Transcript

200:

Hearts and Minds
Transcript

Originally aired 11.30.2001

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/200

Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. So you've heard, right? The US State Department has hired a former ad executive to run an information campaign to make the United States more beloved in the Muslim world.

Charlotte Beers

We know that in many of the countries where our messages are sent that often they're distorted, they're one-dimensional, or they're simply not heard.

Ira Glass

This is Charlotte Beers, formerly of Madison Avenue, whose taken what is certainly a colossal pay cut to become undersecretary of state in charge of this effort. And while many of the things that she's announced so far are eminently sensible-- better communication with foreign journalists, exchange programs so more people from the Muslim world get to meet and know real Americans-- she talks weird. I know I'm one to talk here. But she speaks in a particular kind of language. Here she is in a press conference talking about Muslims in America.

Charlotte Beers

Their conversion rate is astonishing. 30% conversion in each year is about the fastest growing religion in this country and a good number for any sales team. Here's a sales curve any corporation would envy. These are the percent of mosques founded in the US over the last few years. It's obviously a growing, vital religion with some very wonderful people who have a pretty remarkable life here in the United States.

Ira Glass

To consider all the difficulties the United States faces in this effort, to win the hearts and minds around the Muslim world, consider for a moment what it takes to do a regular advertising campaign, to do something as simple as sell laundry detergent in Muslim Afghanistan and Pakistan. Up until very recently, Zdenka Milanovich was based in Karachi for the global ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi, charged with selling Tide or the version of Tide that they use over there. It's called Ariel. And it is for handwashing since only 1% of the population has access to a washing machine. She said working in that part of the world was unlike any advertising she had ever done before.

Zdenka Milanovich

For me, everything that I knew as the principals in advertising is something that I knew that I had to completely forget about.

Ira Glass

Zdenka did this interview with our show and with the fine National Public Radio program On the Media.

Zdenka Milanovich

Because we're facing with a completely different type of consumers. The average salary in Pakistan, the real one is $5 per month. The literacy rate, the real one, for women is 4%, 5%. For men, it's higher, of course, 37%.

Ira Glass

Then there was the fact that although it was women who washed clothes, it was men who made the purchasing decisions. Women didn't read magazines. They didn't see much TV. Zdenka had a product for them that she couldn't advertise to them. So the ad agency did a focus group and was sort of taken aback when six women, completely covered, in black, came in to talk about detergent and about the ads that the agency was thinking of running.

Zdenka Milanovich

We exposed them to certain commercials. We just wanted to get some kind of insights. And after showing them the concepts, asking them to tell us what do they really think and which one would they chose, what they said is that they wouldn't use any. And they have to be asked, why. They said, because we just can't use it, we don't believe in this product because it's too expensive.

They know, and they have perception that your brand is expensive because it has a foreign image. This is why it's not good. And I remember me, I just got home. And I was back in the office, and I didn't know what to do. Then I called certain people working in strategic planning in Dubai to understand what to do because they are not listening, and what is they way to approach them.

Ira Glass

So here's how they turned Ariel from a newcomer into the number one best-selling detergent in these Muslim countries. First, they decided that if the brand's foreignness was a problem, if foreignness made Ariel untrustworthy, then they needed to use, as their local spokesman, people that everyone would trust, which meant local people, real people. The ad agency gave them Ariel to use for a while and then filmed them talking about how great it is.

Zdenka Milanovich

We wanted to create the story about unfortunate people and how our product really contributed to better life. So we created real stories, for example, using a guy having four children and really with the hope to put his children in the good school, to offer them good education. Because the two main hopes for the people are to get the daughters married and to get sons educated.

And this is what we did. We just asked the guy to talk in front of a camera that he wants to educate his children, he is a poor man. He can't afford it to do it with one job. This is why he actually has to do two jobs. And because not having enough clothes, his wife helps him by washing with Ariel to look impeccable, working two jobs. And here is the hope for the future.

Ira Glass

And so what does the US need to do to win the hearts and minds of these same people? Well, Zdenka says that the US needs to let people know that it is on their side, same as Ariel did. And this is where it gets tricky. Because after all, in these countries, plenty of people are mad at the United States because they believe that we are emphatically not on their side. We do things that they disagree with. We support local governments they don't like. We drop bombs that sometimes hit civilians. We give money and arms to the state of Israel. And so there are people that we are not going to persuade.

John Quelch

Well, obviously, in marketing in general, a good advertisement cannot compensate for a faulty product.

Ira Glass

John Quelch is a professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School and author of a book of case studies on how to market products in the Muslim world.

John Quelch

So there will undoubtedly be a certain core, a certain set of individuals in each of these Muslim countries whom advertising will not be able to achieve anything with because the policies will still not be perceived as being satisfactory. The problem here is more than a communications problem. It's a problem that relates to policy. It's a problem that relates to the degree to which, first of all, that they don't know the United States.

