Quotes from the past: the purpose of Smith-Mundt, the bill

Without comment, here are a few paragraphs from Rethinking Smith-Mundt that should resonate given some of the criticism of public diplomacy over the last several days, especially those who ignore the role of Congress in rebuilding our arsenal of persuasion. Especially when you know that R has, in fact, very little of our money. 

The purpose of H.R. 3342 [the Smith-Mundt Bill] was not to curtail the overall information activities of the United States, but to raise the quality and volume of the government’s information programs. As the State Department admitted to lax oversight due to personnel and budget constraints, Congress voiced its frustration and slashed State’s information budget. The head of the House appropriations committee John Taber (R-NY) said if the “drones, the loafers, and the incompetents” were weeded out, he might allow a few million dollars for international broadcasting.[1]

Rep. Mundt, along with Benton, lined up an impressive list of supporters to testify in support of the bill, including Secretary of State George Marshall, Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Commerce W. Averell Harriman (formerly the Ambassador to Russia), and Ambassador to Russia Lt. General Walter Bedell Smith.[2] They agreed that it was “folly” to spend millions for foreign aid and relief without explaining America’s aims. [3]

Secretary of State George C. Marshall described the importance of active engagement in the war of ideas as a necessary evil: “As long as propaganda is engaged in, we are faced with the necessity of taking actions ourselves.” It is essential, he continued, to make known

what our motives are, what our actions have been and what we have done to assist peoples outside our borders. It is very hard for us here at home to comprehend the degree with which we are not comprehended and the degree with which we are misrepresented.[4]

Eisenhower, following Marshall, gave his “ardent support” for the bill. He testified that “real security, in contrast to the relative security of armaments, could develop only from understanding and mutual comprehension.” He argued that creating awareness and knowledge of the United States and what it does was absolutely necessary. In his testimony he shared examples of “appalling ignorance” of the United States from World War II, including one in which Russian soldiers asked “where did the American soldiers get so many Russian jeeps?”[5]

Also supporting the bill were the American Library Association, the American Book Publishers Council, college professors, and the attorney of the Near East College Association, Allen Dulles.


[1] "The American Twang," Time Magazine, May 26 1947.

[2] Pirsein, The Voice of America: An History of the International Broadcasting Activities of the United States Government, 1940-1962, 137.

[3] "The American Twang."

[4] Edwin L. James, "Congress Weighs Fate of 'Voice of America'; Secretary Marshall Backs Mundt Bill Which Provides Also for Keeping Other Benton Activities Objection to News Service," New York Times, May 18 1947.

[5] Samuel A. Tower, "House Group Votes to Keep U.S. Radio; Sanctions State Department's Information Work after an Urgent Plea by Eisenhower " New York Times, May 21 1947.