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Edward W. Barrett Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Edward W. Barrett

Edward Barrett
Chief, cable-Wireless section, Coordinator of Information Office, March-June, 1942; chief, overseas news and feature bureau, Office of War Information, June 1942-September 1943; member and later acting deputy chief, Psychological Warfare Branch, Allied Forces Headquarters, September 1943-January 1944; executive director of Overseas Operations, Office of War Information, February 1944-October 1944; director of Overseas Operations, Office of War Information, October 1944-45; editorial director, Newsweek magazine, 1946-50; Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, 1950-52.
New York, New York
July 9, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

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Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Edward W. Barrett

 

New York, New York
July 9, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

 

[1]

MCKINZIE: What brought you into Government service in 1942?

BARRETT: Well, I was working at Newsweek, where I was national affairs editor. I shall never forget Pearl Harbor Day. The day before I had put the whole National Affairs Department of Newsweek and the Periscope Department, for which I was responsible, together early. I got it in good shape so that I could go to a lollapalooza of a wedding anniversary party of an old friend. I got home from that party about 5:30 a.m. and wheeled into the office the next day with a terrible hangover, thinking I could just do a little updating patchwork on the department. I had been there a short while when the teletypes

 

[2]

started clanging, "Pearl Harbor!" We had to re-do the entire magazine, of course.

Anyhow, I got war fever and I offered my services to the Navy, and they did not exactly leap at the opportunity. Then they came after me, very mysterious and very hush-hush. There was a young lieutenant, whom I thought was excessively the cop-and-robber type. I thought they were going to try to put me in CIA-type things, but it turned out that they had in mind censorship, which was the last thing I wanted to do.

Somewhere in there FDR's old friend, Vincent Astor, suggested I go down and talk to the people in what was then the [William J.] Donovan Coordinator of Information operation.

I did so, was hired, tarried at Newsweek long enough to train in a successor, and then went down to Washington.

MCKINZIE: Did you have military status?

 

[3]

BARRETT: When I went abroad they would give me a simulated rank, but I didn't have a uniform. I was working as a civilian.

That's how I got into it, and then the COI went through a series of mergers and conversions typical of the Roosevelt administration. When something didn't work, he'd just reconstitute it under a new name, and put two agencies together and place some new guy in charge. I was in charge of setting up a cable news operation for missions around the world. I also handled relations with other national radios when I was still with Donovan. Then that part of Donovan's operation, non-hush-hush, was switched to the Office of War Information under Elmer Davis, and with it went a couple of other Government agencies like the Office of Facts and Figures. That's how I got into this.

MCKINZIE: By the end of the war you were the Director of Overseas Operations, at the time that the European countries were either being conquered

 

[4]

or liberated. Someone said that in World War I, the idea of wartime propaganda was to appeal not so much to that which was between the ears, but to appeal to the glands, and that World War II was more in the nature of selling a product. Elmer Davis made that distinction at some point in about 1943. Did you sense that there was this kind of difference? World War I was very sentimental.

BARRETT: I suppose. Of course, we have to distinguish between national and international. I think when you talk about the emotions and all, you are talking partly about the national aspect: domestic. Elmer increasingly construed it as his job to get information out of the Government and coordinate campaigns for conservation of this, that, and the other. I think that probably his toughest battles were forcing reluctant bureaucrats to put out information that the good public had every right to know.

 

[5]

MCKINZIE: This was a different kind of situation overseas, however.

BARRETT: Overseas we were really trying to tell our own story and to win friends. To win cooperation was the main thing; to get public support in the neutral areas.

MCKINZIE: In World War I, in getting the public support in a neutral area, the idea was to portray the Germans as "Huns" and that kind of thing. To what extent was that still a viable philosophy when you were working overseas in 1941?

BARRETT: Because of Elmer's beliefs, Bob [Robert E.] Sherwood's beliefs, and others' beliefs, we had a very high element of truth in this operation. Therefore, the old concocted type of horror stories were out of bounds. If we got a real one, as later in the war in the German concentration camps, where we could really get testimony and documentation, we played the hell out of it. We got out

 

[6]

booklets on them with grim pictures and all, because these were incredible stories. I didn't believe them myself when I first heard them.

MCKINZIE: What about the battlefield commanders? You made some reference to this in your book, Truth is Our Weapon. Do you think General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower understood the importance of the propaganda effort? I noticed some of the pamphlets you distributed had his signature on them, or facsimilies of his signature.

