Sunday, August 12, 2018

Victoria M. Grieve's "Little Cold Warriors"

Victoria M. Grieve is Associate Professor of History at Utah State University and the author of The Federal Art Project and The Creation of Middlebrow Culture. Her research spans childhood studies, visual culture, and cultural politics from the New Deal to the Cold War.

Grieve applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Little Cold Warriors: American Childhood in the 1950s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…Their exchange reveals another persistent struggle at the heart of the Franklin enterprise, as well as Cold War cultural propaganda more generally. The USIA aimed to change hearts and minds through direct propaganda to a mainstream audience, but USIA-sponsored intellectuals tended to have a longer view and a subtler approach. Franklin operated on the principle that an educated population that enjoyed positive relationships with US-supported institutions and that did not appear to have ulterior motives would be stronger allies in the long term. Smith’s memos and reports repeatedly tout “the political benefits of a non-political book program” to justify Franklin’s title selections, target audiences, and juvenile book projects to the USIA.
Page 99 is about halfway through Little Cold Warriors, in the middle of Chapter Three, and happens to emphasize perhaps the key assertion of the book. At this point, I’m discussing a book program launched by private concerns in the United States but funded by the U.S. State Department. There are, of course, some different priorities at work which soon become points of contention. Should the bookmen emphasize America’s best literature, or should they translate books that paint the U.S. in a favorable light? State Department bureaucrats argue that the use of taxpayer money and Cold War politics demand the latter approach.

But Datus Smith, the head of Franklin Books, argues that “the political benefits of a nonpolitical book program” will in the long run do more to bolster the image of the United States in sensitive regions of the world. By translating juvenile books into Arabic, for example, Franklin Books cultivated a positive image with the next generation of leaders and built mutual relationships of trust and goodwill.

Of course, even Franklin’s “nonpolitical” books were political. I point out on page 99 that one of Franklin’s first and most popular translations from its Cairo, Egypt office was Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe (1953). Franklin’s adaptation featured the biographies of 25 notable Americans and 25 prominent Arabs, the selection of which required the identification of particular national traits.

Page 99 offers one example of the larger argument of the book – the assumption that children of the 1950s were “nonpolitical” allowed children and children’s culture, such as juvenile books, to be used in explicitly political ways to fight the Cold War. Children’s toys, art exchange programs, advertising, and school civil defense projects all relied on the same assumption.
Learn more about Little Cold Warriors at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue