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The Pentagon's Battle for the American Mind: The Early Cold War (review)

From: The Journal of Military History
Volume 69, Number 2, April 2005
pp. 600-601 | 10.1353/jmh.2005.0107

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The Journal of Military History 69.2 (2005) 600-601

The Pentagon's Battle for the American Mind: The Early Cold War. By Lori Lyn Bogle. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58544-378-6. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 220. $34.00.

Those of us who served in the military in the late 1950s and early '60s will recall moments when we were shown films or heard speakers bemoaning how "soft" American culture had become and how we had to "toughen" our personnel for the long struggle with the Communist East. The "21 [American POWs] who stayed" in North Korea in 1953 often figured as prime evidence in this indictment. Albert Biderman's March to Calumny (1963), a convincing critique of this slanderous misrepresentation of the conduct of the vast majority of American POWs, had little immediate counteractive impact. By the late 1950s, with the blessing of President Dwight Eisenhower, the National Security Council, and members of the Joint Chiefs, a number of conservative elites, evangelical figures, and active or retired flag-rank officers launched an aggressive effort at political indoctrination to address this perceived shortcoming. In 1971 CBS Reports produced an hour-long special, "The Selling of the Pentagon," which included significant attention to and criticism of the Defense Department's political indoctrination/propaganda films. In 1972 Thomas Palmer produced an excellent, if incomplete, account of several dimensions of this phenomenon

In The Pentagon's Battle, Lori Bogle, a professor of history at the Naval Academy, has gone well beyond these and other efforts. She offers an account both thorough and balanced (pp. 14, 136, 138) of what these sorties into political indoctrination by the armed services and their allies amounted to, where the impetus for them came from, and how and why they came "a cropper" in the early 1960s. She begins by reviewing the role that the military has played at times in motivating both soldiers and civilians, from the American Revolution through World War II. (Noteworthy to those unfamiliar with this is the effort in 1928 when the Army's Office of the Chief of Staff updated its Studies in Citizenship manual for its Citizens' Military Training Camps to call democracy "mobocracy," attack the "internationalism" of the League of Nations, criticize the public's love of materialism, and emphasize the "build[ing] up" of "home discipline, reverence for religion, and respect for constituted authority" as "vital" to "our national defense" (pp. 36-37).

Bogle draws attention to the significant and successful role that prominent evangelical laymen and ministers played in the revival of this process in the early 1950s. She recounts Billy Graham's interaction with President Harry Truman (who caught Graham misrepresenting their conversation and thereupon cut him, earning Graham's characterization as "the hard-hearted pharaoh"), and with President Dwight Eisenhower, whom Graham won over completely.

In the mid and late 1950s, key military leaders (especially in the Navy) interpreted an ambiguous NSC memo to sanction measures by the armed services to indoctrinate both servicemen and the general public in the true nature of American principles and values, often in league with civilian evangelicals. "Militant Liberty" was one of the offshoots of this effort. Others were the efforts of Vice Admiral Robert Goldthwaite, Chief of Naval Aviation, and Major General Edwin Walker, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, to engage in outright right-wing political indoctrination of the personnel under their sway.

Bogle indicates that she plans to publish further work on the complicating role of racism in the ranks of these early Cold War super-patriots, and the revival of attention to political indoctrination in the military in the Reagan Era. These will be as welcome to me as was this fine analysis, which I recommend with enthusiasm to all who teach in this field.

Peter Karsten

University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


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