BARRETT: Yes, Ike understood better than most of them. I don't think [Omar] Bradley did. [Douglas] MacArthur, I suppose, did, but he wanted his own little cabal to run things, so we were not very much in there except to supply some competent staff members. These things were necessarily left up to the field commanders, who had a great deal of power. As the war moved along and we developed some expertise, we got pretty damn good cooperation from the Air Force, in the matter of dropping leaflets

 

[7]

behind the lines, et cetera. I remember we put some pretty good ones out of Okinawa with the full cooperation of Hoyt Vandenberg, "Tooey" [Carl] Spaatz, and a number of the Air Force people.

MCKINZIE: Is the term "psychological warfare" a good one? Warfare implies no holds barred; that there's a motive which is beyond the surface of everything.

BARRETT: I guess, from a purely philosophical standpoint, that I would question the term. I'm afraid it was adopted partly as a means of getting appropriations out of Congress. In those days we found that money for pure information operations, for libraries in neutral areas, for sending American performers abroad, was very hard to come by. If you dressed it up as warfare, money was very easy to come by.

There is, in addition, the fact that this had become the accepted term by those who were a little more experienced than we, like the

 

[8]

British. They had a Psychological Warfare Executive who ran this kind of leaflet, loudspeaker, broadcast operation, directed to enemy areas. Really, we were supposed to be using that term mainly for the enemy areas.

MCKINZIE: To what extent was there cooperation between your people, the British, and the other Allies?

BARRETT: Cooperation with the British was superb; we worked with them very closely. With the other Allies it was rather nominal. After all, we and the British were the main participants after the collapse of France. Cooperation with de Gaulle and his aides was very difficult.

MCKINZIE: Did you ever hear of any contact with the Soviets on this matter?

BARRETT: Yes. I told a couple of little stories in my book, I believe. We had the wonderful experience of setting up the so-called psychological warfare

 

[9]

operation and an information operation at Ike's command in Algiers. The information operation was directed at the North African-Algerian audience to help justify our being there and to try to keep them from being too annoyed at these damned Americans.

Our psychological warfare work consisted, in large part, of broadcasts. We took the old WABC out of New York over there, and we set up a few short-wave transmitters. There were also leaflet operations, a great deal of interviewing of prisoners to get information to broadcast back, and news services to the newly liberated areas like Southern Italy, where we really got the newspapers started again. We did the same thing in France, later.

On the broadcast side (these were United Nations forces, if you remember) we decided to label this thing "United Nations Radio." The British concurred, and we just jockeyed around until we got a Russian "concurrence," which was

 

[10]

really just a Russian failure to object.

After that we'd have to go through the motions of getting a Soviet representative there to "approve" when there was a new departure. We quickly learned a technique which was built on the fact that they do have a pretty rigid system. The technique was just that of saying, "Unless you object, we are beginning the day after tomorrow to do such and such." They didn't dare object without going back to Moscow through their whole bureaucracy. If we had asked their approval we could have waited months, because this was pretty low priority stuff on the Russian side.

We had a great American-British civilian and military setup in North Africa. We took a few civilians over who knew the business, including a lot of linguists; individuals who had been newspapermen in Poland, Germany (particularly), Austria, Italy, and some very skilled British. Then we combed the military and we would find,

 

[11]

working in G-4, a superb Italian newspaperman who was being used to dole out uniforms. We managed to get a number of such individuals away from the military and put them to useful work. We had an utterly whacky organization; we'd assign individuals in terms of their ability. For example, I remember one day coming into the newsroom and finding Sergeant Schoenbrun, David Schoenbrun, giving Captain Burkell hell for the story he had turned in.

MCKINZIE: In your book you quoted someone's statement that good public relations is just "acting right and letting people know about it." Of course, that right depends upon one's perspective of it. How sophisticated did you aim and to what audience? Did you appeal to a man who needed his news in terms of right and wrong, or to a more elite group who could perhaps see all of the perspectives on a problem and hopefully, logically, lead them to the proper conclusions?

 

[12]

BARRETT: Well, we found ourselves trying to appeal to both, really to quite a number of strata. Sure, that "acting right" line is a kind of a vast oversimplification attributed to an old shirt-sleeve type public relations guy, but the fact is that if you are not "acting right," at least by your own standards, you'll play hell having an effective public relations campaign. After all, there are a number of areas where, damn it, intelligent men's concepts of right and wrong should agree regardless of which side they are on, such as making agreements and breaking them or keeping them, treating prisoners decently in wartime, abiding by the Geneva Convention, living up to your commitment to your own Allies, and so on.

