(Hon. Mention) “Hope Springs Eternal?” Agenda and idealism in the symbolization of the S.S. Hope

To be in a situation where people might die, or live in misery, if you weren’t there, is meaningful…I thought the HOPE needed me. Now I think I need the HOPE.[1]

An unnamed volunteer aboard the international hospital ship S.S. Hope made the above quote to comment on the personal significance of his service work. Staffed by American volunteer doctors and nurses, the S.S. Hope sailed around the world during the Cold War era on its simple mission of treating disease and teaching public health to native peoples of “new” developing nations. But the American media and American people seized upon these simple and good project ideals and shaped Project HOPE into a ubiquitous and enduring symbol of national pride. Incorporating a conglomeration of agendas, the symbol became a great, big idea used, by various Americas, to meet high-stakes ends. Some of these ends reflected the best of American idealism, while others advanced the proprietary goals and enterprise of its sponsors. Thus, this volunteer’s words also capture how the public moved, from thinking Project HOPE and its “primitive” patients needed America, to America itself depending on the image of this “mercy ship.” Tracing the period stretching from the founding of the Project (c. 1958) through its initial voyages to (1960-1963, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Peru) shows the rise of Hope as a national symbol in the American media and how American’s perception of the project changed over time.

This process uncovers the actions of specific interest groups in the general American population which popularized Hope and then applied its symbolism to their own agendas. These groups projected their own meanings onto the ship and its missions: industries, such as the Ex-Cell-O Corporation, used highly-publicized giving to Hope to promote their image and win business in America and also overseas. American government actors and agencies, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to USAID, saw Hope as an ideological Cold War weapon to fight communism, place America on the international stage, and garner public approval. Women’s clubs and social elites found, in Hope, a pre-packaged cause they could incorporate into their regular activities like balls, teas, fashion shows, and parties. Case studies of these population subsets, which contributed to the story of Hope while serving their own agendas, describe the growth and change of a prominent cultural symbol, over time.

By the time Project HOPE retired the S.S. Hope in 1973, due to insurmountable operational costs, she had sailed some 250,000 miles to bring American medical professionals to underdeveloped countries to teach and practice Western medicine.[2] Over the 13 years that Hope operated, about 2,500 American doctors, nurses, and medical technicians had served aboard. These medical personnel trained 9,000 native physicians, dentists, and nurses; and they also treated 200,000 persons, which included conducting almost 19,000 major surgical operations, and taught public health and sanitation, in roving teams, to native people in the countryside.[3]

Painted a shining white with the word “HOPE” etched on its side in giant, black letters, the ship and her story had become ubiquitous in popular media.[4][5] Though this media often heralded Hope as “unique” and “unprecedented,” Hope’s work fit into an existent genre of American medical philanthropy abroad. [6][7] Hope rose to prominence during the organizations’ highly-publicized formative years because it fit a pattern in foreign aid. As Michael Barnett argues, after World War II, the language of paternalism was removed from global humanitarian ideologies and replaced with a discourse that proclaimed developed nations were obliged to “teach” poor ones.[8] In a climate where global humanitarian rhetoric justified any Western intervention, development non-governmental organizations swooped in, “offering themselves as saviors,” and flourished.[9] The non-profit format proliferated due to perceptions in American culture that private activity had a greater effect abroad than “coercive” and ineffective governmental efforts.[10][11] Thus, many NGOs, including HOPE, marketed themselves in opposition to government projects, hiding government involvement by overemphasizing a base of private donations.[12][13] Like NGOs before, HOPE seized on the language of “self-help” and “teaching” and “training” the underdeveloped as a self-sustaining method of development. The “self-help” teachings of Cold War development often pivoted on training native leaders to use venerated Western technology – and, especially, to practice Western medicine.[14] Thus, one of HOPE’s most lauded elements was its provision of “training in the latest techniques in [American] medicine to Indonesian [and other indigenous] doctors, nurses, and technicians.”[15]

In this environment, “the medical missionary” in Asia became a celebrated cultural type in America, popularized by the media-savvy public figures who founded these NGOs and Project HOPE followed this example.[16][17] In fact, this media pattern prefigured the imminent celebrity of Dr. William B. Walsh in the early 1960s. Dr. Gordon S. Seagrave, the “Burma Surgeon,” graphically presented his “dramatic adventures” and health work at a Burmese missionary hospital in a series of very popular novels.[18] Popular media fondly publicized the work of Norman Cousins, who raised funds to bring disfigured young women to America for treatment, and Dr. Thomas Dooley. Dooley, who ran a series of anti-communist refugee camps in Laos and beautifully dramatized the need for curative medicine in Asia, was hailed as “a kind of legend” for his humanitarian compassion.[19][20] Dooley founded MEDICO, an organization, similar to Project HOPE and active in the late 50s and early 60s, dedicated “to bringing direct, physician-to-patient medical aid” to areas with need, as well as teaching others modern medicine.[21] Thus, Project HOPE was also not the first organization to propose a people-to-people approach to international medical aid. HOPE was not a unique idea. On the eve of its founding, it fit several existing patterns of American medical philanthropy abroad.

