Howard Fast – Chief of Voice of America News Who Won the Stalin Peace PrizeBy Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum. Originally published in 2019, updated December 21, 2021.
68 years ago today, on December 21, 1953, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda announced that American novelist and journalist, Howard Fast, was awarded the International Stalin Peace Prize (the official name: the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples). Fast was also at that time a Communist Party USA activist.
What Soviet media and the Associated Press news agency, which reported on the announcement, did not mention was that the U.S. government international broadcaster, the Voice of America (VOA), employed Howard Fast during World War II as its chief English-language news program director and news writer. 1
This prominent wartime VOA pro-Soviet news program chief had the distinction of being the recipient of both the Stalin International Peace Prize and the Lenin International Peace Prize, since after the Soviet Communist Party condemned Stalin in 1956, all Stalin Peace Prizes were renamed Lenin Peace Prizes.
The prize was created as the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples on December 21, 1949 by an executive order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in honor of Joseph Stalin‘s birthday. Stalin was born on December 18, 1878. He died on March 5, 1953, a few months before Howard Fast was honored with the prize named after a communist mass murderer, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. At that time, Stalin was still revered by the Soviet regime.
Yet, this historically significant Soviet recognition of an important former Voice of America first news director has never been mentioned by any of VOA’s former directors or former VOA managers, editors and reporters. The only exception has been newspaper op-eds and online articles I have written in the last few years. 2 Fast’s work for the Voice of America has not been analyzed in books about the history of the U.S. government broadcaster written by VOA-friendly scholars and former officials. His name does not appear in publicity materials produced by the management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded federal entity creating news and information programs in English and multiple foreign languages.
Although Howard Fast was identified in the early 1950s as a pro-Soviet Communist by the bipartisan U.S. congressional committee investigating the Soviet mass murder of thousands of Polish officers during World War II in the so-called Katyn Forest massacre, his former links with the Voice of America and the fact that VOA employed many pro-Soviet fellow travelers and Communists during World War II and in some cases for a few years after the war, became later part of one of the most successful VOA management’s cover-ups of its past scandals. It was the Madden Committee, named after the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), that exposed not only Fast but also several other Soviet sympathizers who used to work for VOA. 3
Even a better kept secret, part of a more effective cover-up, is the real story behind the first Voice of America director, John Houseman, who later became an Oscar-winning Hollywood actor. He was one of Fast’s chief patrons in the Office of War Information (OWI), and also hired many other fellow travelers and communists for early VOA jobs. 4 Houseman’s hires did not resign with him. Many were not forced out until after World War II. During the Truman Administration, VOA positions in services broadcasting to East Central Europe were filled eventually by refugee journalists from countries under communist rule. 5
No VOA official, past or current, has ever disclosed or admitted that the otherwise very pro-Soviet Roosevelt Administration, forced Houseman to resign from his VOA position because of his excessive pro-Soviet sympathies and the hiring of Communists at the Voice of America. Under Houseman, journalists from Poland who later served the communist regime in Warsaw, Mira Złotowska (later Michałowska) and Stefan Arski (aka Artur Salman), had worked on the foreign language desks in the Overseas Division of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) in New York. 6 Adolf Hoffmeister, a journalist from Czechoslovakia who was the chief of the VOA Czechoslovak Service, and other pro-Soviet, anti-Fascist refugees from Europe, also worked for OWI’s Overseas Division, where World War II Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts were produced from 1942 to 1945. The chief English news writer and news director for the entire Voice of America in 1943 was American-born Communist Howard Fast.
Złotowska, Arski, Hoffmeister, and others went back to Europe after the war to work for the communist regimes in their home countries.
Howard Fast, after leaving VOA in January 1944, was an activist in the Communist Party USA and a reporter and editor at the party’s newspaper The Daily Worker. He may have joined the Communist Party in 1943 when he was still working for the Voice of America. In his book, The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party, published in 1957, Fast wrote:
I joined the Communist Party in 1943, but I came to it first as a part of my generation, in the 1930s. 7Howard Fast, 1957
Howard Fast saw himself as a Communist and a supporter of the Soviet Union long before he started working for the Office of War Information in 1942.
