- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

What’s this? The Pentagon is planting pro-American, anti-terrorist stories in the Iraqi press? It’s even paying Iraqi papers to print them — either as advertisements or editorials, and sometimes without revealing the source. There are even reports that foreign journalists might be on the American payroll.

Shocking. To quote John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “A free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a democracy, and I am concerned about any actions which may erode the independence of the Iraqi media.”

Unaccustomed as Americans are to remembering history, it might help restore perspective to recall another worldwide struggle against a dynamic ideology that was going to bury us:

Back in 1949, when the Cold War was still young, many Americans were shocked at the hard line the Truman administration was taking against poor, misunderstood Joe Stalin. After all, he’d been kindly Uncle Joe just a few years before, when the Communists were still Our Fighting Russian Allies. It wasn’t easy making the mental adjustment.

In March of 1949, a massive pro-Soviet rally was held in New York to denounce “U.S. warmongering.” Among the headliners: Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer and Clifford Odets. It was the 1940ish version of today’s Hollywood gliberaldom. The audience was typecast, too. Just picture Barbra Streisand’s character in “The Way We Were.” Or, for that matter, Barbra Streisand today.

As it turned out, the enlightened had picked the wrong city for their rally. At the time New York probably had more political refugees from both Nazism and communism than any other American city, and they put together a counter-rally. It was organized by Sydney Hook, a professor who would go on to oppose communism and every other threat to intellectual freedom during his long lifetime. Like Whittaker Chambers, he had once been a member of the Party, and ex-Communists make the best anti-Communists. They know the enemy.

Professor Hook called his outfit Americans for Intellectual Freedom, and among its big names were Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy and Max Eastman — all certifiably liberal thinkers. They organized a counter-demonstration in Bryant Park while the other side was gathering at the elegant Waldorf-Astoria. (No one is more class-conscious than those who dream of freeing the proletariat.)

Arnold Beichman, who’s now a professional thinker at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and as delightful a raconteur as ever, was a young labor reporter back then, and he was in the thick of the anti-Communist demonstration. “The only paper that was against us in (its) reporting,” he recalls, “was the New York Times.” The more things change … .

The professor’s initiative blossomed into the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which convened in Berlin on June 26, 1950 — the day after North Korea had invaded the South. Nothing could have better punctuated the Congress’ warnings about the totalitarian threat. Among those serving as honorary chairmen of the event were John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Benedetto Croce, Karl Jaspers and Jacques Maritain.

There was no need to go into detail about just who was putting up the money for this counter-offensive in the war of ideas: the American taxpayer. And this was just the start. At its peak, to quote one historian, the Congress for Cultural Freedom “had offices in 35 countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over 20 prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and feature service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances.”

If word had ever got out about who was financing all this intellectual ferment, i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency through a variety of high-sounding fronts, the whole venture would have collapsed. The source of its money had to be kept secret not only from its critics abroad but, even more so, from the Neanderthal right in this country. (Joe McCarthy would have launched another of his witch hunts if he had learned about all this tax money going to liberals, socialists and, worst of all, intellectuals.)

The anti-American line the Congress for Cultural Freedom battled has scarcely changed in some respects: America is the world’s greatest aggressor. Its talk of peace and freedom is nothing but a cover for imperialism. Its lying, warmongering president is the greatest threat to world peace. It even secretly finances propaganda.

Back in the fall of 2001, when September 11 was still fresh in American minds, George W. Bush told us what to expect in the war he proposed to wage against terror: “Our response involves more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.”

This president has been as good as his word — or as bad if what he promised to do in 2001, which now seems so distant, shocks more delicate sensibilities. For it is one thing to declare war on terror just after a devastating attack on this country and quite another actually to wage such a war year after year, with all that involves in blood and suffering and, yes, secrecy even in success.

Critics of such a secretive war, like those who would have been shocked to find that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was a CIA front, live in an imaginary world where good can triumph over evil without ever getting its hands dirty. In that unreal world, the West should be able to prevail against enemies who operate from the shadows without conducting covert operations, including a secret propaganda war. Such a world doesn’t exist — and never did.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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