Ira Glass

Here's what beginners we are at selling ourselves in most Muslim countries. John Quelch says, we don't even have the most basic polling data to tell us what people think of us. How many people hate us so much that they will never be persuaded? How many might be open to hearing our side of things?

John Quelch

This is, in my opinion, a generation-long effort.

Ira Glass

And as our nation embarks on this campaign for hearts and minds, we thought here at This American Life that it might be helpful to broadcast on the radio a cautionary tale or two, stories of people in wartime trying to win hearts and minds who, at some point, started to believe their own propaganda which, I guess, is kind of an occupational hazard. And they lost important battles because of that.

Our program today in two acts. Act One, Don't Believe Anything You Hear On The Radio. In that act, we bring you what we believe are tapes that have never been broadcast in the United States, tapes of a clandestine radio station that the CIA set up back in the good old, bad old days of the 1950s to overthrow a central American government, which they succeeded in doing, using the immense power of radio. Or that's what the CIA believed anyway.

Act Two, Live On Stage By The Sword, Die On Stage By The Sword. In that act, a story of wartime, of altruism and self-interest, of believing one's own publicity, and of a 50-year campaign for hearts and minds that was better known as The Bob Hope USO Tour. Stay with us.

Act One. Don't Believe Anything You Hear On The Radio.

Ira Glass

Act One, Don't Believe Anything You Hear On The Radio. Well, let's begin our show today with what was considered, sort of famously, actually, to be one of our nation's most successful campaigns to win hearts and minds. In retrospect, it serves as a kind of best case and worst case scenario for what we'd like to accomplish around the world these days. It involved a clandestine radio station that the CIA set up to help overthrow the government of Guatemala back in 1954.

In the late 1990s, during a brief period when the CIA was declassifying old Cold War materials, tapes of this clandestine station were declassified thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit group called The National Security Archive. As best as we can tell, these tapes have never been broadcast in the United States. Nancy Updike tells this story.

Nancy Updike

The democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, did a few things to get on the wrong side of the United States government. For one, he tangled with a very powerful American company called United Fruit. They grew and exported bananas. They were also Guatemala's largest private employer and its biggest landowner. Most of the 566,000 acres United Fruit owned in Guatemala were uncultivated.

And when Arbenz came to power, he started nationalizing the country's land, buying up tens of thousands of those uncultivated acres for a nominal fee and giving them out to peasants. United Fruit complained to the US government. It was the height of the Cold War, Arbenz had communists among his advisers, and the US didn't want Guatemala to become a Soviet beachhead. Guatemala, after all, was only a four-hour flight from New Orleans, a representative from Ohio darkly reminded Congress.

Because Eisenhower didn't want to seem like he was intervening in another country's affairs, he sent the CIA. They were given a couple of old airplanes that would fly over the capital to scare people, drop leaflets and, very rarely, a bomb. The CIA had a different president in mind for Guatemala, a disgruntled lieutenant colonel in exile named Castillo Armas. The CIA dubbed him, "The Liberator."

Nick Grace

The military that Castillo Armas had, which the CIA put together for him, was a ragtag force.

Nancy Updike

This is Nick Grace. I'm going to tell you who he is in a minute.

Nick Grace

This was essentially an army that was toothless. And in order to promote the army, if you will, essentially, they depended upon propaganda.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

This is the propaganda outfit the CIA set up, Radio Liberacion, Liberation Radio. And it was basically three Guatemalan guys that the CIA recruited, funded, and trained in psychological warfare-- disinformation, propaganda, scare tactics. From May through July of 1954, these guys went on the air to tell Guatemala about the bold, homegrown liberation movement they were part of, a movement to free the country from the iron grip of international Communism. This, of course, was a lie. There was no homegrown liberation movement, only a CIA plot.

Nick Grace

It essentially was an elaborate puppet show that was played out over the airwaves.

Nancy Updike

Which brings us back to Nick Grace. He collects clandestine broadcasts from around the world and is probably the only person alive who's listened to all 54 of the tapes of Radio Liberacion.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

This was an air check. The announcer states, "Every Guatemalan should have, as symbols in his struggle against Communism, God, fatherland, and liberty against Communism, against the vices of the past. For a true democracy, this is Radio Liberacion."

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"Operating on its clandestine shortwave transmitter from some secret place in the Republic of Guatemala."

Nancy Updike

Explain do you know how much was pre-recorded and how much they did live on the spot?

Nick Grace

That's tough to say. I think, on the whole, perhaps roughly 80% to 90% of it was pre-recorded in Florida, Opa-Locka, and brought down to the transmitter site-- which we believe was in Nicaragua-- by diplomatic pouch.

Nancy Updike

So these very passionate, patriotic exhortations to free Guatemala from some outside influence were all recorded in Florida?

Nick Grace

Yeah, pretty much. Up until mid-June.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

This broadcast was, in fact, one of the ones that was made in the bush, so to speak.

Nancy Updike

So it was not recorded in Florida, you're saying?

Nick Grace

No, this was recorded in Nicaragua. Do you hear the hum on the audio?

