Office of War Information

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The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was a government agency created during World War II to consolidate government information services. Besides coordinating the release of war news for domestic use, the office established an overseas branch which launched a huge information and propaganda campaign abroad. The OWI had been penetrated by Soviet intelligence during World War II, and frequently broadcast Communist propaganda subversive to U.S. interests and American foreign policy.

In the next two years, OWI spent $68,000,000 and had 5,561 agents scattered all over the world.

The OWI was terminated, effective September 15, 1945, by an Executive order of August 31, 1945.

Contents

Origins

The OWI was established 13 June 1942 to consolidate the functions of the Office of Facts and Figures, the Office of Government Reports, the division of information of the Office for Emergency Management. The Foreign Intelligence Service, Outpost, Publication, and Pictorial Branches of the Office of the Coordinator of Information were also transferred to the OWI. (The Executive order creating OWI, however, stated that dissemination of information to the Latin American countries should be continued by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.) Elmer Davis was named director of OWI.

Activities

It ran 350 daily radio programs and had a daily cable wireless output of 100,000 words. It was the world's largest pamphlet and magazine publisher and a big movie producer, sending shorts to every country in the world. It sent out 3,500 transcribed recordings a month and turned out 50 movie shorts a year.

Among its first adventures was dropping cakes of soap from planes on North Africans along with a picture book called "The Life of Franklin D. Roosevelt," with a pin button of a picture of Roosevelt painted to make FDR look like an Arab.

In preparation for Roosevelt’s fourth term campaign it printed a volume called "Handbook of the United States,” [1] and gave the jobs to a British firm to publish. The history covered the story from Leif Ericson's discovery up to 1932 in four and one-half pages; the remainder of the volume was devoted to Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. This was during the Presidential election of 1944 when England was full of American soldiers able to vote.

The FCC and OWI took charge of radio station WHOM in New York and other foreign language stations throughout the country without cause.

On commentator observed,

In the presence of a government which had enlarged its power over the lives and the thoughts and opinions of citizens and which did not hesitate to use that power, the whole citizenry was intimidated. Editors, writers, commentators were intimidated. Men whose opinions did not conform to the reigning philosophy were driven from the air, from magazines and newspapers. While American citizens who were moved by a deep and unselfish devotion to the ideals of this Republic ­ however wrong­headed that may be in the light of the new modes of "freedom" ­ were forced into silence, the most blatant and disruptive revolutionary lovers of the systems of both fascism and Communism and that illegitimate offspring of both -­ Red fascism ­- were lording it over our minds. [2]

Congressional concerns

Congressional opposition to the domestic operations [3] of the OWI resulted in increasingly curtailed funds, and by 1944 the OWI operated mostly in the foreign field. The agency was abolished in 1945, and its foreign functions were transferred to the Department of State.

Among its wide-ranging duties, OWI sought to review and approve the design and content of government posters.

During 1942 and 1943, the OWI contained two photographic units whose photographers documented the country's mobilization during the early years of the war, concentrating on such topics as aircraft factories and women in the workforce.

Mr. Eugene L. Garey, chief counsel of the Congressional Select Committee Investigating the FCC, speaking of these conditions said:

"From the record thus far made it appears that, in one foreign language broadcasting station in New York City, the program director, the announcer, the script writer, the censor, and the monitor of the Italian language programs are all aliens or persons owing their positions to the Office of War Information, with the approval of the FCC….
"…the Federal Communications Commission had no such lawful power, but the Federal Communications Commission did have the power to license and hence the power to compel obedience to its directions. The record now shows their unlawful use of this power….
"A division called the War Problems Division was created by the Federal Communications Commission, and a staff of attorneys began to function.
"This division was not a regulatory body. It was not formed to instruct, or supervise, or to correct. It was formed for the avowed purpose of unlawfully liquidating all of the radio personnel in the foreign language field that did not meet with its favor. A real gestapo was created and a lawless enterprise was launched.
"It is suggested that we accept this unlawful situation as a benevolent expedient of the moment, but no such purpose as we find here disclosed, however benevolently cloaked, can justify the practices we find. All tyranny begins under the guise of benevolence. …
"They even censor our Christmas and Easter religious programs, and tell us what music we may hear. The FCC is alarmed about whether we will react properly to news furnished by our national news agencies. Apparently we can still read the news in our press, but we can only hear what these aliens permit us to. What next medium of communications will receive the benevolent attention of these misguided zealots? Obviously, the press.
"These interpreters of our national policy - these slanters of our news - these destroyers of free speech - are alien in birth, alien in education, alien in training and in thought.
"And still these are the people who are permitted to mold our thoughts - to tell us what America's war aims and purposes are. These people are in position to color, to delete, or to slant, as they see fit, in accordance with their own peculiar alien views and ideologies.
"Persons are being accused of being pro-fascist, and that without proof and without trial. Persons suspected of being pro-fascist, and without proof, have been removed from the air and replaced by wearers of the Black Shirt ...
"If the radio can thus be controlled in August, 1943, there is nothing to prevent the same control from slanting our political news and nothing to prevent the coloring of our war aims and purposes when peace comes.” [4]

