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COMMENT: It is interesting to ponder the legacy of the Cold War as it applies to contemporary American culture and society. The degree of national security involvement with the essence and foundation of our society would shock many. Involved with academia, journalism, domestic electoral politics, as well as national diplomatic and military policy, the intelligence community exerts far more influence over our “free” society than many believe.
A good discussion of the dominant presence of CIA in the world of American letters and intellectual life is presented in The Cultural Cold War .
In an article for the Independent [UK], Frances Stonor Saunders notes CIA support for abstract expressionist art and its primary exponents, including Jackson Pollock.
How many other elements of our “free” society are actually being determined by the denizens of Langley and/or some other element of “alphabet soup?”
For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years. . . .
. . . . Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.
The existence of this policy, rumoured and disputed for many years, has now been confirmed for the first time by former CIA officials. Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the “long leash” – arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender.
The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organizations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world. . . .