In the presidential news conference on May 15, 1945, President Truman sided with General Eisenhower and confirmed that the Office of War Information Director Elmer Davis incorrectly stated that his agency would control access of U.S. media to the American occupation zone in Germany. Elmer Davis tried to extend the OWI’s reach in post-war Germany and received an angry reaction from General Dwight Eisenhower, who was then the Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone.
May 15, 1945
THE PRESIDENT. I am very sure that the first thing you are principally interested in is the free press in Germany. I would like to read a little statement here, and if you want to ask me some questions about it, I will try to answer them.
Q. Will you read slowly, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. I will read it very slowly.
“General Eisenhower has advised me that he has issued no policy or order dealing with the importation of publications into Germany. The General has expressed the personal opinion that a free press and a free flow of information and ideas should prevail in Germany in a manner consistent with military security.”
“General Eisenhower has emphasized, however, that there can be no restoration of a free German press in Germany until the elimination of Nazi and militarist influence has been completed. We are not going to lose the peace by giving license to racialist Pan-Germans, Nazis and militarists, so that they can misuse democratic rights in order to attack Democracy as Hitler did.”
Now I agree with General Eisenhower on that.
And if you want to ask me some questions, why fire away.
Q. Mr. President, is that any reversal of the position taken last week by–
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is. Mr. Davis was in Europe, in conference with SHAEF on the lower level, and Mr. Davis thought he had reached a policy with them on this. After that was released, I got in touch with General Eisenhower himself, and he informed me of just what I told you. Mr. Davis acted in good faith. Mr. Davis thought he was outlining the policy which had been agreed on. Apparently, from General Eisenhower’s statement, there had been no policy agreed on, and it has not yet been agreed on. But as you see, General Eisenhower is for a free press in Germany, when the time arrives to give it to them.
Mr. Davis was acting in good faith, be sure and get that.
The controversy was highlighted in Congress by Representative Leon H. Gavin (R-Pennsylvania) on May 18, 1945 and reported by U.S. media. Congressman Gavin inserted in the Congressional Record the text of a column by John O’Donnell in the Washington Times-Herald about Davis’ confrontation with General Eisenhower and the rebuke Davis received from President Truman. Gavin was born in Buffalo, New York, served in World War I, and was later a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania from 1943 to 1963. He was a moderate Republican who voted for the civil rights legislation in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
Office of War Information REMARKS OF
HON. LEON H. GAVIN
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Friday, May 18, 1945 Mr. GAVIN. Mr. Speaker, a grand opportunity awaits the Members of Congress when the $50,000,000 appropriation comes up for the Office of War Information. This war agency should be abolished to save $50,000,000 for the taxpayers and a lot of headaches to the American people. On Monday, June 21, 1943, I stated on the floor of the House: Now along comes Director Davis—and I am referring to O. W. I. Elmer Davis—and threatens to resign unless Congress restores the funds to the domestic branch of O. W. I. If he wants to resign, he can resign, and I know the press will be only too pleased to record It under the heading of public Improvements. What I said then still goes now—double for the whole O. W. I. set-up. Mark me, there will be no threats to resign this time. The last suggestion made by O. W. I. Elmer Davis to bar henceforth all American newspapers and magazines from occupied Germany, a proposal that was vetoed by General Eisenhower and President Truman, is evidence enough to the Members of this Congress that this $50,000,000-a-year program should be blotted out and the O.W.I. definitely taken out of the picture and war propaganda turned over to the Army and Navy, where it belongs, and the distribution of domestic Information back to the various departments of the Government. Here is an opportunity to save $50,000,000 for the boys who are doing the fighting—boys who will come home to go to work to earn the money to pay the taxes to pay this wartime bill. When this appropriation bill for O. W. I. comes up, let us give the boys a break and take a lot of literary genius out of lush pasture and let them go to work. Certainly, it is one of the wartime agencies that has outlived its usefulness and one that will never be missed—will never be missed.[ref]Leon H. Gavin, “Office of War Information,” Appendix – Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 91 (1945), p. A2378, https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/GPO-CRECB-1945-pt11/GPO-CRECB-1945-pt11-1.[/ref]
Quoting from John O’Donnell’s column in the Washington Times-Herald, Rep. Gavin explained the reasons for the conflict between General Eisenhower and Elmer Davis, and President Truman’s reaction. General Eisenhower was already negatively disposed toward the Office of War Information because of a Voice of America broadcast in 1943 which, following the line of Moscow-supported Communists, put the lives of American soldiers in Italy at risk by attempting to undermine Eisenhower’s military strategy in trying to get the support of the King of Italy for abandoning the alliance with Nazi Germany. Elmer Davis apparently suggested to reporters in May 1945 that the U.S. military authorities had agreed with him that U.S. newspapers and magazines should not be distributed in Germany and instead all American news for Germany should be prepared by OWI specialists. John O’Donnell wrote in the Washington Times-Herald that General Eisenhower and President Truman did not know about it and did not agree with Davis.