Nancy Updike

Yeah, what is it?

Nick Grace

They set up so quickly in Nicaragua that they weren't even able to ground their equipment properly. In all of the broadcasts that were done in the jungle, you can hear this hum.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

They announce, "Radio Liberacion calling Agent Bernardo. Wait at the agreed place. Two hours later, launch the attack in sector R-25. The map shows the exact location of the target. Good luck. Signed, The High Command." They were essentially sending the message to the government that we have maps, we've got agents, we have already chopped up Guatemala into various sectors, we've got a High Command, we're well armed, and we're right at your doorstep.

Nancy Updike

What was actually happening?

Nick Grace

Absolutely nothing is happening. An interesting thing about this is that he says, "Tomorrow at 9,300 hours, you will receive the requested equipment."

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

Well, 9,300 hours, there's no such term. So you can see--

Nancy Updike

I heard that, and I thought, what is that? Is it some sort of different military clock? Or they didn't know what they were talking about?

Nick Grace

They, essentially, didn't know what they were talking about.

Nancy Updike

I wonder if there was any CIA guy listening who heard them say, "9,300 hours" and just went, oh, no, don't say that.

Nick Grace

I think the CIA, at this point, was very happy with the results.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

All right. What are they doing here?

Nick Grace

Here, they're sending a quote unquote "coded message" to the guerrilla army, saying, "There's an important message. And here we go."

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"Our house--"

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"--has seven doors--"

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"--all are green--"

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"--except one--"

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

"--which is yellow."

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

The perception is that it's a coded message, that something is going to result out of this announcement. Because people had been hearing these kinds of announcements for a month and a half, as well as hearing announcements saying, look out your window, step outside on your patio, and step out into the streets in five minutes, a present will come to you. They step outside, and these anti-government leaflets are dropped out of these aircraft.

Radio Announcer 2

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

Now this one is completely different from the other ones. He's almost being a real DJ in a way, where he's coming on and he's being very intimate and saying, "Hi. What's up? How are you? I'm glad."

Radio Announcer 2

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

"Don't worry about us." The rest of them are so bombastic, and this one is so--

Nick Grace

Personable?

Nancy Updike

Yeah. Well, and so intimate. It's just like he's one guy, and he's talking directly to you.

Nick Grace

That's what, essentially, they were trying to do, personalize the people behind the microphone. They also wanted to put across the fact that they were supposedly broadcasting from the jungle, from the mountains and that it's very tranquil, the air is clean, there are lots of wild animals.

Radio Announcer 2

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nick Grace

For the populace, hearing that, they think, gosh, there's an area of my country which the government has no reach. "There may have been hardships," as he says. "But yet, the warm support that we get from people everywhere is strong," he says. "It's very satisfying."

Raul Molina

Well, I was a young boy, I was 11 years old, when we started to listen to Radio Liberacion. That was the name that it took. The slogan was there from the very beginning, I believe. Dios, Patria, Libertad. God, Fatherland, Liberty.

Nancy Updike

Raul Molina is 58 years old and now lives in New York City. His father worked for United Fruit. They lived in Guatemala City. And every day, the whole family would listen to both the government station and Radio Liberacion. They wanted to stay well informed. Molina and I listened to some of the broadcasts. He hadn't heard them since he was a kid.

Nancy Updike

OK. So let's play one of these.

Raul Molina

That's the national anthem of Guatemala playing.

Nancy Updike

Molina is a serious man with a round face. He fled Guatemala in 1980, fearing for his life. He was a university president, and the army was routinely shooting people like him. Now he works as a translator for the UN. I watched his face for reactions to the tapes, but mostly he just listened, intently.

Nancy Updike

You just laughed a little bit. What were you laughing about?

Raul Molina

Well, I was laughing about "from a secret place," like it was very much in the outskirts of Guatemala and so on. They made us believe that they were somewhere else.

Nancy Updike

And you did believe that they were in the jungles?

Raul Molina

Certainly, we did believe. We thought that they might be probably in one of the mountains close to the border to Honduras. Everyone was thinking that that was the case.

Nancy Updike

When did your family realize that these broadcasts weren't real?

Raul Molina

Well, most Guatemalans realized many years afterwards. We lived through a period from 1954 easily to the early '60s believing most of what had been played on this station.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

Do you remember these guys' voices? Are they familiar?

Raul Molina

Yes. And one of them is Lionel Sisniega Otero who is still a politician in Guatemala.

Nancy Updike

He's still in Guatemala? He's still--

Raul Molina

He's in Guatemala. And he's in politics. He's with the present government as a matter of fact.

Nancy Updike

Wow. How do you feel about that?

