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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.1 (2002) 97-99

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Book Review

Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty

Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. 382 pp. $27.50.

This book offers a useful building block for future attempts to assess the role and effectiveness of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) during the Cold War. The author, Arch Puddington, is clear about his own assessment:

It is unfortunate that most histories of the Cold War deal with RFE and RL as footnotes, or as CIA-manipulated propaganda instruments. For in fact the radios proved one of the most successful institutions of America's Cold War effort, and made an important contribution to the peaceful nature of Communism's demise. (p. 313)

At the same time, Puddington writes candidly about some of the problems faced by the two radios during their decades of operation.

Particularly valuable are chapters on RFE's activist early period in the 1950s, for which Puddington has dug into archives of internal memoranda. Those were the days of the Eisenhower-Dulles "liberation" policy when RFE broadcasts to Eastern Europe were encouraging defections, attacking Communist officials by name, and urging listeners to take such actions as withholding grain from the state. Puddington comments that "to the sophisticated ear of today, these polemical broadsides . . . sound almost ludicrous" (p. 50). A separate chapter describes the radio's parallel effort to launch balloons into the target area carrying subversive messages. Meanwhile, RFE's backers were engaged in a massive advertising campaign to raise funds from the American public that included appeals to schoolchildren to donate their pennies for freedom. Potential contributors were not informed that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was footing most of the bill for RFE.

Some RFE broadcasts during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 seemed to promise listeners in Hungary that they would receive help from the West if they fought against the Soviet invasion. Puddington finds no evidence that this was a reflection of overall policy; instead, he concludes that lax management controls enabled some of the broadcasters to act on their own. Whatever the case, this episode and the changing political climate in the United States led to official and unofficial reviews of RFE's mission. A 1961 article in Foreign Affairs by Zbigniew Brzezinski and William E. Griffith, who had been the policy head of RFE during the Hungarian crisis, argued that "America should adopt a dual approach to Eastern Europe, seeking improved relations with the Communist leadership where feasible, while expanding the range of contacts with the Eastern European people" (p. 130). Although this dual concept was not exclusively the brainchild of Brzezinski and Griffith, they laid it out more explicitly than before. The strategy successfully underpinned U.S. policy during much of the remainder [End Page 97] of the Cold War. Today's framers of American policy would do well to heed it, especially the emphasis on "range of contacts," as they face the dictators of post-Soviet states like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakstan.

Radio Liberty began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in Russian and more than a dozen other languages in 1953, some three years after RFE's first broadcast. Whether by inadvertence or design, the station never achieved RFE's high profile with the American public, although it too was initially funded by the CIA. In many ways RL in its early days faced more difficult challenges than its East European counterpart, among them heavier jamming, skimpier budgets, shortages of trained staff, and an audience more isolated from currents of outside opinion. The story of how RL in its first two decades of operation marshaled its collective wits to overcome these handicaps and build an audience of millions is worth telling, but unfortunately Puddington devotes only a single chapter to it, compared to nine chapters covering the equivalent period of RFE. Still, even on this topic Puddington...