Where the Rubber Meets the Road: PD As It Is Practiced Abroad

The Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy, had a long and distinguished international career from ambulance driver for the American Field Service during World War II (WWII) to diplomat through much of the Cold War era, but he was best known as one of the world’s leading numismatists.

He knew that he was outgunned in the struggle for “hearts and minds” on the island of Ceylon. The U.S. Embassy, without an AID Mission and with fewer than 40 American staff members was overshadowed by the large Soviet Embassy and the even larger Chinese Embassy. The Chinese fielded more than 500 “experts,” who fanned out across the island bringing a modest amount of aid and a large supply of Mao’s “little red book” to the rural population.

It was in this context that a small staff of public diplomacy officers and their locally employed staff set about to show the people of Sri Lanka that the U.S. cared about them. A year before the 1976 Bicentennial Year, the PAO determined to use this anniversary not just to celebrate 200 years of American independence but to demonstrate American interest in and commitment to Sri Lanka. The concept he chose was “An American Bicentennial Salute to Sri Lanka” with a distinctive logo, which would appear on every U.S. Information Service product from daily news releases and cultural programs to a full scale book and two 35 mm. theatrical release films.

As the PAO explained it to me, his newly arrived Press Attaché, no new money would be coming from Washington for programs in Sri Lanka, but if we could link all of the many things we do in cultural, educational, and informational programs under a common theme and logo, the impact of these programs would be maximized.

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