Raul Molina

Well, I feel very bad about the present government in Guatemala, to tell you the truth. We have a neo-fascist regime in Guatemala.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

Radio Liberacion was such elaborate deception, the CIA guy running the radio operation was a former actor and a writer. And he put the thing together like a play. There's one broadcast where they even staged a fake takeover of the station, as though government soldiers had suddenly discovered their plucky clandestine outfit in the mountains and had tried to run them off the air. The drama comes in the middle of a regular broadcast. The announcer is talking. And then all of a sudden, you start to hear a little commotion in the background.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

[SOUND OF AN EXPLOSION]

Man In Background

[SPEAKING SPANISH FRANTICALLY]

Woman In Background

[SPEAKING SPANISH FRANTICALLY]

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

He seems distracted. Other people are talking behind him. Someone is saying, "Shh, shh." Then you notice the announcer sounds out of breath.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

Abruptly, there's an increase in the scuffling in the background, and it escalates to the denouement.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

[SOUND OF PEOPLE YELLING]

[SOUND OF GUNSHOTS]

[SOUND OF A WOMAN SCREAMING]

Nancy Updike

And then silence. The station goes off the air at this point, leaving listeners to wonder what had happened.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

Two days later, Radio Liberacion came back on the air and smugly explained that although government thugs had tried to shut down their transmitter, the brave rebels had thwarted them.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

After two months of broadcasts, the government of Guatemala fell. And it was a success that cemented the reputation of the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency. It's hard to remember this today, but in 1954, the CIA was still a relatively young organization, only seven years old, still in the midst of trying to define and justify itself. When Arbenz fell, the CIA was ecstatic. Its critics turned into fans. Eisenhower, in his memoirs, called the overthrow of Arbenz one of his proudest moments. The operation went down in CIA history as quote, "an unblemished triumph."

Nick Cullather is a historian the CIA hired a few years ago to write an official internal history of what happened. Cullather was given full access to all documents related to the Guatemalan coup. He says that in spite of everything else that went into the operation-- the CIA had tried to infiltrate the army and foment student uprisings, the planes had increased their flights over the capital-- there was no doubt in the CIA's mind what had made the critical difference.

Nick Cullather

It seemed, to the CIA, that the radio had caused the government and President Arbenz to inexplicably crack psychologically. President Arbenz left the presidential palace, walked across the street to the embassy of Mexico, and abdicated. And that was the conclusion of the operation. And at that point, everything else was failing. The secret army that they had assembled was in full retreat. The air operations appeared not to be having any result. The student groups that they'd organized to foment rebellion in the capital city had all been rounded up, jailed, and executed. Nothing else was going except the radio operation. So it seemed to them that the radio operation must have worked.

Nancy Updike

But the CIA never did a serious analysis of what had happened in Guatemala and why it happened. They didn't talk to any Guatemalans. They didn't even go back over their own operation to determine what had worked. They relied on after-action reports provided by the agents involved. The propaganda guys were the best storytellers, and their version of events stuck. In other words, the agency hired a bunch of liars, taught them to lie better, and then believed them.

Nick Cullather

It created a legend about the types of operations that could be successful, the belief that, at very low cost and with very little loss of life, one could overthrow a government if one used the right combination of military and psychological action. But it really also set up the whole repertoire that the CIA continues to use today. If you take a look at the operations in Central America in the 1980s, the operations following the Gulf War in Iraq, some of the operations that are underway in Afghanistan today, it's the same set of ideas. Small actions that create a climate of opinion within the country that leads to a feeling of inevitable doom.

Nancy Updike

But this whole legend is built on a story that's not true. Arbenz didn't resign because the radio broadcasts psyched him out. He resigned because he could see that the United States would not stop until he was gone. Four months before the coup, the US pushed a resolution through the Organization of American States essentially giving it the right to intervene in Guatemala at will. When Arbenz managed to get actual documentation of the CIA plot against him and made the information public, the State Department denounced it as a desperate and transparent communist propaganda effort, probably masterminded in Moscow. And the US press, from liberal to conservative, bought this.

In his final days, Arbenz appealed to the United Nations Security Council. The US strong-armed the Council, and it voted not to hear the case. But even after all this, he still might have hung on. In the end, Arbenz only resigned when his frightened army sent word from the field that if he didn't step down, they would march to the capital and depose him themselves. They, too, believed it was only a matter of time before the US would invade.

It seemed the only people who didn't see it that way were in the CIA. Here's historian Nick Cullather.

Nick Cullather

It's very hard for me to separate the notion of force from the notion of propaganda because propaganda is always backed by force. When the Germans were attacking the French along the Maginot Line, they first put sirens on the Stuka dive bombers because the bombs themselves weren't having a great deal of effect on the French troops. But the sirens really made them run. So was that force or was that propaganda?

I think the people in the CIA saw that as propaganda. But I think a lot of people would take a look at that and say, no, that's just another variety of military force.

Nancy Updike

Cullather says, there are plenty of situations where it's right for us to use both force and propaganda, for us to intervene in the affairs of another country. Rwanda, for example, or the current war in Afghanistan. The problem, he says, is that we're not so good at facing the magnitude of that task. It's easier to destroy a government than to create one that's stable over the long term. In the CIA documents he examined, he found that the Agency's ideas about a future Guatemalan government were sketchy at best, sketchier, even, than our ideas about what kind of government should come to run Afghanistan.