In 1953, Fast was awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize, worth $25,000, about $260,000 in today’s (2021) dollars. Reports are not clear whether he got the entire sum or shared it with the other nine co-winners.
While being in charge of the Voice of America radio newsroom for most of 1943, Fast admitted later that his source of news about Russia was the Soviet Embassy in Washington. He also wrote in his book Being Red that he eliminated from Voice of America broadcasts news unfavorable to the Soviet Union, labeling all such information as anti-Soviet propaganda.
I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire. I had long ago, somewhat facetiously, suggested “Yankee Doodle” as our musical signal, and now that silly little jingle was a power cue, a note of hope everywhere on earth… 8
In answering the question on his U.S. federal government job application what kind of work he preferred, Howard Fast wrote, “writing propaganda.”
Whether Howard Fast was the first person who had suggested Yankee Doodle as VOA’s station identification tune, as he had claimed, could not be confirmed. According to one description on the official Voice of America website, VOA adopted its “Yankee Doodle” station identification tune when John Chancellor was the VOA Director between 1965 and 1967. VOA had used earlier “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” as its musical ID, but it may have also used Yankee Doodle. During World War II, OWI radio programs were broadcast under various names and had various station identification themes. Fast may or may not have proposed and used “Yankee Doodle” during his time with VOA. He was, however, undoubtedly in charge of writing and editing some of the Voice of America’s most important news programs during World War II, which he helped to fill with Soviet propaganda and disinformation. His and Voice of America’s other wartime programs could not have stopped the Red Army from imposing communism in East Central Europe. But under the first VOA director John Houseman, thanks to VOA news chief writer Howard Fast and other pro-Soviet fellow travelers, the Soviet dictator had a slightly easier time fooling the world with propaganda and disinformation. To some degree, VOA broadcasts helped Stalin establish control over East Central Europe and to enslave millions of new victims until the personnel and the content of VOA programs changed in the late 1940s-the early 1950s, during the Truman Administration. Despite a few later setbacks, since that point, the Voice of America was contributing to countering Soviet propaganda and communist censorship, although never as effectively as Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL).
DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Under general supervision of the Chief, Radio Program Bureau, CAP-15, requiring special study, knowledge of propaganda psychology and utilization of material not ordinarily used by the News Desks, and obtaining information from press services, radio services, propaganda reports, public libraries, information centers, and standard reference works, is responsible for an English daily fifteen minute medium wave news and feature show, three additional fifteen minute feature shows weekly, and feature shows for Outpost local transmission; is responsible for writing a daily special news and feature show which is recorded at OWI, sent to London and broadcast to the European continent by three British networks; writes three additional feature shows which are sent to London to be held in reserve and used in the event transmission between the United States and London breaks down; in compliance with requests from the Outpost Representatives, is responsible for writing feature shows which are recorded at OWI and sent to -the various Outposts for local transmission; supervises one Research Clerk; performs related tasks.
In his 1990 memoir Being Red, Fast admitted that while he had work at VOA, he had a brief romance with his assistant despite being married. He dismissively later wrote in his book about his former romantic partner as “my Bennington typist” who “didn’t improve her typing.” He also claimed that in effect he was able to direct the entire Voice of America news operation.
Elmer Davis [OWI director] had offered me additional staff, but that was not what I needed; the entire organization was in a sense my staff. I could have anything I wanted just by asking. 9
Fast wrote that VOA director John Houseman maintained an avuncular attitude toward him. Fast felt that his work was of great importance in the fight against Fascism.
