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Sonenshine on the history of diplomacy

How the American view has changed from the time of Benjamin Franklin and the Declaration of Independence to the current time: Benjamin Franklin, France 1776. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Dept. of State, Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine former Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs at the US Department of State so you mentioned Benjamin Franklin earlier and we're going to move now into the history of public diplomacy starting with Benjamin Franklin as our first public ambassador could you just run through how we have looked and how the American view has changed over that time from the time of Benjamin Franklin and our radiance out of the Declaration of Independence to the current time American public diplomacy is as old as the Republic and i should say parenthetically public diplomacy writ large is as old as time forgetting for a moment even America which I'll come back to you could go to the Bronze Age you could go to the Greeks and Romans you could go to the Ming Dynasty every civilization has sought to bring its story to others through culture art music the written word so communities even before nation states have tried to communicate their values outside in the case of the United States Benjamin Franklin was one of the early statesmen who said I do have an audience overseas for what we're doing here in the United States and 1776 Ben Franklin becomes ambassador to France he becomes immersed in French culture he comes to understand that there are cultural ways in which you can reach people beyond just the Ambassador riyal level so that first interaction of us France is the beginning of swaying the European public about the American ideals in addition Ben Franklin also thought about his domestic constituency so way before Smith month Ben Franklin is thinking French public and thinking colonies and his Committees of Correspondence were a way that he could use the written word of letters to essentially describe define educate inform persuade people through these committees so Franklin early on understood that you needed to shape the narrative and that Ben Franklin model becomes replicated under Abraham Lincoln it becomes replicated all through the history of the united states where incoming presidents and leaders and Congress's and public officials begin to understand that the message matters the medium matters the storyline matters and that if you want people to support what you're doing they have to know what you're doing and so begins this experimentation with who should control that message where it should be housed how to utilize this who to fund it and it matures and gets sophisticated over time but it starts with that basic premise that Franklin had that the French need to know what America is up to and the Americans need to know what America's up to and that points up the role of the public so the French were a monarchy and yet he felt that was important that the French people understand in the time of Lincoln he wanted to keep England out of the Civil War so he felt that it was important to have the English people I mean is that effective and and how does that change over time public diplomacy used to be very elitist in its audience choice monarchies kings queens over time there was a growing recognition that if you are going to have a boston tea party or a revolt if you are going to have peasants uprize that actually people citizens real people had a voice and we're interested in many ways what we see today with Publix having this huge power through the internet starts with the penny press where ordinary citizens spend a penny to get information in a newspaper so suddenly you are interacting with people going to them directly often through journalists above the heads of government to government and that public sector starts getting more and more important and the ability to reach it grows exponentially with the printing press with the rise of social media with phones with internet with television with cable news if you look at the evolution of media it parallels the evolution of public diplomacy in that your reach and expanse is growing with this subtle understanding that citizens move events