Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Daniel Bessner's "Democracy in Exile"

Daniel Bessner is the Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Assistant Professor in American Foreign Policy in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual, and reported the following:
In Democracy in Exile, I examine the intellectual trajectory of Hans Speier, a German exile from National Socialism who in the United States became the founding chief of the RAND Corporation’s Social Science Division. In brief, the book is dedicated to explaining why Speier and other intellectuals of his generation left the groves of academe to enter the halls of power.

One of the main takeaways of the book is that processes outside of intellectuals’ control often informed their careers. Page 99 expresses this well. On this and the subsequent two pages, which comprise the end of my third chapter, I discuss the ways in which two Democratic congressmen, Martin Dies (TX) and Eugene Cox (GA), used their positions of power to demolish the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service (FBIS), the government agency for which Speier worked between 1942 and 1944. (Specifically, Speier served as the head of the committee that produced analyses of Nazi propaganda.)

Dies and Cox both had personal vendettas against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the FBIS’s parent agency. The anti-New Deal Dies considered the FCC a mouthpiece of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while Cox hated the commission because it was investigating him for corruption. For these reasons, the two representatives were devoted to crushing the FCC, which they eventually did by fostering its financial evisceration. As a result of its loss of funding, the FCC was forced to reduce significantly the FBIS’s staff and operations.

The attenuation of the FBIS compelled Speier to leave the organization to accept a job as head of the Office of War Information’s (OWI) German desk. In this position, Speier was responsible for developing the propaganda directives intended to guide the materials the OWI sent to Germany. In short, Speier, a German exile, was given the opportunity to psychologically manipulate his former countrymen. This position further enabled Speier to build the contacts and reputation that helped him later join RAND. Thus, while Speier was disappointed he had to leave the FBIS, Dies’s and Cox’s crusades helped launch his career as a Cold War “defense intellectual.”

It is impossible to know for certain what would have happened if Speier had ended the war at the FBIS, but to my mind it is unlikely that he would have reached the career heights he did. In this particular instance, then, the machinations of two disgruntled congressmen created the conditions that (eventually) enabled Speier to become one of the most important defense intellectuals in the Cold War United States.
Visit Daniel Bessner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue