Eugene Burdick, Arthur Larson, Don K. Price

America’s Image Abroad

VTR Date: October 26, 1958


October 26, 1958
NBC Television

Moderator: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Professor Eugene Burdick, Professor Arthur Larson, Dean Don K. Price

ANNOUNCER: THE OPEN MIND, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, “America’s Image Abroad.” Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner, historian, teacher, and author of “A Documentary History of the United States.”

HEFFNER: I’m frequently asked how we pick our subjects on The Open Mind and usually I don’t know the answer to the question. This time I do. I know…the collaborator, William Lederer. Eugene Burdick was the young man. The book…we have been creating f ourselves in a certain part of the world. We don’t want to stick today to that particular part of the world, but want to generalize and my other guests today are perfectly competent—probably the most competent people in the country—to talk about the whole question of America’s image abroad. Let me introduce you to them. My first guest is the co-author of this book, Professor Eugene Burdick of the Political Science Department of the University of California, author of “The Ninth Wave” and co-author of “The Ugly American.” My second guest is Arthur Larson, former chief of the United States Information Agency, Director of the World Rule of Law Center at Duke University and author of “What We Are For” which will be published by Harpers in January. My third guest is Dean Don K. Price of The Graduate School of Public Administration, Harvard University, and Vice President of The Ford Foundation.

Well, gentlemen, you’ve all been involved in creating this image that we have, for good or bad, created abroad. I think I’d ask Mr. Larson, as the person who officially was particularly responsible for creating this image, what he has to say about the charges, director and indirect—in Mr. Burdick’s book, that we’ve done a pretty poor job of it. I think that if this book provides the kind of shock treatment that will galvanize Americans into doing something much better than was done in the past, giving much more thought to it, taking much more seriously the business of the kind of image that we’re creating overseas, then it will render a very great service indeed. As far as I’m concerned, I think I’m willing to start from the premise that we have a big job to do and the real question is exactly what do we do about it. How do we go about it?

HEFFNER: Could I ask you this question first, though? Why have we done this kind of job? What accounts for the image that Mr. Burdick describes here?

LARSON: I think principally because we haven’t taken the job seriously. We’ve suddenly come into a position of world prominence, of leadership, that we haven’t been accustomed to, and we haven’t been professional agitators, we’re not conducting a professional world revolution, we’re not professional colonialists, we just haven’t been prepared for it by our past and our background, and I think it’s time we took it seriously and did the kind of full-scale job on it that our position in the world demands.

HEFFNER: I notice that Mr. Burdick is sitting here listening to such nice things being said about his book, but shaking his head.

BURDICK: I was not shaking my head; I was nodding agreement, because the point of “The Ugly American” is that we in this novel don’t attack any agency or individual as the cause. We think it really is that the American people have not faced up to the fact that we’re in a deadly, serious and very subtle kind of struggle that’s going on all over the world. And until the American people realize it, we won’t send the right people to do the right job. We’ve been sending the wrong people and I think in these cases, they do the wrong job.

HEFFNER: What do you mean by the wrong people, by the way?

BURDICK: For example, we don’t send people who speak the languages, and the usual excuse is that languages are too difficult to learn – as this happens not to be so. You can learn languages quickly – there are new ways to teach them and if motivation is high enough, people learn them very, very quickly. For example, the English and the Russians do much better than we do. Part of the reason is that they give a 20% bonus to people when they can speak the language, and we do not do this. Also, we don’t leave people long enough in one area to make it worth their while to learn the language. If we could afford to leave them there for four or five years – with leave back in the States every so often, it would be a much better payoff.

