- Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II by Darlene J. Sadlier
Like many monographs, this book serves some purposes much better than others. As a close look at the cultural programs of Nelson Rockefeller’s work as director of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), it is extremely good and fulfills Sadlier’s hope of producing the “first in-depth study” of these initiatives (p. 2). It is much weaker, though, as an analysis of the larger significance of these programs, their place in the framework of the Roosevelt administration’s Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America, and the place of cultural diplomacy in the administration’s overall approach to foreign policy. The book’s tight focus gives us marvelous detail about the particulars of the cultural programs themselves, but offers little to no evidence for the claim that the CIAA represented “the most fully developed and intensive use of soft power in U.S. history” (p. 2).
For students of Latin American history, the volume is likewise a mixed bag. It is unlikely that a more comprehensive study of the CIAA’s dissemination of images and information about the United States in Latin America (or those from Latin America in the United States, another key part of its mission) will be written any time soon. But, as far as I can tell, Sadlier conducted no research outside the United States, so our ability to gauge the response to, or impact of, these programs is limited to information from the CIAA’s own surveys, extensive though they are.
Structurally, the book begins with an overview of what the CIAA hoped to accomplish in explaining the United States to Latin America and vice versa and the methods it employed to do so. Subsequent chapters provide a comprehensive and detailed description of those methods. The CIAA initiatives involving motion pictures, radio, and print publications each get their own chapter, and a final chapter discusses other media, such as art exhibitions, cooperation with U.S. cultural institutes, and efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking peoples in the United States. Sadlier provides as much information on these subjects as one could hope for, supplemented by a plethora of wonderful photos and illustrations. [End Page 173]
However, the lack of a broader context is still a problem—and not in the sense that I simply wish Sadlier had written a different book. In the conclusion, she confesses to a “certain nostalgia” (p. 195) for the CIAA’s approach to cultural diplomacy, calling it a “remarkably enlightened example” of a government using “public culture as a powerful mediating force for political and economic interests” (p. 200). Although this might be an accurate assessment, Sadlier’s exclusive focus on the CIAA’s cultural output makes it impossible to reach that conclusion. One would have to go beyond Sadlier’s book to learn that the primary mission of the CIAA—the programs that received the lion’s share of the agency’s money and time—was the undertaking of economic development initiatives in Latin America. The relationship between the cultural and the economic programs of the CIAA receives literally no attention in this book, nor does the political context of U.S. diplomacy with individual Latin American states. For all the attention to what Rockefeller and company did in the cultural realm, there is almost no analysis of why they did it—other than the overtly stated desire to improve the image of the United States south of the border.
Finally, I wonder if Sadlier’s verdict on the CIAA might have differed if she had developed what stands now as a throwaway line in her conclusion. She suggests that the CIAA “played a crucial role in what is sometimes called U.S. cultural imperialism” (p. 200). If we are to reach a fully rounded evaluation of the role of cultural diplomacy in the Good Neighbor Policy—a policy that...