. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek would be

r. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek would be
Washington’s man. He headed what passed for a central government in China. The
Office of Strategic Services (OSS, forerunner of the CIA) estimated that the bulk of
Chiang’s military effort had been directed against the communists rather than the
Japanese. He had also done his best to block the cooperation between the Reds and the
Americans. Now his army contained Japanese units and his regime was full of officials
who had collaborated with the Japanese and served in their puppet government.2 But no
matter. The Generalissimo was as anti-communist as they come. Moreover, he was a
born American client. His forces would be properly trained and equipped to do battle
with the men of Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.
President Truman was up front about what he described as “using the Japanese to
hold off the Communists”:
It was perfectly clear to us that if we told the Japanese to lay down their arms
immediately and march to the seaboard, the entire country would be taken over
by the Communists. We therefore had to take the unusual step of using the
enemy as a garrison until we could airlift Chinese National [Chiang’s] troops to
South China and send Marines to guard the seaports.3
The deployment of American Marines had swift and dramatic results. Two weeks
after the end of the war, Peking was surrounded by communist forces. Only the arrival
of the Marines in the city prevented the Reds from taking it over.4 And while Mao’s
forces were pushing into Shanghai’s suburbs, US transport planes dropped Chiang’s
troops in to seize the city.5
In a scramble to get to key centers and ports before the communists, the US
transported between 400,000 and 500,000 Nationalist troops by ship and plane all over
the vastness of China and Manchuria, places they could never have reached otherwise.
As the civil war heated up, the 50,000 Marines sent by Truman were used to
guard railway lines, coal mines, ports, bridges, and other strategic sites. Inevitably, they
became involved in the fighting, sustaining dozens, if not hundreds of casualties. US
troops, the communists charged, attacked areas controlled by the Reds, directly opened
fire on them, arrested military officers, and disarmed soldiers.6 The Americans found
themselves blasting a small Chinese village “unmercifully”, wrote a Marine to his
congressman, not knowing “how many innocent people were slaughtered”.7
United States planes regularly made reconnaissance flights over communist
territory to scout the position of their forces. The communists claimed that American
planes frequently strafed and bombed their troops and in one instance machine-gunned a
communist-held town.8 To what extent these attacks were carried out by US airmen is
not known.
There were, however, American survivors in some of the many crashes of United
States aircraft. Surprisingly, the Reds continued to rescue them, tend to their wounds,
and return them to US bases. It may be difficult to appreciate now, but at this time the
mystique and the myth of “America” still gripped the imagination of people all over the
world, and Chinese peasants, whether labeled “communist” or not, were no exception.
During the war the Reds had helped to rescue scores of American fliers and had
transported them through Japanese lines to safety. “The Communists”, wrote the New
York Times, “did not lose one airman taken under their protection. They made a point of
never accepting rewards for saving American airmen.”9
When 1946 arrived, about 100,000 American military personnel were still in
China, still supporting Chiang. The official United States explanation for the presence
of its military was that they were there to disarm and repatriate the Japanese. Though
this task was indeed carried out eventually, it was secondary to the military’s political
function, as Truman’s statement cited above makes abundantly cleat.
The American soldiers in China began to protest about not being sent home, a
complaint echoed round the world by other GIs kept overseas for political (usually anticommunist)
purposes. “They ask me, too, why they’re here,” said a Marine lieutenant in
China at Christmas-time, 1945. “As an officer I am supposed to tell them, but you can’t
tell a man that he’s here to disarm Japanese when he’s guarding the same railway with
[armed] Japanese.”10
Strangely enough, the United States attempted to mediate in the civil war; this,
while being an active, powerful participant on one side. In January 1946, President
Truman, apparently recognizing that it was either compromise with the communists or
see all of China fall under their sway, sent General George Marshall to try and arrange a
cease-fire and some kind of unspecified coalition government. While some temporary
success was achieved in an on — and — off truce, the idea of a coalition government
was doomed to failure, as unlikely as a marriage between the Czar and the Bolsheviks.
