#AceHistory2Research – UNITED STATED – April 14 – On a grey day between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and Christmas 1941, while a research assistant at the Harvard Law School, I was walking across Harvard Yard and was stopped by Professor William Langer, a professor of German History, who asked me: “Walter, you know German, don’t you”? I answered in the affirmative. “We need people like you”, he continued. “Would you like to work for the US Government”? I answered in the affirmative again. “OK, you will hear from us”, he said, and we both went on our way.
Early in the New Year 1942, I received a letter from the Coordinator of Information (COI) inviting me to come to Washington. Meanwhile, I heard that Professor Langer had signed up with U. S. intelligence. So I assumed that my interview in Washington would relate to a possible job in intelligence.
I remember taking the overnight train from Boston to Washington and seeing a number of people there but was told at the end of the day that a possible job would be in New York. The man I was supposed to see there was Edd Johnson. An appointment was arranged for the following day at 270 Madison Avenue.
It had become clear to me that the agency I was dealing with (COI) had both intelligence and information functions with the former apparently concentrated in Washington, while the latter were directed from New York.
Edd Johnson, who headed the Research and Analysis section, came across as a stern, no nonsense man who got to the point immediately stating that the COI was in the process of preparing broadcasts in German, and that it was essential for the writers to know the propaganda climate to which they would be broadcasting. Could I reconstruct the weekly internal propaganda directive of the German Ministry of Propaganda, he asked. I answered that I probably could, provided I had the necessary material, i.e. the most recent German newspapers and transcripts of German internal radio broadcasts. I recalled that while still living in Europe, I used to listen to a weekly broadcast by Hans Fritzsche (one of Dr. Goebbels’ senior assistants) who seemed to read the weekly propaganda directive directly to the German people every Friday evening. I wondered whether Fritzsche was still on the air. Johnson said that he would try to assemble the necessary material by asking the American Legation in Bern, Switzerland, to provide it. He told me that he would be in touch with me when the newspapers and radio transcripts arrived.
I returned to my job at Harvard. Within a couple of weeks, I was asked to come back to New York. All the material was there, including the weekly newspaper Das Reich that, in its editorial, practically duplicated the weekly broadcasts of Hans Fritzsche. In the next few hours, I tried to reconstruct, on the basis of the material received, the latest weekly directive that Goebbels and company had written, which was designed to keep the morale of the German people at its highest possible level.
Edd Johnson read it and asked me to come with him to see James Warburg, who he said, was in charge of policy. At the end of the meeting, I was told that they would let me know in a few days whether I would be offered a job.
The Dean of the Harvard Law School knew of my visits to Washington and New York. When the offer from the COI came, I suggested that I spend a day or two a week in New York and move there after the Harvard semester was over. Harvard found this arrangement acceptable, as did COI, which, in any event, needed some additional time to clear me for a civil service position, in that I was still an alien at that time.
Once on the job, I realized that foreign information work was a new activity for the United States Government. I also became aware that the vital wherewithal was lacking – the U. S. Government did not own a single short wave transmitter.
Read More of: Dr. Walter R. Roberts started his government career with the Voice of America. He retired from the government after serving as Associate Director of the U.S. Information Agency. President George H. W. Bush appointed and President Bill Clinton reappointed him as member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He is the author of Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945 and numerous articles on foreign policy. http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2009/1012/fsl/roberts_voice.html