Art's Built in the USA. There werealso German editions of books `suitable for children at theirmost impressionable age', such as Nathaniel Hawthorne'sWonder Tales, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in KingArthur's Court, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on thePrairie.
The post-war reputations in Germany (and the other occupiedterritories) of many Americans were significantly helpedby these publishing programmes. And America's culturalcachet soared with distribution of works by Louisa MayAlcott, Pearl Buck, Jacques Barzun, James Burnham, WillaCather, Norman Cousins, William Faulkner, Ellen Glasgow,Ernest Hemingway, F. O. Matthiessen, Reinhold Niebuhr,Carl Sandburg, James Thurber, Edith Wharton and ThomasWolfe.
European authors were also promoted as part of anexplicitly `anti-Communist program'. Suitable texts were`whatever critiques of Soviet foreign policy and of Communismas a form of government we find to be objective, convincinglywritten, and timely'. Meeting these criteria were André Gide'saccount of his disillusioning experiences in Russia, Returnfrom the Soviet Union; Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noonand The Yogi and the Commissar; and Bread and Wine byIgnazio Silone. For Koestler and Silone, this was the first ofmany appearances under the wing of the American government.Approval for publication was withheld for some books.One early casualty was John Foster Dulles's by now anachronisticRussia and America: Pacific Neighbours.
In art, Mrs Moholy-Nagy appeared before German audiencesto talk about the work of her late husband, László, andthe new and exciting direction taken by the `New Bauhaus' inChicago. Her lecture, wrote one sympathetic journalist, `was avery informative contribution to the incomplete conceptionwe have of American culture and art'. This conception wasfurther enhanced by an exhibition of `Non-Objective paintings'from the Guggenheim Museum. This was the firstappearance under government sponsorship of the New YorkSchool, otherwise known as Abstract Expressionism. Lest thenew be thought too shocking, audiences were nursed with lectureson `Fundamental Thoughts on Modern Art' which usedcomfortably familiar medieval paintings to introduce `theabstract possibilities of artistic expression'.
With the memory of the Entartekunst exhibitions and thesubsequent exodus of so many artists to America still painfullyfresh, the impression now was of a European culture brokenup by the high tides of Fascism, and washed up on the shoresof the new Byzantium America. Audiences who had experiencedthe mass rallies of Nuremberg were reportedly awed byone lecturer who `told of immense symphonic concerts in theopen air at night attended by audiences equalling in numbersthose which usually only attend special sport events in ourstadiums'.
Not all efforts were of the highest calibre. The launch of theGerman edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine leftpeople like Michael Josselson stone cold. And not everyonewas convinced that the Yale Glee Club was the best vehicle forproving beyond all doubt `the tremendous importance of thearts in the curriculum of the universities as an antidote againstcollectivism'. Even the Darmstadt School got off to a shakystart. A bold initiative of the American military government,the `Darmstadt Holiday Courses for New Music' nearly endedin a riot after disagreement about radical new music spilledover into open hostility. One official evaluation concluded: `Itwas generally conceded that much of this music was worthlessand had better been left unplayed. The over-emphasis ontwelve-tone music was regretted. One critic described the concertsas "The Triumph of Dilettantism" ... The Frenchstudents remained aloof from the others and acted in a snobbishway [and] their teacher, Leibowitz, represents and admitsas valid only the most radical kind of music and is openly disdainfulof any other. His attitude is aped by his students. It wasgenerally felt that next year's [course] must follow a different,more catholic pattern.' Darmstadt, of course, was to becomethe citadel of progressive experimentation in music within afew years.
But all the symphony concerts and plays and exhibitionscould not hide the one stark truth of that long, harsh winter of1947: Europe was going broke. A rampant black market, civilunrest and a series of crippling strikes (largely orchestrated byCommunist trades unions) produced levels of degradation andprivation equal to anything experienced during the darkestmoments of the war. In Germany, money had lost its value,medicine and clothes were impossible to obtain, whole familieswere living in underground bunkers with no water or light, andyoung girls and boys offered sex to American GIs in exchangefor a bar of chocolate.
