Empire of Ideas.

Author:Brown, John H.
Position:'Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U. S. Foreign Policy' - Book review

Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U. S. Foreign Policy by Justin Hart, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-077794-5, hardcover, 279 pp., $34.95 (list)

In recent years the U.S. foreign affairs community has become increasingly aware that public diplomacy--defined by the State Department homepage as "engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences" (i)--has a history.

Such a historical perspective, so important for understanding the present and planning for the future, was an element regrettably missing in the dozens of reports that appeared after 9/11 on how PD (public diplomacy) had failed to meet the challenges of the so-called "war on terror." (ii)

This gap in the past has been filled by diligent scholars, including Nicholas Cull, author of the magisterial 533-page The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (2008). As its title suggest, Cull's story goes back the Truman Years. Richard Arndt's equally magisterial volume, The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century (2007), more concerned with the cultural rather than propaganda side of public diplomacy (a term he dislikes), is also a must read.

Given that history can--granted for optimists--be a guide for policy, it is good news that Justin Hart, a professor at Texas Tech University, has joined his fellow scholars in providing an analysis on PD's historical roots. Hart argues, in the book under review, that public diplomacy's origins can be traced back to the Buenos Aires conference (1936), "where the State Department proposed a series of government-sponsored technological and educational exchanges with the nations of Latin America," calling this international initiative "cultural relations."

Focusing on the late 30s to the early 50s, Hart covers, in varying detail, the information, cultural, and educational overseas outreach programs carried out by U.S. government agencies.

If the busy reader of this review will bear with me, allow me to list organizations, some little known, covered by Hart: The State Department Division on Cultural Relations; the Committee on Cooperation with the American Republics (CCAR); the Office of the Coordinator on Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), headed by Nelson Rockefeller, whose turf-conscious relations with the State Department were at times intense; the Office of War...

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