Is it true what they say about America?


Al-Ahram

My recent post about Wallace Carroll left me thinking a great deal about Mr. Carroll, and so I thought it was time to read Persuade or Perish again. I had not read it since I was in my early 20s. I was too young then to understand the book very well, and I knew next to nothing about World War II.

So I’m rereading it, and I’m about halfway through. I’ll write more about it later, but the passage below struck me as so important and so visionary, and so relevant to what is now going on at our embassies in Africa and western Asia that I’m going to quote several paragraphs from the book.

It really sheds light on how we are paying the price for America’s ugly image abroad, especially in the Islamic countries. It’s not that we lack a propaganda campaign aimed at those parts of the world. It’s also about what we do. As Mr. Carroll wrote, “the most effective propaganda is the truth.” How absurd is it that some raggedy-ass, hate-filled filmmakers operating in the shadows in Southern California can so easily define this country abroad? That ugly image of America sells abroad because of what we have done and are doing. Their memories are longer than ours. For us, it’s far away. For them, it’s very close to home.


From Persuade or Perish, by Wallace Carroll, published in 1948:

“Such a strategy of persuasion — I believed it then and I believe it now — is essential if the United States is to succeed in its paramount aim of assuring a just and lasting peace. It must replace the old narrow concept of international relations as an exchange of correspondence and courtesies between governments. It must proceed from the realization that behind the governments are the peoples, and that it is more important to win the hearts of men than the cold and formal approval of their rulers. American foreign policy will be successful only to the extent that it can convince the people that American aims are in harmony with their aspirations for peace and freedom and personal liberty.

“The best starting-point for a strategy of persuasion — if the lessons of North Africa and Italy are valid — is an awareness that a democracy like the United States must keep its acts in harmony with its words. For a dictatorship like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, this is not essential. A dictatorship can talk about a glorious New Order while it is girdling a continent with concentration camps. It can denounce interference in the affairs of other nations at the moment it is seeking to destroy their governments by fomenting strikes and riots. The aim of the dictatorship is to confuse and divide. The aim of democratic America will always be to unite. When an American government is guilty of actions which confuse other nations, it defeats its own ends. That was shown in North Africa and Italy where American actions gave rise to misunderstanding of American purposes and weakened the bonds between the United States and its allies in war and peace. Later events showed that even in our domestic policies contradictions between our acts and words can lead to confusion abroad and thwart the aims of our foreign policy. It was the widespread belief abroad that the United States was moving toward reaction after the war which caused its fine words about democracy and liberty to be received with skepticism and hampered its efforts to rally the great coalition of peaceful nations on which the future welfare of the world depends.

“The events which I witnessed in London [1941-1944] convinced me that policy and persuasion are one, or that persuasion is simply an extension of foreign policy…

“The policy-makers in Washington, however, like the diplomats who serve them in the field, must be men who are sensitive to trends of feeling and opinion out on the periphery. As our mishaps in the Mediterranean campaign showed, the United States cannot afford to be dependent upon policy-makers and diplomats who are deaf to even the most violent expressions of human feelings. Without sympathetic reporting of trends of opinion from the field, the policy-makers will be exposed to grave miscalculations. Given such reporting, they will be able to keep American actions in harmony with the hopes of free peoples.”

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