Truth as a Weapon

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty

Photograph of the Radio Free Europe Research and Analysis Department at work, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

The Radio Free Europe Research and Analysis Department at work, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

The Radio Free Europe Research and Analysis Department at work, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

“The durability of free speech and free press rests on the simple concept that it search for the truth and tell the truth… Free expression will not survive if it be used to stir malice in the minds of men. It will not survive if it be used to exploit hate.”

Herbert Hoover, “Free Speech and Free Press” speech, November 8, 1937

Photograph of Earl "Fatha" Hines being interviewed by Bill Danch and Geza Ekecs, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Earl "Fatha" Hines being interviewed by Bill Danch and Geza Ekecs, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Earl "Fatha" Hines being interviewed by Bill Danch and Geza Ekecs, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

In his speech at the dedication of Hoover Tower in June 1941, Herbert Hoover emphasized the role of propaganda in igniting and fueling the First World War. “Here lies the proof which comes with retrospect,” Hoover remarked about the documents housed in the Tower “that propaganda moves by tainting of facts, suppressing the facts, by synthetic facts, as well as perversion of facts. Here is the proof of organized promotion of hate, fear, and dissension.”

Propaganda in various forms—posters, handbills, pamphlets, and other such fugitive documents—remains a specialty of the Hoover Library & Archives, most famously in its vast collection of political posters. Hoover and his institution’s enduring dedication to the search for truth is epitomized by its acquisition of the archives of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. These collections document how a stalwart defense of the truth helped bring down the Soviet Communist empire.

This is America poster, published by Sheldon-Claire Company, in 1942. From the Poster Collection,US 6099.26, at the  Hoover Institution Archives.

This is America, issued by the Sheldon-Claire Company, 1942. Poster Collection, US 6099.26, Hoover Institution Archives

This is America, issued by the Sheldon-Claire Company, 1942. Poster Collection, US 6099.26, Hoover Institution Archives

Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom pamphlet, no date. From the Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library.

Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom, n.d. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library

Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom, n.d. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library

A Contest of Ideas

The Cold War was fundamentally a contest of ideas. One way the West waged that contest was through Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which broadcast news and features from Munich to the nations behind the Iron Curtain starting in the early 1950s.

Janina and Jan singing a satirical duet on “Polish Tea Party," n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Radio Free Europe broadcast to the Soviet satellite states, while Radio Liberty broadcast to the USSR; both offered alternatives to the highly censored programming of the Eastern Bloc. Despite continual Soviet jamming, threats to their funding, and a Communist-sponsored terrorist attack at Munich headquarters in 1981, RFE/RL continued their broadcasts through the revolutionary year 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union two years later.

Help Truth Fight Communism, The Advertising Council, Inc., 1951. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library

The immense collection of documents and sound recordings provides scholars with an extraordinarily rich record of the personalities, events, and developments inside the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and the years of transition to democracy.

Photograph of Janina and Jan singing a satirical duet on “Polish Tea Party," no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Janina and Jan singing a satirical duet on “Polish Tea Party," n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Janina and Jan singing a satirical duet on “Polish Tea Party," n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Help Truth Fight Communism pamphlet, published by The Advertising Council, Inc., from 1951. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library.

Help Truth Fight Communism, The Advertising Council, Inc., 1951. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library

Help Truth Fight Communism, The Advertising Council, Inc., 1951. Pamphlet Collection, Hoover Institution Library

This is Radio Liberty, circa 1959–1964. Hoover Institution Archives


Facts about Radio Free Europe, circa 1953–1976. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Facts about Radio Free Europe, circa 1973. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Facts about Radio Free Europe, circa 1973. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives


Why Radio Free Europe? pamphlet, circa 1953–1976. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Why Radio Free Europe?, circa 1970. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Why Radio Free Europe?, circa 1970. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives


Radio Liberty microphone, metal, plastic, and rubber, no date. From the Hoover Institution Archives.

Radio Liberty microphone, metal, plastic, and rubber, n.d. Hoover Institution Archives

Radio Liberty microphone, metal, plastic, and rubber, n.d. Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of the Radio Free Europe Munich Headquarters Master Control Room, circa 1980s. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Radio Free Europe Munich headquarters master control room, 1980s. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of Count Basie talking with Bill Rademakers of RFE's Hungarian service, September, 1956. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Count Basie talking with Bill Rademakers of RFE's Hungarian service, September 1956. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of the Radio Free Europe Munich Headquarters Master Control Room, circa 1980s. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Radio Free Europe Munich headquarters master control room, 1980s. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of Count Basie talking with Bill Rademakers of RFE's Hungarian service, September, 1956. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Count Basie talking with Bill Rademakers of RFE's Hungarian service, September 1956. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Jazz Ambassadors

A unique part of the RFE/RL collection is the material from the Jazz Ambassadors program created by the US State Department in 1956. The State Department sent a group of popular American jazz musicians to countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to play Western jazz music and, by extension, to present a visual challenge to Soviet propaganda about racial tensions in the United States. Some of the musicians included Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Phil Woods, Oscar Peterson, and Benny Goodman.

Photograph of Ella Fitzgerald speaking with RFE shortly after appearing at the Deutsches Museum, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Ella Fitzgerald speaking with RFE shortly after appearing at the Deutsches Museum, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Ella Fitzgerald speaking with RFE shortly after appearing at the Deutsches Museum, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Western music, and jazz in particular, became a popular form of resistance against the Communist regimes, especially in Eastern Europe. The fluidity and creativity of improvisational jazz and its Western origins went against Soviet ideology: with its solos highlighting individual musicians and improvisational techniques, jazz served as a metaphor for the freedom and autonomy afforded by democratic societies like the United States.

Photograph of Eva Sramkova interviewing Lionel Hampton, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Eva Sramkova interviewing Lionel Hampton, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Eva Sramkova interviewing Lionel Hampton, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of interview with Cozy Cole, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Interview with Cozy Cole, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Interview with Cozy Cole, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Eva Sramkova interviewing Lionel Hampton, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

This tour of musicians popularized jazz in Eastern Europe in the sixties and seventies, before Communist governments began restricting it. While some governments tolerated it more than others, jazz music was not shown on television until the fall of the Soviet Union.

Interview with Cozy Cole, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

During the Cold War jazz music remained popular in select music venues and clubs in cities like Prague, where people would play and gather to listen to the music even in the face of persecution.

Photograph of Nat King Cole speaking with RFE in Munich, Germany, no date. From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Nat King Cole speaking with RFE in Munich, Germany, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Nat King Cole speaking with RFE in Munich, Germany, n.d. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporate Records, Hoover Institution Archives

Included in the RFE/RL Corporate Records are pictures of visits by jazz musicians, including Count Basie and Nat King Cole. The RFE/RL Broadcast Records include radio broadcasts of Louis Armstrong on the Czechoslovak Service of Radio Free Europe, Dizzy Gillespie on Bulgarian Radio Free Europe, and Phil Woods on Radio Liberty.


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