Howard P. Becker

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Howard Becker was professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin and an OSS black propaganda operative, not to be confused with the more well known Howard S. Becker who is also a professor of Sociology.

During the 1939-45 war he worked for OSS in Black Propaganda.

OSS role

Sefton Delmer's approach to 'Black radio' was 'that its purpose was 'to corode and erode with a steady drip of subversive news' the confidence of the German population in its leaders. But sometimes OSS's approach to Black radio broadcasts against Germany was more sensational. for on one occasion at least OSS seemed bent on trying, in one fell swoop, to alter the course of the war. This occurred in September 1944 when Howard Becker, a professor of sociology who was running OSS's Black propaganda, urgently requested the use of 'Aspidistra' for a one shot broadcast. This was agreed and what followed was what Delmer described as being one of the most fantastic broaddcasts of the war - a speech by one of the generals involved in the putch against Hitler who had died by hs own hand when it failed.[1]

Here is Delmer's account of that incident:

My American colleagues however had a different approach when they started up `black' on their own towards the end of the war. Not for them the concerted system of `black' campaigns which we had adopted. They were more ambitious-and perhaps also more sanguine than I ever was concerning the credulity of the German public. They launched several `black' operations which were intended to stand on their own just as the `Man who never was' had stood on his own.
Two American operations in particular remain in my memory as typical of these American propaganda coups. Howard Becker, a tall, slow-spoken, Garry Cooperish professor of Sociology who was running `black' for O.S.S., was responsible for the first. Becker called on me one day at MB together with a writer of film scripts named Polonski and asked me whether I would let him borrow `Aspidistra' for a one-shot broadcast which he and Polonski had worked out.
" Just one shot!" wheedled Howard Becker, "we're not trying to steal her from you, Tom ... !" Needless to say I immediately agreed. It would have been churlish to refuse, specially in view of all the help Howard, and O.S.S. as a whole, had been giving me with intelligence, recordings of hit music, personnel, and so much else.
As a result `Aspidistra' unhooked herself from the Soldatensender for a couple of hours one evening in September Igqq. to put out over a temporarily vacant German frequency what must have been one of the most fantastic broadcasts of the war. Nothing less than a speech by a man whom Hitler, the German army, the German public, and all the rest of the world presumed to be dead-killed by his own hand and with his own pistol on the night of July the 2oth, 1944 when his Putsch against Hitler had collapsed. -
" I am Colonel-General Ludwig Beck," intoned a deep resonant voice, coming seemingly from the bottom of the ocean. "I am not dead as has been lyingly and all too prematurely reported by the spokesmen of our traitor rulers. When on the night of July the 2oth I was compelled to go through the act of shooting myself, I did not die-I was only wounded. Friends carried me away, pretending I was a corpse. They took me to a secret place where I was nursed back to health. I would have remained in hiding there until the end of the war. But the plight of my fatherland compels me to come forward and speak." There followed an appeal to the army to rise against Hitler in order to save Germany from total destruction, and remove, by this gesture, the heavy burden of guilt resting collectively on the German people for its complicity in the Fuhrer's crimes.
It was a beautifully written piece and beautifully spoken. Though I had never heard Beck when he was alive, I was quite prepared to believe that this was a more than fair imitation of his voice. None the less I tried to propose some alterations in the script before the recording was put out.
" Why don't you change it just a little," I suggested to Howard, "so that we could claim that this is the speech that Beck had wanted to put out if the Putsch had been successful. He had secretly prepared this recording. It was to be broadcast from the Deutschlandsender. Somehow the Nazis and the Gestapo never found it. Now we have got hold of it. We could put it out over the Soldatensender, if you like."
But Howard and Polonski understandably did not like. They wanted to bring Beck back to life as a symbol of defiance and resistance. They wanted to stage a spectacular propaganda coup.[2]


Further Reading

Christopher Simpson, 1994 "Worldview Warfare" and World War II Excerpt from The Science of Coercion Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960, by Christopher Simpson, pp. 22-30. (Oxford University Press, 1994)


  1. ^ Ian Dear, Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War, July 1999 London: Cassell military.
  2. ^ Sefton Delmer Black Boomerang 1962 New York: The Viking Press Inc., Chapter 20