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During the Cold War

Frances Stonor Saunders

Saunders, Frances Stonor. Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. London: Granta, 1999. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: New Press, 2000.

Clark comment: It is interesting that even when she admits that she cannot document overt censorship by the CIA with regard to Encounter, Saunders can find what she calls "a kind of censorship by omission" because some authors did not get their material published. Saunders' skills as a researcher have not provided her the material findings to justify an attitude that basically says "if the CIA was involved, it had to have been bad." And references to the CIA's "grubby hands" do not advance our understanding of the subject under discussion.

According to Harkin, The Independent, 8 Jul. 1999, this work "is painstakingly researched ... and jauntily written, alive to the ironies of a campaign for cultural freedom whose boundaries were circumscribed by its shady sponsors.... Stonor Saunders introduces her work as a 'secret history' but her research shows that it was not, in practice, as secret as all that." In a lengthy review that clearly exhibits a lack of understanding of the motivations of the anticommunist left, Sharlet, Chronicle of Higher Education, 31 Mar. 2000, seems too entranced by the horror of it all -- the CIA sponsored literature and art! -- to apply any context to his comments.

Lapham, Los Angeles Times, 9 Apr. 2000, sees The Cultural Cold War as a "troubling and perceptive book." Although "[t]he story is not an easy one to tell," the author "doesn't pretend to knowledge that she cannot reliably document or reasonably infer," "writes with a sense of humor and an appreciation of the historical circumstances," "avoids polemic[,] and fits the fragments of elusive fact into a coherent and persuasive narrative."

A reviewer for Publisher's Weekly, 21 Feb. 2000, calls this "a captivating, authoritative history of the CIA's secret campaign to turn American art into anti-Soviet cultural propaganda.... The only flaw in this thoroughly documented book ... is that the story is so richly convoluted that occasionally the larger drama gets lost in its overwhelming details."

Laqueur, The National Interest 58 (Winter 1999-2000), finds little good to say about The Cultural Cold War, beyond acknowledging the author's diligent archival research. Laqueur places Saunders among the group of post-Cold War commentators who are "evidently unwilling to forgive [the Congress for Cultural Freedom] for having been prematurely right." On matters of substance, the author "proves to be less than a reliable guide," with "only a vague idea as to the identity and the views of ... dramatis personae" other than George Kennan. Her research in the archives and her interviews are "more than offset by political bias and primitive moralizing, unencumbered by knowledge of and interest in the historico-political context of the organization."

West, IJI&C 13.1, falls on the same side of the debate as Laqueur, finding that the author "continues to peddle a grotesquely distorted perspective of the Cold War." For Puddington, American Spectator, Jun. 2000, "Saunders has made good use of archival material unavailable until recently.... Unfortunately, The Cultural Cold War is equal parts scholarship and political bias.... Saunders adopts an arch, condescending tone toward the men who made the struggle against Communism their life's cause."

Troy, CIRA Newsletter 26.2/3 and Studies 46.1, concludes his detailed review with the following: "I do not share Frances Saunders' opinion about the 'morality' of CIA's activities and do not accept her notion that CIA undermined 'intellectual freedom' in Western Europe. I highly enjoyed and strongly recommend her book, however. Consider it to be similar to your favorite commercial TV broadcast: enjoy the program and ignore the commercials."

See W. Scott Lucas, "Revealing the Parameters of Opinion: An Interview with Frances Stonor Saunders," Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 15-40, for an interview with Saunders from January 2002.

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