In Guatemala, things didn't work out so well. The man the CIA deposed turned out to be the last truly democratic leader Guatemala had. Armas, the man the CIA picked to replace Arbenz, was assassinated three years into his repressive regime. And since then, it's been one long series of brutal military dictatorships interspersed with short-lived attempts at civilian rule. Again, here's Raul Molina who heard Radio Liberacion as a child.

Raul Molina

I remember watching a movie. I think it is Eisenhower coming out of a plane and saying now that Guatemala had been liberated, Guatemala was going to be an example for the world. And it became an example to the world, but of the things that you should never do in a country. After that invasion, not a single day passed in Guatemala without violations of human rights with 200,000 Guatemalans killed and more than 45,000 Guatemalans disappeared. So that's certainly the cost of this adventure that we have just heard started [? that way. ?]

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nancy Updike

In this broadcast, Radio Liberacion is announcing the resignation of Arbenz. It's a triumphant speech about how his overthrow is a victory for those fighting against foreign control. But of course, the announcer is working for a foreign government. He says joyfully, "Radio Liberacion is now transmitting live from the liberated territory of Guatemala." Every single part of that sentence is untrue. The transmission is not live. He's not in Guatemala. And the country has not been liberated.

Radio Announcer 1

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike.

[MUSIC - "COMMIE DRIVES A NOVA" BY IKE REILLY]

Coming up, Bob Hope's dog bites our reporter in a minute from Public Radio International and Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two. Live On Stage By The Sword, Die On Stage By The Sword.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, Hearts and Minds, a story of wartime and propaganda efforts and what happens when you start to believe your own propaganda. We've come to the second act of our show. Act Two, Live On Stage By The Sword, Die On Stage By The Sword.

So the cast of the movie Ocean's Eleven, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and the rest are going to entertain the troops at a US base in Turkey. This is not entirely altruistic. They will be there to coincide with the multimillion dollar publicity campaign for the film's opening December 7, a day that will, of course, live in infamy. By going to Turkey, they will get some free publicity back home, a nice video of the stars palling around with cheering troops. DVDs of the film will be sent to 11 grateful warships in the region. All of which brings to mind this story which our contributing editor Margy Rochlin tells.

Margy Rochlin

At the beginning of the Persian Gulf war, during the period when US forces were moving in, but no fighting had started, lots of soldiers found themselves stationed for months in the middle of nowhere, actually living and sleeping in battle formation, isolated from the outside world. So General Norman Schwarzkopf contacted Steve Martin, the actor and comedian, and asked him if he would go to the Middle East. That's how Martin and his then wife, the British actress Victoria Tennant, ended up on their very own mini USO tour.

They flew to a Saudi air base near the Kuwaiti front line. And for about a week, they'd awaken at dawn, get into a troop carrier helicopter along with two pilots, two machine gunners, and a special Marine escort, and they'd visit soldiers stationed along the Iraqi-Kuwait border. Every 20 minutes or so, they'd land. And Steve Martin would climb on top of a tank, and about 75 soldiers would gather around. And for about a quarter of an hour, the comedian would just wing it. He'd clown around, answer questions, sign autographs, pose for pictures, whatever.

Not wanting to be just the tag-along wife, Victoria Tennant came up with a plan. She'd move through the crowd, collecting names and telephone numbers from the soldiers along with messages that she could relay to their loved ones when she got home. It was such a simple idea, but coming from this rich, prim-looking British woman, it must have seemed unexpected and, therefore, doubly moving. They opened up to her. Single fathers asked her to call their children and say, "Your daddy loves you." Newly married men wanted her to let their brides know how much they were missed.

It took Victoria Tennant days to make all the calls. And the best thing about this story is you probably never heard it. And the reason why is because Steve Martin and Victoria Tennant didn't want it publicized. It was a pure, unselfish act, which brings us to Bob Hope.

Ira Glass

Bob Hope, of course, performed USO shows for a half century all over the world. It was a hearts and minds campaign with two fronts. The servicemen got a taste of home, and the people back home were reminded what great guys Bob Hope and all the other performers were. Now we at This American Life have no doubt at all that Bob Hope, and for that matter George Clooney and Brad Pitt, are all great, great guys. But we were curious about the intersection of public service and self-interest that occurs at a USO show. Years ago, when Hope was still visiting the troops, Margy Rochlin talked with him about what he got out of it for a newspaper profile she was writing. And we asked her to pull out her old tapes of Bob Hope and explain it to us.

Margy Rochlin

As best as I can figure, it started innocently enough for Bob Hope. By 1941, Bob Hope's three-year-old radio show had made him the top radio star in the country. Just before the war broke out, a representative from Pepsodent, the toothpaste company who sponsored the show, suggested to a reluctant Hope that he entertain the GIs at the March Field Air Base in Riverside, California. Hope said, no, he didn't think it was a good idea. Nobody listened to him.

