December 19, 2014

Upcoming New Book: Poland's War on Radio Free Europe, 1950-1989

Here is the breakdown of a new book of interest to be published in January 2015:

The Woodrow Wilson Center Press

Poland's War on Radio Free Europe, 1950–1989

Cold War International History Project Series
For the Soviet bloc, the struggle against foreign radio was one of the principal fronts in the Cold War. Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe, 1950–1989 tells how Poland conducted this fight, a key part of the wider effort “to control the flow of information and ideas, which largely determined the Communist regimes’ ability to command their societies and to meet their political and ideological goals,” according to Paweł Machcewicz.

This is the first book in English to use the unique documents of Communist foreign intelligence operations so widely, and it also employs propaganda materials and personal interviews with Radio Free Europe people and with party and security functionaries. The English translation reflects further discoveries of documentation since the original publication in Polish in 2007.

Paweł Machcewicz is a professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, and director of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. He was a Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center in 2013 and was a Cold War International History Project Scholar at the Center in 1994 and 2007.

Price: $65.00 hardcover, Woodrow Wilson Center Press with Stanford University Press, 2014

What People are Saying

“General readers will find this a fascinating and dramatic account of an important and often quirky institution, and of the Polish regime’s decades-long campaign to neutralize its impact. It reads like a Cold War thriller.”—Robert L. Hutchings, University of Texas at Austin

“The work excels in its use of forensic research in Polish secret service archives and its reconstruction from partial data of a range of regime countermeasures. It impressively marshals secondary Polish literature, some of which also draws on archival research. Its focus is not the organization and operations of RFE, but the Polish regime’s efforts to counter them. It illuminates the world-view of the Polish regime and its secret services.”—A. Ross Johnson, former director, Radio Free Europe

Chapter List

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations and Selected Government Bureaus and Divisions
Introduction: The Communist Regimes and Western Broadcasting
1. Radio Free Europe: Its Genesis and Its Place in the Cold War
2. Stalinism, 1950–1956
3. Władysław Gomułka’s Era, 1956–1970
4. Operation Olcha: The Security Service versus Radio Free Europe’s Contacts in Poland
5. The Gierek Era, Détente, and a Massive Attack on Radio Free Europe, 1971–1975
6. From Helsinki to the Demise of Communism, 1975–1989


December 01, 2014

Radio Liberty's First Director Francis (Ronny) S. Ronalds, RIP

Ronalds and Martin Luther King
Radio Liberty's first director Francis (Ronny) S. Ronalds died on November 26, 2014. Below is the obituary of one of the major figures in the development of Radio Liberty:


Francis S. Ronalds, Jr., whose leadership career in U.S. broadcasting to the Soviet Union saw the American Radio Liberty transformed from a figment of the CIA's imagination to a powerful voice listened to daily by millions of Soviet citizens, and openly and unashamedly funded by the U.S. Congress, died peacefully in his sleep on November 26 at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, aged 89.

Francis Spring Ronalds, Jr. was born in Champaign, Illinois in 1925, the son of a history professor at the University of Illinois. He had an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and studied at the Russian Institute of Columbia University. His education was temporarily interrupted by three years of service in the U.S. Navy during World War two. He learned Russian at the Navy Language School in Boulder, Colo., later serving as a Russian interpreter in the Allied Control Commission for Austria, in Vienna and as a naval liaison officer with the British navy in Hamburg, Germany. After joining Time in 1948, he worked as a contributing editor in New York and economics correspondent in Washington, until leaving to help set up Radio Liberty in Munich.

In 1952 Ronalds was still working as a correspondent for Time magazine. He was approached by an obscure organization called "the American Committee for Liberation of the Peoples of Russia" headed by retired Admiral Alan G. Kirk, a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. Ronalds was asked to go to Munich, Germany to help set up shortwave broadcasts to the USSR. It was only after he had been on the job in Munich for several months that it was officially revealed to him that all of the "American Committee's" funding came from the CIA.

With Ronalds presiding over its Russian-language programming and a staff consisting mainly of former Soviet citizens, "Radio Liberation" took to the airwaves March 1, 1953, to encounter immediate Soviet jamming. On March 5, with only five days of broadcasting experience, the radio staff faced a stiff test: covering the death of Joseph Stalin.

