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From War Junk to Educational Exchange: the WWII Origins of the Fulbright Program and the Foundations of American Cultural Globalism


DOI: 10.1093/dh/dht002

Lebovic, S. “From War Junk to Educational Exchange: the World War II Origins of the Fulbright Program and the Foundations of American Cultural Globalism, 1945-1950.” Diplomatic History 37.2 (2013): 280–312. Web.

p.282: A contrasting body of literature, critically interrogating U.S. cultural diplomacy, has recently challenged such a dichotomy, seeing the Fulbright as part and parcel of a long postwar cultural offensive. While these works correctly identify the politicization of cultural exchange, they tend to analyze the Fulbright program only briefly before moving on to fry what are no doubt viewed as bigger fish: the passage of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act (the Smith-Mundt Act) in 1948, and the emergence of the propaganda war with the Soviet Union. As a result, the Fulbright program remains under-explored, the underlying logic of its creation and administration elided and collapsed into a discussion of the Smith–Mundt Act. The Fulbright, therefore, appears as an ancillary measure or obvious precursor to the later program, as just one more step on the telos that led to the cold war of ideas. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.283: And while the Fulbright emerged from nationalist assumptions and asymmetries of power that undermined its pretensions to liberal exchange and mutual understanding, those assumptions and asymmetries diverged from those structuring ColdWar programs. Instead, I argue that the Fulbrightwas a product of a fleeting liberal internationalism not yet structured wholly by binary Cold War imperatives. This internationalism, best described as “nationalist globalism,” grew out of the material and ideological residue of the conflict with fascism, and expressed a presumed U.S. hegemony. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.283: First, I will show how the program emerged from the disposal of the surplus of the wartime economy, how its birth and ideological justification were as much rationalist calculations as idealist inventions, and how its geography was determined by the postwar distribution of surplus material. Second, I will show how the belief in international exchange was created by an ideology of liberal universalism that emerged from the simultaneous defeat of fascism and rise of U.S. global hegemony. Finally, I will show how that putatively liberal universalism, when put into practice by Fulbright policy makers, was inseparable from American power politics. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.285: The countries with whom America intended to exchange, and hence the areas into which American culture would flow, were structured by a very particular geography: they all housed American war surplus property in the immediate postwar period. A complete history of the war surplus disposal remains to be written, but a closer, if necessarily partial, examination of the Fulbright’s origins in the problem of war surplus disposal reveals a new picture of the motivations behind the program, as well as suggesting the ways in which America’s role in World War II structured the nature of its cultural influence in the postwar period. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.287: Fulbright went on to comment, perhaps somewhat regretfully, that “it was only at my insistence that the exchange of scholarships and educational provisions was included at all,” and that it was in order to get the approval of the State Department, the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, and the Surplus Property Administrator, that “the new language” was drafted. In that “new language,” educational exchange got, at best, equal billing with the issue of surplus disposal. The new amendment, Senate Bill 1636, was written “to designate the Department of State as the disposal agency for surplus property outside the continental United States, its Territories and possessions, and for other purposes.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.290: More importantly, however, nations who had not purchased foreign surplus material could not participate in the program. Africa, Latin America, and vast swathes of the Middle East, then, would not participate in the early Fulbright program. And among the nations that were involved may have been such central sites of the early cold war as China, Greece, and Italy—but they were included in the program by a nonstrategic logic that saw them accepted alongside the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia. It was not policy imperatives that determined the scope of the Fulbright—the program’s limits were set by the exigencies of the war surplus disposal. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.291: Peter Edson, with more than a hint of anti-British pride, marveled at the fact that Senator Fulbright “with an ingenious piece of higher mathematics . . . [had] found a way to finance out of the sale of war junk a world-wide system of American scholarships that makes Cecil Rhodes look like a piker.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.292: According to historian John Fousek, V-J day was a moment of heady triumphalism in America, when America’s sense of military and moral supremacy was affirmed by global victory in a global war. Importantly, this moment triggered the emergence of what Fousek terms “American nationalist globalism,” defined as an ideology that “combined traditional nationalist ideologies of American chosenness, mission and destiny with the emerging notion that the entire world was now the proper sphere for U.S. foreign policy.