On 5 June 1947, General George Catlett Marshall, the USArmy's wartime Chief of Staff, and now Truman's Secretary ofState, announced a plan to deal with the `great crisis'.Delivered at the 296th Harvard Commencement, which wasattended by atomic physicist Robert Oppenheimer, D-Daycommander General Omar Bradley, and T. S. Eliot (all ofwhom, like Marshall, were receiving honorary degrees),Marshall's ten-minute address marked a catalytic moment inthe fate of post-war Europe. Warning that `the whole world[and] ... the way of life we have known is literally in the balance',he called upon the New World to step into the breachwith a crash programme of financial credits and large-scalematerial assistance, and thus prevent the collapse of the OldWorld. `There is widespread instability. There are concertedefforts to change the whole face of Europe as we know it, contraryto the interests of free mankind and free civilization,'Marshall declared. `Left to their own resources there will beno escape from economic distress so intense, social discontentsso violent, and political confusion so widespread that the historicbase of Western civilization, of which we are by beliefand inheritance an integral part, will take on a new form inthe image of the tyranny that we fought to destroy inGermany.'
As he spoke these words, General Marshall surveyed thefaces of students gathered in the spring sunshine and he saw,like John Crowe Ransom before him, `the youngling bachelorsof Harvard/Lit like torches, and scrambling to disperse/Likeaimless firebrands pitiful to slake.' It was no coincidence thathe had decided to deliver his speech here, rather than on someformal government podium. For these were the men assignedto realize America's `manifest destiny', the elite charged withorganizing the world around values which the Communistdarkness threatened to obscure. The fulfilment of the MarshallPlan, as it became known, was their inheritance.
Marshall's address was designed to reinforce PresidentTruman's ideological call-to-arms of a few months earlier,which had been immediately enshrined as the TrumanDoctrine. Addressing Congress in March 1947 on the situationin Greece, where a Communist takeover threatened, Trumanhad appealed in apocalyptic language for a new age ofAmerican intervention: `At the present moment in world historynearly every nation must choose between alternative waysof life,' he declared. `The choice is too often not a free one. Oneway of life is based upon the will of the majority ... Thesecond ... is based upon the will of a minority forciblyimposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression,a controlled press and radio, fixed elections and thesuppression of personal freedoms. I believe that it must be thepolicy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resistingattempted subjection by armed minorities or by outside pressure.I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out theirown destinies in their own way.'
After Truman's speech, Secretary of State Dean Acheson toldCongressmen: `We had arrived at a situation unparalleled sinceancient times. Not since Rome and Carthage had there beensuch a polarization of power on this earth. Moreover the twogreat powers were divided by an unbridgeable ideologicalchasm.' Joseph Jones, the State Department official whodrafted Truman's appeal to Congress, understood the enormousimpact of the President's words: `All barriers to boldaction were indeed down,' he said. Among policy makers itwas felt that `a new chapter in world history had opened, andthey were the most privileged of men, participants in a dramasuch as rarely occurs even in the long life of a great nation'.
The heightened sense of the classical dimensions ofAmerica's post-war role evoked by Truman's address gave therhetorical context to General Marshall's later, less conspicuouslyanti-Communist, speech. The combination of the two apackage of economic assistance coupled with a doctrinalimperative delivered an unambiguous message: the future ofwestern Europe, if western Europe was to have a future at all,must now be harnessed to a pax Americana.
On 17 June, the Soviet daily Pravda attacked Marshall'sproposal as an extension of Truman's `plan for political pressureswith dollars and a programme for interference in theinternal affairs of other states'. Although the Soviets hadbeen invited by Marshall to participate in his all-Europeanrecovery programme, the offer was, said George Kennan,`disingenuous, designed to be rejected'. As anticipated, theyrefused to be part of the plan. Their objection may have beenoverstated, but in essence the Soviets were right to conflate thehumanitarian intentions of the plan with a less obvious politicalagenda. Far from envisioning cooperation with the SovietUnion, it was designed within the framework of a Cold Warethos which sought to drive a wedge between Moscow and itsclient regimes. `It was implicit all along that it was importantthat we didn't give the Communists the opportunity to sticktheir oar into these places,' Marshall-planner Dennis Fitzgeraldlater wrote. `There was always the argument advanced that ifwe failed to fully appreciate the requirements of X, Y, and Z,that the Communists would take advantage of this situation topromote their interests.' The plan's deputy director, RichardBissell, supported this view: `Even before the outbreak of theKorean War, it was well understood that the Marshall Plan wasnever meant to be a wholly altruistic affair. The hope was thatstrengthening their economies would enhance the value of theWestern European countries as members of the NATOalliance, eventually enabling them to assume a defense responsibilityin support of cold war efforts.' Secretly, thesecountries were also expected to assume other responsibilities`in support of cold war efforts', and to this end, Marshall Planfunds were soon being siphoned to boost the cultural strugglein the West.