As the historian D.F. Fleming has pointed out, “One cannot unite a dying oligarchy with
a rising revolution.”11
Not until early 1947 did the United States begin to withdraw some of its military
forces, although aid and support to the Chiang government continued in one form or
another long afterward. At about this same time, the Flying Tigers began to operate. The
legendary American air squadron under the leadership of General Claire Chennault had
fought for the Chinese against the Japanese before and during the world war. Now
Chennault, Chiang’s former air force adviser, had reactivated the squadron (under the
name CAT) and its pilots — of — fortune soon found themselves in the thick of the
fray, flying endless supply missions to Nationalist cities under siege, dodging
communist shell bursts to airlift food, ammunition, and supplies of all kinds, or to
rescue the wounded.12 Technically, CAT was a private airline hired by the Chiang
government, but before the civil war came to an end, the airline had formally
interlocked with the CIA to become the first unit in the Agency’s sprawling air-empireto-
be, best known for the Air America line.
By 1949, United States aid to the Nationalists since the war amounted to almost
$2 billion in cash and $1 billion worth of military hardware; 39 Nationalist army
divisions had been trained and equipped.13 Yet the Chiang dynasty was collapsing all
around in bits and pieces. It had not been only the onslaught of Chiang’s communist
foes, but the hostility of the Chinese people at large to his tyranny, his wanton cruelty,
and the extraordinary corruption and decadence of his entire bureaucratic and social
system. By contrast, the large areas under communist administration were models of
honesty, progress and fairness; entire divisions of the Generalissimo’s forces defected to
the communists. American political and military leaders had no illusions about the
nature and quality of Chiang’s rule. The Nationalist forces, said General David Barr,
head of the US Military Mission in China, were under “the world’s worst leadership”.14
The Generalissimo, his cohorts and soldiers fled to the offshore island of Taiwan
(Formosa). They had prepared their entry two years earlier by terrorizing the islanders
into submission—a massacre which took the lives of as many as 28,000 people.15 Prior
to the Nationalists’ escape to the island, the US government entertained no doubts that
Taiwan was a part of China. Afterward, uncertainty began to creep into the minds of
Washington officials. The crisis was resolved in a remarkably simple manner: the US
agreed with Chiang that the proper way to view the situation was not that Taiwan
belonged to China, but that Taiwan was China. And so it was called.
In the wake of the communist success, China scholar Felix Greene observed,
“Americans simply could not bring themselves to believe that the Chinese, however
rotten their leadership, could have preferred a communist government.”16 It must have
been the handiwork of a conspiracy, an international conspiracy, at the control panel of
which sat, not unexpectedly, the Soviet Union. The evidence for this, however, was thin
to the point of transparency. Indeed, ever since Stalin’s credo of “socialism in one
country” won out over Trotsky’s internationalism in the 1920s, the Russians had sided
with Chiang more than with Mao, advising the latter more than once to dissolve his
army and join Chiang’s government.17 Particularly in the post-World War II years, when
the Soviet Union was faced with its own staggering crisis of reconstruction, did it not
relish the prospect of having to help lift the world’s most populous nation into the
modern age. In 1947, General Marshall stated publicly that he knew of no evidence that
the Chinese communists were being supported by the USSR.18
But in the United States this did not prevent the rise of an entire mythology of
how the US had “lost” China: Soviet intervention, State Department communists, White
House cowards, military and diplomatic folly, communist dupes and fellow-travelers in
the media … treachery everywhere …
The Truman administration, said Senator Joseph McCarthy with characteristic
charm, was composed of “egg-sucking phony liberals” who protected the “Communists
and queers” who had “sold China into atheistic slavery”.19
Yet, short of an all-out invasion of the country by large numbers of American
troops, it is difficult to see what more the US government could have done to prevent
Chiang’s downfall. Even after Chiang fled to Taiwan, the United States pursued a
campaign of relentless assaults against the communist government, despite a request
from Chou En-lai for aid and friendship. The Red leader saw no practical or ideological
bar to this.20 Instead, the United States evidently conspired to assassinate Chou on
several occasions.21
Many Nationalist soldiers had taken refuge in northern Burma in the great exodus
of 1949, much to the displeasure of the Burmese Government. There, the CIA began to
regroup this stateless army into a fighting force, and during the early 1950s a number of
large- and small-scale incursions into China were carried out. In one instance, in April
1951, a few thousand troops, accompanied by CIA advisers and supplied by air drops
from American C46s and C47s, crossed the border into China’s Yunnan province, but
they were driven back by the communists in less than a week. The casualties were high
and included several CIA advisers who lost their lives. Another raid that summer took
the invaders 65; miles into China where they reportedly held a 100-mile-long strip of
While the attacks continued intermittently, the CIA proceeded to build up the
force’s capabilities: American engineers arrived to help construct and expand airstrips in
Burma, fresh troops were flown in from Taiwan, other troops were recruited from
amongst Burmese hill tribes, CIA air squadrons were brought in for logistical services,
and enormous quantities of American heavy arms were ferried in. Much of the supply of
men and equipment came in via nearby Thailand.
