Briana Jones Jennifer Barr His 315L 46009 23 November 2012 Hixson, Walter L. Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture and the Cold War, 1945-1961. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998. Print. It is the time-tested assumption of orthodox Cold War history and thinking that the United States was concerned exclusively with hemming in the Soviet Union by way of strategic military alliances such as NATO and others designed to prevent the spread of communism…
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The author, Professor of History at the University of Akron, has indeed broken new ground with this provocative and startling revision of traditional tomes covering this recent phase of American history. He takes a somewhat softer approach to his subject than the usual political-cum-military tangent which emphasizes the balance of power with the alignment of conventional and nuclear forces usually arrayed through central Germany on either side of the Great Divide. There are whole libraries devoted to that typical approach, but what makes Hixson’s book different is the novel notion that American strategists were simultaneously in pursuit of a more psychological approach to victory in the Cold War. In his study of this complex subject, Hixson does not so much revise the Cold War as redefine it. Broadly speaking, the early phase of the conflict overlapped the presidencies of Harry S.Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Each president pursued radically different policies constructed to frustrate communist aims at world domination. In the formulation of policy, they were assisted by two able Secretaries of State, Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles. Acheson was the chief architect of what is commonly called the “containment” strategy, which held that Soviet aggression should be confined to territories already held at the end of the Second World War. That is, no further territorial gains would be tolerated by NATO authorities at the expense of any member countries or as yet unconquered nations. However, this policy had obvious drawbacks, as it consigned the captive peoples already behind the Iron Curtain to perpetual imprisonment with little hope of eventual emancipation. With the acquisition of first the atomic and then the hydrogen weapons by both sides, such a strategy is perhaps understandable, as reckless behavior by either or both sides could have detonated a holocaust of unimaginable proportions. Hixson notes that containment strategy soon gave way to the idea that the captive peoples could be reached by propaganda from the West, and radio waves seemed the ideal vehicle for this purpose. Radio had, of course, been used by both Allied and Axis forces in the major war recently concluded. Both sides were quick to seize the possibilities presented by radio borne propaganda. Along with anticommunist literature held in the European libraries of the United States Information Agency (USIA), such institutions as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty came into being at this time. Radio seemed the perfect medium since it was cheap and portable, and almost everyone had access to it in the communist countries. The communists did not take all this cultural infiltration lying down. They had their own propaganda organs as well, especially Radio Moscow and Radio Peking (Beijing). The latter was much less effective than the former at the dissemination of propaganda blasts against the West. As Hixson notes, the United States, with an enviable Gross National Product, had a much better advantage than any communist society in the profitable output of a torrent of consumer goods that were overlooked by socialist planners in their own homelands. This gave an exotic and alluring appeal to goods that could only be dreamt of by people held back in relative poverty and weary of propaganda by their own commissars
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