Personal

Among the many people who worked for the OWI were Milton S. Eisenhower, Howard Fast, Alan Cranston, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Wade Jones, Murray Leinster, Archibald MacLeish, Charles Olson, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., William Stephenson, James Reston, Waldo Salt, James Reston[5] and Koji Ariyoshi.

Subversion

When, on June 15 1943, Owen Lattimore instructed Joseph Barnes[6] to replace the non-Communist Chinese of the Office of War Information (OWI) with Communists, OWI did so. On July 14 Thomas A. Bisson, in the Institute of Pacific Relations publication, Far Eastern Survey, referred to Maoist forces as the "democratic China." The disinformation was widely repeated among journalists and academics. In July and August 1943, the Chinese Communist forces -- in the midst of the war -- joined with the Japanese armies to inflict a serious defeat on the Kuomintang troops allied with the United States. [7] It was made to appear that the Communists wanted unity to fight Japan but that Chiang Kai-shek was only interested in fighting his own people.[8]

While Romania was frantically imploring the West for assistance during the Soviet invasion, OWI praised the Soviet Unions’ "new democracy" and the "innocent nature of Communism." [9] By November, Andrey Vyshinsky, the legal mastermind who presided at the major show trials of Stalin's Great Purge, arrived to "restore internal order."

Soviet propaganda

Soviet spies Philip Keeney, Irving Lerner, Peter Rhodes, Christina Krotkova and Flora Wovschin were employed within OWI during its lifetime.

OWI's broadcasts to Poland ended not with the Polish national anthem but with a song adopted by the Polish émigrés in Moscow who were known as Stalin's "Committee of Liberation." The expert in charge of the Polish section was actually born in Poland, but left there and spent the rest of his life in France as a Communist. He fraternized with the Vichy government during the Hitler-Stalin rapprochement, but when Hitler invaded Russia he came to America and quickly became OWI's expert. [10]

Louis Adamic [11] had access to Eleanor Roosevelt and had a very intimate association with the Office of War Information.

See also

References

  1. Phelps Adams in New York Sun, April 17, 1944. See also editorial in New York Daily News, April 19, 1944.
  2. The Roosevelt Myth, John T. Flynn, Fox and Wilkes, 1948, Book 3, Ch. 8,The Thought Police.
  3. Study and Investigation of the Federal Communications Commission Part 1, House Select Committee Hearings 1943, 78th Congress 1st Session. SuDocs no. Y4.F31/4:F31/pt.1, Censorship, Executive Privilege, Loyalty Security Program. Several representatives from Short Wave Research, Inc. testified: Marya Blow, former pres. - p 1405; David F. Seiferheld, former Director and Treasurer, p.1484; and Bertram F. Willcox, former Director, p.1464. [1]
  4. Hearings before Select Committee (House) to Investigate the Federal Communications Commission, 1943.
  5. Allan Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).
  6. Tongue-Tied, Time magazine, Feb. 07, 1944.
  7. The Yalta Betrayal, Felix Wittmer, Claxton Printers, 1953, pg. 36.
  8. While You Slept: Our Tragedy in Asia and Who Made It, John T. Flynn, New York : The Devin-Adair Company, 1951, pg. 152 pdf.
  9. Reuben M. Markham, Rumania Under the Soviet Yoke (Boston: Meader, 1949), p. 169.
  10. Congressional Record, 78th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 89, Part 13, pps. 5999, 6000.
  11. Louis Adamic, Dinner at the White House, (Harper, 1946).

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