November 30, 2010

Origins of America's Crusade for Freedom 1950-1960

The “Committee for a Free Europe” was set up in New York on May 17, 1949, when the articles of incorporation were signed in New York State. Directors and officers included future CIA Director Alan Dulles, Arthur W. Page and future US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The corporate headquarters was established in the Empire State Building in New York City.

Former United States Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, as Chairman of the Board, announced at a press conference on June 1, 1949, that one purpose of the corporation was "to put the voices of these exiled leaders on the air, addressed to their own peoples back in Europe, in their own languages, in the familiar tones. We shall help them also, if we can, to get their messages back by printed word.” The next day, on June 2, 1949, the corporate name was changed to National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE). Radio Free Europe was a Division of NCFE.

Cold War historians, who have written about Radio Free Europe, usually point to the origins of the Crusade for Freedom as an essential element of the “Cold War rhetoric” of President Eisenhower’s Republican Administration. Yet on October 27, 1948, during his election campaign, Democrat President Harry S. Truman said:

As an American, as well as your President, I resent the contemptible Republican slur that charges me with being "soft" where Communist tyranny is concerned. Under your Democratic administration, the people of the United States have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the support of freedom and democracy against the predatory pressures of communism. Our sustained, unprecedented worldwide fight against the spread of communism has brought new hope to people everywhere in the world…We are engaged in a great crusade--a crusade for freedom, for tolerance, for the rights and welfare of all the people.

On October 13, 1949, DeWitt Poole, then President of the NCFE wrote to Allan Dulles, Chairman of the Executive Committee: “It seems to me imperative that we get on with this business of fund-raising, ...Critical point is to enlist the outstanding public figure who is to head the drive.” By November 1949, the NCFE was actively involved in creating its public fund raising arm with a twofold purpose: create a national movement to help overtly finance Radio Free Europe and arouse the American public to the Communist threat. 

Lucius Clay retired from the Army as a four-star general in May 1949 and became Executive Director of the Continental Can Company. He was under consideration to head NCFE’s fund raising arm, but he had not yet accepted the offer. DeWitt Poole wrote a revealing letter to Alan Dulles, then Chairman of the NCFE Executive Committee explaining this new organization and asking for Dulles’ advice:

Our fund-raising campaign can be thought of in two ways. The objective can be simply to raise money. If it is restricted to this scope we are interested only in sizable donors. Donations of one dollar or even of five dollars cost as much as or more than the sum received.

The alternative conception thinks not only of bringing in money but also of arousing a still livelier and broader public concern than already exists over the Communist threat, and so to obtain a wide democratic support for the particular work of defense and counterattack upon which the National Committee for Free Europe is embarked. If this larger purpose is our goal, contributions of one dollar are welcome, even if each would be found upon analysis to cost us more than one dollar.

You will be better able to judge than I, but I also surmise that the second conception is the one that is the more likely to move General Clay, or any other such as he, to lend us his name and support. If you put the project before him as a characteristically American movement of a characteristically democratic type, I should think that he would find it warm-blooded, congenial and moving.

On April 20, 1950, President Truman spoke at a luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors on American foreign policy. President Truman called for a “campaign of truth” in the United States information programs:

The cause of freedom is being challenged throughout the world today by the forces of imperialistic communism. This is a struggle, above all else, for the minds of men. Propaganda is one of the most powerful weapons the Communists have in this struggle. Deceit, distortion, and lies are systematically used by them as a matter of deliberate policy.

This propaganda can be overcome by the truth--plain, simple, unvarnished truth-presented by the newspapers, radio, newsreels, and other sources that the people trust. If the people are not told the truth, or if they do not have confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the press, they have no defense against falsehoods. But if they are given the true facts, these falsehoods become laughable instead of dangerous.

We must make ourselves known as we really are--not as Communist propaganda pictures us. We must pool our efforts with those of other free peoples in a sustained, intensified program to promote the cause of freedom against the propaganda of slavery. We must make ourselves heard round the world in a great campaign of truth.

On April 26, 1950, DeWitt C. Poole announced that Retired General Clay accepted the position of Chairman of the Crusade for Freedom. In Clay’s name, an emotional statement of purpose of the Crusade was issued to the press, which, in part, read:

The soul of the world is sick, and the peoples of the world are looking to the United States for leadership and hope…They are looking to us for leadership in a great moral crusade—a crusade for freedom, friendship and faith throughout the earth…If we to prove equal to this desperate need, each U.S. citizen must feel a personal responsibility. We cannot leave the job to government alone.

We have suffered serious setbacks in the contest of ideas between our way of life and totalitarianism. 

It is with a great deal of humility that I have accepted responsibility as national chairman of this Crusade, for I am convinced that upon its success could very well depend the prevention of World War III.

On the same day, the National Committee for a Free Europe sent a telegram, under the names of General Clay and Joseph Grew, NCFE Board Chairman, to President Truman advising him of the new Crusade for Freedom and it’s future plans:

In your speech of April 20, you urged private initiative in expressing the voice of freedom. The National Committee for a Free Europe was organized for this purpose, and particularly to help those who love freedom and, as a result, have been exiled to continue to fight for the restoration of freedom in their countries. We believe that the American people are ready for a crusade for freedom which will not only support the voices of those from behind the Iron Curtain who have lost freedom and home but will augment their voices with an overwhelming expression from free people in this country and everywhere of their faith and confidence that there will yet be a free world.

We recognize the additional responsibility which has been thrust upon us by your challenging words, and we want to assure you that we are proceeding immediately with every resource at our disposal to organize in this country a crusade for freedom which will be a genuine expression of the will of the American people and which, through Radio Free Europe and other facilities, will be carried throughout the world. We have every confidence that the American people will join enthusiastically in this crusade to preserve their heritage, and thus respond fully and promptly to your expression of faith.

President Truman responded with letters to General Clay and Joseph Grew:

Your telegram of April twenty-sixth, advising me that the National Committee for a Free Europe is launching a nationwide crusade for freedom, meets with my heartiest approval. I hope that all Americans will join with you in dedicating themselves to this critical struggle for men's minds. I am deeply gratified by your prompt response to my appeal of April twentieth, in which I emphasized the important role of private groups and organizations in this great endeavor.

For more information: Radio Free Europe's "Crusade for Freedom": Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960. McFarland & Company, 2010

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