But why did HOPE become “one of the most loved symbol[s] of American benevolence” where these other causes enjoyed mere popularity?[22] For one, Hope made an easy appeal to national pride in the general American public. The nation made Hope an icon for all the reasons it valued American philanthropy overseas: for exporting “American” values abroad, demonstrating our self-conceptualized generosity and special responsibility to the rest of the world, appeasing guilt about national policy, and furthering national interest.[23] Also, the great, white, and majestic S.S. Hope, bringing “a type of foreign aid understood instantly by everyone,” made an easy visual symbol.[24] Or, put in Walsh’s flowery language: “Illiterate people don’t have to read about it, they can see it, and many ride miles just to stand and look at the ship.”[25] Additionally, the timing was right. Hope emerged on the national stage during the immediate aftermath of the bestselling novel The Ugly American, an expose of the incompetence of anti-Communist foreign policy programs, attributed to insensitivity and ignorance towards local cultures.

Fundamentally, Hope was created to re-prove the basic humanity of American citizens in a time when this was very much doubted by international populations, an issue only acknowledged after being raised in the book. In fact, Walsh pitched the project to President Eisenhower in 1958 as an effective way to fix the unfavorable image of America held by foreign nations:

There are a lot of people who don’t understand Americans and a lot of people who don’t like Americans. In fact, there’s a book called The Ugly American. And, Mr. President, with great respect toward you, this is not going to be solved by heads of state.[26]

Walsh’s doctors showed underdeveloped peoples American generosity – “the idea of America” – by providing a kind of help indicative of “the depth of human emotional response.”[27][28] In this way, they also fought the ideological spread of Communism. The American public, mobilized into action by the book, strongly supported this goal. A plethora sources identified and promoted Walsh’s intention of using Hope to help “dispel the image of ‘The Ugly American.’”[29]

More concretely, Walsh explicitly incorporated the lessons of the novel in structuring the Project. The Ugly American praises practical solutions and intermediate technologies implemented on a personal level by culturally sensitive leaders. Hope presented a “modern,” Americanized medicine as this sort of simple, but venerable technology. To work towards cultural sensitivity, Walsh insisted that his volunteers (“Hopies”) learn local languages before the ship arrived at its destinations; the 1961 documentary Project Hope displays video of one such Indonesian language class for Hope’s doctors and nurses.[30] In the public eye, Walsh highlighted the project’s inclusion of roving medical teams operating inland – The Ugly American praised interventions in the countryside – for small scale, people-oriented medical assistance.[31] Thus, in the moment of the late 1950s, the emerging Project HOPE was poised to appeal to an American public looking to encapsulate its self-conceptualized “crazy personal generosity” and humanity in a symbol, which could be applied to further foreign policy and assert national pride.[32]

Yet, ultimately, the idea itself meant nothing without interest groups to lobby for and promote a constant dialogue about it in the media. In addition to in-kind contributions, government agencies gave legitimacy, endorsement, and significant financial backing to the Project; the Ex-Cell-O Corporation donated collection boxes in drugstores around the nation and a publically-broadcast documentary of the Hope ship’s inaugural mission.[33] Hope also flourished because of the thousands of “fraternal organizations, clubs, churches, and individuals” that seized upon this ready-made framework and maintained a dialogue in the media about Hope throughout the 1960s.[34]

Early government involvement in Project HOPE was tentative and opportunistic. But, after witnessing the success of HOPE’s first mission to Indonesia, government agencies began more enthusiastic endorsement of the project and ultimately applied HOPE’s symbology to their own ends. Actually, HOPE emerged from the existing governmental structure of Eisenhower’s People-to-People Program, though it soon departed as a voluntary non-profit. Created in 1956, the People-to-People Program encouraged ordinary “people to get together and to leap governments” to promote America abroad. Structurally, People-to-People united specific populations into “independent citizen’s committees” based on interests, which included a Committee on Medicine and the Health Profession.[35] Walsh became Co-chair of this Committee in 1958; from there, he launched HOPE, as he later insisted, out of a personal impetus to do good.[36] Thomas S. Gates, Secretary of the Navy, endorsed the idea and enthusiastically agreed to lend HOPE a navy ship from the mothballs. But the ship in mind, U.S.S. Consolation, needed a $1.2 million reconditioning before it could sail, and this funding had to be provided by the International Cooperation Administration.[37]