Bob Hope

Next Tuesday, I was crawling on a bus going to March Field with Francis Langford, Jerry Colonna, Skinny Ennis, and the band. And the audience was sensational. So much so that I said, wait a minute, this is tremendous. And we started doing it every week.

Went to Camp Pendleton, San Diego, Camp Cook, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] so and so. Everywhere around there, and finally, December, they declared war. Now it's dramatic. We went for five years, we played bases. And it was the most sensational thing, most emotional part of my life.

Margy Rochlin

That's what he was in it for at first. Hope had never had an audience respond to him the way that the GIs did. In his 1990 memoir, Don't Shoot, It's Only Me, Hope explains that before he began the USO tours, his producer's equation for a radio show allowed for 23 minutes of jokes and music, 3 minutes for commercials, and roughly 3 minutes for laughter. But Hope's bits went over so huge at the army camps that they had to refigure the laugh time to 6 minutes.

Over the next 50 years, Hope took his show all over the world, performing on the flight decks of aircraft carriers and out in the jungle on hastily constructed stages. He was there during every war and major military action from World War II--

Bob Hope

We have a nice show here with Francis Langford, Jerry Colonna, Tony Romano, Patty Thomas, and Barney Dean. I know you'll enjoy the girls. You remember, girls?

Margy Rochlin

--to the Berlin airlift and the Korean War--

Bob Hope

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Second Infantry Division occupying Korea except on Saturday night. It's on Saturday night when they occupy Seoul.

Margy Rochlin

--to Vietnam--

Bob Hope

No, but I'm very happy to be here at Tan Son Nhut, southeast Asia's biggest rocket base. Yes, mostly incoming.

Margy Rochlin

--to Beirut and the Middle East in the '80s--

Bob Hope

And may I tell you it's been a while since I've entertained servicemen. But Washington told me, if we can bring ships out of mothballs, why not you?

Margy Rochlin

--and the Persian Gulf in the '90s.

Bob Hope

That program cost $70 billion, and I got a great idea. If those planes are invisible, let's not build any, but tell the Iraqis they're up there.

Margy Rochlin

Hope was the wisecracking master of ceremonies. From show to show, the only thing that changed was the guest stars involved. Big stars, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Mickey Mantle, Ann-Margret. There would definitely be a band, always beautiful women. Sometimes the women would sing, maybe Hope would bounce a few one-liners off of them. Mostly, their job was to run on stage wearing not very much. When they came out, the lonely GIs would howl their approval.

Bob Hope

I just want you boys to see what you're fighting for, that's all.

Margy Rochlin

Several times his life was in danger. In Saigon, his hotel was bombed. During the Korean War, he was inadvertently landed on Wangsan Beach before the First Marine Division had taken it. One thing he was proud of. At each base, he'd tailor his material with inside jokes for the local servicemen.

Bob Hope

The Defense Department got a letter from up here signed by 300 GIs, 2 Seals and a misplaced gooney bird. And Colonel Jolly.

[LAUGHTER]

Bob Hope

Thank you very much. Here we are in U-Tapao, the gateway to beautiful downtown Sattahip.

[LAUGHTER]

Bob Hope

Look at those guys hanging out the window. Room service must be late with the poo-ying.

Margy Rochlin

I don't even want to know what that joke means. To understand what the USO shows did for Bob Hope's career, you have to remember that he was already the most popular star on radio and in the movies when he began doing the tours. One of his biographers, Bill Faith, said the USO gave Bob Hope a popularity the likes of which we cannot even imagine today. It gave him the sheen of a national hero.

And for a long time for Bob Hope, doing the USO tour was a balance of cheerful patriotism and good business. Until 1954, when the balance shifted and the business side of things took on a little more importance. 1954 was when Bob Hope began the tradition of taping the USO shows, then selling them as television specials to NBC. Arguably, they were the cornerstone on which he built the last 40 years of his career.

A common misconception about the USO shows is that they raised money for the organization, which isn't true. In fact, there's always been controversy about who paid for what. Bob Hope says he paid all production costs and even lost money in the long run. But it's not clear how. The actors basically donated their time, although the USO says it occasionally paid them a small per diem. And everyone agrees that the Pentagon paid for transportation, most lodging, for the bulk of the bills.

Now remember, Hope sold these shows to NBC. But let's say he did lose money. You could not put a price tag on what he got in return. He'd do the USO show every Christmas which would build an audience for other comedy specials throughout the year.

Tv Announcer 1

Bob Hope presents the hilarious, unrehearsed antics of the stars, starring Lucille Ball, Milton Berle--

Margy Rochlin

Just like the USO shows, each special was almost identical. First came the eight minute opening monologue. He'd tell 35 to 40 jokes. Then came the guest stars, a song, and a corny skit segment at the end of the show.

