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The Atlantic Charter, Propaganda, and the True Aims of the Post-War Period

The “Grand Area” was a concept created by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) and the U.S. State Department in the early 1940s. During WWII, it was assumed that the U.S. would emerge from the war as the world’s dominant power. One of the primary war aims was to organize a “Grand Area” to serve the needs of the American economy.

But there was a small problem: the American people had to be inspired and mobilized to enter the war and win it.

The leaders of this country recommended that this problem was easily solved with the use of sophisticated propaganda. The CFR’s War and Peace Studies groups pointed out in July 1941 that “formulation of a statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from formulation of one defining the true national interest.” [1]

In April 1941, the CFR suggested to the government that a statement of American war aims should be prepared as such:

If war aims are stated which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people in the rest of the world, and will be vulnerable to Nazi counterpromises. Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other peoples should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect. [2]

So what did the American government write? In August of 1941, the Roosevelt administration released the famous Atlantic Charter. This charter defined the goals of the post-war period. It was the public war aims statement of the United States, and its reason for being was propaganda. The generalized aims it advocated were those which people everywhere would agree were laudable: freedom, equality, prosperity, and peace.

However, the internal record shows a very different vision of the post-war period. On December 15, 1941, Isaiah Bowman, CFR vice-president from 1945-1949, wrote to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, vice-chairman of the CFR War and Peace Studies, that the Council and the American government now had to

think of world-organization in a fresh way. To the degree that the United States is the arsenal of the Democracies it will be the final arsenal at the moment of victory. It cannot throw the contents of that arsenal away. It must accept world responsibility. . . . The measure of our victory will be the measure of our domination after victory. [3]

The next month, in January 16, 1942, Bowman further asserted that at minimum, an enlarged conception of American security interests would be necessary after the war in order to deal with areas “strategically necessary for world control”. [4]

Any questions?

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For an in depth look at the internal records of post-WWII planning by the U.S. State Department and the CFR, please read Imperial Brain Trust – The Council on Foreign Relations & United States Foreign Policy.

  1. Memorandom E-A18, July 19, 1941, CFR, Studies of American Interests in the War and the Peace, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut
  2. Memorandom E-B32, April 17, 1941, CFR, Studies of American Interests in the War and the Peace, Northwestern University Library, Evanston, Illinois
  3. Bowman to Armstrong, December 15, 1941, Bowman Papers, Armstrong File, John Hopkins University Library, Baltimore, Maryland
  4. Memorandom T-A21, January 16, 1942, CFR, Studies of American Interests in the War and the Peace, Baldwin Papers, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut

President Roosevelt had hoped that the Charter might encourage the American people to back U.S. intervention in World War II on behalf of the Allies; however, public opinion remained adamantly opposed to such a policy until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

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