Even today, forty-eight years later, my eyes fill with tears at that wonderful line: This is the Voice of America; this is the voice of mankind’s hope and salvation, the voice of my wonderful, beautiful country, which will put an end to fascism and remake the world. 10
The State Department, backed by the U.S. Military Intelligence, refused to give U.S. passports to both Howard Fast and John Houseman. They requested U.S. official passports for their planned government travel abroad on VOA business. The decision to deny them passports had the approval from President Roosevelt’s close friend and foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles. 11
Almost everything the U.S. State Department wrote about John Houseman in the secret memo sent by Sumner Welles to the White House was true. What was not true was the insinuation that Native Son (1940), a novel written by the African-American author Richard Wright, was subversive. Richard Wright broke with the Communist Party and published an anti-communist essay in the 1949 book The God that Failed. After announcing his intention to leave the Communist Party, Communists called Richard Wright “a traitor.” Two white Communists beat him up at a May Day march in Chicago in 1936. 12 Sumner Welles, who in a secret memo written in 1943 exposed Communists at the Voice of America to the Roosevelt White House, was a liberal Democrat.
As Fast continued to write VOA news, he had hoped that he would be transferred to North Africa, where new medium-wave radio transmitters were being constructed. Once they became operational, his job of writing radio news in New York would be eliminated. He received, however, bad news from the new VOA director, Louis G. Cowan, that the State Department had refused to give him a U.S. passport for travel abroad because it suspected him of having Communist Party connections. Earlier, John Houseman’s application for a U.S. passport was also rejected, which forced him to resign, but Cowan apparently did not want Fast to leave and offered him a job as a writer of propaganda pamphlets. According to Fast, Cowan also told him that the FBI had unmasked several card-carrying Communists on the Hungarian Desk, the German Desk, and the Spanish Desk. Fast was angry, declined the new job offer and resigned. He may have already formally joined the Communist Party and wanted to pursue his journalistic and literary career outside of the U.S. government.
Pro-Soviet propaganda continued in VOA broadcasts under Cowan’s directorship for the rest of the war. On January 21, 1944, Cowan wrote a glowing recommendation letter for Howard Fast, the future recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, in which he stressed that accepting his resignation was “pure compliance with your wish — not at all what we want.”
“…what a fine job you have done for this country, the OWI, and the Radio Bureau [the Voice of America] in particular….Please accept my own sincere thanks and with that, the gratitude of an organization and a cause well served. 13
Louis G. Cowan ended his letter to Howard Fast with a note that he was being grateful for his service at the Voice of America, not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of Office of War Information Director Elmer Davis, Overseas Bureau directors Robert E. Sherwood and Joseph Barnes, and former VOA Director John Houseman. Many people at the agency “have been inspired by your sincerity and your achievement,” Cowan added. Josef Stalin had to be also among those pleased with Howard Fast’s performance at the Voice of America.
The State Department forced John Houseman’s resignation in June 1943 from his full-time director’s position. After some part-time work for OWI, his final departure from the agency was in December 1943.
Officially, Houseman resigned voluntarily. But it was obvious that a senior U.S. government official who would not be able to travel abroad and was suspected of hiring Communists could not continue working in his position as the director of the Voice of America. The same was true for Howard Fast and his senior position in the VOA newsroom. He left his chief news writer’s job at the Voice of America in January 1944.
In his 1953 testimony before a congressional committee, Fast claimed memory lapses and took advantage of imprecise questions to avoid describing in any detail his job and his patrons and co-workers at the Voice of America. He had no problems recalling the same information in great detail for his Being Red memoir, published in 1990.
Gerarld Sorin’s biography of Fast, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane, leaves no doubt that Howard Fast played a key role in writing news for Voice of America broadcasters, many of whom were pro-Moscow Communists or at least Soviet sympathizers.
