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U.S. State Department Describing Voice of America for ‘The Campaign of Truth’ Circa 1952

Cold War Radio Museum

In the early 1950s, the U.S. State Department launched its public diplomacy program called “The Campaign of Truth.” It was designed to counter Soviet propaganda using the Voice of America and the State Department’s public diplomacy programs which were described in “The Campaign of Truth: How You Can Help” pamphlet published probably in early 1952.

Established in 1942, the Voice of America was operating within the State Department since 1945. Before 1945, the Voice of America was within the Office of War Information (OWI), which President Truman abolished shortly after the end of the war.

Prior to about 1950-1951, VOA programs were generally not countering Soviet propaganda and did not focus on human rights violations in the Soviet block countries. During World War II, pro-Soviet Voice of America officials and journalists enthusiastically promoted Soviet propaganda and supported Stalin’s plans for establishing communist governments in East-Central Europe. Some of their influence continued until the early 1950s. The first VOA chief news writer and editor was Howard Fast who later joined the Communist Party USA and in 1953 received the Stalin Peace Prize. He resigned from his job at VOA in 1944 and became a reporter and editor for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker. A few of wartime VOA broadcasters went to work for Soviet-dominated communist regimes and others were slowly replaced in the late 1940’s and the early 1950s with anti-communist refugee journalists from Eastern Europe.

In the early 1950s, Voice of America programming started to change in response to heavy bipartisan criticism in the U.S. Congress. The change of programming was also prompted by the creation of Radio Free Europe as a competing U.S.-funded radio organization, and the outbreak of the Korean War.

VOA’s broadcasting activities in 1951-1952 in response to Soviet propaganda were described in the State Department pamphlet “The Campaign of Truth: How You Can Help.” The pamphlet included a photograph of a woman broadcaster holding a script in front of the microphone with the Russian sign “Voice of the United States of America.”

According to a former Voice of America Russian Service director Marina Oeltjen, the woman in the photograph is Helen B(ates) Yakobson 1913-2002.
Born May 21, 1913, in St. Petersburg, Russia; Helen Yakobson died of cardiopulmonary arrest December 4, 2002, in Washington, DC.

Educator, journalist, and author, Yakobson was a respected professor of Russian at George Washington University. When she was a young girl, her parents fled Russia to China after the 1917 revolution.

According to former VOA USSR Division Director Mark Pomar, “Helen and her parents endured the civil war in Kuban, which was horrific, and then lived in Moscow during the hunger of the early 20s. They made it to Harbin only in 1924.”

The following information came from her obituary:

“Yakobson graduated with a law degree from the University of Harbin in 1934, but ended up teaching Russian language and literature for two years, before the Japanese invasion of China led her to immigrate to the United States in 1937. During World War II she worked for the Voice of America, and during the late 1940s was a script-writer and announcer for Russian programs for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. In 1951 she joined the faculty at George Washington University, where she was a professor of Russian until she retired in 1983; she was also chair of the Russian Department from 1958 to 1969. Yakobson wrote several Russian textbooks, including A Guide to Conversational Russian (1960) and Conversational Russian: An Intermediate Course (1985), and was also author of the autobiography Crossing Borders: From Revolutionary Russia to China to America (1994).”

According to former VOA Russian Service broadcaster Dr. Irene Kelner, “Yakobson was the head of the Washington chapter of the organization called Russian Litfond. ( Literary Foundation.) It was a club which organized monthly meetings of Russian language writers who read new works and discussed them with other members They also collected money for the writers in need. Helen Jacobson was also known as a collector of Russian art and had organized several exhibits at her house in Washington DC.”

She received several awards for her teaching, including a 1995 award from the Russian Embassy for “preservation and development of Russian cultural and spiritual values.”

While her obituary says that during World War II Yakobson worked for the Voice of America, it should be noted that VOA did not start broadcasting in Russian until 1947 because during the war U.S. officials in the Roosevelt Administration apparently feared that launching Russian-language broadcasts might offend Stalin. She would have been employed by the Office of War Information (OWI) where radio broadcasts, which later became known as Voice of America broadcasts, started in New York in 1942, first in German and later in other languages, but not in Russian until 1947.

The key to modern diplomacy
— people talking to people — is
the principle behind
the world-wide Campaign of
Truth in which the United
States is now engaged. The
most important American
voice heard around the world
today is not that of the
government alone but of
Americans speaking as
individuals or as representa­-
tives of industry and labor,
churches and schools —
to millions of workers,
businessmen, churchgoers,
and students the world over.

Yet, the government’s part in
the Campaign of Truth
is many-sided. For nearly a
decade, the overseas
information program has
aimed to give the world
a “full and fair” picture of the
U.S. and what it stands for.
Now it has an additional
task — to expose the big lie
of Soviet propagandists and
project clearly the foreign-

policy aims of the United
States. This it does through
many media — radio, press,
periodicals, motion pictures,
cultural centers, and libraries.

Fastest day-to-day medium
for reaching audiences
abroad is the Voice of
America, which surmounts
barriers of distance, censor­-
ship, and illiteracy. Now,
some 300,000,000 listeners
have the opportunity to
hear political commentary,
facts about the U.S., round-­
table discussions — the
truth they would not know
without the Voice. More than
90,000,000 readers can
learn the latest news through
some 10,000 foreign news­-
papers and magazines which
use a daily bulletin of news
sent by wireless
to U.S. diplomatic
missions abroad. Motion
pictures show the life of
American farmers, teachers,
craftsmen; the work of
artists and musicians; big
industry and small business;
community activities — all
these revealing the growth
of the U.S. under freedoms
it has cherished for 175
years. But movies no longer
merely project American
life. A month after South
Korea was invaded, a new
completed in 29 languages.
Within a week, it was
being shown throughout the
world, both in commercial
theaters through the
cooperation of the American
motion picture industry,
and in regular USIE outlets,
including mobile units.

The actions of the United
States and the UN have made
possible an effective Cam­-
paign of Truth; for the big lie
loses ground before the
psychological offensive of
truth in a free world.

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