Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain

Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain

Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain

Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain

Synopsis

Alfred A. Reisch (1931-2013) was a political scientist, specializing in international relations, diplomatic and Cold War history, foreign, military, national security, and minority affairs. He was a Senior Political Analyst with Radio Free Europe in New York and Head of RFE´s Hungarian Research and Evaluation Section in Munich, Germany.

This study reveals the hidden story of the secret book distribution program to Eastern Europe financed by the CIA during the Cold War. At its height between 1957 and 1970, the book program was one of the least known but most effective methods of penetrating the Iron Curtain, reaching thousands of intellectuals and professionals in the Soviet Bloc. Reisch conducted thorough research on the key personalities involved in the book program, especially the two key figures: S. S. Walker, who initiated the idea of a “mailing project,” and G. C. Minden, who developed it into one of the most effective political and psychological tools of the Cold War.

The book includes excellent chapters on the vagaries of censorship and interception of books by communist authorities based on personal letters and accounts from recipients of Western material. It will stand as a testimony in honor of the handful of imaginative, determined, and hard-working individuals who helped to free half of Europe from mental bondage and planted many of the seeds that germinated when communism collapsed and the Soviet bloc disintegrated.

Excerpt

Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union waged “political warfare” against each other and their respective allies. This form of interaction, unlike the global military standoff between the two sides, was intended by each superpower to affect the perceptions, attitudes, motives, and—ultimately—political behavior of the other side’s organizations, groups, individuals, and government officials. the aim of the operations was to overcome (or at least diminish) the opposition of those who were most hostile, to gain the allegiance of those who were neutral or uncommitted (i.e., to “win their hearts and minds”), to reinforce the loyalty of supporters, and, in wartime, to erode the enemy’s will to fight.

Political warfare long predated the Cold War, but it was never more widely or intensively practiced than during the five decades from 1941 to 1991. Bilateral cultural exchanges; Soviet financial assistance to foreign Communist parties; U.S. funding for pro-democratic groups and labor unions in foreign countries; disinformation and propaganda campaigns conducted by the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB); the covert dissemination of anti-Communist leaflets and publica-

For a survey of literature on this topic as of 2002, see Kenneth A. Osgood, “Hearts and Minds: the Unconventional Cold War – Review Essay,” Journal of Cold War Studies 4, No. 2 (Spring 2002): 85–107. Numerous other important studies have appeared since then, including Osgood’s own book, Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2006).

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