30. Letter From Edwin Björkman of the Division of Work Among the Foreign Born, Committee on Public Information, to David F. Swenson1
Washington, July 31, 1918
My dear Mr. Swenson:—
Your pamphlet containing “The Spirit of America in the War” and your Independence Day address, arrived this morning.2 Looking over the pamphlet I found on page 11 the following note:
“Written for the Committee on Public Information, for translation into Swedish, to be circulated as American propaganda in Sweden; first published in the Minneapolis Journal Sunday May 19, 1918.”
As soon as I read this I sent you the following wire:3
“Must protest against note in your pamphlet saying Spirit of America in War written for Committee on Public Information quote to be circulated as American propaganda in Sweden unquote. Please hold pamphlet if not already distributed. Statement of note incorrect and injurious to American cause. Letter follows.”
I am extremely sorry that you should have included a reference to American propaganda in Sweden in your pamphlet, which, under such circumstances, is likely to prove as harmful as otherwise it might prove useful. They are extremely sensitive in regard to this kind of thing in Sweden, and we have been most scrupulous in respecting their feelings on this score over there. I may add that the American government is strongly averse to any form of work among other nations that may be described as propaganda in the sense given to that word by various German activities during the present war.
While, in writing you to obtain the article in question, I mentioned that it would be published in Sweden, this did not imply any carrying on of propaganda on our part. The whole tone of my confidential circular, of which I enclose a copy,4 shows that we desired merely to obtain certain expressions of feeling and opinion among the Swedes in this country that would convince Sweden, both for our sake and for its own, that the American nation stands absolutely united in the pursuit of the war.
I hope you can see your way to withdrawing the pamphlet from publication in its present shape. There is no objection to your mentioning that “The Spirit of America in the War” was written at the request of, or for the Committee on Public Information, but it is more than inadvisable, it is incorrect, to say that it was written “to be circulated as American propaganda in Sweden.”
I think so much of your work, your personality, and your general attitude, that I am extremely sorry to appear in the part of a critic, but I have no choice in this matter.
Hoping to hear from you as soon as possible, I remain,
1Source: National Archives, RG 63, Entry 105, Director’s Office of the Foreign Section, General Correspondence, Box 4, Bjorkman—August 1–20. No classification marking. Swenson was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
2The pamphlet is ibid. For “The Spirit of America in the War,” see Online Supplement, Appendix A.6.
3Dated July 31; a transcript is attached but not printed.
4Confidential circular 2, April 29; attached but not printed. The circular states that articles “will not only be published in Sweden, but they will also be syndicated for simultaneous (free) use by the entire Swedish press in this country.”
5Printed from an unsigned copy. In a letter of July 31, Björkman informed Creel of the problem, advising that the pamphlet be “suppressed until the offending note has been amended.” (National Archives, RG 63, Entry 105, Director’s Office of the Foreign Section, General Correspondence, Box 4, Bjorkman—August 1–20) On August 5, Guy Stanton Ford, Director of the Committee on Public Information’s Division of Civic and Educational Publications, wrote a note to Sisson: “Professor Swenson is a sensible, well balanced philosophic sort of man and his use of the phrase ‘Propaganda in Sweden’ was purely a slip. Bjorkman is perfectly right in calling his attention to it. I think he will straighten it out in the best way and with less fuss and display than Bjorkman’s letter might suggest. I think their two temperaments will neutralize each other so the matter will work out amicably.” (Ibid.) Sisson wrote a letter to Bjorkman on August 6 in which he commented: “I fancy the situation has smoothed itself out by this time.” (Ibid.)
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."