“Fast wrote concise, dramatic pieces for broadcast, which were read by actors transmitting via BBC into Nazi-dominated Europe. … Eighteen of the twenty-three actors available for narration were Communists. 14 Fast was not just ‘impressed’ by them, he said, but ‘overwhelmed’ by his associates ‘knowledge’ and ‘sensitivity’.” 15
According to Fast, there was no third way between Fascism and Communism. But even while he was still writing news for VOA, American labor unions stopped their collaboration with the Office of War Information over complaints that pro-Soviet Communists were in charge of VOA programs. The AFL-CIO, which refused to have anything to do with a Communist like Howard Fast, was hardly a Fascist organization. 16
Prison and blacklisting
Later, the pendulum swung from a near complete tolerance of Soviet interference to the paranoia during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for Communists, who were by then already largely gone from the U.S. government. Fast served a three-month prison term after being convicted in the 1950s on charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal names of members in a Soviet front organization.
Fast was a talented, best-selling author of dozens of books, including Spartacus, which was made into the 1960 Hollywood movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Oliver and Jean Simmons. At the time of the film’s release, its screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was still blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. Howard Fast was also blacklisted but was no longer a Communist Party member since 1956 or 1957. Trumbo was a Communist Party member from 1943 to 1948. He had left the Communist Party much earlier than Howard Fast. The blacklisting of former Communist Party members and suspected Soviet sympathizers in Hollywood came to its end soon after the release of Spartacus.
The Voice of America management today (2021) in a way still continues to blacklist its former chief news writer Howard Fast, although it is done for different reasons than the 1950s blacklisting of Hollywood writers. The Voice of America management refuses to admit that Howard Fast had worked for the organization in an important newswriting and news directing position. VOA also has never reported or disclosed that Fast was a protégé of VOA’s first director John Houseman and spread Soviet propaganda and disinformation in his radio broadcasts transmitted to Europe.
Fast’s undeniable claim to fame as a prolific and bestselling writer of more than 70 books has also been ignored by the VOA management. A November 2019 online “VOA Authors” presentation listed the then Voice of America director Amanda Bennett [she resigned in mid-2020] with the largest number of published books (six). Fast, but also Złotowska and Hoffmeister, all former Voice of America journalists, had published a far greater number of books, more than all the writers in the “VOA Authors” presentation put together. Howard Fast, with dozen of published books, some of them bestsellers translated into many foreign languages, was not mentioned in the 2019 “VOA Authors” online presentation.
As the wife of a communist ambassador, Michałowska, under her American pen name Mira Michal, published one book in English in the United States in addition to her magazine articles for American readers and several bestselling books published in Poland. Arski, another former VOA journalist, had his anti-American propaganda books published by the communist regime in Warsaw.
For different reasons than the blacklisting in Hollywood in the 1950s, the blacklisting at VOA of most of its former pro-Soviet fellow travelers continues. Meanwhile, other former Voice of America officials get from the VOA management and its public relations specialists a cult of personality treatment embarrassingly reminiscent of Soviet times. Such a persistent refusal to learn and acknowledge its own history of being deceived by Soviet propaganda makes the Voice of America particularly vulnerable to being again misled by Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin. He is now waging a far more sophisticated disinformation war against many democratic nations than what the Soviet Union was capable of doing during the Cold War.
Whatever Howard Fast as a private individual wrote or said, being a writer of novels and Hollywood screenplays, was well within his rights as an American citizen. But because of the abuses by the Office of War Information in attempting to spread Soviet propaganda at U.S. taxpayers’ expense through official Voice of America broadcasts, and also to propagandize directly to Americans, the U.S. Congress eliminated in 1943 almost the entire budget for domestic propaganda and reduced VOA’s budget. Congress later passed the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act to restrict distribution of VOA and State Department programs in the United States while providing funding and encouraging educational exchanges with foreign countries and U.S. public diplomacy abroad. Some of these restrictions were lifted in the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.
The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act also imposed much stricter security clearances for Voice of America staff to minimize the risk of hiring Soviet and other foreign agents of influence and sympathizers, but these clearances have also been weakened.
