Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fulbright on USIA

Last week I found myself in the special collections section of the University of Arkansas Library, helping out with some research (rather, with some of the legwork involved in archival research) on William J. Fulbright. (invaluable experience, I should say!) To me, the Senator's most distinguished contribution has always been his role in the growth of the educational and cultural exchanges as well as his strong stance on foreign aid. Yet, it was quite an eye-opening experience to come across many other domestic and international issues, of which I was obviously not as well aware of (if at all). Definitely something to read up on in the near future...

Yet, what I wanted to share here was a specific document, a copy of in-house communication. Although I'm sure there are many more similar ones (some of which I saw but sadly had to pass..), this was the only USIA or public diplomacy-related document that I managed to get on the camera as I was hectically clicking away through the folders.

From: MS/F956/144, BCN 121. F24 Fulbright Papers

It is basically a note to the Chief of Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from April 1958 where Fulbright is expressing discontent (to put it mildly) about the weakness of certain informational campaigns undertaken by the US Information Agency. Unfortunately I was unable to find the "enclosed copy" of the letter referred to above in that folder, neither did I have the time to. Yet, I do think it's noteworthy that Fulbright referred to USIA officers as "our propaganda people".

Being the strong believer in exchanges that he was, perhaps it is not all that surprising. Just ironic, and perhaps a little too telling. Especially for me, looking back some 50+ years.


  1. A very nice find.
    W. Fulbright was truly a great man, a politician that his country can and should be legitimately proud of.

  2. I certainly agree. But some of the letters that people sent to him at the time were... let's just say, horrid. There were many then, just as there would be now, who disagreed with what he did and what he stood for, and that's why I'm afraid not all would "be proud" of him -- whether then or now...

  3. Lena, Thank you for this. Ochen' interesno. The below may amuse you:

    “‘[Senator] Fulbright had outspokenly opposed international propaganda in our government. When he coldly queried [USIA Director Leonard] Marks on the meaning of propaganda, Marks replied respectfully, 'If I say you are chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that's a fact; whereas if I say you are the finest chairman in the history of the Senate, that's propaganda.' Fulbright shot back: 'No, you're wrong -- that's a fact!’"

    --Cited in Fitzhugh Green, American Propaganda Abroad (1988 ), p. 54

  4. Hahahaha :) He was a true character! :)
    I clearly need to read more... [sigh]

  5. I always find it ironic that Fulbright, who was a staunch opponent of desegregation and civil rights for Blacks, created an education exchange program that brought a Kenyan scholar to America that would father the first African-American president.

  6. In Randall Woods' biography, Fulbright is portrayed as very critical of US public diplomacy. In 1950, he wrote of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe to a fellow (Southern segregationist) Senator: "I think the Europeans have an instinctive resistance to official propaganda and that we are wasting our money." [Woods, p. 195] The Fulbright program was his alternative.

  7. He was also a football fan, and apparently has begun to tweet from beyond the grave....

  8. @Mitchell: indeed, that's ironic. But I think he was a forward thinking man, at least in that regard :)

    @James: he knew what works, in short. As for the tweets, this is HILARIOUS. I'm currently following Senator Fulbright's statue, and the statue is following me back!!