The ICA intensely consulted with the US Operations Mission in Jakarta and the acting Secretary of State, Christian Herter, about funding the project; in discussions and internal documentation, all parties expressed concerns that Hope was too symbolic and not practical enough in nature.[38] Calling Project HOPE an “an ‘amateurish’ approach” to a complicated problem of US foreign relations, they realized that the structure of the idea valued American participation and American public relations over medical effectiveness overseas.[39][40] Additionally, they were concerned about the practicality of the project relative to its cost, and therefore “adopted a wait-and-see attitude” to this funding question during the organization’s early formations.[41] So, Walsh  turned to elite corporations for the financial and material help needed to build up the organization, which he successfully received.[42] Only after significant lobbying by HOPE’s corporate elite board, who argued that any “excess cost” of the Project was justified by the propaganda power and “goodwill that would accrue from having a privately endowed US hospital ship” on this mission, did the ICA agree to fund the reconditioning.[43] They did so out of recognition of Hope’s symbolic power.

Thus, prior to the emergence of concrete evidence of the Project’s success and widespread awareness of Hope’s work (c. 1961), the public record of government documents concerning Hope shows tentative support, at best, for the idea. On February 10, 1959, President Eisenhower voiced his support for the project in calling it, “Wonderful!”[44] But he then went on to qualify that statement by adding that the Navy would not have the ship ready until “assurance” that the Project had significant backing from private interests was received.[45] An October 1960 telegram from the Department of State to the Mission at the United Nations shows notes from a friendly meeting between President Sukarno of Indonesia and President Kennedy in which, amongst other things, “the impending arrival in Indonesia of the Project Hope hospital ship” was discussed.[46] Yet Sukarno and Kennedy waited until April 1961 to release the “Kennedy-Sukarno Joint Statement Commending Project Hope,” which cited Hope’s “successful visit to Indonesia” as an illustration of the “spirit of cooperation” between the countries.[47] After its success was confirmed, Kennedy and Sukarno both applied the symbology of the good ship to speak to international collaboration.

In mid-1961, after Hope’s first voyage to Indonesia was deemed a success, enthusiasm for Hope erupted across the nation; at this time, government agencies jumped aboard this bandwagon and began overwhelmingly and persistently supporting Project HOPE in public record documents. In the Congressional Record, a series of Representatives and Senators began loudly praising Hope in speeches which included news-worth articles about the ship’s voyages and celebrations of their constituents’ participation in the Project. Hon. Abner W. Sibal (Connecticut) spoke to his pride at representing “a district that has furnished supplies and personnel to this work.”[48] Senator Dirksen (Illinois) recognized Stanley Hellman, D.D.S., Miss Charlotte M. Roller, and Dr. Max Hirshfelder for serving aboard.[49] Hon. John W. McCormack (Massachusetts) celebrated Mr. Henry E. Moobery’s activism on behalf of HOPE and read a resolution from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts commending the Hope ship. Hon. Pat McNamara (Michigan) celebrated several Michigan men who volunteered.[50]

Support for the mercy ship was ubiquitous and bipartisan. Conservative representatives praised Hope’s civilian leadership as superior to government involvement. Hon. Henry C. Shadeberg (Wisconsin) promoted Hope for having “so many advantages over Government-sponsored programs of a similar nature” in a speech to the House of Representatives.[51] In contrast, liberals like Hon. Dante Fascell favorably underscored how HOPE was “supported by our foreign aid program.”[52] Both sides praised the Project’s anti-Communist aims. When the only major critique of Hope in the contemporary media arose, significant congressional backlash resulted. In the article “ICA Aide Says Hospital Ship Hope Isn’t Worth Money Its Sponsors Ask,” published in mid-1961, an anonymous high-ranking ICA official aired earlier concerns that the project itself was not worth the high cost of government subsidies requested, and that the question of government funding concerned only the “propaganda value” of the ship.[53] Senator Hubert Humphrey (Minnesota) condemned this article and used that moment to promote a resolution, entitled “Commending Project Hope,” which he had submitted earlier in 1961.[54] “Commending Project Hope” easily passed on January 18th, 1962.[55]

The brief resolution applauded government for its supportive role in the popular cause. Humphrey’s language gave the history of government involvement a very positive gloss in saying that “Project Hope has received the enthusiastic support of Government.”[56] The report, from Senator J. William Fulbright, of the Committee on Foreign Relations that recommended its approval included commentary from the Department of State. State emphasized the “substantial assistance” that the US government had provided to the Project, in the form of both the Navy ship Consolation, the $2.7 million eventually given to recondition the ship, and an interest-free loan of $500,000. Once the Project achieved mass popularity, the government quickly forgot its earlier reservations.

For Congress, Hope was an easy cause, and supporting the mercy ship allowed congressmen to both praise their constituents active in the organization and cast government as eager to support private voluntary efforts at foreign aid.