PRICE: Mr. Burdick, I come right along with Mr. Larson on applauding the message of this book; I think you’ve balanced the case in the nicest way that’s been done since medieval morality plays. You’ve got a good foreign service officer and a bad foreign service officer, and a good technical assistance type and two or three who were pretty poor. And I think you’ve struck some notes here that ought to awaken an interest that will be very valuable. But I think that you might have hit even harder one note that you did strike, and that was just as in the old prize fight business, everyone admitted that a good big man could beat the good little man, the good professional can always beat the good amateur and we have had to improvise here with a bunch of amateurs. Now this isn’t altogether so because a number of our private agencies including the mission group in the churches which intellectuals have been accustomed to sniff at, have given better training to their people and given them more long­ range exercise including language training, than our civilian agencies of government. And not until, it seems to me, the government comes through and makes it possible to get advanced training on the civilians in our governmental agencies, in the same way that the military system can do are we going to solve this problem. You cannot do it as long as your foreign aid business is thought of as a one-year proposition at a time.

HEFFNER: I would come back to the question though, in terms of what you’ve just said, Mr. Price to our question of why. I don’t find myself particularly satisfied by the answer of the question why in terms… well, Mr. Burdick saying the American people have to be aware of the necessity for creating a more important image, and Mr. Larson says the same thing, too. But we’ve been in a cold war and in hot wars now for – a couple of decades. It would seem that our leadership must be aware of this necessity and yet you’re talking about the product of mistaken action on the part of leadership. How do you explain that?

LARSON: I think there’s another factor here and that is that I don’t think we’ve had a clear enough idea what we’re getting at overseas. And until we do, we’re not going to be as effective as we ought to be. Now we’re up against a regime that knows precisely what it’ s getting at. On the other hand, we’re maneuvered in a position where we seem to be spending most of our time being against Communism. Now it’s never very effective, very popular, very thrilling to be against something. We’ve got to figure out what we are for and base our whole campaign – our whole overseas activity on the positive program. We have, in my opinion, the most exciting, the most revolutionary idea on our side in modern history, but we’re not presenting ourselves that way. We’re presenting ourselves as a reaction to the very barren and really old-fashioned ideas of communism.

PRICE: Of course, Mr. Larson, the greatest asset we’ve had recently, it seems to me, has been something not due to our merits at all… Nobody believes that the state is going to wither away with the Chinese Communes developing as they’re now developing. And this I think has fundamentally changed in the past two years – the approach of the neutral statesmen of Asia and Africa, and has nibbled a bit about the edges of the fringes of the Iron curtain itself. You see what’s going on – you see what broke out in Hungary and you see the stirrings in Poland and other Iron Curtain countries and it gives you some room for hope.

HEFFNER: Yes, but we turn then, however, to Mr. Burdick’s book and hope seems to go out the window. DO you think that there is hope in some areas of the world and not so much in others?

PRICE: Well, I’d like to come back to Mr. Burdick’s thesis, because I feel so strongly in agreement with it. We need basically the same thing in both places, but I do think that we could feel quite complacent about what we have done if it weren’t for the fact that it’s life and death. If you look back, it was only yesterday that people were worried about saying that our frontier was on the Rhine and it’s an awful lot harder to get used to the idea… We were quite shocked at the idea that we were going to give quarts of milk to various Hottentots and now we are committed with hardly any partisan disagreement to foreign aid program indefinitely. I think we’ve come quite a long ways but we really haven’t learned to do the job in a professional way.

HEFFNER: Do you think it has to do with the image we have of ourselves? We’ve been talking about the image that we create and I notice that Mr. Larson in the book of his says that we are failing to identify our aspirations – well his editors say that we’re failing to identify our aspirations with those of the developing countries and Mr. Larson writes we need a fresh image of ourselves and some fresh words to describe it. Well, the image we have that; we’re trying to send abroad, do you think this is appropriate to winning this cold war. Mr. Burdick?

BURDICK: No, I don1 t think that we do have an agreed image of ourselves. And then we have a 19th century image of the other people. For example, it is still possible to find Americans abroad who will not allow other Americans, heads of missions -they will not make this a formal rule or write it down – but they will not allow their people to take orders from an Asian or a person of color. Regardless of the person’s qualifications. Now take a group that does it very well. The religious groups. For example, Catholic priests that go abroad usually are very well trained in the language – if the bishop – the local bishop is a native, a Burmese, Vietnamese, they will take orders and they will work skillfully with them. And they are very, very effective. But I think we go abroad, really with the notion, a little bit still of the Pucka Sahib tradition. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it costs somewhere between 25 to 28,000 dollars a year to keep even a stenographer abroad – these people live awfully well and usually much better than the natives. And it takes a lot of stability on the part of an American, living on that scale not to be swept up by it.