I'd be the first to say that we really tried to stick to the truth and to tell nothing but the truth, but we didn't always tell the whole truth.

 

[13]

MCKINZIE: At that time, in 1943 through '45, to what extent did you think that your work was going to serve future political purposes? Or, did you see it much more as something which was designed to serve the immediate military purpose of reducing the will of the enemy to resist?

BARRETT: Well, we tried certainly to reduce the enemies' will to resist in so-called tactical, psychological warfare -- the over-the-line stuff, the artillery and plane-borne leaflets directed at enemy troops. That was primarily tactical. Partly because we had a few decent historians and social scientists who had pretty clear recollections of World War I and its aftermath, we tried to keep from getting our necks out where anyone could say we hadn't lived up to our commitments. I think a majority of us, therefore, probably agreed with FDR and Mr. Truman on the unconditional surrender line, even though it would prolong the war a bit. That's a subject that has been debated and can be debated now. It's probably

 

[14]

better than having made commitments and promises that you've found, for one reason or another, you can't live up to.

MCKINZIE: You talked briefly in your book about what you call "psyche-war." The group concerned with this had the responsibility of going in after the occupying forces to the radio stations, the movies, the magazines, and the newspapers and (to use your words) "to clean them out," start them up again, and gradually turn them over to trustworthy personnel. Do you recall the criteria for turning them over to other personnel?

BARRETT: We had, by that time, recruited in our own ranks a fair number of emigré journalists and broadcasters from the countries concerned. We also had rounded up all of the Americans we could find who had had experience in Germany, Italy, or Austria, and we had a fair batch of them. We tried to put one of them in charge of, say, a major newspaper, buttress him with three or four

 

[15]

emigrés, and then they would go about trying to find the reliable Germans or Austrians who could be put in charge of this, that, or the other. They'd operate with a skeleton staff at first and they would have the G-2 people rounding up all the information they could, which was awfully inadequate on occasion. But usually, your American who had worked in Berlin, an Ed Taylor and someone like that, would know of four or five Germans and say, "Oh, damn it, I know that he's a good man, and I know he didn't go along with the Nazis any more than he absolutely had to, and I'm sure as I can be that we can count on him." Then you'd check with the native emigrés and they'd have similar views. So, you'd pull him in and then you'd ask him to help you pick some others, and you always were taking some chance, but your policing was not difficult if anyone tried anything tricky.

MCKINZIE: You had good cooperation with the military commands at that point, because this was involved

 

[16]

with the occupation authority of the Army.

BARRETT: At that point we had excellent cooperation (with a few exceptions) simply because they were pretty helpless in this field without us. I understood this; so did [Walter] Bedell Smith and Al [Alfred] Gruenther.

President Truman understood what we were doing a hell of a lot better than Mr. Roosevelt ever did. I don't know how; he just kind of soaked it up through his pores. Even though Bob Sherwood was in there as Roosevelt's pre-eminent speechwriter, I never was sure that FDR really understood what we were doing. Mr. Truman did.

MCKINZIE: Did you consider staying in that work when V-E Day came?

BARRETT: Oh, no, I wanted to get the hell out. I helped through a transition period; we put it in the State Department. I proposed a man in whom I had implicit confidence, Ferdinand Kuhn, and he weathered all of the bureaucratic headaches

 

[17]

of the State Department. I was pretty exhausted at that time, too.

MCKINZIE: In a sense, what happened as soon as you left was that the thing was dismantled?

BARRETT: Well, they sure started cutting it down, but it wasn't completely scrapped.

MCKINZIE: You wrote in your book concerning the time that President Truman asked the State Department to study the possibility of a permanent information service (which you did sometime in August of 1945), that "Secretary Byrnes had little appreciation for international information." Could you embellish upon that a little bit?

BARRETT: I can't, because that's almost all secondhand. I don't think I talked with Jim Byrnes more than twice in that period, although I had known him slightly on the Hill. It was Ferdie Kuhn's job to work with him.

 

[18]

MCKINZIE: I noticed that they had you going to the London meeting in 1946, about a year after you got out.

BARRETT: Yes, but that was on UNESCO matters.

MCKINZIE: But it did involve the business of information?