The United States Agency for International Development, too, backed Project HOPE in the mid-1960s. Though Project HOPE initially promised of government independence, the organization looked to USAID for funding in the middle of the decade.[57] As part of a large-scale program created by a new Foreign Assistance Act for 1964, USAID provided “approximately $4 million to US voluntary agencies to ship an estimated $80 million of supplies and commodities to about 80 countries” that year.[58] Project HOPE was one of as one of 27 voluntary agencies in AID’s program of paying ocean freight costs for donated supplies, according to a 1964 USAID internal document.[59] In fact, HOPE requested $1.5 million for FY 1965 under this program, though the amount they were eventually granted is unclear.[60] Additionally, HOPE successfully received funding from USAID’s contingency fund at this time. Created by Section 451 of that Foreign Assistance Act, the fund could only be utilized “when the President determined such use to be important to national interest.”[61] This funding record indicates the US government’s high regard for Hope’s symbolic power.

Project HOPE’s receipt of USAID funding was well documented in the public record. Jacob A. Rubin’s 1964 popular contemporary history of foreign aid, Your Hundred Billion Dollars, The Complete Story of American Foreign Aid, detailed Project HOPE’s cooperation with USAID and participation in the overseas freight program. Rubin analyzed Hope not as a private, voluntary effort, but as “a symbol for all that US foreign aid programs stand for.”[62] USAID itself used HOPE as a textbook example for its partnerships with voluntary agencies in internal and external literature. In a more explicit example, the United States Information Agency bought the rights to Project Hope, a documentary of the ship’s work, from its producers, translated it into 23 languages, and began distributing it overseas as a propaganda example of the humanitarian possibility when private citizens received government support.[63]

From President Kennedy to Congress to USAID and USIA, different sectors of the US government applied the popular symbol to their own ends. Like with government, business and industry were very involved in building up HOPE during its formative years; once Hope achieved widespread popularity, industry, too began employing the symbol for their own enterprise. The Ex-Cell-O Corporation, in particular, epitomized this pattern.

As discussed above, Project HOPE’s board of directors consisted of elite corporate executives in a position to lobby government officials on behalf of HOPE.[64] Hailing from industries like pharmaceuticals, entertainment, international tourism, and defense, many members of Project HOPE’s inaugural board of May 20th, 1959 maintained “close ties to the government.”[65] Board Member C.D. Jackson, a former psychological warfare advisor to President, exemplified this network of public-private elite in serving as the Executive Vice President at the Time-Life Corporation during his Project HOPE tenure. Jackson and the other well-connected corporate elites manipulated public media to convince government agencies like the ICA to stand behind the cause. Jackson was personally responsible for running the article “Bold Peace Plan for US: A New ‘Great White Fleet,’” as the Life magazine cover for the July 27th, 1959 issue. That magazine introduced both Hope and the “Great White Fleet” proposal broadly to the public and began the drive for contributions, thereby sparking the Hope awareness campaign.[66][67] In addition to human support and government relations, industry gave serious financial backing and donated much-needed equipment to the venture. By September 1960, commerce and industry had contributed $727,480 in cash, plus millions in in-kind donations which included $1.5 million in pharmaceuticals; in contrast, direct mail solicitations from the American people amounted to $130,765 by that month.[68]

Why did industry contribute so significantly to the Hope effort by providing funds, in-kind donations and human support? Assisting patriotic efforts to “integrate the free world” by ensuring a prominent American presence in the global economy was a frequently-cited motivation.[69] More importantly, industry realized that supporting such a pervasive and widespread American philanthropy effort impressed industry’s goodwill on the American people. The big industrialists were themselves public figures, and the Project HOPE effort allowed them to showcase both their personal humanity and corporate power by serving as board members. Headlines like “Industrialists Lay Out Mercy Ship’s Course,” proclaimed the personal agency of the industrialists in founding the organization (from their Bel-Air mansions).[70] Finally, companies hoped that siding with Hope could lead to an expansion of their markets overseas when Hope volunteers introduced their products to foreign peoples.[71]

The dairy industry, in particular, rallied around Hope for this reason. Rex K. Smith of Foremost Dairies believed that “perhaps [his company] will get some customers” as a result of donating a machine to produce reconditioned milk from sea water.[72] Corn Products Co. of New York donated a year’s supply of “a new margarine line” to Hope as a publicity move to introduce the product to Americans at home and also to “expand foreign markets” abroad.[73] Large dairies like these provided about $140,000 in total. Hope’s most notable donor had dairy roots, too: the Ex-Cell-O Corporation of Detroit, whose “Pure-Pak” arm worked in the packaging of dairy products, contributed an additional $250,000. This funding provided for a milk-carton-packaging machine for the ship and thousands of milk cartons-cum-collection boxes for Project HOPE. Covered with pictures of Hope and “destitute” Asian women and children accompanied by the slogan “Help Launch Hope,” they were placed in drugstores across the nation. These collection boxes typified the random combination of corporate products and Hope’s philanthropic message.[74] Additionally, Ex-Cell-O funded the public documentary Project Hope, which detailed the ship’s Indonesia operation in 1961.[75]