Every day, Ronalds and his staff devoured a diet of transcripts of Soviet radio broadcasts and reams of newspapers from various parts of the country, as well as Western reporting. They became convinced that in order to promote political change in its target area RL’s programs would have to stress evolution, not the revolution that was implicit in the “rollback” policy of the early Eisenhower Administration. In time, they were able to persuade their backers to let "Radio Liberation" become "Radio Liberty," a name that was more in keeping with reality.  

For its Soviet listeners Radio Liberty tried to do the job that would have been done by a domestic radio if it could have operated free of censorship. Unlike radios operating in the name of foreign governments, like the Voice of America and the BBC, RL tried to view the world through the eyes of its audience in the USSR. To further that approach, Ronalds made Russian the working language of this American station. Staff meetings were conducted in that tongue, even if the person in the chair happened to be an American (who was required by his job to know the language). In the atmosphere of U.S. occupation, when Americans tended to limit their socialization to the Post Exchanges and restaurants and movie theaters that were open only to other Americans, Ronalds encouraged RL’s Americans to spend free time with their émigré colleagues.  

RL also carried programs on events and issues outside the USSR, but always tried to frame them in terms of relevance to Soviet listeners, like racism. (See cut of Ronalds interviewing Dr. Martin Luther King (photo above):

RL was to add other Soviet languages like Ukrainian and Georgian and Uzbek to its output--at one time there were as many as 20 of them--with Mr. Ronalds as overall "program manager," but Russian was the one that was common to most of the staff, the one heard in the corridors and canteen. This "inside" mentality help to foster its rapport with audiences in the Soviet Union.

Reports of RL's success with Soviet listeners prompted its backers in Washington to make a major increase in funding. In 1959 it leapt forward by commencing broadcasts from powerful new transmitters in Spain, the ideal distance for shortwave propagation to the USSR.

In 1966, as the result of a chance meeting in the White House with Voice of America Director John Chancellor, Ronalds was asked to return to the U.S. as program director at that organization's headquarters in Washington. In those days, VOA, with more than six dozen languages worldwide, was a much larger challenge than RL, and Ronalds accepted. However, in 1971 he was persuaded to return to Radio Liberty in Munich, now not only as head of its programming but as overall director of the station and its support facilities.

Ronalds’ return to Munich was marked by new opportunities and challenges. Congress, realizing that the CIA’s  role as a covert funding link for RL and its sister Radio Free Europe was a Cold War anachronism, was in process of passing legislation providing them with open appropriations to be administered through a U.S. Board for International Broadcasting. 

At the same time, the Soviet Union was entering a period of political unrest.  Increasingly, some citizens were taking risks by circulating typewritten critiques critical of the regime; these would be recopied and passed along further, in a phenomenon that was to become known as samizdat (self-publishing). As samizdat became increasingly available in the West, it was grist for RL’s mill. Meanwhile, the regime changed its policy for dealing with dissidents; where in Stalin’s day they would have been executed or sent to camps, the Kremlin now began to “punish” them by exiling them to the West. This provided a vital new pool of talent for RL’s aging staff, people of the stature of the writer Viktor Nekrasov, author of the hallowed book Trenches of Stalingrad.

Under Ronalds, RL went all out to capitalize on these developments. Research published since the fall of the Soviet Union shows that tens of millions of Soviet citizens were listening.

RL continued to gain acceptance in Russia, so that at the time of the Soviet collapse it was allowed to set up a bureau in Moscow where it celebrated in 2003 the fiftieth anniversary of its broadcasts at a ceremony attended by, among others, by former Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But by then Ronalds had left the station.

Ronalds and his family had been based in Munich for twenty of the years between 1952 and 1977, and wanted to return to the U.S.  He accepted a position in Washington as a writer of special documentaries for the Voice of America which he held until his retirement in 1998.

Ronalds’ wife of 62 years, Adair Reid Ronalds, died in 2010. He is survived by four children, Francis S. III of Acton MA, Jessica of Concord MA, Nicholas of Hong Kong, and Valerie of Arlington VA, nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

(Photograph courtesy of RFE/RL, Inc.)

