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The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 1, 2000
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It is well known that the CIA funded right-wing intellectuals after World War II; fewer know that it also courted individuals from the center and the left in an effort to turn the intelligentsia away from communism and toward an acceptance of "the American way." Frances Stonor Saunders sifts through the history of the covert Congress for Cultural Freedom in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The book centers on the career of Michael Josselson, the principal intellectual figure in the operation, and his eventual betrayal by people who scapegoated him. Sanders demonstrates that, in the early days, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the emergent CIA were less dominated by the far right than they later became, and that the idea of helping out progressive moderates--rather than being Machiavellian--actually appealed to the men at the top.
Many intellectuals were still drawn to Stalin's Russia. Saunders superbly traces the crisis of conscience that McCarthyism and its associated book-burning caused, and the subsequent rise of more moderate ideals. This exhaustive account, despite neglecting some important side issues, is an essential book. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk
From Kirkus Reviews
An impressively detailed, eye-opening study by film producer Saunders of the CIAs clandestine sponsorship of artists and intellectuals during the Cold War. Using interviews and archival data (taken mostly from sources outside the CIA, who routinely ignored her requests under the Freedom of Information Act), Saunders pieces together an elaborate network of CIA money-laundering schemes that funded cultural organizations opposed to communism. Starting with black accounts siphoned off from the Marshall Plan in the late 1940s, Saunders details how the CIA created or used nonprofit organizations such as the Ford Foundation to funnel millions of dollars to institutions like the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its affiliated programs. While few will be shocked that conservatives like Irving Kristol participated in CIA-backed projects, laymen will be surprised at how the Boston Symphony Orchestra and various abstract expressionist painters (via the Museum of Modern Art under Nelson Rockefeller, its president and an adviser to Eisenhower) benefitted from this largesse. At times the high volume of data and personalities muddies the story, and one would expect more cloak-and-dagger spy stories in such an exhaustive study, but thankfully Saunders does address the crucial issue her subject raisesnamely, the consequences of intellectuals accepting money (consciously or unconsciously) from political sources. She pays considerable attention to old controversies, such as (CIA-backed) Encounters refusal to publish an article by its former editor Dwight Macdonald, and Conor Cruise OBriens attack on the same journal for its disavowed but evident American boosterism. She can also make the CIA appear enlightened, as when she describes how the Ivy Leaguers of the Agency supported leftist artists over the objections of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the end, however, Saunders has little tolerance for state-sponsored thinkers. She concludes that when, in the late 1960s, the artists and writers involved in CIA projects began denying rumors of their patrons background, they were (in words taken from an interview) crummy liars. An illuminating investigation that will surprise general readers and aid scholars and students.-- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Frances Stonor Saunders, an independent film producer and writer for the New Statesman, has now produced an authoritative modern history of the CIA and the Congress, as well as related organizations, focusing both on the global political dimen. She focuses on the global politics, but also on the individuals involved on all sides, the many prominent writers and intellectuals in the organizations, and what it looked like from the CIA's perspective, for which she makes use of newly declassified documents. She shows convincingly that the "non-Communist Left" was by and large bribed or cajoled by the CIA, in so far as they didn't enthousiastically volunteer, into joining their propaganda front. She also shows that later denials by people such as Stephen Spender and Melvin Lasky of their knowledge of CIA involvement is extremely unrealistic and most likely just another lie.
That is not to say that this work is a polemic; far from it, Saunders writes very matter-of-factly and evenhandedly, and has little interest in discussing the merits of various political positions, though she does not fail to comment on the context of the Cold War at times, when she contrasts high-minded phrasery with the rather brutal and cynical realities of Vietnam, CIA activity in Latin America, the Soviet purges, the repression of Hungary, etc. The book is very extensive, making use of various sorts of sources, including interviews with important participants, in which they reflect remarkably often in a rather cynical way on their past activities. It's quite astounding how many famous writers, composers, intellectuals etc., from Nabokov's cousin to Stravinsky and from Russell to Stuart Hampshire, were involved in organized campaigns to attack and discredit their socialist colleagues. For that alone, this book is worth reading, that these crimes are not forgotten.
As the daughter of one of the protagonists of this book, I can assure you that this book is full of factual errors and flights of fancy. Despite the certainty with which Stonor Saunders describes the CIA as pulling the strings, she is not able to prove her point without twisting facts. If you want to read a really good book about this subject, try Sarah Miller Harris' "The CIA and the Congress for Cultural Freedom in the Early Cold War." It's an accurate account and is also available through Amazon.