Works produced by artists who considered themselves thoroughly non- political became weapons in the cultural Cold War. The CIA promoted the so-called New York school of painters, led by Jackson Pollock. For Pollock, the essence of art lay in the process of creation, not the final product. His “action” paintings, made by spontaneously dripping and pouring paint over large canvases, produced works of vivid color and energy but without any recognizable subject matter. Many members of Congress much pre- ferred Norman Rockwell’s readily understandable illustrations of small- town life to Pollock’s “abstract expressionism.” Some called Pollock’s works un-American and wondered aloud if they were part of a communist plot. But the CIA funded the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which cham- pioned the New York school, and helped arrange for exhibitions overseas. It hoped to persuade Europeans not only that these paintings demonstrat- ed that the United States represented artistic leadership as well as military power, but that such art embodied the free, individual expression denied to artists in communist countries. Pollock’s paintings, John Cage’s musical compositions, which incorporated chance sounds rather than a fixed score, and the “graceful freedom” of George Balanchine’s choreography were all described as artistic reflections of the essence of American life. 9 6 2 Ch. 23 The United States and the Cold War, 1945–1953 T H E C O L D W A R A N D T H E I D E A O F F R E E D O M A poster for The Red Menace, one of numerous anticommunist films produced by Hollywood during the 1950s.
F R E E D O M A N D T O T A L I T A R I A N I S M Along with freedom, the Cold War’s other great mobilizing concept was “totalitarianism.” The term originated in Europe between the world wars to describe fascist Italy and Nazi Germany—aggressive, ideologically driven states that sought to subdue all of civil society, including churches, unions, and other voluntary associations, to their control. Such states, according to the theory of totalitarianism, left no room for individual rights or alterna- tive values and therefore could never change from within. By 1950, the year the McCarran Internal Security Act barred “totalitarians” from entering the United States, the term had become a shorthand way of describing those on the other side in the Cold War. As the eventual collapse of communist gov- ernments in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union would demonstrate, the idea of totalitarianism greatly exaggerated the totality of government con- trol of private life and thought in these countries. But its widespread use reinforced the view that the greatest danger to freedom lay in an overly powerful government. Just as the conflict over slavery redefined American freedom in the nine- teenth century and the confrontation with the Nazis shaped understand- ings of freedom during World War II, the Cold War reshaped them once again. Russia had already conquered America, the poet Archibald MacLeish
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