HEFFNER: Yes, but suppose we would ask someone. Let’s take a less optimistic point of view …that we need merely to shift our emphasis. If we acted the way we do abroad, maybe this is something that is a truer reflection of the people we are, than would be the nicer image you want to create. How do you answer that? Do you think it’s just been happenstance that we haven’t created the right image, or is this a true reflection of what we’re like?

BURDICK: No. The real tragedy of American diplomacy abroad is this. That really, the average American is the world’s best ambassador, if you send him to do the right job and do not give him an inflated notion of what he should do. Take for example, Seabees during the war. They could teach natives to run bulldozers to level furrowed fields, they could do everything. And they did it skillfully and well. But what we’ll do – we’ll take a person over and ask him to do the wrong job -artificially isolate him from the natives, tell him whether he wants to be told this or not, that he is in a superior status and collaboration is just impossible. But when the American goes over and is given the right instructions and just turned loose, it’s amazing to see some of the jobs.

HEFFNER: What is it that you mean there? You say given the right instruction and turned loose. Which is it? Given the right instruction or just turned loose? Seriously, I mean, this is a basic problem.

BURDICK: I think that if you turned them loose that would be enough.


BURDICK: Really. Americans have the right impulses, but we manage to stamp them out in the process of shipping them overseas.

HEFFNER: Well you see this is the question I got from your book – that what we were doing was putting an official stamp upon American, who went abroad and losing that capacity to just give to other people the same feelings that we have — the same feeling about, let’s say our capacity to make progress, to create things. You talk in your book of the simple ways of winning approval by being ourselves. Seems to me then that when we put the official stamp of approval on that’s where we lose and why I asked Mr. Larson -why – in terms of his own experience with the USIA.

LARSON: Well, let me add one thing to what Mr. Burdick just said right now. Of course from the point of view of getting people to like us and get along with us, I think just the ordinary American being himself is probably the best ambassador we could ask for. But there’s one more step to the process. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we have reached the point where we’re beginning to mingle and associate in a congenial way with the people of these various countries. As we should. There’s one more thing. We’ve got to talk about something. How do we talk about ourselves? About our political theory or our kind of government, our kind of economy in such a way that it makes the right impression on people that we deal with abroad. Now one of our failings it seems to me, is that we have not, as people, ourselves, understood what our idea is in the world – What is so distinctive and important and effective about our particular blend of sort of a private enterprise mingled with government regulations, mingled with a particular kind of democratic and freedom environment.

PRICE: Mr. Larson, if you could get that point across to the Asian Civil Service who are graduates of the London School of Economics, I think that you could reach back into our own history and our own traditions and associate us with freedom in a positive way that we have unfortunately not been portraying ourselves throughout Asia at the present time. But I’d like to quibble a little with Mr. Burdick here. We’ve all been too kind to his book for the purposes of a discussion like this although I did enjoy it tremendously. I think that because it was put in fiction and because it made such a good yarn, it leaves people with sort of a Daniel Boone approach toward this. Now I grew up in the shadow of Cumberland Gap and I was well along in graduate work before I caught on to the fact that the west wasn’t opened up solely by the individual heroes and it took some development companies and some government grants to do the trick. Now I think that you can’t run a war with nothing but heroes, you can’t run an overseas program with nothing but the kind of dedicated, selfless people who live out in the bush and live like the people whose standard of living they’re trying to raise. I think the essential point is that you need some of those and you also need a personnel system which will take people who are a little less likely to rise to this level and simply teach them something about the culture they’re going with, clean them out if they1re not suited for the work. Business does this — foundations do it. The point is, you have to pay for it and if you’re not willing to recruit in terms of ten year service and pay for training you1 re not going to get this middle level that’s essential to do the job.