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.293: America not only needed to involve itself in world affairs but, by virtue of the fact of its power and moral superiority, it had to take the lead. As Fulbright said to an audience at the College ofWilliam and Mary: It is peculiarly the responsibility of Americans to take the lead in the creation of a peaceful world. Not only is it to our selfish material interest because we have more to lose by chaos than any other people, but it is also our moral duty to give direction and strength to the bewildered people of this earth who are groping helplessly for peace and a decent life. If for no other reason it is our duty because we are the favored heirs of western Christian civilization. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.294: Fascist attitudes to education and indoctrination helped reaffirm an ideological commitment to liberal education based on the free exchange of ideas. The Chief of the State Department’s Division of Cultural Cooperation argued that “the Axis powers have shown how education can be made to serve purposes of aggression, and how ideas can be perverted for political and military conquest . . . the cure for this abuse of knowledge can only be to make all knowledge fully and freely accessible.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.295: Fulbright’s internationalism was predicated on a genuine globalism rather than on the zero-sum game of superpower conflict, but it was not an ideology of benevolent cosmopolitanism. At the same time that he was preaching the need for international law and mutual understanding, Fulbright also argued that America’s foreign policy must rest on “a profound evaluation of self-interest, of economics, of physical power, of geographic relations and of fundamental human desires.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.297: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the State Department didn’t need reminding that it should give the foundations an “American flavor.” Belying common myths that these binational foundations represented the co-operative nature of the program, historian Frank Ninkovich has noted that “in all cases United States negotiators were instructed to achieve American majorities on the foundation boards and to keep them free from foreign educational control.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.303: The focus on humanities and social sciences over natural sciences reveals that the Fulbright was intended to be a program of cultural transfer, not a program for the provision of scientific and technical advice. Indeed, at times the BFS expressed frustration with foreign requests for prominent academics to provide local governments with technical advisors, and reiterated that the aim of the program was the exchange of culture. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.303: Forty-six percent of all grants in the first three years of the programwere made to veterans, and only 39 of these 889 veteran Fulbrighters were women. The Board was, from its first meeting, conscious of the fact that the preference to veterans would bias selections against women, and was surprisingly effective in achieving gender parity in its grants to nonveterans—women received 52 percent of these grants. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.304: And at its first meeting, the BFS passed a motion to evaluate applications “without respect to race, color or creed.” 115 Of course, such formal moves to equality were not incompatible with a perpetuation of discriminatory practices, and it should be remembered that the liberal internationalism of the Fulbright program was more than compatible with a belief in racial paternalism within the United States. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.305: In all, then, pending the need for further research, it seems that the racial inequalities of the Fulbright awards were, like the program’s gender inequality, less a function of the intentions of program administrators than they were products of pre-existing inequalities in the educational culture of postwar America. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.309: At the first meeting of the BFS, administrators decided that grants should be made primarily to foreign graduate students. Some members, however, had argued that it would be better to get foreign students while they were young and impressionable. They believed that it would “further the aim of greater understanding of the democratic system to choose students in their formative years during which time it would be easier to strengthen their interest in democratic principles which they would then reflect on their return to their native countries.” “Countering this opinion,” though, were members who maintained that “when younger students were so chosen they often returned to their countries as misfits—unable to readjust to their native cultures.” Rather than risk over-democratizing young minds with the power of the American way of life, these members believed that it would be better to select “more mature students [who would] absorb an understanding of our institutions and . . . [would be] willing to go back and play a part in their own culture.” -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014

p.311: Even when the BFS expressed some doubts about exchanging with communist nations by pausing negotiations with Poland and Hungary in early 1948, this was not because of fears about the subversive influence of Communists. Rather, it was a product of “the fear that sending American students to study in countries and universities which have totalitarian systems would appear to condone the lack of academic freedom in those countries.” The problem, then, was not that American culture was susceptible to Communist subversion so much as it was that American culture was so powerful that it would serve to legitimate Communism. -- Highlighted mar 23, 2014