CBS publically aired the 30-minute documentary on September 20, 1961 at 8:30pm.[76] In doing so, they bent their own rules, which had previously prohibited broadcasts of news made by outside parties: this documentary, though, was allowed because it did not touch upon any “controversy.”[77] The “documentary report” continued on to tell the story of Project HOPE’s founding, interspersed with sweeping footage of sickly and “pathetic” Asian orphans being cured by American doctors. Present, too, was nationalistic rhetoric about the Indonesians’ foundationless country and primitive culture resembling the frontier-era America – with the spirit of hard work present, if nothing existed to show for it yet. Such language called to core American patriotism at a time when the country seemed adrift, by suggesting that we could find ourselves again in replicating our own successful development experience abroad; the inclusion of this argument, a platform of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, in Project Hope exemplifies the intertwinement of government, industry, and humanitarian rhetoric in Hope.[78]

Ex-Cell-O’s backing of the Project was, of course, prominently featured in Project Hope. The documentary opened with sweeping music and a title slide proclaiming Ex-Cell-O’s involvement “in the interest of international friendship and world peace.”[79] Prior to its broadcast, Ralph C. Charbeneau, promised that the film would include a few “appropriate shots” of “people drinking milk out of [Ex-Cell-O] cartons” but that no “commercial angle” would be visible.[80] Actually, the cartons and Ex-Cell-O’s milk-packaging machine were given extensive screen time in a segment that focused on the “Iron Cow”, Hope’s seagoing dairy, and its milk-making operation.[81]

In fact, both Project Hope and other Ex-Cell-O promotional materials endorsed the entire dairy industry. The “Iron Cow” segment of Project Hope revealed contemporary beliefs in the healing and nourishing power of dairy, in saying milk would “speed the recovery of patients” and contribute to Hope nutrition programs in the countryside.[82] When Project Hope won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1962, Ex-Cell-O took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal. Entitled “Industry wins first Oscar,” the advertisement celebrated the win for the entire industry and proclaimed Ex-Cell-O’s pride at having contributed to the film “on behalf of the dairy industry” as part of their “common effort to promote international good will.”[83] Around that time, Ex-Cell-O released a special edition of their Pure-Pak News magazine, dedicated to Hope. After telling the story of Walsh’s organization, the magazine offered subscribers a copy of the film “for your dairy’s public relations program,” promising that screening the film would “earn new respect for your dairy and the dairy industry.”[84]

Unsurprisingly, Ex-Cell-O’s milked its endorsement of Project HOPE and production of the documentary to publicize its products in both the United States and abroad. But, that the company also marketed Project Hope as a packaged public-relations product for its dairy customers in both internal and external materials is more surprising. Ex-Cell-O’s significant support of Project HOPE, like that of the Project’s hundreds of other major business donors, functioned not as social enterprise or goodwill, but instead, a tactical move to further capitalistic gains.

While government and industry structured the initial marketing of Hope to the public, the staying power of the ship’s work in the public eye resulted from the work of media-pervasive fraternal organizations. State chapters of the Project HOPE, social elites, and women’s clubs promoted Hope by hosting events and advertising them in the media throughout the 1960s.

Women’s clubs were prolifically active in supporting Project HOPE. They found Hope a ready-made and mainstream cause, around which they could easily organize their balls, teas, fashion shows, and other regular activities. Women’s clubs launched campaigns for HOPE hinging on supply drives or small-scale fundraising through their normal activities; in 1963, for example, the Valley Chapter of Project Hope claimed “the mercy ship” as the cause of its annual fashion show.[85] Educational programming about Hope’s goals was sometimes incorporated into these events, but tended to be limited to mere screenings of Project Hope or promotional talks by members of the organization. For example, when Women’s Auxiliary to the Conn. State Medical Society met with Dr. Walsh for a luncheon, his talk was squeezed between a business meeting, and “a social hour and fashion show.”[86] Almost no events incorporated substantial dialogue about the ship’s role in US foreign relations. In fact, in a random selection of 20 articles describing such women’s club events, only one promised real, participatory “discussion” of Hope.[87][88]

