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Picturing the “War of Ideas”: Wartime Film-Making in Korea

Throughout the Cold War, democratic and communist nations waged a “war of ideas.” The United States, seeking to expose the disadvantages of communism and to encourage democracy, engaged in numerous media campaigns targeted at influencing peoples in zones of Cold War conflict. The U.S. State Department, along with branches of the American military and other government agencies, published leaflets, newsreels, films, articles, and cartoons in numerous languages around the world.

During the Korean War (1950-1953), this use of soft power was intended, in the words of Public Affairs Officer James L. Stewart, “to create democratic-minded people in Korea friendly to the United States.” For much of the war, the State Department’s domestic film-making campaign in Korea was headed by a single American, William G. Ridgeway, and staffed by dozens of South Koreans who had reinvented themselves as film industry workers.

Ridgeway played a key role in sharing American ideas and shifting South Korean sentiment against communists as the Motion Picture Officer in Korea from 1950-1958. It was far from an easy task; he contended with an evacuation from Seoul, a severe dearth of equipment, and local cultural norms. Read more

Soft Power in a Cold War: Challenges of Reaching out to the Soviets

The “Iron Curtain” was a term used to denote the efforts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to block its citizens from contact with the West. It persisted from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War. Throughout those decades, the U.S. endeavored to breach the Curtain and reach out to Soviet society through radio, exchanges, exhibits and other forms of public diplomacy.

The U.S. Voice of America (VOA), launched during the Second World War as a radio program to explain America’s policies and raise the morale of U.S. allies, continued after the Allied Victory to make information available to listeners throughout the world. VOA began its first Russian-language radio broadcasts into the Soviet Union on February 17, 1947 with the words: “Hello! This is New York calling,” The programs contained news, entertainment, educational features and music. A Harvard University study estimated that 28 million people in the Soviet Union tuned in at least once a week. Read more

Basketball: the Fifth Basket of the Helsinki Final Act

The Helsinki Final Act, an agreement signed by 35 nations at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) on August 1, 1975, addressed a spectrum of global problems and had a lasting impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. The Helsinki Final Act dealt with a variety of issues divided into four “baskets.” The first basket dealt with political and military issues, the second economic issues, trade and scientific cooperation. The third basket emphasized human rights, and the fourth formalized procedures for implementing the agreements.

The multilateral negotiations were stressful and demanding. In this case, one means of reaching decisions on the four baskets came in the form of basketball. But just as in the case of diplomacy, in basketball you can run across “ringers”  – people whose abilities may not be readily apparent. Not everyone knew that Soumi – Finland – had its share of athletic diplomats who could make a lay up. Jonathan Greenwald, who served as the Legal Advisor to the U.S. Mission in West Berlin from 1973-1977, highlighted the role that basketball played in bringing together different delegations during the negotiating process of the Helsinki Final Act, in an interview with Raymond Ewing in March 1998. Read more

The ACDA-USIA Merger into State — The End of of an Era

As the Cold War began to go into full swing, the United States soon realized the need for distinct agencies that would operate outside of the existing federal executive departments. Accordingly, independent agencies such as the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were created in 1961 and 1953 respectively to address new challenges and issues that were occurring in the ideological struggle of the time.

However, as the conflict gradually came to an end, certain individuals such as Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began to see these organizations as superfluous and unwieldy and viewed them as “Cold War agencies.” He then pushed to fold them into the State Department. With the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, both agencies were fully absorbed into the State Department by 1999. Read more

An Embassy in Flames: Islamabad, 1979

The November 21, 1979 attack on the American Embassy in Islamabad started as a small group demonstration in front of the embassy, where protesters shouted anti-American slogans and demanded entry into the campus. Police officers were able to stop the protesters and have them leave the area. However, about fifteen minutes later, some six busloads of Pakistani students arrived and laid siege to the American embassy compound for several hours, from midday until nightfall. The students were angry because of suspected U.S. involvement in the coup d’état of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and execution in April 1979. The final straw came from false reports, made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that the United States had launched a terrorist attack on the Grand Mosque, Masjid al-Haram, at Mecca. Read more

Anatomy of an Overthrow: How an African Leader was Toppled

A council of combined security forces known as the Derg staged a coup d’état on September 12, 1974 against Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, arresting and imprisoning the monarch who had ruled for decades. The committee renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council, took control of the government, soon abolished the monarchy and established Marxism-Leninism as Ethiopia’s ideology. Emperor Haile Selassie died in August 1975; some believe his political successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam, was complicit in his death.

Why oust someone who led his country for 45 years and who millions of Rastafarians revered as a messianic figure? Conditions for the take-over began with the Selassie regime’s failure to undertake economic and political reforms, along with inflation, corruption and drought-related famine in northeastern provinces, so that military unrest quickly spread to the civilian population and ignited a nation-wide revolution. There was general resistance to Selassie’s reign because of an array of grievances including higher fuel prices, curriculum changes in the schools, low teachers’ salaries, poor working conditions in general and the need for land reform. Read more

When the Life of the Party Became Ambassador to France

An effective diplomat, dazzling socialite, and the mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman won the respect of fellow diplomats and adroitly handled complex problems related to the war in the Balkans, export subsidies, and intellectual property rights during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1993-1997. Richard Holbrooke said of her service in Paris: “She spoke the language, she knew the country; she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States.”

Pamela Beryl Digby was born in England in March 20, 1920. The daughter of a baron, she was well-educated and moved in prominent circles from a young age. At 19, she married Randolph Churchill. She soon became the confidante of his father, Winston Churchill, and through him she met the administrator of the lend-lease program, Averell Harriman, whom she would marry 30 years later. Together, the Harrimans worked to raise millions of dollars and rebuild the Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Pamela Harriman played such an important role that one biographer called her the “Life of the Party.” Read more

Observing the Fiftieth Anniversary of VJ-Day in Japan

How to commemorate an important anniversary of the country in which you’re posted when it marks a low point in the bilateral relationship? World War II came to an end when Imperial Japan announced its surrender on August 15, 1945; officials from its government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2 aboard the USS Missouri. It was the end of a series of losses for Japan, including the detonation of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, the declaration of war on Japan by the Soviet Union on August 8, and the launch of a second bomb on Nagasaki by the U.S. on August 9.

Fifty years later, American diplomats in Japan struggled with acknowledging the events of that fateful year in a way that would strengthen ties with an enemy-turned-ally yet not minimize the sacrifices of Americans who fought in the war. Read more

Jesse Helms: The Senator Who Just Said No

Jesse Alexander Helms, a five-term Republican Senator (1973- 2003) from North Carolina, was known not only for his conservative beliefs but for the lengths he would go in support of them. A proponent of the conservative resurgence movement in the 1970s, Helms cherished his nickname: “Senator No,” granted for his obstructionist tendencies. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms demanded a staunchly anti-communist, anti-leftist foreign policy. He took a special interest in Latin American affairs.

To that end, he obstructed the appointment of dozens of State Department appointments over his three decades in the Senate. Helms’ staff shared their boss’ conservatism and could be as tough to deal with as the Senator himself. Read more

The Neutron Bomb — A Negotiating Dud

The neutron bomb, a low-yield thermonuclear weapon which would be especially lethal to enemy ground troops but would not seriously damage buildings, became the focus of international controversy when the U.S. and a few others had proposed deploying the weapon in Western Europe to counter the Soviet threat.

Many NATO countries were unwilling to accept the bombs on their territory, as they did not want to become Cold War hot spots. The United States, however, wanted a forward deployed weapon that could deter Soviet aggression, allow for great flexibility after it was used, and which presented a more credible threat to Soviet tanks. Read more