The army soon stood at more than 10,000 men. By the end of 1952, Taiwan
claimed that 41,000 communist troops had been killed and more than 3,000 wounded.
The figures were most likely exaggerated, but even if not, it was clear that the raids
would not lead to Chiang’s triumphant return to the mainland—although this was not
their sole purpose. On the Chinese border two greater battles were raging: in Korea and
Vietnam. It was the hope of the United States to force the Chinese to divert troops and
military resources away from these areas. The infant People’s Republic of China was
undergoing a terrible test.
In between raids on China, the “Chinats” (as distinguished from the “Chicoms”)
found time to clash frequently with Burmese troops, indulge in banditry, and become
the opium barons of The Golden Triangle, that slice of land encompassing parts of
Burma, Laos and Thailand which was the world’s largest source of opium and heroin.
CIA pilots flew the stuff all over, to secure the cooperation of those in Thailand who
were important to the military operation, as a favor to their Nationalist clients, perhaps
even for the money, and, ironically, to serve as cover for their more illicit activities.
The Chinats in Burma kept up their harassment of the Chicoms until 1961 and the
CIA continued to supply them militarily, but at some point the Agency began to phase
itself out of a more direct involvement. When the CIA, in response to repeated protests
by the Burmese Government to the United States and the United Nations, put pressure
on the Chinats to leave Burma, Chiang responded by threatening to expose the Agency’s
covert support of his troops there. At an earlier stage, the CIA had entertained the hope
that the Chinese would be provoked into attacking Burma, thereby forcing the strictly
neutral Burmese to seek salvation in the Western camp.22 In January 1961, the Chinese
did just that, but as part of a combined force with the Burmese to overwhelm the
Nationalists’ main base and mark finis to their Burmese adventure. Burma subsequently
renounced American aid and moved closer to Peking.23 For many of the Chinats,
unemployment was short-lived. They soon signed up with the CIA again; this time to
fight with the Agency’s grand army in Laos.
Burma was not the only jumping-off site for CIA-organized raids into China.
Several islands within about five miles of the Chinese coast, particularly Quemoy and
Matsu, were used as bases for hit-and-run attacks, often in battalion strength, for
occasional bombing forays, and to blockade mainland ports. Chiang was “brutally
pressured” by the US to build up his troops on the islands beginning around 1953 as a
demonstration of Washington’s new policy of “unleashing” him.24
The Chinese retaliated several times with heavy artillery attacks on Quemoy, on
one occasion killing two American military officers. The prospect of an escalated war
led the US later to have second thoughts and to ask Chiang to abandon the islands, but
he then refused. The suggestion has often been put forward that Chiang’s design was to
embroil the United States in just such a war as his one means of returning to the
Many incursions into China were made by smaller, commando-type teams airdropped
in for intelligence and sabotage purposes. In November 1952, two CIA
officers, John Downey and Richard Fecteau, who had been engaged in flying these
teams in and dropping supplies to them, were shot down and captured by the
communists. Two years passed before Peking announced the capture and sentencing of
the two men. The State Department broke its own two-year silence with indignation,
claiming that the two men had been civilian employees of the US Department of the
Army in Japan who were presumed lost on a flight from Korea to Japan. “How they
came into the hands of the Chinese Communists is unknown to the United States … the
continued wrongful detention of these American citizens furnishes further proof of the
Chinese Communist regime’s disregard for accepted practices of international
Fecteau was released in December 1971, shortly before President Nixon’s trip to
China; Downey was not freed until March 1973, soon after Nixon publicly
acknowledged him to be a CIA officer.
