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Transmission Impossible

American Journalism as Cultural Diplomacy in Postwar Germany, 1945-1955

Eisenhower Center Studies on War and Peace

256 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 18 halftones, 1 line drawing

Journalism | Media Studies

  Paperback / 9780807124093 / October 1999

“Gienow-Hecht’s explanation of the differences in perception between Germans and Americans about culture, American style, and Kultur, German style, is masterful.”—James F. Tent, author of Mission on the Rhine: Reeducation and De-Nazification in American-Occupied Germany

In this innovative study, Jessica Gienow-Hecht challenges long-standing analyses of the United States’ “cultural imperialism” that emphasize the determination of policy makers to export U.S. culture to spread capitalism and gain access to overseas markets and raw materials. She also contests scholars of reception theory who claim that foreign audiences deliberately condition the reception of U.S. culture abroad. Studying the example of the U.S. army newspaper the Neue Zeitung—published for the German population from 1945 to 1955—she convincingly demonstrates that U.S. officials actually exerted little direct influence on their cultural and information programs in postwar Germany, leaving the initiative to binational mid-level agents. Transmission Impossible reveals that the selection of agents who transmit political and cultural values to the foreign world is as crucial to the success of the enterprise as the package of values itself.

In retracing the history of the Neue Zeitung, Gienow-Hecht focuses on the editors’ conflicts with the U.S. War Department, charting the newspaper’s political and philosophical changes over the course of a decade. She examines the publication’s role in the larger context of occupation policy and psychological warfare, the growing Soviet resentment of the paper, the attempted shift of the Neue Zeitung from an information medium to a propaganda instrument, reactions to this change of editorial policy, and the unsuccessful effort of U.S. officials to turn the paper into a mouthpiece of the U.S. military in Germany shortly before the ratification of the German Basic Law.

More than the history of one news-paper, Gienow-Hecht’s groundbreaking work revolutionizes our understanding of how culture instruments and cultural agents become important arbiters of political power.

Jessica Gienow-Hecht is professor for international history at the University of Cologne.

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