HEFFNER: Well of course, one of Mr. Burdick’s first nonheroes is a man who gains his ambassadorship by having been defeated for a re-election and as a lame duck he’s given this sinecure – what seems to be a sinecure of the ambassadorship. I don’t think this is a reflection of the American people’s failure to grasp the necessity for a more brilliantly achieved program abroad. I think it reflects something else. Mr. Burdick?

BURDICK: I think I differ with you – in parts, but I agree that there has to be this well trained middle level, I think that we have gotten a peculiar vision peculiar slant of things where we see them in terms of big treaties, big armies, big events. Let me just give you one short story. Here’s the way Communists operate in the typical village. A civilian will appear in the village who speaks the language and he will offer to take a couple of the boys to Moscow or to some place, to train them as electricians, say. Or sanitary experts. They come back and they’re trained that way and they also bring a radio that operates with a homemade generator. And a radio with one station – gets the Communist station. And it gets very clever propaganda over it, and it’s subtle – it’s not crude propaganda. Now this multiplied 100,000 times is what has won for the Communists and behind this is some sort of a dedication where a person will go out, spend time in the village and do this tiny thing. Since 1918 the Russians have won, not because their ideology is better or because their army is better or their technology is better, but because they have done a multiplicity of tiny things, well. And when I finish, I sort of agree with you. We do need these 100,000 small tasks.

LARSON: I think that if I were going to – not differ, but add something to what is emphasized in Mr. Burdick’s analysis, it would be this: I think we ought to say a little bit more about the fact that the key to many of these countries is not the person back in the bush; increasingly it seems to me, the key is becoming the band of educated and influential young people, the students, the professors, the young professional people, the young government people, the young military people, the lively oncoming group that have ambitions for their country. I think frequently the fate of the country is in the hands of these people and it’s these people that, it seems to me, we’ve been failing most conspicuously to associate ourselves with. I think it’s these people that are behind many of the unfortunate riots in South America, for example and the tragic thing about it it seems to me is that these people, by nature, by conviction, by what they want for their country, are our natural allies and that we ought to be on the same side with these people.

PRICE: You can site in support of this the Philippines and India – where U.S policy and British policy have a long enough time to help train the civil servants who ran the government. It makes a quite different situation from what you got where the French in Vietnam and the Dutch in Indonesia so conspicuously failed to do the same thing. To train the middle class and to give them the basic skills but leave them to identify their fate and their future with that of the welfare of a stable country.

HEFFNER: This is a little less romantic than the position you take, Mr. Burdick. How do you react to it?

BURDICK: The education part I agree with – that what ·we have to do is get these people, when they’re being educated. We did a survey – the co-author of this and myself, this summer, when we were going through eight Asian countries and we compared what the official priority list was in terms of our economic aid, with what people would tell us in the towns and villages. In all of these eight countries, the thing that swam up to the top and that everyone wanted was education for his children. And we should be helping them now in all of these eight countries. This was so far down on our priority list, to be almost nothing.

HEFFNER: You mean on the official priority list.

BURDICK: On the official priority list. But when you talk to the natives in all of these countries, they put education high, and we give tiny amounts to help on that and it just so happens that not only do they want this, but this is really where the future of the country lies. That goes on in the minds of· those people will determine the shape of that country over the next couple decades.

HEFFNER: All right. You say we failed there and Mr. Larson has just said we fail in other respects, but again I come back to the question: who? Who are we?

LARSON: Well I think we ought to be giving some very serious thought not so much to why we failed in the past or bemoaning past errors, but what are we going to do about it? Anybody who reads this book is going to react by saying this cannot go on – we must do something about it. What can I do as a person out in the country somewhere? And I think there’s one very practical thing we could do – and that is I would multiply the training of Americans going overseas­ military, non-military, official – by a factor of at least 10. Seriously. In language, in customs of the country, in learning to express what we are for, in ideology and tactics of Communism, that we will be up against. All of these things. We could afford to multiply this ten times over.