BARRETT: Yes, it involved the minds of men; trying to influence them.

MCKINZIE: Did you have any faith that the U.N. was going to serve an important purpose in bringing a meeting of minds when you went off to London?

BARRETT: Oh, I guess I thought that one thing it could achieve would be to provide a reasonably well-publicized forum where countries, through individuals, could debate issues, and that this could have a salutary effect. I thought also that we needed some special effort in this field, just as we need one in the economic and trade field.

 

[19]

This dream of a UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization, was worth doing to see what we could achieve. Those glowing words of the preamble to the UNESCO constitution, I guess drawn up by Archie [Archibald] MacLeish, were pretty good. "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." There is some truth to that.

MCKINZIE: So you could do it with enthusiasm when you went there in 1946?

BARRETT: Yes. I could do it even while recognizing that we were going to have difficulties, that the kinds of people who get involved in those may not be the quintessence of practicality, like some of my academic colleagues; but we needed that ingredient. Because everyone brought his pet little notions in and got a little money for them, UNESCO came to be described as a "cavalcade of hobby horses." There was a lot

 

[20]

of that in it, but also a little bit of movement in the right general direction.

MCKINZIE: You talk about Mr. Benton's valiant struggles to get money out of Congress in 1946 and 1947; did you know Mr. Benton, and did you think that his approach was appropriate?

BARRETT: Yes, I knew Bill Benton well. I don't think his approach was always appropriate; sometimes it was, sometimes not. Bill was a little bit of an unreconstructed advertising man who tended to oversimplify. He had a lot of energy and had some good notions on how to sell things to Congress. He had a very good notion when he got the Congress to set up two commissions, one for information and one for cultural operations. When we had a Republican Congress he got a couple of good Republican names (Alexander Smith and Karl Mundt) on the authorizing legislation, and they took a part in it from then on; it was their little pet thing. Some of these things paid off pretty well. On the other

 

[21]

hand, when Bill went around donating sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to the Appropriations Committee members, it rubbed some the wrong way. People like John Tabor didn't want to be "bribed" with anything as small as a set of encyclopedias.

MCKINZIE: You discuss in your book the mood of Congress in the postwar years; stingy in some ways, and certainly not appreciative. How do you explain congressional reluctance to support information activities, at the very time the cold war was beginning to heat up?

BARRETT: I think, to begin with, that American Congressmen, like Americans in general, were suspicious of anything that could be labeled propaganda, suspicious of Government information operations. Even today, a lot of the public relations types in Government have euphemisms as titles; they are "Assistant to the Secretary" and so forth.

Secondly, there had been a few whacky things done in the early days of these operations. Half

 

[22]

the members of Congress had learned about these and had some stories about them.

Thirdly, the whole business of public relations was, even on the national scene, just beginning to take hold. Transferring it to the international scene on the part of the government aroused some skepticism on their part. It was a matter of gradually winning their confidence with good operations, which came with experience.

I remember two or three Congressmen who were very suspicious. We prevailed on them to take a trip to look in on some of the operations, trying our best to steer them to our better ones. They came away pretty impressed with the fact that a void was being filled; that postwar anti-American sentiments were being built up in one area, notably the economic area, and it was worthwhile to get the American viewpoint across, provide materials to editorial writers or to scholars. This, of course, was much lower-key stuff than the wartime business, and it involved a cultural effort. There were a certain number of hard-

 

[23]

bitten Congressmen who, at that point, certainly didn’t believe in culture with a capital C.

MCKINZIE: Were you following all this closely after you returned to civilian life?

BARRETT: Yes, I couldn’t help but follow it. I was serving on advisory panels and things like that, where I was asked to come testify on this, that, or the other thing.

The plain fact is that in today’s complex world you’ve got a void. If you don’t make some effort to fill it, somebody else is going to fill it with the wrong information. You do such things as a simple exchange of persons; bringing a lot of Europeans and Asians over here just to see this blooming country, and sending lecturers around to lecture at their universities. You don’t have to ask them to deliver propaganda; they just try to explain what the hell this crazy country is all about. And while it is crazy in many ways, it’s got a certain quality of openness, vigor, and general decency that appeals.

[24]

MCKINZIE: After President Truman’s speech, in which he promised aid to Greece and Turkey, you mention in your book that there were some prolonged evening discussions among the various members of the Congress who wanted the Government to take a stand which would not appear to put smaller nations in the position of pawns in the evolving power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. Do you recall anything at all about those discussions?

