"Just as war begins in the minds of men, so does peace," said President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the United States Information Agency's beginning on Aug. 3, 1953.
According to President Clinton, the agency's employees "have served with distinction around the world as personal emissaries of America and the values we cherish . . . sowing the seeds of peace, security and prosperity for our nation and our world."
Clinton's salute was read at the farewell party for 220 USIA veterans and guests at the National Press Club last month. The agency was dismantled at midnight on Sept. 30, the beginning of fiscal year 2000, said Robert Chatten, a USIA officer for 27 years.
The USIA's primary mission of "public diplomacy" will be administered by State's new International Public Information group. Undersecretary of State Evelyn S. Lieberman, recently Voice of America's director, heads the office. Voice of America and Worldnet, USIA's television service, will be joined together as the new Board of International Broadcasting.
"A sad day," said John Reinhardt at the wake. He served as a USIA officer in the Philippines, Japan and Iran, was the agency's director from 1977 to 1981 and later was ambassador to Nigeria.
"There is no one in this room who doesn't approach the merger with trepidation. We fear that public diplomacy will be swallowed and destroyed in the State Department, which practices formal diplomacy," he said. "In years to come, it's very important that diplomats should search out people, carefully giving out the U.S.'s news as it occurs, representing our nation's multiplicity."
Reinhardt recalled the number of journalists, artists, labor leaders, students and politicians who came to the United States under the exchange programs administered by USIA. "Living among us they were more likely to understand us--the effect is lasting," he said.
The 80-page "USIA 1953-1999: A Commemoration," edited by Francis Sullinger with help from 13 others, could be called the agency's obituary.
The volume lists "Those Who Lost Their Lives in the Service of the Agency." It includes 25 names: four in Kenya, two in India, three in Lebanon and in Thailand, two in Laos, two in Vietnam, one each in Somalia, Ghana, Cameroon, Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Tanzania, England and the United States.
Robert A. Bauer wrote about his experiences in London on D-Day. The American Broadcasting Station was in effect the psychological warfare operation in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe. After going through three security checks, Bauer joined "a group of other officials. . . . A few minutes after midnight, an American major general and his retinue entered the room. A big map of Normandy was unfolded and the general, looking at his watch, quietly but firmly said, 'Gentleman, in 5 hours and 45 minutes Allied Forces will land in Normandy.'
"He handed out communiques from General Eisenhower, and statements by Roosevelt, George VI and Churchill. At 6 a.m.," Bauer remembers, "I broadcast the communiques and statements, 'Der Sturm aus dem Westen hat begonnen.' " He translates it as: "The storm from the West begins."
Bauer also wrote about an incident when he was director of the Iran-America Society in Tehran in the '50s. Eleanor Roosevelt was to receive an honorary life membership in the society.
"All employees brought their treasured carpets from their homes and laid them, one next to the other, on the path Mrs. Roosevelt was scheduled to walk," he wrote. An irrigation ditch, called a jube, ran between the sidewalk and the society's entrance--so they laid a "bridge of sorts." As the limousine drove up, the bridge tipped and the car partly dropped into the ditch. Apologizing profusely, Bauer pried the door open and helped Mrs. Roosevelt out. "Unfazed, Mrs. Roosevelt laughed and declared that falling into a Persian jube was a wonderful experience," he recounted.
Famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, the USIA's director from 1961 to 1964, summed up its mission this way: "The really crucial link in the international communications chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact--one person talking to another."