General Eisenhower, of course, had never heard of the Army policy barring American newspapers from Germany as announced by Davis until President Truman, moving with simple directness and common sense, called him up and asked the facts. The blunt statement which Truman, standing before a group of White House reporters read with such crisp vigor, was the harshest indictment yet made of O. W. I. He read: “General Eisenhower has advised me that he has issued no policy or order dealing with the importation of publications into Germany.” In other words, the Information handed out by the head of the Office of War Information was 100-percent wrong. The Agency, set up under Davis and given millions to spend, was created to assure “an accurate and consistent flow of war information to the public and the world at large.”[ref]Ibid., p. A2379.[/ref]
John O’Donnell ended his column with a harsh condemnation of the OWI:
The idea that if you’re handling news and information, it might be a good idea to have a few competent newspapermen around never got very far In O. W. I. A few respectable members of the craft were lured into the Davis set-up to give it the window-dressing of journalistic respectability. But they were few, and most of them quit in disgust. In all decency, they couldn’t stand the phony atmosphere created by the breast-beaters and psychopathic crackpots, the sweepings of editorial rooms, the draft dodgers who battled to get on the O. W. I. payroll, and the slobbering do-gooders and world-savers. O. W. I., of course, wants to keep its gentry on the payroll for as long as possible. But, viewing yesterday’s developments, we think some of the boys might be looking around for a Job—or possibly the younger and healthier having a heart-to-heart talk with their draft boards.[ref]Ibid.[/ref]
On May 24, 1945, Representative Gavin inserted in the Congressional Record more U.S. newspaper articles calling for the disbanding of the Office of War Information. President Truman had already proposed to cut the OWI budget from $58,000,000 to $42,000,000 (approx.$941,800,00 – $682,000,000 in 2022), but an editorial in the Washington Daily News on May 22, 1945 called for the OWI to be abolished.
President Truman’s Executive Order 9608 abolishing OWI
PROVIDING FOR THE TERMINATION OF THE OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION, AND FOR THE DISPOSITION OF ITS FUNCTIONS AND OF CERTAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE OFFICE OF INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes, including Title I of the First War Powers Act, 1941, and as President of the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:
1. Effective as of the date of this order: (1) There are transferred to and consolidated in an Interim International Information Service, which is hereby established in the Department of State, those functions of the Office of War Information (established by Executive Order No. 9182 of June 13, 1942), and those informational functions of the Office of Inter-American Affairs (established as the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs by Executive Order No. 8840 of July 30, 1941 and renamed as the Office of Inter-American Affairs by Executive Order No. 9532 of March 23, 1945), which are performed abroad or which consist of or are concerned with informing the people of other nations about any matter in which the United States has an interest, together with so much of the personnel, records, property, and appropriation balances of the Office of War Information and the Office of Inter-American Affairs as the Director of the Bureau of the Budget shall determine to relate primarily to the functions so transferred.
Pending the abolition of the said Service under paragraph 3(a) of this order,
(1) the head of the Service, who shall be designated by the Secretary of State, shall be responsible to the Secretary of State or to such other officer of the Department s the Secretary shall direct,
(2) the Service shall, except as otherwise provide in this order, be administered as an organizational entity in the Department of State,
(3) the Secretary may transfer from the Service, to such agencies of the Department of State as he shall designate or establish, any function of the Service, and
(4) the Secretary may terminate any function of the Service, in which event he shall provide for the winding up of the affairs relating to any function so terminated.
(b) There are transferred to the Bureau of the Budget the functions of the Bureau of Special Services of the Office of War Information and functions of the Office of War Information with respect to the review of publications of Federal agencies, together with so much of the personnel, records, and property, and appropriation balances of the Office of War Information as the Director of the bureau of the Budget shall determine relate primarily to the said functions.
(c) All those provisions of prior Executive orders which are in conflict with this order are amended accordingly. Paragraph 6 of the said Executive Order No. 8840 and paragraphs 3, 6, and 8 of the said Executive Order No. 9182 are revoked.
2. Effective as of the close of business September 15, 1945:
(a) There are abolished the functions of the Office of War Information then remaining.
(b) The Director of the Office of War Information shall, pending the abolition of the Office of War Information under paragraph 3(b) of this order, proceed to wind up the affairs of the Office relating to such abolished functions.
3. Effective as of the close of business December 31, 1945:
(a) The Interim International Information Service, provided for in paragraph 1(a) of this order, together with any functions then remaining under the Service, is abolished.
(b) The Office of War Information, including the office of the Director of the Office of War Information, is abolished.
(c) There are transferred to the Department of the Treasury all of the personnel, records, property, and appropriation balances of the Interim International Information Service and of the Office of War Information then remaining, for final liquidation, and so much thereof as the Director of the Bureau of the Budget shall determine to be necessary shall be utilized by the Secretary of the Treasury in winding up all of the affairs of the Service.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
THE WHITE HOUSE,
August 31, 1945[ref]“EXECUTIVE ORDER 9608 | Harry S. Truman,” National Archives, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, accessed June 17, 2022, https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/executive-orders/9608/executive-order-9608.[/ref]
Post-war legislation, passed with bipartisan support, introduced much more stringent security and background checks for the Voice of America employees under the administrative umbrella of the State Department. The legislation that strengthened personnel security measures, the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was designed primarily to foster U.S. information activities overseas and academic exchanges, also effectively prevented the distribution of VOA programs in the United States.