BARRETT: My memory of that now is considerably less than it apparently was when I wrote it. I got the information about those meetings, I imagine, from Averell Harriman and some other friends, maybe through Ferdie Kuhn or Howland Sargent, who was working with Bill Benton then and had a much more subtle mind than Bill had. Bill didn’t really have any appreciation of the subtleties in something like this.

At the time of the Truman Doctrine I was at Newsweek. I was there during the early stages

 

[25]

of the announcements of the Marshall plan, and then I guess I moved into Government for the second time while the Marshall plan was being cranked up, which was in very early 1950.

MCKINZIE: Who put your name forward?

BARRETT: Well, it's a very curious thing. The State Department was looking for someone to go down there. A friend of mine named Thurman Barnard had been an advertising man with considerable sophistication in international affairs and had worked in our wartime operations. He was then second in command of the Compton Agency, was tired of advertising, and he wanted the job. They inquired about him and he asked me if I'd say a word for him. I did. I wrote Jim Webb, who was then Under Secretary of State, on his behalf. I got an acknowledgment, and about two weeks later I got a call saying, "We checked around with the people who knew Barnard and they all say he's good, but they say you'd be a lot better. How

 

[26]

about it?"

I said, "Well, I'm just getting things organized at Newsweek." I began to think about it and talked to my wife (we were both getting rather steamed up over the cold war by then). I think I got a call from Acheson, whom I didn't know (it was one of those flattering things). I then became more open to it and went down to talk to him. Then I had that curious incident when (I think I told this in the book) they put my name forward prematurely. Some clerk asked me where I was from and I said, "Well, I'm technically a resident of Connecticut. I moved there three months ago."

I also had to tell them that I hadn't voted for Mr. Truman. I had voted for Mr. Dewey, whom I had known and sort of respected. I hadn't known Mr. Truman. I subsequently had a few words with Mr. Truman about that that were very amusing. I think I may have mentioned that in the book. I've forgotten now.

 

[27]

With the backing of my wife, with whom I had discussed it, I decided when I went down to see the President (he was seeing all of the appointees, even the Assistant Secretaries) that I'd have to tell him. He said, "Oh, that's all right, Mr. Barrett." He said, "Between us, we've run out of good Democrats."

MCKINZIE: That was the deciding thing, when he asked you to take the job, an important job, and said that you should stay at that period?

BARRETT: Yes, that was it. But then I had to go around with these characters on the White House staff -- Donald Dawson, I believe, and get squared away with Brian McMahon, a Senator from Connecticut who had never heard of me. Then there was Bailie, who was sort of a Democratic chairman up there. Bill Benton was all right; he knew me. He was in there for a short time as Senator then, I believe. He and Chester Bowles were both there.

 

[28]

MCKINZIE: I suppose you had to testify before your Senate confirmation?

BARRETT: Actually I didn't; they didn't make me testify. I guess I had had a fair record in the wartime work, and there were two or three of them who remembered, so they just confirmed me without my appearing.

MCKINZIE: You said you began with a major study of how things were and what needed to be done. Would that be the way you would approach any job?

BARRETT: Yes, it's the only way I know to do it. You try, in the short time you have, to get the best size-up you can. When they asked me to be Dean of Journalism at Columbia I took advantage of the time to get hold of five, six, eight friends I had who had been to Columbia Journalism. Then I pulled a dirty trick on them in a way; I didn't tell them I'd been offered the job. I would take them to lunch on one excuse or another, talk about everything under the sun, and then ask what they thought of the School of

 

[29]

Journalism. That was probably the last time I got fully frank answers.

MCKINZIE: When you made that study you wrote a summary of your conclusions which you have included in your book. You didn't say anything about morale of the people when you went in, though you did say that the USIS hadn't been able to get enough engineers or good executives, because it hadn't been able to pay enough. Given the kind of people you had, did they feel like they were doing an important job?

BARRETT: Yes. My recollection is not as clear as when I wrote that, but I would say that the morale was surprisingly good, considering. They needed some better key people, but the morale was better than you would normally expect in a Government bureaucracy.

By the way, I happen to be one who thinks that we get in our Government Civil Service better people than we are entitled to.

MCKINZIE: Your organization would be a very

 

[30]

heterogeneous group, wouldn't it, with many language competencies and various intellectual pretensions?