Michałowska – a translator of Fast’s books
Mira Michałowska, who had worked on VOA Polish broadcasts during World War II, continued her friendship with Fast after her return to communist-ruled Poland, while he was employed as a reporter and editor for the Communist Party USA newspaper, The Daily Worker. She translated into Polish Fast’s best-selling book Citizen Tom Paine and had it published in Poland in 1948 as Obywatel Tom Paine. The book had a second edition in 1952. Michałowska’s name as the translator of the book was listed as Jan Karen. She translated and published in Poland four more of Howard Fast’s novels and short stories under her translator’s pen name. 17
After World War II, Fast also became a bestselling American author in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule. He complained later that he had never received any royalties for his books translated into Russian. He felt that the Stalin Peace Prize given to him in 1953 was a just compensation for his books sold to hundreds of thousands of Soviet readers.
Stalin International Peace Prize
In his memoir Being Red, Fast expressed no remorse for receiving and keeping the Stalin International Peace Prize.
The International Committee, headed by [French poet and longtime Communist Party member] Louis Aragon, awarded me the Stalin International Peace Prize. This consisted of a beautiful leather-bound diploma case, a gold medal, and $25,000 [about $235,000 in 2019 dollars although it is hard to determine with some precision how much money Fast received and whether he received it in rubles or dollars], which revered our slide to poverty. …and considering the hundreds of thousands of my books printed in the Soviet Union, for which no royalties had ever been paid, the $25,000 aroused no guilts for undeserved gratuities. 18
Fast could not receive his Stalin Peace Prize in Moscow because the State Department again refused to provide him with a U.S. passport, this time for private travel, which was a violation of his rights as an American citizen. He collected the prize at a ceremony in New York City on April 22, 1954. At the time when the Soviet regime was still enslaving millions of people and helped to start the Korean War, Fast praised the Soviet Union in his 1954 Stalin Peace prize acceptance speech for defending world peace:
This prize, awarded to me and to many others by an international jury, originates in the Soviet Union. If I had no other cause for honoring the Soviet Union, I would honor it greatly and profoundly for giving prizes for peace.
Even after leaving the Communist Party, Howard Fast was largely unrepentant and insisted that while at VOA, he knew very little about Stalin and the Soviet Union.
“We were a party of the United States,” Fast wrote about the Communist Party USA, failing to mention that for decades the Party’s leadership was receiving money from Moscow.
In the 1990s, he still showed great pride in his key role as the first chief writer of VOA news, promoter of Russian propaganda via the Soviet Embassy in Washington and censor of “anti-Soviet and anti-Communist” information. It happened to be true information about Stalin’s genocidal crimes, such as the deaths of thousands of children deported with their parents to the Soviet Gulag. Other true news kept out of VOA broadcasts by John Houseman, Howard Fast and other fellow travelers were the brutal executions of thousands of prisoners of war in Soviet captivity. At the time, the Soviet Union was America’s most important military ally against Nazi Germany. But the censorship was pervasive and continued even during the first years of the Cold War until the Truman administration reformed Voice of America’s personnel and programming in the early 1950s.
In Being Red, Fast proudly declared that he had kept such information critical of the Soviet Union out of VOA broadcasts.
As for myself, during all my tenure there [VOA] I refused to go into anti-Soviet or anti-Communist propaganda. 19
Fast also condemned post-war U.S. government efforts to stop further Soviet aggression and to counter Soviet propaganda. These actions included the creation of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL). They broadcast uncensored news and commentary to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Fast wrote that Americans were also being targeted by the U.S. government.
…starting with the end of World War Two, the American establishment was engaged in a gigantic campaign of anti-Communist hatred and slander, pouring untold millions into this campaign and employing an army of writers and publicists in an effort to reach every brain in America. 20
The enslavement by Stalin’s Russia of millions of people at the end of World War II proved that concealing the truth in the battle for the truth, and lying about it, had led to disastrous results.
Unsurprisingly, Howard Fast’s VOA newscasts were not well received by refugees fleeing Communist repression. They included family members of Gulag prisoners lucky enough to be alive. Most Poles living during the war under German or Soviet occupation were able not to listen to VOA broadcasts. But those who had escaped to the West were able to pick up VOA programs on shortwave or medium wave frequencies.
