- The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe, 1945-1960
Work on the cultural dimensions of the Cold War continues apace. The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe is an excellent collection of essays, arising from a conference held at the Roosevelt Study Centre in the Dutch city of Middleburg in October 2001. Contributors include some of the leaders in the field of cultural Cold War studies, such as Scott Lucas and Jessica Gienow-Hecht. They are joined by experts in intelligence, post-1945 European history, and contemporary American history. A pithy foreword by the writer and historian David Caute, author of The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), warns readers of some of the book's deficiencies, notably the absence of essays looking at the Soviet role in the cultural Cold War.
The book assumes, rightly one would hope, that all Cold War scholars now accept that the U.S.-Soviet conflict was a battle of ideas as much as a military standoff. Building on this notion, the book examines in depth the relationship between economic policies, political agendas, and cultural expression in one of the Cold War's key regions, Western Europe, from 1945 to 1960. Case studies of the connections between overt/covert activities and cultural/political agendas in Western Europe are divided into five sections, titled "Intellectuals between Autonomy and Control," "Public-Private Partnership," "Target Groups: Youth and Women," "Target Areas," and "High Culture as Political Message." The authors predominantly focus on the extent of American influence in Western Europe, but they also highlight the mix of American and European interests that were being expressed and demonstrate the varied and often unintended results of American involvement in European culture.
Readers hoping to find material relating to popular culture—magazines, newspapers, television, film, music—will be disappointed. The book concentrates primarily on the role of intellectuals, trade union leaders, politicians, and government propaganda [End Page 105] officials in the cultural Cold War. Plenty of material is included on the secret funding provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the Congress for Cultural Freedom and European student organisations, on the Marshall Plan and European labor, and on transatlantic organizations like the Bilderberg Group, but precious little on rock-and-roll or Hollywood. However, the volume's tight focus allows for detailed consideration of several questions that stand at the heart of cultural Cold War studies and that are set out clearly in the introduction by Hans Krabbendam and Giles Scott-Smith: What were the boundaries to freedom in the West in the early phase of the Cold War, and how were they set? Did the defenders of the principle of a free society find the balance between "truth," freedom of information, and efforts to direct and influence opinion? How far could "freedom" be instituted and promoted by official powers without having it collapse under its own contradictions into a mere semblance (or representation) of freedom? Was all culture, on both sides of the Cold War, simply an extension of politics? If so, how should this alter our perception of the conflict?
The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe is highly recommended for Cold War scholars. Most of the contributors offer fresh insights into the nature of what is often now called the "state-private networks" operating on various levels during the Cold War. Most of the essays are tightly argued, using primary sources culled from American and European archives. The contributors are rightly unwilling to take official claims of influence at face value. Thankfully, they eschew the esoteric jargon that all too frequently bedevils cultural studies.