Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II by Darlene J. Sadlier (review)
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Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II. By Darlene J. Sadlier. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. Pp. 251. $55.00 cloth)

The notions of soft power and cultural diplomacy have steadily attracted the attention of policymakers and diplomatic scholars over the past two decades. Although intellectual discussions of a more amiable approach to foreign policy are a relatively recent phenomenon, the growing body of scholarly literature demonstrates that such policy initiatives have many important historical precedents.

Darlene J. Sadlier’s Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II takes the reader to a time when the use of soft power was a favored diplomatic tool. Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) operated exclusively in Latin America during the war years in an effort to foster unity and to safeguard security in the Western Hemisphere. As such, the agency offers a rare case study for scholars of foreign relations. Even during the era of the Good Neighbor Policy, the CIAA played a singular role in U.S. diplomacy. No such U.S. government agency existed before or since, and there was no other area of the world with such an all-encompassing U.S. bureau devoted to overseeing diplomatic issues. Sadlier argues that the CIAA offers a unique example of the U.S. government incorporating culture into its diplomatic strategies in meaningful ways.

Sadlier lays out the concept of the “culture industry” as a framework for understanding the creation and operations of the CIAA (pp. 7–8). Borrowing from Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, Sadlier considers various forms of culture production—namely film, radio, and print media—as standardized and formulaic expressions produced within a system of partnership between big business and big government. The State Department [End Page 145] Division of Cultural Relations, established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, served as a bridge between the privately led and philanthropic cultural-diplomacy initiatives of the early twentieth century and the more institutional government-led efforts that came to define the Cold War. That incipient attempt at promoting soft power reflected FDR’s commitment to cultural diplomacy and served as a springboard to the larger and more comprehensive Latin American program that emerged under the CIAA during the war.

Sadlier seems to rely closely on the structures delineated in Dialectic of Enlightenment, as she organizes the chapters of Americans All according to the types of cultural expressions showcased by the study. Chapters on the CIAA divisions of motion pictures, radio, and press and publications are followed by a chapter devoted to museums, libraries, and the U.S. home front. This organizational structure serves her well since it represents some of the most important administrative divisions within the CIAA and it allows her to carry out a cultural analysis of various types of media messages in a systematic way.

Relying largely on CIAA archival records, Sadlier demonstrates that film, radio, and print media became an instrumental part of the agency’s strategy to portray the United States in a way that would appeal to Latin Americans and to teach people in the United States about their neighbors to the south. She examines U.S. and Latin American–produced radio programs, CIAA generated news stories that appeared in Latin American newspapers, and special publications such as CIAA newsletters and En Guardia—the war magazine created specifically for a Latin American reading audience. Sadlier also describes various initiatives involving collaboration between artists, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions throughout the hemisphere. Throughout the brief existence of the agency, CIAA representatives carried out extensive audience-reception surveys and often modified their approach to sharing wartime information based on the results of those studies.

Despite some instances of cultural misunderstanding, Sadlier concludes that the cultural initiatives of the CIAA were generally [End Page 146] effective and helped to shape the way U.S. leaders and the U.S. public viewed Latin America. She credits improved relations in the hemisphere to the investment of the agency in culture, and she refers to “nostalgia for Good Neighbor policies” (p. 195) as she delineates the circumstances surrounding the...