cover image The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America

The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America

Hugh Wilford, . . Harvard Univ., $27.95 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-674-02681-0

Well before the beginning of the Cold War, the Soviet Union achieved a series of propaganda successes by using “front” organizations that ostensibly served independent purposes but were orchestrated by Moscow. In the late 1940s, Frank Wisner, chief of political warfare for the newly created CIA, proposed a U.S. version: a “mighty Wurlitzer” that like its namesake would play the music America desired. California State–Long Beach professor Wilford describes the “Wurlitzer” as most successful in supporting Western Europe's noncommunist leftist unions, students and intellectuals during the 1950s. As the Cold War spread, the CIA organized programs in the Third World combining development with anticommunism. The CIA was more a source of funding and fine-tuning than the master player its organizers intended; few of its front groups were unaware of the connection. What made the system work was a shared, principled and intense anticommunism combined with trust in America's intentions and capabilities. As these eroded during the Vietnam era, the Wurlitzer's music grew discordant, then ceased altogether. Wilford's conclusion that winning hearts and minds is best left to overt processes and organizations is predictable and defensible. Still, Wisner's Wurlitzer helped level the playing field at a crucial period of the Cold War. (Jan.)