While being in charge of Voice of America news programs, Howard Fast helped to spread Soviet propaganda lies to wives, children, and other family members of thousands of military officers and other Polish POWs secretly executed on the orders of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo in the 1940 Katyn Massacre. They included children whose fathers were executed in Katyn. The Office of War Information and the Voice of America censored information about their existence and used disinformation to save Stalin from criticism. 21
Anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Yugoslav partisans, supporters of liberal democracy in France and Italy, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and anybody else who understood the danger of Communism and Soviet totalitarianism would have been appalled by Fast’s promotion of Stalin in VOA broadcasts as a friend of democracy and a guarantor of peace and progress. Even after Howard Fast was gone from VOA, its programs continued to reflect Soviet propaganda for a few more years, although not to the same degree as during World War II.
In his post-White House years memoirs, published in 1965, former President Dwight Eisenhower briefly alluded to VOA’s wartime record of journalistic collusion with Russia. As a military leader during World War II, he must have been still upset to have mentioned it years later during the Cold War with the Soviet Union when VOA was already playing a useful although still less than fully effective role in countering Soviet propaganda. General Eisenhower had been actively engaged in earlier efforts to create Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty as more effective semi-private media outlets broadcasting to the Soviet Block, initially secretly managed by the CIA.
Former President Eisenhower’s critical comment about VOA’s role during World War II appeared in a footnote to a paragraph, in which he expressed his concerns with what he saw as Voice of America’s unethical journalism. He also described VOA’s partisan political advocacy in at least one foreign policy incident during his own administration.
During World War II the Office of War Information had, on two occasions in foreign broadcasts, opposed actions of President Roosevelt; it ridiculed the temporary arrangement with Admiral Darlan in North Africa and that with Marshal Badoglio in Italy. President Roosevelt took prompt action to stop such insubordination. 22
In his biography of Howard Fast, American historian Gerald Sorin provided an analysis of how easily Soviet propaganda corrupted writers and journalists living and working in the 20th century.
They failed to acknowledge the human inclination to abuse power, ignored horrific consequences, and often rationalized Soviet barbarities as historically necessary. One of the benefits of examining the life of Howard Fast is that it enables us to make yet one more exploration into the hoary question of how this could have happened. 23
Professor Sorin’s observations could just as well be applied to other early Voice of America journalists like Mira Złotowska or to those among VOA reporters today who present American Communist Angela Davis as a defender of human rights and write positively about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro without mentioning their responsibility for multiple murders of political opponents, including many innocent individuals. 24
Fast eventually left the Communist Party after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes, but he remained unapologetic about his promotion of Soviet “news” in VOA’s World War II broadcasts. His memoir Being Red, published in 1990, is a testimony to his journalistic naïveté, arrogance, and ability to manipulate readers into believing that to fight Fascism one had to become a Communist.
As a Voice of America and later Communist Party newspaper journalist, Howard Fast was also supremely naive. In a 1998 radio interview, he described how staff members of the communist Daily Worker cried when they read Khrushchev’s speech for the first time:
“And we heard this speech, and many of us wept. Because we did not know, and would not believe, the truth about the Soviet Union.
We had erected a Socialist state to our beliefs and to our dreams, and this for us was the Soviet Union.” 25
Whether Mira Michałowska, Fast’s friend, co-worker at the Voice of America and Polish translator of his books, ever joined the Communist Party in Poland is not clear. But she was the wife of a high-ranking communist diplomat, remained loyal to the regime in Warsaw and promoted its soft power propaganda abroad and at home for much longer than the duration of Howard Fast’s official membership in the Communist Party USA.