HEFFNER: Why haven’t we? I’m sorry to keep repeating the question or why, but I don’t see where you can help or change for the future unless you can know why you haven’t done it in the past. Mr. Price says the foundations and the groups and missionaries have done so, why haven’t we done it officially?

LARSON: I think there are many reasons. Partly we haven’t realized its importance; partly we haven’t got the appropriations to do the particular job – for example, language training has been asked for over and over again. I think I asked for an increase seven times over in language training and actually, when we had to adjust a small cut, as you went down the list, you see a little cut here – 10% a little cut there in the USIA distribution of budget here, 7% here, 13% there; there was one factor that was increased 250% – language training. I think this is the best thing we could spend given dollars on.

PRICE: Mr. Larson, an even broader point—unfortunately. Our image abroad is not what we tell people it is, but what we are, and they can see our faults as well as they can see the virtues we like to advertise to them, and in this country TVs are willing to appropriate endless billions for defense and comparatively little for education and for the keeping up of our civilian establishments abroad – we get what we pay for. Mr. Burdick’s book in the last chapter notes that there are about a million and a half Americans on full time duty overseas, 4/5th of them are military. 6,000 or thereabouts of them are State Department. This disproportion – we’re getting what we’re paying for and we ought to pay for a great deal more if we’re going to get it.

HEFFNER: Mr. Burdick, you were going to say something.

BURDICK: I think that the most important thing, in addition to the training, is that someone has to set the mood in which people go abroad and I think up until now, by and large, people going abroad have been invited to live in a country club abroad and I think the top leaders could set the mood differently. They could say, “we invite you to join us in a tough hard, job that will sometimes be miserable, is certain to be tough and long.” And what Congress ought to do is start by making a commitment – not for a year or for two years, but for ten years, because the cold war is a long-term struggle and Congress has not done its part in making long-term commitments.

HEFFNER: In about the two minutes remaining, I would just ask one question. Mr. Larson, what about the image? What image do you see that we should set abroad of ourselves?

LARSON: I would like to stress this – that we mustn’t make the mistake of assuming that the image that we want is to be likeable because if we do, we’re going to be- I’m afraid – frustrated and disillusioned every time. The image I think we ought to create is this – we ought to create an image of identification with the people abroad that we’re working with, a feeling… when we’re dealing with them…That what we’re trying to do in this world and what we stand for will advance their interests. Maybe they will like this; maybe they won’t. We can’t always be sure, but if they really believe that what we stand for and what we’re doing in this world will advance their interest, then I think we’ve done all we can hope to do.

HEFFNER: Mr. Price, do you agree with that?

PRICE: Oh, very much, very much. And the essential image of America as the country where freedom is still the main goal of our society, this it seems to me is the one where we have both background and the traditions to support it, and the sympathy of peoples that we are trying to reach.

HEFFNER: Half a minute, Mr. Burdick?

BURDICK: I agree perfectly. I agree that we have to go in a confident mood, and we have to go in a mood of equality. I think it’s those things that will make the thing work.

HEFFNER: Thanks so much for joining me today in this discussion of “America’s Image Abroad”, Mr. Burdick, Mr. Larson, Mr. Price. We’ll be back on The Open Mind next week, November 2 when our subject will be a rather interesting one, I think, “The Academic Mind”. We’ll try to go into it and see what it is when our guests will then be Professors Paul Lazarsfeld and Ernest Nagel and President Harold Taylor of Sarah Lawrence College. See you then on The Open Mind.

ANNOUNCER: WRCA has just presented The Open Mind. Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner. Mr. Heffner’s guests today were Professor Eugene Burdick, Professor Arthur Larson, and Dean Don K. Price. If you have any comments or questions on today’s program or if you have any suggestions for future programs, please send them to The Open Mind in care of station WRCA1 New York 19, New York.