In 1986, I went to observe the legendary comedian tape one of these specials for NBC. At one point, they did a spoof of Mutiny on the Bounty on a big wooden ship. Hope was Captain Bligh, John Denver was Fletcher Christian, Broadway musical star Howard Keel was the Bounty's alcoholic doctor. Morgan Brittany, who played Pam Ewing's evil half-sister on Dallas, was a prissy British missionary. I can't remember what Jonathan Winters played, but he was in drag. He was dressed as a Polynesian dancer girl, I think, in a grass skirt and coconut bra.

It looked like the easiest job in the world. No one even pretended to have memorized their lines. They just woodenly read their dialogue from cue cards. If they flubbed a joke, the cameras just kept rolling. That was how they achieved the famous style of Bob Hope specials, or non-style really. It was supposed to be like watching famous people getting together for an hour to have a good time in front of the camera.

In the TV business, these specials were famous because they always got top ratings, and they didn't cost Hope much to produce. Back in the '60s, Bob Hope had this amazing clause inserted into his contract. Charges by NBC technicians were frozen at 1961 rates. Back when NBC struck that deal with him, it might have seemed like a good way to keep Hope at the network. But 25 years had passed. If he wanted to have a set built, the fee was circa 1961. He paid next to nothing to use the editing and post-production facilities, their manpower, everything.

That was the whole beauty of his setup. He knew that people tuned in to a Bob Hope special to see Bob Hope. The costumes and talent were just window dressing. Why pay people to rehearse? Why waste money? Call it the most economical star-delivery system television has ever seen. This guy was a genius.

Not long after I watched them film that sketch, I went to interview Bob Hope at his 50 room house on a quiet tree-lined street in the San Fernando Valley. Hope had two dogs, a black lab and a white Alsatian, and they followed us up the driveway, growling.

Margy Rochlin

Are you watching the dog?

Bob Hope

Hello, baby. Hello, baby. Don't look at her. Don't look at her. That's OK.

Margy Rochlin

When one of them nipped at me, Hope kept insisting they were completely harmless.

Bob Hope

He's a good boy.

Margy Rochlin

Ow. He just sort of grabbed my arm here.

Bob Hope

He's never bitten anybody but one of my writers. All right. All right.

Margy Rochlin

Ouch. She just bit me again.

Bob Hope

OK. Come on, hey. All right now. Don't start.

Margy Rochlin

Things went downhill from there. Bob Hope and I had no chemistry, none. He'd tell jokes that I didn't get. And not only that, after he'd delivered the punch line, he'd lean towards me, fix me with his brown eyes, and gauge my response. So I'd laugh. The things I said only made him fall into long exasperated silences. It was awkward.

So we ate lunch, creamed chicken and peas with rice. I think I wanted him to show me how he'd changed with the times, how he'd subtly tweaked his material to better reflect his age or adapted it so that it resonated with the popular culture. So I asked him a question.

Margy Rochlin

Are you pretty sympathetic to the women's movement?

There I was sitting with a man in his early 80s who was still telling hubba-hubba jokes, and I'm quizzing him about the women's movement. What was I expecting?

Bob Hope

I am sympathetic to any woman's movement. I do a joke on it. Because it's such a big laugh that I close my act on it.

"It's nice to be here in Honolulu. And I tell you, women are really coming to the fore in this world." I said, "It's wonderful. I'm so happy because we pushed them around long enough, kept them down. In fact, I remember a friend of mine saying to his wife, 'How could you be so incredibly beautiful and so incredibly stupid?' And she said, 'It's God's will.' He says, 'What do you mean?' She says, 'Well, he made me incredibly beautiful, so you would be attracted to me, and made me incredibly stupid, so I'd be attracted to you.'" Well, they die. And I'd say, "That's for the ladies. Thank you. God bless you. Good-bye." I close my act with that.

Margy Rochlin

He was friends with so many presidents, it was like being friends with Bob Hope came with the job. He played golf with Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, George Bush senior. President Kennedy had him over to the White House to discuss jokes. LBJ presented him with a Medal of Freedom. Friends since the '40s, he and Ronald Reagan had an annual tradition of celebrating New Year's at Walter Annenberg's in Palm Springs.

Right around the time we met, the Iran-Contra scandal was just beginning to break, and Hope was struggling with how he was going to address the topic of the day without hurting his old pal's feelings. At one point, he did his Iran-Contra bit for me.

Bob Hope

I said, "I don't know whether I want to go back to the States because I hate it when our foreign policy is funnier than I am." "And Congress is really upset because, you know, they get mad when people screw things up, and they don't have anything to do with it." I said, "I don't know who the White House aides were. It was either Curly, Larry or Moe." "And I can't understand selling arms to Iran," I said. "That's like Johnny Carson giving jokes to Joan Rivers."

Well, that doesn't hurt anybody. And it's all front page. So you have to go that way. That's the way I go.

Margy Rochlin

Hope has always been identified more with the right than the left. It was Republicans, never Democrats, who invited him to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. But on that day, when I brought up politics, he classified himself as nonpartisan. A leaner, I think he called himself, someone who leans in the direction of whomever is currently in power.