On 5 October 1947, the Communist Information Bureauheld its first meeting held in Belgrade. Formed in Moscowthe previous September, the Cominform was Stalin's newoperational base for political warfare, replacing the defunctComintern. The Belgrade meeting was used to deliver an openchallenge to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, bothof which were denounced as `aggressive' ploys to satisfy`America's aspirations to world supremacy'. AndreiZhdanov, architect of Stalin's ruthless cultural policy, told theCommunists of western Europe that `If they are prepared totake the lead of all the forces prepared to defend the cause ofnational honour and independence in the struggle againstattempts to subjugate their countries economically and politically,then no plan for the subjugation of Europe cansucceed.' Just as Marshall had chosen to address the intellectualheartland of America, so Zhdanov called upon theintelligentsia of the world to rattle their pens under the bannerof Communism, and hurl their ink against the Americanimperium. `The Communist parties of [Europe have] achievedconsiderable successes in conducting work among theIntelligentsia. Proof of this is the fact that in these countries thebest people of science, art, and literature belong to theCommunist Party, are heading the movement of the progressivestruggle among the intelligentsia and by their creative andtireless struggle, are winning more and more intellectuals to thecause of Communism.'
Later that month, the Cominform's ideological storm troopswere gathered at the East Berlin Writers' Congress at theKammespiel Theatre. As the `debate' (it was nothing of thesort, of course) wore on, a young American with a pointedbeard and looking strangely like Lenin stormed the platformand grabbed the microphone. Speaking in flawless German, heheld his position for thirty-five minutes, praising those writerswho had had the nerve to speak up against Hitler, and exposingsimilarities between the Nazi regime and the newCommunist police state. These were dangerous times. To disruptthe proceedings and queer the pitch of a Communistpropaganda exercise was an act of either madness or courage,or both. Melvin Lasky had arrived.
Born in 1920 in the Bronx, Melvin Jonah Lasky grew up inthe `looming presence' of his Yiddish-speaking grandfather, abearded, learned man who nourished the young Lasky withpassages from the legends of the Jews. As one of the `best andbrightest' graduates of New York's City College, Laskyemerged from its seething ideological debates a staunch anti-Stalinistwith a taste for intellectual and occasionallyphysical confrontation. He joined the civil service andworked as a travel guide at the Statue of Liberty, before joiningthe staff of Sol Levitas's anti-Stalinist magazine, the NewLeader. Drafted into the services, he became a combat historianwith US 7th Army in France and Germany, and was laterdemobbed in Berlin, where he became German correspondentfor both the New Leader and Partisan Review.
A short, stocky man, Lasky was given to drawing his shoulderblades back and pushing out his chest, as if primed for afight. Using his oriental-shaped eyes to produce deadly squints,he had acquired from the brusque atmosphere of City Collegean ill-manner which rarely deserted him. In his militant anti-Communismhe was, to use an epithet he bestowed onsomebody else, `as unmovable as the rock of Gibraltar'.Lupine, grittily determined, Lasky was to become a force toreckon with as he stormed his way through the cultural campaignsof the Cold War. His explosive protest at the EastGerman Writers' Congress earned him the title `Father of theCold War in Berlin'. His action even upset the Americanauthorities, who threatened to throw him out. Appalled bythe timidity of his superiors, he compared Berlin to `what afrontier-town must have been like in the States in the middle ofthe 19th century Indians on the horizon, and you've simplygot to have that rifle handy or [if] not your scalp is gone. Butin those days a frontier-town was full of Indian-fighters ...Here very few people have any guts, and if they do they usuallydon't know in which direction to point their rifle.'
