The Cultural Cold War

by Frances Stonor Saunders

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (a.k.a Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War) is a 1999 nonfiction, historical, and political book written by British writer, journalist, and historian Frances Stonor Saunders. It is the author’s first book, and in it, she describes and analyzes the various campaigns and programs that the CIA used after the Second World War to remove the Soviet Union’s cultural and political power and propaganda in Europe and to amplify the American culture and influence.

Saunders interviewed several individuals that were involved in these campaigns, such as Irving Kristol, the editor of the literary and cultural magazine Encounter. She also used numerous reliable bibliographical sources, references, and classified documents. According to her researches, the CIA ‘bribed’ or ‘sponsored’ a lot of musicians, artists, and writers to propagate the American pop culture and devalue the socialist, Marxist, and communist creators.

She focuses on the global political, socio-economic, and cultural climate of the USA and Europe during the Cold War; however, she also discusses the heavy political influence on mass media, art, music, entertainment, literature, and the expenditure of culture and popular culture, in general. Saunders analyzes how the American political powers instigated a psychological ‘war’ against the Soviet Union, engaging writers like Orwell, artists like Pollock, and musicians like Leonard Bernstein to incorporate the well-known European principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity in their works, with the intention of using them to win over the Western European society. Essentially, Saunders writes a detailed and historically accurate account on how the CIA used propaganda to destroy the Soviet Union’s propaganda.

The Cultural Cold War received positive to mixed reviews. Saunders was praised for her highly informative and well-structured narrative, but, at same time, she was criticized for her repetitiveness and her overly descriptive prose.

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