In 1963, the Junior Division of the ubiquitous General Federation of Women’s Clubs set Project Hope as “the major project this year” for its affiliates.[89] That year, junior women’s clubs around the nation reminded Americans of Hope by making it the charity justification for a plethora of dances, fashion shows, skits, cherry blossom balls, film premieres, tea parties, and card parties. Speaking events in which Project doctors, such as Dr. Newell Johnson, or their wives, addressed the young women, occurred far less frequently.[90] Through drives, the women collected linens, toys, clothing, and hygiene kits. Hospital gowns and sleepwear, considered “unknown luxuries in many countries,” were especially popular collection items, perhaps because both bring forth paternalistic connotations of American clothing the “indigent.”[91] Such organizing was very much feminized: called “girl-planning,” planning fashion shows and drives was said to “prepare girls for the future.”[92] Though Project Hope benefitted from these actions of women’s clubs, it did so only as an easily available, ubiquitous and non-controversial charity, quickly applied to the clubs’ existent agenda. This same reasoning applies to many other civilian actors who promoted the good ship Hope.

Though these civilian groups mobilized for Hope out of self-interest, Cunningham incorrectly infers that their work also raised awareness of American foreign policy.[93] Through events and fundraising drives, like those of women’s clubs, average Americans brought Project HOPE into their schools, clubs, and churches. But, as shown above, substantial discussion of American foreign policy was rarely incorporated into their events. Debate was not encouraged because the publications that informed the American people of Hope were not designed to bring ordinary Americans “within the realm of international affairs.”[94] The public learned of Hope through simplistic, media-ready publicity material like Walsh’s own serialized accounts of the ship’s voyages, the 1961 Project Hope documentary, the Pure Pak news bulletin, government documents, and ubiquitous event blurbs about civilian groups supporting Hope. These sources all applied self-congratulatory and accessible language to tell Hope’s story “in warm, human terms.”[95] Their story was non-controversial, simple, and packaged as an emotional appeal: skilled American doctors, armed with the technology, take up a vague goodwill mission of healing sick children and teaching medical science. This glossed over the complicated nature of American foreign relations, especially in the countries Hope visited. Thus, Project HOPE earned the hearts of the American people but, in its simplicity, it also discouraged and prevented critical dialogue about American foreign aid.

In summary, Hope became the cause of the nation in the early 1960s through the entwinement of state and private channels by a variety of actors, including government and its agencies (Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, USAID, Congress), industry (especially the Ex-Cell-O Corp.) and fraternal organizations (women’s clubs). All these groups applied Hope’s symbology to their own agendas, and in the process, projected various meanings on the symbol: the popular, noncontroversial cause was used to justify parties, win votes, publicize commercial products in America, “open” foreign markets, fight communism, improve foreign nations’ opinions of the US, and help rally America around itself. The end result of these characters’ application of Hope as a symbol was that, on a national level, Americans grew to depend upon it to evoke feel-good patriotism and pride. The cause captured the nation, and in that process, the nation entwined itself in the cause.

More so than a tale of sinister, agenda-pushing actors that latched onto the Project seeking power or propaganda, the history of the S.S. Hope in the media tells of ordinary groups of citizens – which includes industry and government – who emotionally invested in a simple story engineered for mass appeal. They then invoked Hope by bringing this belief in symbol into their existing plans and schemes. Idealism, and the Project’s good intentions, grew tangled with agenda when the ship reached mass recognition and Americans began incorporating their own values into Hope. Ultimately, this is an inevitable result of the process of making the cause “viral.” The story of Project HOPE testifies to the muddling of humanitarianism with agenda in the process of making a national symbol. Essentially, this tangling was made possible by the simplicity of the initial emotionally attractive, idea. It forms a cautionary tale for development organizations seeking mass appeal today.

This essay was awarded a 2013 Acheson Prize Honorable Mention.

Teresa Logue (’15) is an American Studies & Global Health Studies major in Saybrook College.


[1] “Project Hope: 40 Years of American Medicine Abroad,” Online Exhibit, accessed 12/11/2012, <http://americanhistory.si.edu/hope>.

[2] Nicholas C Chriss, “HOPE: Ship Founders but Work Sails On,” Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar. 1975, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Frank P. Bibas, Director, Project Hope, 1961, <http://www.projecthope.org/news-blogs/stories/1961-academy-award-winning.html> (accessed 12 Dec. 2012).

[5] In addition to the thousands of news and magazine articles written about the ship’s voyages, including a Life cover, the Advertising Council of the Ford Foundation brought massive popularity to the Project by sponsoring a two-month-long nationwide fundraising drive to launch the project. A publically-broadcasted documentary of the ship’s initial voyage entitled Project Hope won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1962. Dr. William Walsh, Project HOPE’s founder, wrote his own accounts of the ship’s initial work in serialized books like A Ship Called Hope and Yanqui, come back!. This plethora of popular material ensured that Hope entered American culture.

[6] “Speed Up Unique Aid for Asia,” Chicago Defender, 26 Sep. 1959, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[7] Bibas, Project Hope.

[8] Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 31.

[9] Ibid, 132.

