The Fourth Face of U.S. Imperialism

September 25, 2007

In the last twenty-five years the American government has become deeply committed to cultural and education exchanges. Such efforts have been called the fourth dimension of U.S. foreign policy by Philip Coombs (The Fourth Dimension of Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, Harper and Row, 1964); the other three being economic, diplomatic and military. This general label embraces: (1) information (propaganda) co-ordinated by the USIA (2) leadership exchanges and education of foreign students co-ordinated by the State Department's Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs and (3) technical assistance co-ordinated by the Agency for International Development. The USIA is a child of the Cold War which grew out of the Office of War Information. Recruited from the mass media experts, the staff of these of these operations are the image-makers and public relations engineers for the United States. The more sensitive liberals who react to this sometimes crude means of reaching the "peoples" of other countries find the leadership and foreign student exchanges sponsored by the Fulbright Amendment and Smith-Mundt Act after the Second World Wear more their liking. "Education is in reality one of the basic factors of international relations -- quite as important as diplomacy and military power in its implications for war or peace." (Fulbright, foreword to Coombs)

The creation of the Division of Cultural Relations in the Department of State in July 1938 was the first step towards official U.S. government use of cultural relations in foreign policy. It was conceived as an adjunct to the Good Neighbor policy. The Latin American republics were seen as essential to U.S. security and welfare and it was necessary to combat Nazi influence in Latin America. The job of Inter-agency Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs created in 1940 was held by Nelson Rockefeller throughout the War years. The main purpose of the agency was to insure hemispheric defense and coordinate economic activities, but information flow and cultural relations were also included as crucial. While in this role Rockefeller was also able to look after his family's oil interests in Latin America.

The Department of Cultural Relations was modeled after the British Council which was created in Great Britain in 1934 to counter the "ruthless propaganda machine of Dr. Goebbels designed to till fields of the minds and emotions in all parts of the world". (George Shuster in Cultural Relations and Foreign Affairs, American Assembly publication, 1963, p.ll). The Office of War Information and Rockefeller's agency carried on a world-wide campaign of psychological warfare.

In taking these initial steps the U.S. government was copying the efforts of those great powers like France, which, ever since Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, had realized the importance of cultural relations as a component of foreign policy. Napoleon said I have been forced to conquer Europe by the sword; he who comes after will conquer it by the spirit. For the spirit is always more powerful than the sword." (Coombs p. 79) The French leaders were explicit in designating cultural expansion aimed at the elites of other societies as the major means of building and assimilating the second French Empire in the late nineteenth century.

For most of the first half of the 20th century these functions of cultural exchange were carried out by foundations, universities and other private agencies. They preempted the government in understanding the importance of this kind of penetration in the Third World. As a tribute to the foundations, it has been said:

And finally there are the great foundations. The fame of some of them is worldwide. Primitive people who go to Bed not quite certain where the U.S. is have the name of the Rockefeller Foundation on their lips. It has helped to remove the scourge of disease, has supported charitable establishments and has made blades of grass grow where none did previously . Of late, the Ford Foundation has taken its honored place beside is older sister institution. (Shuster, p. 19)

One private agency established in 1917 which was designed to held foreign students in the U.S. was the Institute for International Education (IIE). It was created and financed by those upper class internationalists" who saw the foreign student as a potential agent for the American way of life in their home countries.When the Department of State entered the realm of cultural activities it sought, from the beginning,to make use of such private groups. In 1939 the IIE began to serve as the operational agency for government exchange grants. Financed by corporations and foundations in whose interest it is to see these programs succeed, the IIE is able to carry out functions for the government which could otherwise be awkward and burdensome for the federal bureaucracy. As educational exchange became increasingly important after the Second World War, this division of labor became increasingly elicit. As educational exchange developed into a sizeable government enterprise at the time of the Kennedy administration, the government sought in- creased cooperation in this field with the private sector (business, universities, foundations).

The creators of the Fulbright program of educational exchange have inbeud Americans with a rhetoric designed to convince us of the altruistic motives of these efforts. They pidgeon-hole the activities of the USIA as the "psychological approach", and "propaganda", while educational and other exchanges are termed "cooperative" ventures for "mutual understanding" of a "reciprocal" , nature. We are even told that educational programs must be objective non-political" activities implying a clean separation from the context of their wartime propaganda origins. The more sophisticated advocates of this program themselves acknowledge that educational exchange must blend in with our propaganda abroad and our "technical assistance as part of a broader scope of U.S. foreign policy.

Towards what foreign policy objectives do these exchange programs work? In bringing the foreign visitor to the United States we increase "mutual understanding" and try to dispel along foreign visitors misconceptions and ugly stereotypes. The foreign visitor is usually either a specialized person or a professional who comes to meet his counterpart in this country. He is lavished with middle-class hospitality and cordiality and is inculcated with U.S. technical efficiency and achievement orientation. Sufficiently impressed he returns to his native land -- an American ally. We receive the foreign student as a potential recruit for the American way of lie. What is the "valuable educational exerience" we provide for these foreign students? The foreign student is shunted from the academic vacuum of the universe - to the seminars of prepackaged cross-cultural contact to travel to the impressive landmarks in our nation. A new program for bringing African high school-aged students to the United Sates is designed to begin this Americanization process at a more receive age. Even the radical foreign student is now seen as potentially cooptable. Our system has rich material rewards for those who see the light. The foreign student is now recruited in his own country, prepared, programmed, helped human resource, an American culture carrier who will perhaps some day work for a Au.S. corporation in his own country or who as minister in his government will repay his American friends. Our investment in human resources today will have its payoff in the years to come. That is one meaning of exchange.

The American exchange program also flows the other way. We export Americans to work abroad. Behind this other side of exchange lies the realization of the necessity of understanding the cultural and social environment we have to influence in order to make our policies effective. The Department of Cultural and Educational Affairs administers the Fulbright Program with the help of IIE and other private agencies. AID, under the leadership of David Bell (now vice-president of the Ford Foundation) increased expenditures for educational projects overseas. This U.S. penetration of higher education in the third world is carried out through contracts with 71 American universities. The Peace Corps puts a high priority on educational projects abroad by staffing foreign universities and secondary schools.

American education as a whole is being internationalized. It is training foreign area specialists who, along with social scientists, will do U.S. government intelligence. It is incorporating the growing number of foreign students and helping them adjust to U.S. life. It is contracting to organize whole sectors of education programs in foreign countries. The Big Three foundations -- Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie -- have traditionally led the way in cultural penetration through strategic demonstration projects. American business has adopted an image of educator and social reformer in its private aid programs in an effort to destroy the image of capitalist "exploiting the natives". It is not that they no longer exploit the natives but that their investment in human resources pays off with good propaganda and trained personnel who will be the partners of American-style progress. Clever rhetoricians tell us about the advantages of demonstrating our deeply humanistic values -- in essence, window-dressing for a U.S. foreign policy which says "no" to revolutions or any change that is not favorable to U.S. interests.

Tags: cultural imperialism, educational exchange

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