The Peking announcement in 1954 also revealed that eleven American airmen
had been shot down over China in January 1953 while on a mission which had as its
purpose the “air-drop of special agents into China and the Soviet Union”. These men
were luckier, being freed after only 2 1/2 years. All told, said the Chinese, they had
killed 106 American and Taiwanese agents who had parachuted into China between
1951 and 1954 and had captured 124 others. Although the CIA had little, if anything, to
show for its commando actions, it reportedly maintained the program until at least
There were many other CIA flights over China for purely espionage purposes,
carried out by high-altitude U-2 planes, pilot-less “drones”, and other aircraft. These
over-flights began around the late 1950s and were not discontinued until 1971, to
coincide with Henry Kissinger’s first visit to Peking. The operation was not without
incident. Several U-2 planes were shot down and even more of the drones, 19 of the
latter by Chinese count between 1964 and 1969. China registered hundreds of “serious
warnings” about violations of its air space, and on at least one occasion American
aircraft crossed the Chinese border and shot down a Mig-17.28
It would seem that no degree of failure or paucity of result was enough to deter
the CIA from seeking new ways to torment the Chinese in the decade following their
revolution. Tibet was another case in point. The Peking government claimed Tibet as
part of China, as had previous Chinese governments for more than two centuries,
although many Tibetans still regarded themselves as autonomous or independent. The
United States made its position clear during the war:
The Government of the United States has borne in mind the fact that the Chinese
Government has long claimed suzerainty over Tibet and that the Chinese
constitution lists Tibet among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of
China. This Government has at no time raised a question regarding either of
these claims.29
After the communist revolution, Washington officials tended to be more
equivocal about the matter. But US actions against Tibet had nothing to do with the
niceties of international law.
In the mid-1950s, the CIA began to recruit Tibetan refugees and exiles in
neighboring countries such as India and Nepal. Amongst their number were members of
the Dalai Lama’s guard, often referred to picturesquely as “the fearsome Khamba
horsemen”, and others who had already engaged in some guerrilla activity against
Peking rule and/or the profound social changes being instituted by the revolution.
(Serfdom and slavery were, liter-ally, still prevalent in Tibet.] Those selected were
flown to the United States, to an unused military base high in the Colorado mountains,
an altitude approximating that of their mountainous homeland. There, hidden away as
much as possible from the locals, they were trained in the fine points of paramilitary
After completing training, each group of Tibetans was flown to Taiwan or another
friendly Asian country, thence to be infiltrated back into Tibet, or elsewhere in China,
where they occupied themselves in activities such as sabotage, mining roads, cutting
communication lines, and ambushing small communist forces. Their actions were
supported by CIA aircraft and on occasion led by Agency contract mercenaries.
Extensive support facilities were constructed in northeast India.
The operation in Colorado was maintained until some time in the 1960s. How
many hundreds of Tibetans passed through the course of instruction will probably never
be known. Even after the formal training program came to an end, the CIA continued to
finance and supply their exotic clients and nurture their hopeless dream of reconquering
their homeland.
In 1961, when the New York Times got wind of the Colorado operation, it acceded
to a Pentagon request to probe no further.30 The matter was particularly sensitive
because the CIA’s 1947 charter and Congress’s interpretation of it had traditionally
limited the Agency’s domestic operations to information collection.
Above and beyond the bedevilment of China on its own merits, there was the
spillover from the Korean war into Chinese territory—numerous bombings and strafings
by American planes which, the Chinese frequently reported, took civilian lives and
destroyed homes. And there was the matter of germ warfare.
The Chinese devoted a great deal of effort to publicizing their claim that the
United States, particularly during January to March 1952, had dropped quantities of
bacteria and bacteria-laden insects over Korea and northeast China. It presented
testimony of about 38 captured American airmen who had purportedly flown the planes
with the deadly cargo. Many of the men went into voluminous detail about the entire
operation: the kinds of bombs and other containers dropped, the types of insects, the
diseases they carried, etc. At the same time, photographs of the alleged germ bombs and
insects were published. Then, in August, an “International Scientific Committee” was
appointed, composed of scientists from Sweden, France, Great Britain, Italy, Brazil and
the Soviet Union. After an investigation in China of more than two months, the
committee produced a report of some 600 pages, many photos, and the conclusion that:
The peoples of Korea and China have indeed been the objectives of
bacteriological weapons. These have been employed by units of the U.S.A.
