Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman

By Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

16
Lifting the American Iron Curtain: Cultural Exchange with the Soviet Union and National Security, 1955-1956

J. Gerrit Gantvoort

After the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, the new Russian leadership launched a full-scale cultural offensive, recognizing that cultural diplomacy could be employed to demonstrate the superiority of the Soviet system and to win friends for Moscow in many parts of the world. 1 This ambitious policy immediately called attention to the fact that the attitude of the United States toward cultural exchange was one of indifference and neglect. In January 1954, New York Times Associate Art Editor Aline Louchheim lamented that Congress and the State Department shunned participation in international exhibitions: "It reinforces the accusation that we are cultural barbarians, interested only in dollars and materialism . . . and emphasizes the impression that we believe we can 'buy' friendship and alliances." 2 George Kennan, in an address delivered at the University of Notre Dame, suggested that the Eisenhower administration had no cultural exchange policy because it was being held hostage by "diffuse" forces, linked by the conviction that any exchange program would be exploited by the communists to further their cause. Consequently, Kennan continued

. . . we begin to draw about ourselves a cultural curtain similar in some respects to the Iron Curtain of our adversaries. In doing so, we tend to inflict upon ourselves a species of cultural isolationism and provincialism wholly out of accord with the traditions of our nation. 3

Wounded by such criticisms, the Eisenhower administration announced a stepped-up United States Information Agency effort to "tighten cultural ties with people all over the world." 4 Despite this effort, lifting the "American Iron Curtain" high enough to permit cultural relations with the U.S.S.R. was an entirely different matter. The record demonstrates that, although President Eisenhower

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