BARRETT: Yes, that's right. I think it had a heritage of some great people who were brought into it during the war. I remember that during the war there were so many horrible stories going around about people who were assigned to work in the Army and Navy, for which they were utterly unqualified and in which they were utterly uninterested. But there was a pretty capable group who had gravitated into these information things; people who were pretty good at writing, editing, and had knowledge of various areas. There were still a fair number of them when I went back, and these were dedicated people.

MCKINZIE: What about support from Dean Acheson? You must have talked to him since he was Secretary at that time.

 

[31]

BARRETT: He was all right on it. We were not Dean's first line of interest. His deputy, Jim Webb, had more interest in it. Dean, I guess, was more interested in the State Department's own posture in the U.S. Sometimes I had great admiration for him, but I didn't think his public relations were of the best, on a whole. He wouldn't always pay too much attention to the advice you'd give him. He became a different man when he became Secretary of State. As an Assistant Secretary in Charge of Congressional Relations, he handled a lot of things very smoothly on the Hill, but when he became Secretary he was maybe a little too busy, and impressed with the importance of the job. He was less than tactful in dealing with a number of people on the Hill, particularly individuals who were less intelligent than he. There were a vast number of those, because he was a very bright guy.

MCKINZIE: His phrase was that he didn't "suffer fools gladly."

 

[32]

BARRETT: That's right, but while he was Assistant Secretary he did!

MCKINZIE: Did you feel free or feel it was your responsibility to try to head him off on some things and send forward recommendations as to how to handle this or that?

BARRETT: Oh yes, we wouldn't hesitate to do that. He'd call me in when he was making a speech -- after I'd been there awhile, though not very much in my earlier stage. He did bring me in on the top councils of the Department and in the morning meeting; things which my predecessors had not been in on. This had been a recommendation of his advisory board, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, which was one of the things that Bill Benton and Alexander Smith had set up.

They had recommended that it should be raised to a higher level within the Department, so I was brought in on these morning meetings

 

[33]

and all that sort of thing.

MCKINZIE: Did you find it at all difficult to come up with believable packages when you tried to explain what U.S. policy was on particular issues? Dean Acheson is famous for having said that the best foreign policy was one of "flexible response," which makes it a little hard to say what you are going to do and what you believe.

Do you recall ever being hard put to come up with something that didn't sound just too platitudinous?

BARRETT: Yes, definitely. Dean, of course, had a very practical view of the execution of foreign policy, this flexibility. You've got to get over the notion that, you can solve every problem. You've got to try to break your major problems down to components and get them on a small enough scale so that each one of them is manageable.

At the same time, Acheson had pretty decent ideals himself. When he went to work to think

 

[34]

through a problem, to make the case for it, he was pretty damn good. One of the wisest things I ever heard him say was on one morning when we were discussing a problem, and somebody came up with an approach to it. Another one said, "No, there is no sense in bothering with that. We just couldn't get that accepted on the Hill."

And Dean said, "Well, now, to hell with that. Let's first consider what we ought to do, what the right thing is to do, and reach a decision on that. Then we'll come back and look at it again in terms of expediency and practical objections and see to what extent we have to modify it." It's a good philosophy, and he pretty well followed it. This was, after all, that gloomy period when we had isolationist trends, normal postwar stuff, and we were cutting the hell out of all of our military. If it hadn't been for the damn fools in Korea and China and Russia who pulled the plug in Korea, we never would have got built our forces up again to where

 

[35]

we could be on a par with Russia.

MCKINZIE: When you took the office in early 1950, you concluded that the condition of the world was such that a number of modifications needed to be made. Among them, the Voice of America needed to be strengthened with more highly qualified top people, and there needed to be more technicians abroad who knew how to use various techniques in various places. You also said that the U.S. should take the offensive. What does that mean, "take the offensive?"

BARRETT: As I recall, I was talking in a cold war, Russia versus the U.S., context. I'm at a disadvantage because you've done your homework better or more recently than I have. In the context of the cold war, we needed to take more initiative. I suppose that is what I would say.

MCKINZIE: We should take more initiative, getting an accurate portrayal of U.S. life and U.S.

 

[36]

policy with other people?