For more information:
                                                               Nicholas Ronalds (son)

                                                               Jessica Ronalds (daughter)

November 24, 2014

Gridley's Sack: Turning a Sack of Flour into Gold and Silver -- A Prototype Cold War Rallying Tool

In "Clark Gable and the 'Silver Brick' for RFE," we read how a silver brick was used as a Cold War rallying tool in Nevada in the Second Crusade for Freedom campaign that began on September 3, 1951. Below we will take a brief look at the original rallying tool in the United States during the American Civil War: a sack of flower.

In 1864, Ruel C. Gridley, owner of the Gridley General Merchandise Store in Austin, Nevada, lost an election bet and had to carry a 50-pound sack of flour the length of the town to the tune of the song “John Brown’s Body.”

The famous American writer Mark Twain wrote about this episode in his 1870 book Roughing It:

A former schoolmate of mine, by the name of Reuel Gridley, was living at the little city of Austin, in the Reese river country, at this time, and was the Democratic candidate for mayor. He and the Republican candidate made an agreement that the successful one, and should carry it home on his shoulder.

Gridley was defeated. The new mayor gave him the sack of flour, and he shouldered it and carried it a mile or two, from Lower Austinto his home in Upper Austin, attended by a band of music and the whole population. Arrived there, he said he did not need the flour, and asked what the people thought he had better do with it. A voice said:

"Sell it to the highest bidder, for the benefit of the Sanitary fund."

The suggestion was greeted with a round of applause, and Gridley mounted a dry-goods box and assumed the role of auctioneer. The bids went higher and higher, as the sympathies of the pioneers awoke and expanded, till at last the sack was knocked down to a mill man at two hundred and fifty dollars, and his check taken. He was asked where he would have the flour delivered, and he said:

"Nowhere--sell it again."

Now the cheers went up royally, and the multitude were fairly in the spirit of the thing. So Gridley stood there and shouted and perspired till the sun went down; and when the crowd dispersed he had sold the sack to three hundred different people, and had taken in eight thousand dollars in gold. And still the flour sack was in his possession.

Gridley traveled from coast to coast auctioning off the sack of flour and was treated as a 19th Century "superstar." One newspaper wrote: "No lady's album in Nevada or California is considered complete without a photograph of Gridley and his sack of flour."

The proceeds of the auctions went to the Sanitary Fund, a forerunner to the Red Cross, to help relieve suffering created by the Civil War. One newspaper later reported:

Gridley, patriot that he was, saw fame for him and gold for the sick soldiers. He entered heart and soul in the idea, and started with his now famous bag of flower on an expedition, which immortalized himself and brought joy and comfort to thousands of suffering soldiers. His reception everywhere was like a Roman triumph, and the people, infected by the noble work, vied and struggled with each other in their generous rivalry.

The last auction was at the St. Louis Sanitary Fair, when the flour was turned into small cakes and sold at one dollar each. By then Gridley’s sack, which had originally cost $10.00 had raised over $275,000.

The year of traveling around the country took a toll on Gridley's health. When he returned to Austin, he found that the silver mine had closed and his store was close to bankruptcy. He and his family were forced to move to California. Two years later Gridley and his wife and four children were living in poverty in Stockton. Newspaper editors in California and Nevada reacted by raising $1,400 to buy a house and small farm for them. Gridley's health continued to decline and he died on November 24, 1870 -- he was 41 years old. 

In 1876, Stockton Civil War veterans sold thousands of miniature sacks of flour to raise money for a monument to Gridley, which was built a few years later. “The Soldiers Friend Monument to Reuel Colt Gridley" in Stockton's cemetery has this inscription:

Erected by
Grand Army of the Republic
and the Citizens of Stockton
Sept. 19, 1887 in gratitude
for services rendered Union
Soldiers during the War of
the Rebellion in collecting
275,000 dollars for the
Sanitary Commission by
selling and reselling a
sack of flour

Gridley’s original general store in Austin, Nevada, was restored and is now on the United States National Register of Historic Places.