[10] Eleanor Roosevelt, “Hospital Ship Wins Friends for U.S.,” Boston Globe, 19 Aug. 1962, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[11] Zachary Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda: A Humanitarian Nongovernmental Organization Takes Part in America’s Total Cold War (Miami: Ohio University Press), 78, <http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=ohiou1198092879> (accessed 11 Dec. 2012).

[12] “Project HOPE Depends on Private Donations,” The Hartford Courant, 11 Sep. 1960, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[13] Zachary Cunningham argues that this civilian motivation and organization of aid efforts acted as a facade to “camouflage” government involvement abroad, through his elaborate theory of HOPE as representing a “state-private propaganda” network. See Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 75-77.

[14] Merle Curti, American Philanthropy Abroad (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1963), 589.

[15] “Indonesians Praise Hospital Ship,” The Washington Post, 2 Nov. 1960, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[16] Curti, American Philanthropy Abroad, 593.

[17] Ibid, 598.

[18] Ibid, 593.

[19] Ibid, 598.

[20] Jacob Rubin, Your Hundred Billion Dollars, The Complete Story of American Foreign Aid (Philadelphia: Chilton Company, 1964), 262, Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) Archive at USAID (accessed 11 Dec. 2012).

[21] Curti, American Philanthropy Abroad, 599.

[22] Marjorie Sherman, “Boston boosts Project Hope,” Boston Globe, 24 Jan. 1969, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[23] Curti, American Philanthropy Abroad, 623-625.

[24] Ted Ashby, “Help for Neighbors…Around the World: A Big Campaign Gets Underway to Find $100,000 for SS Hope,” Boston Globe, 3 May 1961, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[25] “Medical Ship Called Boon to U.S. Image”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 Nov. 1962, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[26] Jerry HuntsingerA Sampler of Old Letters, “Project Hope Major Donor Package Letter” (n.d.), <http://jerryhuntsinger.com/id99.html> (accessed 12 Dec. 2012).

[27] William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1958), 276.

[28] Roosevelt, “Hospital Ship Wins Friends for U.S.”

[29] Ian Menzies, “The Good Ship Hope… On the Job in Asia,” Boston Globe, 18 Jun. 1961, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[30] Bibas, Project Hope.

[31] Ibid.

[32] William B. Walsh, A Ship Called Hope (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1964), 15.

[33] Bibas, Project Hope.

[34] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 74.

[35] Ibid, 32.

[36] Several accounts, including at least 2 obituaries, claim that Walsh, a cardiologist, saw Eisenhower as a patient and assisted his recovery from heart troubles in 1955. Thus, they were already fairly familiar by the time that Walsh started HOPE. See Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 34.

[37] ICA, the International Cooperation Administration, was established by the State Department in 1955, to coordinate US foreign aid efforts, and abolished by act of Congress in 1961, when all its functions were transferred to USAID.

[38] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 42.

[39] Ibid, 46.

[40] Specifically, they cited the lack of permanency in the ship stopping at different ports every few weeks, the insensitivity of the plan in choosing major port cities over remote areas with larger need, instability resulting from doctors under constant rotation and unable to follow through with patients as causes of concern. See Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 45-50.

[41] Ibid, 60.

[42] Ibid, 28.

[43] Ibid, 64.

[44] “Floating Medical Center gets Eisenhower Backing”, The Sun, 11 Feb. 1959, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[45] Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the President’s Press Conference, February 10, 1959, Public

Papers of the President Website, American Presidency Project, University of California-Santa Barbara (accessed 12 Dec. 2012).

[46] Document 217, “Telegram from the Department of State to the Mission at the United Nations,” U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: United Nations and General International Matters, Vol. II, 1960 (Washington, DC: GPO), 401.

[47] John F. Kennedy,”Joint Statement Following Discussions With President Sukarno of Indonesia,” 25 Apr. 1961, The American Presidency Project, <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8085> (accessed 12 Dec. 2012).

[48] Rep. Abner W. Sibal (CT), “Extension of Remarks: Project Hope,” Congressional Record 87 (6 Feb. 1962), p. A884.

[49] Sen. Everett Dirksen (IL), “Mission of SS ‘Hope,’” Congressional Record 87 (12 July 1961), p. 12318.

[50] Sen. Pat McNamara (MI), “Extension of Remarks: Medical Education Mission to the East Indies,” Congressional Record 87 (9 Feb. 1961), p. A815.

[51] Rep. Henry C. Shadeberg (WI), “Extension of Remarks: Project Hope,” Congressional Record 87 (20 Sept. 1961), p. A7535.

[52] Rep. Dante B. Fascell (FL), “A Tribute to Project Hope’s Bill Walsh,” Congressional Record 90 (10 Jun. 1968), p. 16796.

