Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished ManuscriptAbstract: During the post-WWII military occupation of Japan, the U.S. occupation forces showed more than four hundred short documentary films to the Japanese for the purposes of familiarizing them with the American culture and nurturing pro-American consumerist democracy among them. These films were named the CIE films after the Civil Information and Education Section (CIE) of the U.S. occupation forces, which carried out the film project in occupied Japan. Many of the CIE films portrayed American white, middle-class everyday life in the late 1940s and the early 50s, such as housewives volunteering for community service, college students, school children, white-collar workers, doctors and engineers. Although those films did not assume an overtly propagandistic tone, they were part of the U.S. efforts to fight the Cultural Cold War, in which U.S. and the Soviet competed against each other to win the hearts and minds of the peoples over the world.
In ASA 2004, I presented a paper on the CIE films, arguing that those films served the U.S. occupation forces' project to re-cast Japan to meet the political, economic, and cultural orders of the free West. This year, I will present a sequel to the 2004 paper, showing that the CIE film project did not end with the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, which brought the military occupation of Japan to a conclusion. The newly established U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1954 took over the films, and also the goals, from the occupation forces, continuing the task of selling the American culture and lifestyle. Moreover, USIA expanded the geographical scope of the project to other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, including South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Using the archival records of the USIA and some of the CIE films, I will examine the operating assumptions, goals, and some outcomes of the USIA information dissemination activities in the Asia-Pacific region in the 1950s. My paper will demonstrate that one source of the post-WWII U.S. public diplomacy lay in the Cultural Cold War in the Asia-Pacific region. It will also present a new perspective to the 1950s, when the U.S. consensus culture was packaged for overseas export and served the state image-control purposes. At the same time, my paper will also show the uneven effects of the U.S. cultural diplomacy, which inevitably reflected the local customs and issues. The USIA operation was obviously more successful in some countries than in others. The early operation of the USIA appears especially suggestive when considering the recent failures of the U.S. public diplomacy efforts in the Arab countries. Depending on the local reception, the official visual images of the U.S. could nurture antipathy rather than pro-Americanism. My paper will show both power and limitations of the visual images authorized by the U.S. state government.