Date of Award

Summer 8-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Tom Zoellner

Second Advisor

Mateo Jarquin

Third Advisor

Andrea Molle


The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy is the primary government institution in charge of overt, foreign-directed propaganda. This paper argues that the institutional culture of this institution was born and came to fruition in the period 1941-1953, and has not significantly changed since. That institutional culture includes a fierce adherence to a “strategy of truth,” with aesthetic norms being reserved and largely unemotional as a result of positioning themselves in moral and aesthetic opposition to Nazi and early Cold War Communist propaganda. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to staff these nascent institutions with artists, poets, playwrights and journalists – rather than political scientists, advertising executives, and soldiers – was a second key explanatory reason for the birth of these particular norms.

Then and now, overt U.S. propagandists are ardently internationalist and interventionist, convinced that U.S. political, social, economic and moral leadership is, on balance, good for the world – not just the United States. Specifically, they believe that U.S. leadership advances economic and political freedoms, as well as human rights, and have never seriously challenged these assumptions, even in periods in which Americans writ large were unconvinced. Despite evidence to the contrary, U.S. propaganda still rests on an assumption that in the marketplace of ideas, the “best” ideas will find their way to the top, thereby leading to a focus on rational and logical styles of argumentation. While some aspects of this institutional culture, such as an ethical commitment to the truth, are laudable and worth maintaining, other aspects, such as an aversion to social science research, have hindered the institution’s vii effectiveness. In this paper, I explore historical and scholarly meanings for the term propaganda before advancing my own definition. Then, I explain the institutional history of modern day propaganda. Finally, I offer suggestions on how to better adapt modern American propaganda to the 21st century.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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