But Lasky knew the sheriff, and far from being run out oftown, he was now taken under the wing of the military governor,General Lucius Clay. To him, Lasky protested that whilstthe Soviet lie was travelling round the globe at lightning speed,the truth had yet to get its boots on. He made his case in a passionatelyargued document submitted on 7 December 1947 toClay's office, which called for a radical shake-up in Americanpropaganda. Referred to as `The Melvin Lasky Proposal', thisdocument constituted Lasky's personal blueprint for stagingthe cultural Cold War. `High hopes for peace and internationalunity blinded us to the fact that a concerted political waragainst the USA was being prepared and executed, andnowhere more vigorously than in Germany,' he claimed. `Thesame old anti-democratic anti-American formulas [sic] onwhich many European generations have been fed, and whichthe Nazi propaganda machine under Goebbels brought to apeak, are now being reworked. Viz., the alleged economic selfishnessof the USA (Uncle Sam as Shylock); its alleged deeppolitical reaction (a "mercenary capitalistic press," etc.); itsalleged cultural waywardness (the "jazz and swing mania",radio advertisements, Hollywood "inanities", "cheese-cakeand leg-art"); its alleged moral hypocrisy (the Negro question,sharecroppers, Okies); etc. etc ...'
In extraordinary language, Lasky went on to define the challenge:`The time-honored U.S. formula of "Shed light and thepeople will find their own way" exaggerates the possibilities inGermany (and in Europe) for an easy conversion ... It wouldbe foolish to expect to wean a primitive savage away from hisconviction in mysterious jungle-herbs simply by the disseminationof modern scientific medical information ... We have notsucceeded in combatting the variety of factors political, psychological,cultural which work against U.S. foreign policy,and in particular against the success of the Marshall Plan inEurope.' What was needed now, continued Lasky breathlessly,was an `active' truth, a truth bold enough to `enter the contest',not one which behaved like `an Olympian bystander'. Make nomistake, he warned, the substance of the Cold War was `culturalin range. And it is here that a serious void in the Americanprogram has been most exploited by the enemies of Americanforeign policy ... The void ... is real and grave.'
The `real and grave' void to which Lasky referred was thefailure `to win the educated and cultured classes which, in thelong run, provide moral and political leadership in thecommunity ' to the American cause. This shortcoming, he argued,could be partly addressed by publishing a new journal, onewhich would `serve both as a constructive fillip toGerman-European thought', and also `as a demonstration thatbehind the official representatives of American democracy liesa great and progressive culture, with a richness of achievementsin the arts, in literature, in philosophy, in all the aspectsof culture which unite the free traditions of Europe andAmerica.'
Two days later, Lasky submitted a `Prospectus for the"American Review"' whose purpose should be `to support thegeneral objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe byillustrating the background of ideas, spiritual activity, literaryand intellectual achievement, from which the American democracytakes its inspiration'. The review, he argued, woulddemonstrate that `America and Americans have achievedmature triumphs in all the spheres of the human spirit commonto both the Old and the New Worlds', and thereby constitutethe first really serious effort in `winning large sections of theGerman intelligentsia away from Communistic influence'.
The result was Der Monat, a monthly magazine designed toconstruct an ideological bridge between German and Americanintellectuals and, as explicitly set forth by Lasky, to ease thepassage of American foreign policy interests by supporting `thegeneral objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe'. Setup with General Clay's backing on 1 October 1948, underLasky's editorship, it was printed initially in Munich and airliftedinto Berlin aboard the allied cargo planes on which thecity depended during the blockade. Across the years, DerMonat was financed through `confidential funds' of theMarshall Plan, then from the coffers of the Central IntelligenceAgency, then with Ford Foundation money, and then againwith CIA dollars. For its financing alone, the magazine wasabsolutely a product and an exemplar of American ColdWar strategies in the cultural field.
Der Monat was a temple to the belief that an educated elitecould steer the post-war world away from its own extinction.This, together with their affiliations to the American occupationgovernment, was what united Lasky, Josselson andNabokov. Like Jean Cocteau, who was soon to warn America,`You will not be saved by weaponry, nor by money, but by athinking minority, because the world is expiring, as it does notthink (pense) anymore, but merely spends (déense),' theyunderstood that the dollars of the Marshall Plan would not beenough: financial assistance had to be supplemented by a concentratedprogramme of cultural warfare. This curioustriumvirate Lasky the political militant, Josselson the formerdepartment store buyer, and Nabokov the composer nowstood poised at the cutting edge of what was to become, undertheir guidance, one of the most ambitious secret operations ofthe Cold War: the winning over of the western intelligentsia tothe American proposition.