BARRETT: Yes. We needed to work on strengthening facilities; getting stronger broadcast operations directed towards the Iron Curtain areas; being somewhat more forthright in telling the Russians and the captive peoples of some of the things going on in their own areas; and taking more initiatives in neutral and allied areas. Hell, as I probably implied in here, the short-wave radio isn't worth a whale of a lot in broadcasting to the people of London or Paris; it's too damn much trouble to listen to. With initiative, you can work out a lot of arrangements; to supply an American commentary show every Tuesday and Thursday to the national network. And it isn't a tightly controlled propagandistic thing for a guy who is a pretty good representative of this country to say what he wants to say. The same goes for a Britisher or a Frenchman who really understands this country. We might just

 

[37]

provide the facilities for getting his voice across the Atlantic.

We also needed to be connected with providing films that can be used on national networks in South America or anywhere else you want and documents to editorial writers who are always writing in the dark. When Mr. Truman had a new speech, we should have been able to get the text over there in a hurry and give it to the editorial writer, who then would know more about it than anybody else in his country.

MCKINZIE: Then you would have considered it within the responsibility of your office to deal with such things as book sales abroad, the use of U.S. motion picture films, etc. Those get kind of complex in tariff regulations and all that.

BARRETT: Oh, boy! The motion picture industry had a whole set of problems of its own. They weren't always putting America's best foot forward; penthouses and gangsters were usual

 

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themes.

MCKINZIE: Was there anything that you could do?

BARRETT: Very little. We tried our best and had untold numbers of conferences with motion picture exporters and export associations. We'd get them to distribute some shorts that showed the healthy, good side. But we couldn't and wouldn't attempt to censor their output. We would try simply to get them to achieve some balance.

MCKINZIE: Mr. Benton was very impressed with the potential of the Voice of America. Were you?

BARRETT: To shut-off areas, yes. In the so-called "free world," sometimes you could get to them when you could sway the local network or even the local stations to pick up Voice things and relay them. Short-wave radio to open areas is not a very useful device. Witness the number of people in this country who tune in short-wave radio. I know two of them. But granted that, in the

 

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restricted areas short-wave can really do a good job.

MCKINZIE: How were you brought into the councils with the outbreak of the Korean war?

BARRETT: I was not in the councils with the outbreak of the Korean war, because I was out on the Pacific coast making three speeches. I was making a speech to, I believe, the motion picture people in Los Angeles. The Korean war had broken out just a few hours before. I irritated the councils a bit, I guess, because I was asked in a question period if it was likely that the North Koreans had done this without the knowledge of the Russians and the Chinese Communists. I said, "I don't know, but I find it difficult to imagine Donald Duck going on a rampage without Walt Disney knowing about it."

I had a quick word from Washington that the Secretary wished I would hold my tongue on these things, which was perfectly right; he was

 

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trying to get the Russians to quiet this thing down.

So, by the time I got back to Washington the critical period was over, and they had done this fantastic job, with Jack [John D.] Hickerson in the State Department (an equally low-level type), mobilizing some forces of the U.N. The Russians stupidly walked out at the wrong time. Mr. Truman was great in that. He had the United Nations canopy under which to operate, anyway. I cannot claim I was really in on that in any way.

On the MacArthur thing I was in, but I wasn't in on this aspect.

MCKINZIE: To what extent were you encouraged to play up the United Nations aspect of it? This is something Mr. Truman seemed to do quite a bit.

BARRETT: We advocated playing it up, so we didn't have to be told. This was great; we had a

 

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collective of free nations that was opposing this thing in Korea and this was ideal from our standpoint. The trouble came when, every now and then, somebody would squawk that we were being a little too candid in reporting things like "Australian participation amounted to so much." But we always had the defense that we certainly weren't over-emphasizing it, and we had to be truthful.

We never had any problem from the White House or Mr. Acheson; it was always some desk officer.

MCKINZIE: Korean money got to be a little more plentiful and you could expand operations in the ways you had recommended sometime earlier.

BARRETT: That's right. What applied to the whole big military strength of the U.S. applied to our little operation.

MCKINZIE: Did you have contact with General MacArthur's

 

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staff about an information program in Korea?

BARRETT: Yes, but I'm fuzzy on that. It seems to me that we had to work through some character named Colonel Whitney. We had some men in the field at MacArthur's headquarters who learned to work in the strange framework, and they just carried on. We sent them whatever they needed. The bigger problems came, as I recall, when they began to come in with reports of belligerent stuff coming out from the Chinese Communists. All our monitoring summaries and digests read as though the Chinese were preparing their people for moving in. MacArthur was sending back dispatches saying there was no chance of their coming in; he "knew them." I then started feeding our material to Secretary Ach