armed forces, using a great variety of different methods for the purpose, some of
which seem to be developments of those applied by the Japanese during the
second world war.31
The last reference has to do with the bacteriological warfare experiments the
Japanese had carried out against China between 1940 and 1942. The Japanese scientists
responsible for this program were captured by the United States in 1945 and given
immunity from prosecution in return for providing technical information about the
experiments to American scientists from the Army biological research center at Fort
Detrick, Maryland. The Chinese were aware of this at the time of the International
Scientific Committee’s investigation.32
It should be noted that some of the American airmen’s statements contained so
much technical biological information and were so full of communist rhetoric—
“imperialist, capitalist Wall Street war monger” and the like—that their personal
authorship of the statements must be seriously questioned. Moreover, it was later
learned that most of the airmen had confessed only after being subjected to physical
But in view of what we have since learned about American involvement with
chemical and biological weapons, the Chinese claims cannot be dismissed out of hand.
In 1970, for example, the New York Times reported that during the Korean War, when
US forces were overwhelmed by “human waves’ of Chinese, “the Army dug into
captured Nazi chemical warfare documents describing Sarin, a nerve gas so lethal that a
few pounds could kill thousands of people in minutes. … By the mid-nineteen-fifties,
the Army was manufacturing thousands of gallons of Sarin.”34
And during the 1950s and 1960s, the Army and the CIA conducted numerous
experiments with biological agents within the United States. To cite just two examples:
In 1955, there is compelling evidence that the CIA released whooping-cough bacteria
into the open air in Florida, followed by an extremely sharp increase in the incidence of
the disease in the state that year.35 The following year, another toxic substance was
disseminated in the streets and tunnels of New York City.36
We will also see in the chapter on Cuba how the CIA conducted chemical and
biological warfare against Fidel Castro’s rule.
In March 1966, Secretary of State Dean Rusk spoke before a congressional
committee about American policy toward China. Mr. Rusk, it seems, was perplexed that
“At times the Communist Chinese leaders seem to be obsessed with the notion that they
are being threatened and encircled.” He spoke of China’s “imaginary, almost
pathological, notion that the United States and other countries around its borders are
seeking an opportunity to invade mainland China and destroy the Peiping [Peking]
regime”. The Secretary then added:
How much Peiping’s “fear” of the United States is genuine and how much it is artificially induced
for domestic political purposes only the Chinese Communist leaders themselves know. I am convinced,
however, that their desire to expel our influence and activity from the western Pacific and Southeast Asia
is not motivated by fears that we are threatening them.37
2. Italy 1947-1948
Free elections, Hollywood style
“Those who do not believe in the ideology of the United States, shall not be
allowed to stay in the United States,” declared the American Attorney General, Tom
Clark, in January 1948.1
In March, the Justice Department, over which Clark presided, determined that
Italians who did not believe in the ideology of the United States would not be allowed to
emigrate to, or even enter, the United States.
This was but one tactic in a remarkable American campaign to ensure that
Italians who did not believe in the ideology of the United States would not be allowed to
form a government of a differing ideology in Italy in their election of 1948.
Two years earlier, the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of the largest in the
world,] and the Socialist Party (PSI) had together garnered more votes and more seats in
the Constituent Assembly election than the Christian Democrats. But the two parties of
the left had run separate candidates and thus had to be content with some ministerial
posts in a coalition cabinet under a Christian Democrat premier. The results,
nonetheless, spoke plainly enough to put the fear of Marx into the Truman
For the 1948 election, scheduled for 18 April, the PCI and PSI united to form
the Popular Democratic Front (FDP) and in February won municipal elections in
Pescara with a 10 percent increase in their vote over 1946. The Christian Democrats ran
a poor second. The prospect of the left winning control of the Italian government
loomed larger than ever before. It was at this point that the US began to train its big
economic and political guns upon the Italian people. All the good ol’ Yankee knowhow,
all the Madison Avenue savvy in the art of swaying public opinion, all the
Hollywood razzmatazz would be brought to bear on the “target market”.
