Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A “Marshall Plan for the Mind”


Last Sunday the Times ran an obituary for George C. Minden, who for years helped smuggle Western books and magazines into the USSR. Minden ran the International Literary Center, a CIA-backed group that

tried to win influential friends by giving them reading material unavailable in their own countries. The material ranged from dictionaries, medical texts and novels by Joyce and Nabokov to art museum catalogs and Parisian fashion magazines.

The people who received the reading matter were generally Communists or professionals and intellectuals working for Communist regimes. They thought the books were being donated by Western publishers and cultural organizations.

The CIA’s purpose was to offer an alternative, culturally engaging reality that had the implicit effect of promoting Western culture. Mr. Minden did not see a need to bluntly refute Marxist dogma, on the theory that people could use common sense and their own observations to reject Communist arguments.

Minden’s obit makes me nostalgic for the Cold War, particularly since so many attendees at a recent international polling conference lamented a) the proliferation of media worldwide, which makes it difficult to gauge what works and what doesn’t in public diplomacy, and b) the fact that any utterance of the president, the Secretary of State, a White House spokesman, etc. immediately resonates around the world.

The idea of providing other countries’ elites with only our highbrow literature—regardless of Nabokov or Joyce’s readability, they still symbolized Western experimentation and literary adventurousness—while going light on the Paris Hilton coverage hasn’t been possible for more than a decade.

Similarly, the president’s words in Peoria will also play in Pretoria, and everywhere else. While a former White House official at this conference claimed that domestic concerns drove how the president and other government officials discussed policy issues at home, this has to be taken with a grain of salt. You don’t rewrite a speech in Poughkeepsie for people in Paris, this official said—but if even one Parisian is actually listening and his blog entry about it gets picked up by Agence France-Presse. ...

2 comments: said...

It's worth noting that Minden inherited his family's oil fields in Romania in 1939 when that country was already allied with Nazi Germany and was soon to send several armies to help Hitler invade the Soviet Union. He prospered under that fascist regime and naturally fled when the Reds, who confiscated his wealth, took over in 1946.

So it's not surprising that Minden, like most anti-Communist emigres, would spend most of the rest of his life hoping to restore his former position by working for CIA fronts: the "International Literary Center" and Radio Free Europe.

Paul D. Kretkowski said...


That is astonishingly obscure but welcome information. Couldn't it be that Minden opposed Communism on principle, not just because he'd prospered under Romanian fascism?

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