At the beginning of the second year of the Reagan administration, John Houseman was invited in February 1982 to speak at the VOA’s 40th anniversary observances in Washington, DC. The man who had been one of those in charge of wartime VOA broadcasts which perpetuated the most outlandish Soviet propaganda lies, including the main one about the Katyn Forest Massacre, told the audience of VOA journalists in the packed auditorium that “honest reporting had been the key to the Voice’s credibility” during World War II. 26
The man from Hollywood, who at one time had helped Stalin achieve his goals in Eastern Europe, gave advice on good journalism to the applause of VOA managers and reporters, very few of whom knew anything about his pro-Soviet propaganda in VOA’s first years. Some of those who did know about Houseman’s ideological legacy were among those opposed to changes being implemented at VOA by the Reagan administration and were not about to tell anyone the real story of his wartime years.
“We would have to report our reverses without weaseling,” Houseman stressed, speaking about VOA’s early promise to broadcast both good news and bad news. 27
Listening in the audience were VOA Polish Service and other East European broadcasters, some of whom had to leave their country as refugees when the communist regime took power at the end of World War II. The 1945 Yalta Agreement was a historic and personal reversal for many of them, as well as a few years later for VOA broadcasters from some of the communist-ruled countries in Asia, Africa and Cuba. The communist takeover most likely could not have been avoided in the case of Eastern Europe due to the Soviet military occupation, but it was made easier for Stalin and the local communists by the appeasement policy of the Roosevelt administration supported by even more pro-Soviet Voice of America radio broadcasts.
Houseman’s appearance at VOA’s 40th anniversary observances was the final propaganda triumph of the man who appeared not to feel any qualms. Through no effort of his own, but thanks to the help of a few of his admirers at VOA, Houseman became a symbol and a rallying point for the purity of Voice of America journalism. The truth is that at the outset of the Reagan administration, as well as now, no responsible American expert or government official has contemplated using strident propaganda at the Voice of America over good objective journalism, but partisans have always attempted to present such stark choices to elicit sympathy for themselves and support for their cause.
In 1982, the Voice of America gave John Houseman a “Special Founder’s Award” with the following wording, most likely suggested by his intellectual admirers:
“As one of the founders, you gave the young Voice of America the unique stamp of your creative energies. On VOA’s 40th Anniversary we salute your efforts.”
The unique stamp had the words “pro-Soviet” written all over it, but except for Houseman and perhaps one or two individuals in the audience, no one else had any idea how VOA under his command had done its work for Stalin during World War II. Most of VOA’s East European broadcasters and Ronald Reagan had a much better insight into what kind of journalism it would take to topple peacefully the Soviet Union than some of Houseman’s fans at VOA. Those few who knew about his pro-Soviet and pro-communist views while serving as the first VOA director seemed to have been less bothered by it than by Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, which filled them with horror. It was yet another propaganda triumph for John Houseman, the celebrated actor of many different roles.
During the same ceremony, Willis Conover received a special recognition award for his jazz programs, the Lao Service received a Meritorious Honor Award, and several other journalists and employees also received honor awards. A Superior Honor Award went to the Polish Service:
“For exceptional service, professionalism, and devotion to duty in the preparation of Voice of America broadcasts to the people of Poland.”
The Voice of America management did not invite Howard Fast for the 1982 40th anniversary ceremony, but by inviting John Houseman and allowing him to once again present a deceptive narrative about the organization’s early years, VOA journalists were deprived of the opportunity to learn from history. In February 2022, the Voice of America will observe the 80th anniversary of its founding. The current management will have a choice whether to honor those early VOA leaders who had helped Stalin take control over Eastern Europe, or to honor Cold War broadcasters who over many years had to undo the damage to the truth, freedom and democracy done by these “founding fathers.”
Ted Lipien was Voice of America acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was the service chief and foreign correspondent in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland. He also served briefly in 2020-2021 as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President.