Pressing domestic needs in Italy, such as agricultural and economic reform, the
absence of which produced abysmal extremes of wealth and poverty, were not to be the
issues of the 1 day. The lines of battle would be drawn around the question of
“democracy” vs. “communism” (the idea of “capitalism” remaining discreetly to one
side). The fact that the Communists had been the single most active anti-fascist group in
Italy during the war, undergoing ruthless persecution, while the Christian Democrat
government of 1948 and other electoral opponents on the right were riddled through
with collaborators, monarchists and plain unreconstructed fascists … this too would be
ignored; indeed, turned around. It was now a matter of Communist “dictatorship” vs.
their adversaries’ love of “freedom”; this was presumed a priori. As one example, a
group of American congressmen visited Italy in summer 1947 and casually and
arbitrarily concluded that “The country is under great pressure from within and without
to veer to the left and adopt a totalitarian-collective national organization.”2
To make any of this at all credible, the whole picture had to be pushed and
squeezed into the frame of The American Way of Life vs. The Soviet Way of Life, a
specious proposition which must have come as somewhat of a shock to leftists who
regarded themselves as Italian and neither Russian nor American.
In February 1948, after non-Communist ministers in Czechoslovakia had
boycotted cabinet meetings over a dispute concerning police hiring practices, the
Communist government dissolved the coalition cabinet and took sole power. The Voice
of America pointed to this event repeatedly, as a warning to the Italian people of the fate
awaiting them if Italy “went Communist” (and used as well by anti-communists for
decades afterward as a prime example of communist duplicity). Yet, by all appearances,
the Italian Christian Democrat government and the American government had conspired
the previous year in an even more blatant usurpation of power.
In January 1947, when Italian Premier Alcide de Gasperi visited Washington at
the United States’ invitation, his overriding concern was to plead for crucial financial
assistance for his war-torn, impoverished country. American officials may have had a
different priority. Three days after returning to Italy, de Gasperi unexpectedly dissolved
his cabinet, which included several Communists and Socialists. The press reported that
many people in Italy believed that de Gasperi’s action was related to his visit to the
United States and was aimed at decreasing leftist, principally Communist, influence in
the government. After two weeks of tortuous delay, the formation of a center or centerright
government sought by de Gasperi proved infeasible; the new cabinet still included
Communists and Socialists although the left had lost key positions, notably the
ministries of foreign affairs and finance.
From this point until May, when de Gasperi’s deputy, Ivan Lombardo, led a
mission to Washington to renew the request for aid, promised loans were “frozen” by
the United States for reasons not very clear. On several occasions during this period the
Italian left asserted their belief that the aid was being held up pending the ouster of
leftists from the cabinet. The New York Times was moved to note that, “Some observers
here feel that a further Leftward swing in Italy would retard aid.” As matters turned out,
the day Lombardo arrived in Washington, de Gasperi again dissolved his entire cabinet
and suggested that the new cabinet would manage without the benefit of leftist
members. This was indeed what occurred, and over the ensuing few months,
exceedingly generous American financial aid flowed into Italy, in addition to the
cancellation of the nation’s $1 billion debt to the United States.3
At the very same time, France, which was also heavily dependent upon
American financial aid, ousted all its Communist ministers as well. In this case there
was an immediate rationale: the refusal of the Communist ministers to support Premier
Ramadier in a vote of confidence over a wage freeze. Despite this, the ouster was
regarded as a “surprise” and considered “bold” in France, and opinion was widespread
that American loans were being used, or would be used, to force France to align with
the US. Said Ramadier: “A little of our independence is departing from us with each
loan we obtain.”4
As the last month of the 1948 election campaign began, Time magazine
pronounced the possible leftist victory to be “the brink of catastrophe”.5
“It was primarily this fear,” William Colby, former Director of the CIA, has
written, “that had led to the formation of the Office of Policy Coordination, which gave
the CIA the capability to undertake covert political, propaganda, and paramilitary
operations in the first place.”6 But covert operations, as far as is known, played a
relatively minor role in the American campaign to break the back of the Italian left. It
was the very overtness of the endeavor, without any apparent embarrassment, that
stamps the whole thing with such uniqueness and arrogance—one might say swagger.
