More East than West: The World Council of Churches at the Dawn of the Cold War

Before there was hybrid warfare or its more innocuously styled component information warfare, there were Soviet Active Measures (Aктивные мероприятия). Conceived in 1948 and fully implemented by the 1970s, Active Measures were a palate of techniques designed to both deceive the West and to turn Western public opinion toward whatever the Soviet policy of the moment might be. “More East than West” presents a brief introduction to the Active Measures program which is followed by a single case study, that of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The image of the World Council of Churches as a Cold War pawn of the Soviet Union has become set in the American popular consciousness. It was not always so. At its birth in 1948, the WCC was seen as a promising ecumenical experiment that might serve to better unite the Christian churches of the world. Its birth, however, coincided precisely with the emergence of the Cold War and the organization was soon dragged kicking and screaming into the conflict. The Americans in the era of President Harry S. Truman saw in the group a potential ally for the Roman Catholic Church in erecting a spiritual barricade against the encroachment of atheistic communism. After 1961, the Soviets saw the group as a useful conduit for propaganda messages as designed by the Active Measures program that designed and disseminated Soviet propaganda throughout the Cold War. In the end, Soviet influence came to dominate the group’s political positions, but it never became an actual front group and successive American Presidents carried on a range of relationships with the WCC. This article offers a history of the early years of the Cold War struggle over the soul of the WCC.

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