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Sonenshine on public diplomacy from WWI - Cold War

How public diplomacy transformed from WWI to the end of the Cold War. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US 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 let's move from the Cold War 2 9-11 to today and the Cold War we've heard that the people behind the Iron Curtain were listening to rock and roll wearing jeans seeing the American culture in a different way from the way their leaders saw the United States so maybe first we could talk about the role public diplomacy in the end of the Cold War and then I'd like to move to 911 well let me if I came back up to the run-up to the Cold War a little bit with just the two major Wars that precede this dynamic between the US and the Soviet Union because public diplomacy has these key moments right after World War one right after World War two and then in the 1950s in the formation of us IA do them very quickly world wars galvanized Americans and the world and after World War one there was a sense by woodrow wilson that we needed to somehow formalize this process we've been talking about all this information floating around all this culture and it didn't seem to have a center so Woodrow Wilson goes to a journalist ironically and says how would we convey all this information and George creel a Missourian journalist comes up with CPI the Committee for public information and I want our audience to understand these words because they're going to come up again and again he says a committee for public information where the government will try to explain things fast-forward to the Second World War now our involvement even grows beyond what it was in World War one we're involved or 23 years with Europe and with the Soviet Union and again there's this hand-wringing about what what are we going to do to formalize this so they create the Office of War Information so again these were changing terms but we're kind of trying to concretize this public diplomacy and still the word public diplomacy doesn't formally enter the lexicon but they're dealing in World War two with the world's greatest propaganda machine of all time and their man and Hitler was a public diplomat he used film and leni riefenstahl and others he knew how the power of film and art so we were trying to match wits if you will with getting our side of our values in this totalitarian struggle and so that becomes a run-up in the 1950s again we're entering into this period of combustion with the Soviet Union we create something called the united states information agency once again where we've got this information word and we're layering on to it but this time we take it out of government it's not going to be the office of War Information in the State Department it's not going to be the CPI the committee that was in the government we're going to put this as a separate agency because we think it's really really important so it's against that backdrop that this cold war is layered on top of these moving parts around public diplomacy but what you have in the cold war of course is an epic battle of ideas and public diplomacy thrives on an epic battle of ideas because it has clarity exactly in two poles to poles your view your storyline is a communism storyline mine is a Western liberal democracy storyline with capitalism I want individual rights you believe in the collective role of government and we are going to let our stories go at each other with all the tools in our toolbox we're going to use radio so Voice of America radio for Europe we're going to use newspapers we're going to use posters if you look back on the Cold War all of these posters of the red the Reds coming duck and cover so you have an arms race a space race and an information public diplomacy race and you're trying to get into each other's public minds and kind of convert their thinking the best example I give a Cold War public diplomacy is dr. Zhivago if you show someone that film it's about the poor russian downtrodden sent off to Siberian camps we in america that was a great public diplomacy vehicle and it was banned in the soviet union so we kind of helped i think sneak it in there and let boris pasternak do some of the public diplomacy and what I love about Cold War public diplomacy is we really went at it we used every tool in our toolbox they used every tool in their toolbox and we let those stories compete I think we won that story competition we were partly aided by technology which is the unwritten story it wasn't internet technology it was television if you remember television was beamed into East Berlin into corners of Soviet republics the satellite signal went higher than the Berlin Wall so no matter how high we kept walls information and public diplomacy scaled them and as the East saw the west and said I like what I see public diplomacy was Aiden and abetted as it always is by the rise of Technology