The fortunes of the FDP slid downhill with surprising acceleration in the face of an
awesome mobilization of resources such as the following:7
!” A massive letter writing campaign from Americans of Italian extraction to their relatives and friends in
Italy—at first written by individuals in their own words or guided by “sample letters” in newspapers, soon
expanded to mass-produced, pre-written, postage-paid form letters, cablegrams, “educational circulars”,
and posters, needing only an address and signature. And—from a group calling itself The Committee to
Aid Democracy in Italy—half a million picture postcards illustrating the gruesome fate awaiting Italy if it
voted for “dictatorship” or “foreign dictatorship”. In all, an estimated 10 million pieces of mail were
written and distributed by newspapers, radio stations, churches, the American Legion, wealthy
individuals, etc.; and business advertisements now included offers to send letters airmail to Italy even if
you didn’t buy the product. All this with the publicly expressed approval of the Acting Secretary of State
and the Post Office which inaugurated special “Freedom Flights” to give greater publicity to the dispatch
of the mail to Italy.
The form letters contained messages such as: “A communist victory would ruin Italy. The United States
would withdraw aid and a world war would probably result.” … “We implore you not to throw our
beautiful Italy into the arms of that cruel despot communism. America hasn’t anything against
communism in Russia [sic], but why impose it on other people, other lands, in that way putting out the
torch of liberty?” … “If the forces of true democracy should lose in the Italian election, the American
Government will not send any more money to Italy and we won’t send any more money to you, our
These were by no means the least sophisticated of the messages. Other themes emphasized were Russian
domination of Italy, loss of religion and the church, loss of family life, loss of home and land.
Veteran newsman Howard K. Smith pointed out at the time chat “For an Italian peasant a telegram from
anywhere is a wondrous thing; and a cable from the terrestrial paradise of America is not lightly to be
The letters threatening to cut off gifts may have been equally intimidating. “Such letters,” wrote a
Christian Democrat official in an Italian newspaper, “struck home in southern Italian and Sicilian villages
with the force of lightning.” A 1949 poll indicated that 16 percent of Italians claimed relatives in the
United States with whom they were in touch; this, apparently, was in addition to friends there.
!”The State Department backed up the warnings in the letters by announcing that “If the Communists
should win … there would be no further question of assistance from the United States.” The Italian left felt
compelled to regularly assure voters that this would not really happen; this, in turn, inspired American
officials, including Secretary of State George Marshall, to repeat the threat. (Marshall was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.)
!”A daily series of direct short-wave broadcasts to Italy backed by the State Department and featuring
prominent Americans. (The State Department estimated that there were 1.2 million short-wave receivers
in Italy as of 1946.) The Attorney General went on the air and assured the Italian people that the election
was a “choice between democracy and communism, between God and godlessness, between order and
chaos.” William Donovan, the wartime head of the OSS (fore-runner of the CIA) warned that “under a
communist dictatorship in Italy,” many of the “nation’s industrial plants would be dismantled and shipped
to Russia and millions of Italy’s workers would be deported to Russia for forced labor.” If this were not
enough to impress the Italian listeners, a parade of unknown but passionate refugees from Eastern Europe
went before the microphone to recount horror stories of life behind “The Iron Curtain”.
!”Several commercial radio stations broadcast to Italy special services held in American Catholic churches
to pray for the Pope in “this, his most critical hour”. On one station, during an entire week, hundreds of
Italian-Americans from all walks of life delivered one-minute messages to Italy which were relayed
through the short-wave station. Station WOV in New York invited Italian war brides to transcribe a
personal message to their families back home. The station then mailed the recordings to Italy.
!”Voice of America daily broadcasts into Italy were sharply increased, highlighting news of American
assistance or gestures of friendship to Italy. A sky-full of show-biz stars, including Frank Sinatra and
Gary Cooper, recorded a series of radio programs designed to win friends and influence the vote in Italy.
Five broadcasts of Italian-American housewives were aired, and Italian-Americans with some leftist
credentials were also enlisted for the cause. Labor leader Luigi Antonini called upon Italians to “smash
the Muscovite fifth column” which “follows the orders of the ferocious Moscow tyranny,” or else It


Open chat
💬 Need help?
Hey there! 👋
Need help with this assignment?
Or any other?
PM us on WhatsApp.