Whether he was a leaner or not, his image as a fence straddler ended in 1963 with the Vietnam War. He was forced to make a political choice, and whichever choice he made, it wasn't going to sit well with the other side. If he decided to go to Vietnam to entertain the troops, he was supporting an unpopular war. But if he decided to stay home, he risked breaking a tradition and disrupting a so-far harmonious relationship with a government who'd help make him an American icon. Well, you may remember what he decided.

Tv Announcer 2

From Shemya Island in the Aleutians, from Yokota, Japan, and from Camp Casey, and Osan in Korea--

Margy Rochlin

In the end, Hope did nine Christmas tours in Vietnam. And each of those shows, he taped, produced, and sold to NBC as television specials.

Tv Announcer 2

From Udorn, U-Tapao, and Nam Phong in Thailand, and from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam, it's the Bob Hope Christmas special starring Redd Foxx, Lola Falana--

Margy Rochlin

For the first time, he began generating criticism. Though there were still cheering crowds, there were plenty of times where the men booed Bob Hope and gave him the finger. In an era of Jimi Hendrix and pot smoking, picture long-haired troops without shirts, smoking cigarettes, and drinking beer, being treated to golf jokes, big band music, and a juggler.

In 1980, in Rolling Stone magazine, writer Timothy White quoted servicemen who claimed that attendance was mandatory, that they were a captive audience, that the scantily clad showgirls that had so delighted GIs in the past now just seemed like PG-rated strippers to the men, women who they could look at, but couldn't touch.

Cindy Lee Sikes

Hello. I'm Miss Kansas, Cindy Lee Sikes. Merry Christmas. Oh, I'm 18, and I won the swimsuit contest in the Miss America Pageant.

[CHEERS AND WHISTLES]

Margy Rochlin

In this footage, things don't seem so wholesome anymore. Each girl is dressed in a spangley leotard, and the men surge forward like they're going to devour them.

Melanie

Hi y'all. I'm Melanie. I'm Miss Georgia World. Anybody from Georgia?

[CHEERS AND WHISTLES]

Melanie

Any of y'all like to try a little of our southern comfort?

[CHEERS AND WHISTLES]

Margy Rochlin

Next, two young blondes are on stage with Bob Hope.

Tricia Barnstable

Hi, I'm Tricia Barnstable from Louisville, Kentucky.

[CHEERS AND WHISTLES]

Cyb Barnstable

And I'm Cyb Barnstable, her twin sister. And we just want to know if there's anybody out there who thinks they can handle two.

[CHEERS AND WHISTLES]

Margy Rochlin

Back home, it almost seemed like Bob Hope was blind to the politics of what he was doing and out of touch. There's an incredible quote from Marlon Brando from an interview in Playboy magazine. Brando called Hope "an applause junky." He said, "Bob Hope will go to the opening of a phone booth in a gas station in Anaheim provided they have a camera and three people there. He'll go the opening of a market and receive an award." Brando said, "It didn't bother him at all to work the Vietnam War. Oh, he took that in his stride. He did his World War Two and Korean War act-- our boys, and all that. He's a pathetic guy."

The criticism after Vietnam truly stunned Bob Hope. For years, he was seen as a good ambassador, agendaless, flying around the world representing our country. He hadn't changed anything, but somehow, he'd become a bane to the anti-war movement, a militarist, controversial. It didn't make any sense to him.

Bob Hope

We weren't carrying bullets. We were carrying laughs. And I wasn't the only one going. Everybody went to Vietnam, Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Johnny Grant. But on account of me getting all the television coverage and doing that show, they all got the feeling, they said, "Hey, he's doing this show, that's a commercial show," and so on and so on and so on. And anybody that would deny those kids the right to have a show like we brought them, well, you felt kind of sorry for those people. Because they couldn't have been very patriotic.

I had a couple of people that called me a warmonger. And I gave it to the FBI and the sheriff here. And they found these guys over in Santa Monica Boulevard, and they chased them out of the town.

Margy Rochlin

Who were the people?

Bob Hope

They were some bums that were probably guys that were defectors or something. A kid walked up to me out here in Van Nuys-- I was in an ice cream store-- went out to my car. And a kid walked up to the car and said, "Hey, is it true that you took guns to Vietnam?" I said, "Where'd you hear that?" He said, "Oh, I read that somewhere." And I said, "Let me tell you something, son." I said, "I took laughs to Vietnam." I said, "Did you ever see my show?"

Margy Rochlin

He might have known that the politics of war would lead him down this road eventually. No one could deny that in his career with the USO, Bob Hope faced hardships and acted out of a sense of altruism and patriotism. But it's also clear that there was another side to it all. He'd figured out a way to use international conflict as a marketing tool for his reputation and career. And there's nothing wrong with that. It just seems wrong to cry foul when people stop laughing.

Ira Glass

Margy Rochlin in Los Angeles.

Credits.

Ira Glass

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[FUNDING CREDITS]

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Nick Grace

Our house has seven doors. All are green except one.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

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