- Associated Press (AP), “Reds Honor U.S. Author: Novelist Howard Fast Awarded $25,000 Stalin Peace Prize,” Reading Eagle, December 21, 1951, p. 20, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=3w8rAAAAIBAJ&sjid=c5sFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6121%2C3188247. ↩
- Ted Lipien,”How this Voice of America refugee journalist campaigned against communism,” Washington Examiner, August 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/how-this-voice-of-america-refugee-journalist-campaigned-against-communism. ↩
- The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee after the committee’s chairman Ray J. Madden (D-IN), said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” The Madden Committee also said in its final report in 1952: “This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.” A major change in VOA programs occurred, with much more reporting being done on the investigation into the Katyń massacre and other Soviet atrocities, but later some censorship returned. Radio Free Europe (RFE), also funded and indirectly managed by the U.S., never resorted to such censorship, and provided full coverage of all communist human rights abuses. See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport. ↩
- Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director Was a Pro-Soviet Communist Sympathizer, State Dept. Warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), May 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/. ↩
- Ted Lipien, “Truman’s ‘Campaign of Truth’ at Voice of America Part I: Countering Soviet Propaganda Abroad and at Home,” Voice of America – Hidden History (blog), https://www.voa80.com/2021/03/25/trumans-campaign-of-truth-at-voice-of-america-part-i-countering-soviet-propaganda-abroad-and-at-home/. ↩
- Ted Lipien, “Mira Złotowska – Michałowska — pro-Soviet Propagandist at OWI and VOA,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), December 10, 2019, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/mira-zlotowska-michalowska-pro-soviet-propagandist-at-owi-and-voa/. ↩
- Howard Fast, The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957), p. 7. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 18. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 18. ↩
- Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf. The Welles memorandum is also accessible at: State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16619284. Also see: Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 4, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/. ↩
- Richard Wright’s essay in Richard Crossman, ed., The God That Failed (New York: Bantam Books, 1959), 143-145. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 25. ↩
- Fast, Campenni interview, April 16, 1968; Fast on CBS Nightwatch, December 7, 1990. ↩
- Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012). ↩
- In 1943, American labor federations, the AFL and CIO, dominated by members of the Democratic Party, broke their collaboration with the Voice of America in producing programs about American labor because VOA broadcasters were communists and the mainstream American labor organizations were opposed to communism. The controversy became public and was described on the floor of the House of Representatives on November 4, 1943 by Rep. Richard B. Wigglesworth (R-Massachusetts) who was later U.S. Ambassador to Canada. “MR. WIGGLESWORTH. I call as witness in this connection the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. I refer specifically to an article appearing recently in the World-Telegram. The gentleman from New York [Mr FISH] put the article in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, and you will find it in the RECORD of Tuesday, October 12, 1943, I shall not reinsert it, but here is the original of that article. You will notice the headlines. The leading headline is ‘Unions label O. W. I. radio program communism.’ That article very briefly asserts that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations made a joint protest over 10 months ago to Elmer Davis to the effect that the O. W. I. overseas branch had been regularly broadcasting Communist propaganda in its daily short-wave radio programs. It states further that after months of futile negotiation the A. F. of L. and C. I. O. liquidated their labor short-wave bureau set up to collect nonfactual news to be turned over to O. W. I. as broadcast material.” ↩
- Katarzyna Batora, “MICHAŁOWSKA Mira,” SŁOWNIK TŁUMACZY, Nowa Panorama Literature Polskiej, http://nplp.pl/artykul/michalowska-mira/. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 318. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 23. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red, 27. ↩
- Ted Lipien, “How the Roosevelt Administration Shipped Polish Refugee Orphans to Mexico In Locked Trains and Lied About It to Protect Stalin: The Untold Story of Polish Refugee Children from Soviet Russia: ‘A Group Lost in History’,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), December 9, 2018, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/how-u.s.-shipped-polish-refugee-orphans-from-russia-to-mexico-in-locked-trains-and-lied-about-it-to-protect-stalin/ ↩
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279. ↩
- Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 19. ↩
- Ted Lipien, An ahistorical Voice of America Is dangerous for the nation, Washington Examiner, August 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/an-ahistorical-voice-of-america-is-dangerous-for-the-nation. ↩
- Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now, April 8, 1998, “Interview with Howard Fast,” https://www.trussel.com/hf/democnow.htm. ↩
- Alan L. Heil Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press Publishers, 2003), 208. ↩
- Heil, Voice of America: A History, 35. ↩