149 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Mr J. McEwen, Minister for External Affairs

Memorandum Was.89/40 (extract),


WASHINGTON, 16 April 1940

Under cover of a letter of 16th February, I have received from the High Commissioner in London a copy of a memorandum prepared by Dr.

Clunies Ross on the problem of establishing closer relations between United States of America and Australia. [1]

After examining the memorandum closely I find, as I had the honour to advise you in my telegram No. 44 [2], that, whilst I am in complete agreement with everything on pages 1 and 2, I do not agree with the general line of the proposals from page 3 onwards.

In my opinion, Dr. Clunies Ross is not right in comparing, and regarding as alike, the technique to be followed in the sale of a commodity on the one hand, and of social or political ideas on the other. I cannot help feeling that he has been influenced by his own experience in dealing with a commodity such as wool and has not given sufficient weight to the difficulties in dealing with a matter which Americans in particular are all too apt to place in the category of propaganda. It is one thing to set out to change a physical habit; it is quite different and much more difficult to set out to change an attitude of mind.

As I see the situation, we begin with the advantage of very good relations between Australia and the United States, although there certainly are misunderstandings as to the position Australia occupies in relation to Great Britain-and in other related connections. It is one of my aims to endeavour gradually to bring about a better understanding of the real situation on these matters-as part of my more general objective of getting Australia better known or more sympathetically understood in this country. I need not repeat to you the broad objectives that influenced the minds of the Commonwealth Government in deciding to set up this Legation-nor the fact that these objectives are constantly in my mind.

I am afraid that I do not agree with Dr. Clunies Ross' proposals for organization. I do not believe there is any room for such a 'Council for the Promotion of Better Understanding, etc.' Such a body would have to register as a Propagandist Agency and would at once be subject to derogatory publicity in Congress and in certain sections of the press.

The British Library of Information in New York, which has been in existence for over twenty years, is obliged so to register, but as it has been well and favourably known for a long time, it has not brought as much obloquy on itself as would be directed towards a new organization created for a specific purpose in war time.

Embassies, Legations and Consulates are exempted from the provisions of the Propaganda Act. So also is the Australian Government Trade Commissioner's office in New York.

To sum up, in the light of my appreciation of the American mind and as a result of all that has been told me by well-informed and well-disposed individuals here, I fear that there is a very grave danger that the organization suggested by Dr. Clunies Ross would have results and reactions directly the opposite of what we all wish to bring about.

There is at the moment a great suspicion here of 'Propaganda' in any form. The newspapers are full of expressions of such suspicion. Large number[s] of very able pressmen are 'on their toes' to dig out some new example of 'propaganda'. In the local phrase, I believe we would be gratuitously 'sticking our necks out' if we were to create an organization that would be obliged to register publicly as a propagandist entity-and to be 'written down' almost immediately as a body whose publicity is suspect. I believe that it is essential that there should be no direct association whatever between the Australian Government and sources of publicity-if we are to avoid the taint and the taunt of 'propaganda'.

And now-if I might make some constructive proposals.

The American people know very little about Australia. Except on the Pacific Coast they think very little about Australia. They are inherently well-disposed towards Australians as a people, and I believe would be receptive to more news and information on Australian matters.

I believe that any and all references to Australia in the American press are to the good. I want to get them used to seeing the name 'Australia' in their papers-and to foster the picture of a young and virile nation composed of people like themselves, developing a land the size of their own, and at the same time defending their freedom and independence against the forces of aggression.

It may be a slight exaggeration to say that the success of our endeavours will be measured by the increased references that we can get in the American daily and periodical press-but not much of an exaggeration.

It will be one of my objectives to endeavour to ensure that as many references to Australia as possible appear in the daily press. Since I have been in this country, there have been widespread press references to my appointment and to the new Legation, together with photographs and good reports of my speeches and movements. I have not had to seek such publicity-nor shall I do so. As soon as one 'goes out after it', so I am advised, it is liable to dry up.

No less than 1400 inches of single-column press references have already appeared in the principal newspapers of America, regarding myself, my appointment and the new Australian Legation. This is apart from Australian news cabled from Australia-i.e. it represents press references to Australia that would not have appeared had the Legation not been created. I may say that this press publicity has resulted in my being the target for a wide range of correspondents (American and Australian resident in America) since I have been here, mainly serious and worth-while communications on a variety of subjects, both seeking and giving information, and we have tried to reply as courteously and effectively as possible to this large daily mail.

So far as my personal speeches and press interviews are concerned, I have been able, so far, to steer a course between 'publicity' and 'propaganda'. I have spoken freely about Australia's war effort and the reasons that brought us into the war-whilst studiously avoiding any suggestion as to what the Americans should do about the war. I have taken the line that each country must work out for itself how the defeat of the Allies would affect its own welfare and future.


1 Document 78 and Enclosure.

2 See Document 78, note 2.

[AA: A981, USA 79, i]