Sunday, September 13th 2015
When James A. Michener received the Medal of Freedom in 1977, it was for his career in American letters. The author of Tales of the South Pacific, Sayonara, The Bridges at Toko-ri, The Bridge at Andau, Hawaii, Caravans, Centennial, The Source, and many other books of fiction and non-fiction is less well known for his service on government boards associated with Public Diplomacy – the Advisory Commission on Information and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Michener provided a glimpse of this work in The World is My Home: A Memoir, published in 1992.
My worst memory is of our libraries abroad – those centers where local young people and university professors had access to the books about America that they needed – being severely bombed or blown to pieces. It astounded me that citizens of an undeveloped country, who need all the information and wisdom they could gather, would wantonly destroy the very agency that could help them. Often as the news reached headquarters concerning this or that library’s destruction, I would visualize the carefully arranged reading room, the neat chairs, the rows of excellent books available to all who entered, and I would feel a deep sadness at the stupidity that prompted such crimes. But never in my work for USIS did I doubt the value of what we were attempting abroad, because our enemies recognized the importance of keeping their own people in ignorance of our ideas based on freedom and democracy so that they could more easily enslave them. I was proud to be a soldier in such honorable warfare. (pp. 200-201)
Sunday, July 13th 2014
Seven decades ago, fascism was in its death throes. A quarter of a century ago, the Berlin Wall fell, setting in motion the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. In this century, however, those world-shaking events seem to be “history” as our nation faces an array of grave new challenges.
The recent death of Walter Roberts – broadcaster, diplomat, architect and builder of Public Diplomacy, educator, and co-founder of the Public Diplomacy Council – reminds us that those events are still within living memory. They shaped the future we all inhabit. The institutions of Public Diplomacy that were founded during the struggles of the twentieth century remain, ready for refocus and renewal in a turbulent new era.
Friday, July 8th 2011
Voice of America is:
A. A tool of American public diplomacy.
B. An editorially independent news organization.
C. A strategic asset.
D. All of the above.
You may be surprised to hear that these descriptions are controversial, and even hotly debated. But I think the right answer is D, and I’ll explain why.
Monday, June 6th 2011
Those who practice the art of public diplomacy might do well to keep in mind the famous cautionary guidance for those who practice the healing arts. Put another way: If you find yourself in a tough situation, whatever you do, don’t make things worse.
The position of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was created at the end of the Clinton Administration, nearly a dozen years ago, and since then, there have been a half dozen presidential appointees who have been entrusted with the responsibility of using the tools of public diplomacy and public affairs to advance the national interests – and improve international understanding – of the United States around the world.
None of them has made things worse. But have they made them better?
Tuesday, May 31st 2011
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) does not often find itself in the headlines, but its budget request for fiscal year 2012 may change that. The reason: The BBG has proposed halting all of Voice of America’s Mandarin and Cantonese radio and TV broadcasts to China, and relying instead on an enhanced web-only platform using expanding new media technologies.
Not everyone believes this is the right move, or the right time to make such a move….