Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 377

Frances Stonor Saunders's The Cultural Cold War explores a campaign launched by the CIA in the decades following WWII to spread pro-America propaganda. The issue had been explored by The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post in the 1960s and Saunders novel wonders whether or not the attempts were effective and if the CIA was negatively effected by the fallout.

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Secrecy is a key theme of the book. The CIA was established in 1947 as an organization whose sole purpose was clandestine operations, so it shouldn't be too surprising that their actions were kept in secret. The average citizen believed the CIA to be keeping things under wraps for their own protection, however, and not to make them all victims of brainwashing. Saunders ends the first chapter of the book by establishing the stakes of the operation:

This curious triumvirate—Lasky the political militant, Josselson the former department store buyer, and Nabokov the composer—now stood poised at the cutting edge of what was to become, under their guidance, one of the most ambitious secret operations of the Cold War: the winning over of the western intelligentsia to the American proposition.

Elite culture is a touchstone is Saunders's view of many issues with CIA management of post-war politics. Ivy league graduates, children of wealthy and influential parents, and generally people out of touch with every day Americans were at the heart of the conspiracy to manage culture. Saunders expresses concern that the elite were in a position for define how people would see America both from inside US borders and worldwide.

Control was both a central goal and point of contention in The Cultural Cold War. Those inside the CIA and with close ties to the organization saw their efforts as attempting to control what kinds of outside influences were able to take over the country. There was a real and present fear that communist rule would spread across the world and attempts were made to see American government as a better way of life. Saunders's argues that these groups were attempting to control the way that Americans lived their lives and what they valued so that they would more align with the priorities of the government and cultural elite—not for each citizen's best interests.

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