Tuesday, August 30, 2016

President Truman on “relief from lies and propaganda”

Donald M. Bishop "President Truman on “relief from lies and propaganda,” publicdiplomacycouncil.org

Sunday, August 28th 2016

Note the two Bibles behind the microphones
President Truman on “relief from lies and propaganda”
Donald M. Bishop

Each presidential inaugural address provides a snapshot of underlying American ideals.  When they announce new policies, presidents characteristically appeal to enduring values.  As they begin new terms, presidents promise both change and continuity, so inaugural addresses always deserve careful reading. 

When reading any of the addresses from the past, imagine that you have travelled back in time and have become one of the President-elect’s or President’s advisors.  You’ve been asked to review the draft of the inaugural address and to consider it as part of the president’s legacy -- whether it will ring tomorrow as well as today.  You have a blue pencil in your hand.  A paragraph you leave unmarked probably represents continuity; the address has expressed ideals that will still sound well in the twenty-first century.  Your edits, on the other hand, probably indicate change between those times and ours.

President Truman’s inaugural address of January 20, 1949, for instance, included these words.  Should any be changed?  Have we “moved” from “this faith”?

It is fitting, therefore, that we take this occasion to Proclaim to the world the essential principles of the faith by which we live, and to declare our aims to all peoples.

The American people stand firm in the faith which has inspired this Nation from the beginning. We believe that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. We believe that all men have a right to freedom of thought and expression. We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.

From this faith we will not be moved.

The American people desire, and are determined to work for, a world in which all nations and all peoples are free to govern themselves as they see fit, and to achieve a decent and satisfying life. Above all else, our people desire, and are determined to work for, peace on earth--a just and lasting peace--based on genuine agreement freely arrived at by equals.

In the pursuit of these aims, the United States and other like-minded nations find themselves directly opposed by a regime with contrary aims and a totally different concept of life.

That regime adheres to a false philosophy which purports to offer freedom, security, and greater opportunity to mankind. Misled by that philosophy, many peoples have sacrificed their liberties only to learn to their sorrow that deceit and mockery, poverty and tyranny, are their reward.

That false philosophy is communism.

Public diplomacy officers often draft speeches, and at an Embassy it is a Public Diplomacy officer who most tracks concepts, ideas, and how American words may be heard differently by those in another culture.  Since the time of the U.S. Information Agency, it has been Public Diplomacy officers who track propaganda, disinformation, and lies.  It is Public Diplomacy officers, too, who first hear from foreign contacts when America’s actions fail to match America’s words.  Here, then, is another portion of President Truman’s 1949 inaugural address.  First, one notices the echoes of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms.”  Second, this is the only time the word “propaganda” was used in an inaugural address.

Slowly but surely we are weaving a world fabric of international security and growing prosperity.

We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear -- even by those who live today in fear under their own governments.

We are aided by all who want relief from lies and propaganda -- those who desire truth and sincerity.

We are aided by all who desire self-government and a voice in deciding their own affairs.

We are aided by all who long for economic security-- for the security and abundance that men in free societies can enjoy.

We are aided by all who desire freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to live their own lives for useful ends.

Our allies are the millions who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

If similar words were included in the first draft for the inaugural address of January 20, 2017, would the new President’s advisors feel a need to edit them?

Finally, one small note.  A footnote to the text of the President’s address on the Truman Library website notes:  “Two Bibles were used in the inaugural ceremony -- the Bible used at the swearing-in of the President on April 12, 1945, and a Gutenberg Bible presented by the citizens of Independence, Mo. The President's left hand rested on both Bibles while he took the oath. The Bible used at the swearing-in of the President was open at Matthew 5, verses 3-11. The Gutenberg Bible was open at Exodus 20, verses 3-17.

The cited verses in Matthew begin, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” – the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  The opening line of the passage from Exodus is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (opening the Ten Commandments).

Should the next President follow President Truman’s example?  And if so, what verses might be appropriate?

No comments: