Reinhold Wagnleitner. Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. xv + 367 pp. $65.00 (library), ISBN 978-0-8078-2149-7; $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8078-4455-7.
Reviewed by Daniel E. Rogers (University of South Alabama)
Published on H-German (March, 1996)
Reinhold Wagnleitner's spirited, scholarly, witty, thorough, and exciting history of the intersection of American culture and diplomacy with Cold War Austria ends with an injunction from Edward Hallett Carr: "study the historian before you begin to study the facts." Carr's guidance applies particularly to Wagnleitner. He is remarkably frank in admitting how his youth in the Austria of the 1950s and 1960s and his attachment to various facets of American culture brought him to study Americanization. But we have here far more than a work of nostalgia or even a work of history saddled by nostalgia, although the frequent lists of items that affected Wagnleitner and a photograph of the young author himself in cowboy garb may at first lead us to wonder. Rather, this is a work of history informed by nostalgia. Wagnleitner has crafted history of a very high order from what could have been a dry study of American diplomacy or a vapid recounting of the hit songs, radio quiz shows, films, jazz bands, and playwrights of his youth and adolescence.
Despite the title, the book has almost nothing to do with Coca-Cola. That product is mentioned in no more than a couple of sentences and was clearly chosen for its power in the title. In fact, the same overly cute effect could have been achieved with greater accuracy in the title by using the concept of the "Marilyn Monroe Doctrine" from the conclusion. For rather than focusing on the material culture of Coca-Cola, Wagnleitner deals far more with the media that brought transformation under the pressure of American occupation. Radio, films, newspapers, schools, libraries, plays, and music became outlets for the encouragement of consumption (the "culture of consumption" being for Wagnleitner the hallmark of America).
Wagnleitner securely ties his work to a broad base of prior research. Historians of American cultural diplomacy will immediately notice his great debt to the work of Emily Rosenberg and Frank Ninkovich, especially in the second chapter on the origins of American cultural diplomacy. All American diplomacy, including cultural policy, is implicitly driven by a sense of mission. After World War II, though, the mission of economic liberalism created problems on the cultural front. As Wagnleitner notes, "Because made-in-America liberal universalism always fought against local traditions, we can speak here of anticultural relationships" (47).
In this particular Kulturkampf the most important American agency in Austria was the Information Services Branch (ISB). Though Wagnleitner spends but a few pages detailing the organization and history of the ISB and offers few details on its personalities, he does show repeatedly how its mission divided it internally. As the Cold War demanded increasingly more overt anti-Communism, the cultural officers of the ISB resisted Washington's directives, fully aware of the dangers of transparent propaganda. As one ISB officer put it, the American cultural message would lose "verisimilitude." But the U.S. took the risk and found a receptive audience in Austria, one of the most conservative, pro-American countries in Europe.
The Cold War led the Americans to prefer anti-Communist, "non-partisan, conservative individuals" when awarding newspaper licenses. The Wiener Kurier was an especially prominent example of American influence over the establishment of the news media. Similarly, the American attempt to control the airwaves succeeded beyond expectations because the ISB insisted that such radio stations as Rot-Weiss-Rot gear their programs to audience wishes, rather than follow the earlier Austrian practice of inculcating a taste for high culture over the airwaves -- or "spinach because it was good for them," as Wagnleitner puts it. Once that large audience was pleased, propaganda could quietly be sneaked in (along with the inevitable advertising).
Other American successes included bookmobiles, America Houses, and educational reforms that would long insure a positive reception for American culture. Specifically, the Americans sought to end the hold of idealism and subjectivism in the schools and to replace them with empiricism and analysis. American diplomats had far less success convincing the Austrian elites of the merits of American drama and the "serious" music of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and others. But then, nothing could compare to the twin pillars of popular music and Hollywood. Wagnleitner skillfully portrays the elites of both America and all Europe arrayed against jazz and rock'n'roll; the latter even managed to threaten the establishment on both sides of the Iron Curtain. America's cultural diplomats were especially slow to see the appeal of popular music, because they had striven so mightily to win acceptance for American high culture's musical offerings. Convinced that the United States needed a respectable elite culture to be a leader in the Cold War, the American diplomats only gradually permitted American-sponsored radio to begin offering rock'n'roll.
Wagnleitner's crowning success comes in his penultimate chapter on Hollywood. He demonstrates the smooth manipulation of the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, and the utter helplessness of Austria, other European states, and even the U.S. government against it. Once the economics of film production had dictated that no country with a small domestic market could ever hope to recover the huge costs of crowd-pleasing lavish sets and scenery, Austrian film was doomed (well before 1945, as it turns out). The MPEA was not satisfied even with total financial victory, and successfully insisted in Germany and Austria that no quotas be installed against American films.
American culture succeeded in repaying Austria for its part in the Europeanization of the world with a crowd-pleasing consumption mania that won over Wagnleitner's generation of Austrians. But they were gained neither for American foreign policy nor for its high culture. Rather they were gained for certain aspects of the American way of life that had developed out of the control of any elite on either side of the Atlantic. Diana Wolf's translation makes these points come alive in English, but only because Reinhold Wagnleitner first crafted them after years of painstaking research in American diplomatic and military archives and in secondary works in political, diplomatic, and cultural history. The result is a masterpiece of a new genre which shows precisely the nexus of politics, diplomacy, and culture. And it's fun to read besides.
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Daniel E. Rogers. Review of Wagnleitner, Reinhold, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War.
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