Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad

By Jenks, John | Journalism History, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad


Jenks, John, Journalism History


Osgood, Kenneth. Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006. 512 pp. $45.

Cold War propaganda was no secret, but in Total Cold. War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad, Kenneth Osgood aims to put it front and center with reams of new archival evidence and intriguing conclusions. He argues a totalizing propaganda-domestic and foreign-was essential to America's Cold War strategy, and Eisenhower was the key to the process.

Total Cold War joins a growing group arguing that propaganda, as part of the larger rubric of "psychological warfare" was at the center of American Cold War policies. Most notably, W. Scott Lucas connected propaganda, ideology, and private-public partnerships in Freedom's War: The American Crusade Against the Soviet Union (1999), while Walter Hixson examined how U.S. propaganda used consumer culture to infiltrate the Communist world in Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961 (1997).

Osgood, an assistant professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, approaches the topic from a top-down diplomatic historian's perspective. He clearly acknowledges that Total Cold War is about high-level propaganda policy, not its effects or its day-to-day impact on the media. But he demonstrates through well cited archival evidence how the U.S. government and its private partners influenced Cold War media discourse from reference book to media events. He not only masters the American diplomatic and political history of the Eisenhower years, but he also demonstrates a firm grasp of social psychology and communication history from Gustave Le Bon and Edward Bernays onward. It is a well written and important book for Cold War mass communication historians.

Both Eisenhower and his predecessor, Harry Truman, pushed anti-Soviet and pro-American propaganda. Eisenhower took it further with his strong emphasis on "psychological warfare," using all methods, including propaganda, short of an actual shooting war against the Soviet Union. He reorganized propaganda into more distinct overt and covert approaches, gave psychological warfare a privileged political position, and pushed for a total mobilization of social, cultural, and psychological resources.

Events following Eisenhower's inauguration heightened the emphasis on propaganda and undercut Osgood's argument that it was his battle. The quickening pace of the communications revolution, Stalin's death and the more flexible policies of his successors, and, later, the decolonization of large swathes of Asia and Africa raised the already considerable stakes. U.S. psychological warriors operated primarily in the non-Communist world to promote American interests and policies through overt propaganda. …

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