[53] John Cooper, “ICA Aide Says Hospital Ship Hope Isn’t Worth Money Its Sponsors Ask,” Washington Post, 8 Sep. 1961, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[54] Of note is the rhetoric Humphrey recycled in the dialogue surrounding the resolution: he repeated a call for not only support of Hope, but the creation of a “Great White Fleet,” of hospital ships “ready and available for emergency assistance in any part of the world” to replicate the Project Hope model but fall under government operation. See ibid.

[55] Sen. Hubert Humphrey (MN), “Commendation of Project Hope,” Congressional Record 87 (18 Jan. 1962), p. 214.

[56] Sen. J. William Fulbright (AK), Committee on Foreign Relations, Commending Project Hope (to accompany S. 8), (S. Rpt. 138). Washington: Government Printing Office, Mar. 1961.

[57] “Project HOPE Depends on Private Donations.”

[58] Philip R. Lee, “International Health Programs: The Role of the United States Government” (Oct. 1964), 49, Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) Archive at USAID (accessed 11 Dec. 2012).

[59] US Agency for International Development and US Department of Defense, “Proposed Mutual Defense and Assistance Programs – FY 1964” (Apr 1963), 54, Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) Archive at USAID (accessed 11 Dec. 2012).

[60] Philip R. Lee, “Health and Sanitation Projects Supported by The Agency for International Development in Fiscal Year 1965” (July 1964), 8, Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) Archive at USAID (accessed 11 Dec. 2012).

[61] Ibid, Appendix 3.

[62] Jacob Rubin, Your Hundred Billion Dollars, 262.

[63] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 99.

[64] Ibid53.

[65] Ibid, 54.

[66] Ibid, 56-60.

[67] Ibid, 72.

[68] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 50.

[69] Ibid53.

[70] “Industrialists Lay Out Mercy Ship’s Course,” Los Angeles Times, 2 Sep. 1959, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[71] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 51.

[72] “Hospital Ship to Carry Medical Training, Business Promotions to Southeast Asia,” Wall Street Journal, 21 Sep. 1960, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[73] Ibid.

[74] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 72.

[75] In another fascinating story of the conglomeration of interests that worked together to publicize Hope, the idea for this documentary was suggested by Congar Reynolds at the United Stations Information Agency, who met with Ex-Cell-O’s public relations director, Ralph Charbeneau, in early 1959 with “friends” at ICA. US government agencies were not only responsible for introducing Project HOPE to Ex-Cell-O, but also pitching Hope’s most critical propaganda piece to them. See ibid, 87.

[76] Ibid, 91.

[77] Richard Shepard, “TV ‘Project Hope’ Skirts CBS Rule,” New York Times, 12 Aug. 1961, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[78] Bibas, Project Hope.

[79] Bibas, Project Hope.

[80] “Hospital Ship to Carry Medical Training, Business Promotions to Southeast Asia.”

[81] Bibas, Project Hope. Interestingly, at this point, the documentary notes that the milk containers “were labeled in both Indonesian and English, so everyone will know what they are drinking and that it comes from the S.S. Hope.” This detail is perhaps another allusion to the lessons of the Ugly American. One of the book’s parables tells of a Russian Communist who stencils his country’s name, in the native language, on a bag of American rice.

[82] Ex-Cell-O Corporation, Pure-Pak News: Special Pictorial Issue on Project Hope (n.d.), 10.

[83] “Display Ad 21 – No Title,” Wall Street Journal, 14 May 1962, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[84] Pure-Pak News: Pictorial Special Issue, 15.

[85] “VALLEY Women: Style Show to Aid Project Hope,” Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 1963, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[86] “Dr. Walsh  of Project Hope Addresses Medical Auxiliary,” Hartford Courant, 29 Apr. 1964, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[87] “First Church Women Discuss Project Hope,” Hartford Courant, 18 Oct. 1965, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[88] This “random selection” was carried out on ProQuest’s Historical Newspapers Database, on 10 Dec. 2012 using “Project Hope” and “women”, amongst other terms, as keywords.

[89] “L.I. Fete Planned for Project Hope,” New York Times, 12 May 1963, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[90] “Old Colony Dance Aids Project,” Boston Globe, 24 Feb. 1963, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[91] “Project HOPE: Scouts Celebrate Birthday,” The Sun, 19 Mar. 1969, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

[92] Ibid.

[93] More specifically, Cunningham interprets the high degree of civilian participation in Project HOPE as an indicator of the efficacy of Hope as domestic propaganda program, with a side effect of ordinary citizens gaining an awareness of American action abroad; I disagree.

[94] Cunningham, Project HOPE as Propaganda, 100 and 147.

[95] “Display Ad 29 – No Title,” The Washington Post, 5 Nov. 1964, <http://www.proquest.com> (accessed 10 Dec. 2012).

 

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