John Clinton Hunt was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1925. He attended Lawrenceville School in New Jersey before leaving to join the Marine Corps in 1943. He reached the rank of Second Lieutenant before leaving the armed services in 1946.
Hunt entered Harvard University on a scholarship and became editor of the Student Progressive , the publication of the Harvard Liberal Union. After graduating in 1948 he moved to Paris with his new wife. Hunt returned to the United States to teach classics at the University of Iowa. During this period he met Robie Macauley.
In 1951 Hunt joined the faculty of the Thomas Jefferson School in St Louis where he stayed until June 1955, when he had his first novel, Generations of Men, published. Ir was around this time that Cord Meyer recruited Hunt to work for the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Hunt was sent to Paris to help Michael Josselson, who had just suffered his first heart attack.
The first meeting of the Congress for Cultural Freedom took place in Frankfurt on 25th June, 1950. People who attended included Arthur Koestler, Arthur Schlesinger, James Burnham, Sidney Hook, Franz Borkenau, George Schuyler, Melvin Lasky, Hugh Trevor-Roper, James T. Farrell, Tennessee Williams, Ignazio Silone, David Lilienthal, Sol Levitas, Carson McCullers and Max Yergan.
Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999), pointed out: "Some delegates speculated who was footing the bill. The grand scale on which the Congress was launched at a time when Europe was broke seemed to confirm the rumour that this was not quite the spontaneous, independent event its organizers claimed. Hugh Trevor-Roper commented: "When I arrived I found the whole thing was orchestrated on so grandiose a scale... that I realized that... financially it must have been funded by some powerful government organization. So I took it for granted from the beginning that it was organized by the American government in one form or another. That seemed to be obvious from the start."
As Jason Epstein pointed out the objective of the group was to counter communism: "The Stalinists were still a very powerful gang... There was a good reason, therefore, to question the Stalinists right to culture." The conference was considered to be a success and an international committee was named, and included André Malraux, Bertrand Russell, Igor Straveinsky, Ignazio Silone, Benedetto Croce, T. S. Eliot and Karl Jaspers.
It has been argued by Frances Stonor Saunders that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was funded by the CIA as they wanted to promote what they called the Non-Communist Left (NCL). Arthur Schlesinger later recalled that the NCL was supported by leading establishment figures such as Chip Bohlen, Isaiah Berlin, Averell Harriman and George Kennan: "We all felt that democratic socialism was the most effective bulwark against totalitarianism. This became an undercurrent - or even undercover - theme of American foreign policy during the period."
Thomas Braden, the head of the International Organizations Division (IOD), was placed in charge of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Braden later admitted that the CIA was putting around $900,000 a year into the Congress of Cultural Freedom. Some of this money was used to publish its journal, Encounter. Braden and the IOD also worked closely with anti-Communist leaders of the trade union movement such as George Meany of the American Federation of Labor. This money was used to fight Communism in its own ranks. As Braden said: "The CIA could do exactly as it pleased. It could buy armies. It could buy bombs. It was one of the first worldwide multinationals." Arthur Schlesinger has supported the role of the CIA during this period: "In my experience its leadership was politically enlightened and sophisticated."
In 1966 the New York Times published an article by Tom Wicker that suggested that the CIA had been funding the Congress for Cultural Freedom. On 10th May the newspaper published a letter from Stephen Spender, Melvin Lasky and Irving Kristol. "We know of no indirect benefactions... we are our own masters and part of nobody's propaganda" and defended the "independent record of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in defending writers and artists in both East and West against misdemeanors of all governments including that of the US."
The story of CIA funding of Non-Communist Left journalists and organizations was fully broken in the press by a small-left-wing journal, Rapparts. The editor, Warren Hinckle, met a man by the name of Michael Wood, in January 1967, at the New York's Algonquin Hotel. The meeting had been arranged by a public relations executive Marc Stone (the brother of I.F. Stone). Wood told Hinckle that the National Student Association (NSA) was receiving funding from the CIA. At first Hinkle thought he was being set-up. Why was the story not taken to I.F. Stone?
However, after further research, Hinckle was convinced that the CIA had infiltrated the Non-Communist Left: "While the ADA-types and the Arthur Schlesinger model liberal kewpie dolls battled fascism by protecting their right flank with domestic Red-baiting and Cold War one-upmanship, the Ivy League delinquents who fled to the CIA – liberal lawyers, businessmen, academics, games-playing craftsmen – hatched a master plan of Germanic ambition that entailed nothing less than clandestine political control of the international operations of all important American professional and cultural organisations: journalists, educators, jurists, businessmen, et al. The standing CIA subsidy to the National Student Association was but one slice of a very complex pie." Hinckle even had doubts about publishing the story. Sol Stern, who was writing the article for Rapparts, "advanced the intriguing contention that such a disclosure would be damaging to the enlightened men of the liberal internationalistic wing of the CIA who were willing to provide clandestine money to domestic progressive causes."
Hinckle did go ahead with the story and took full-page advertisements in the Tuesday editions of the New York Times and Washington Post: "In its March issue, Ramparts magazine will document how the CIA has infiltrated and subverted the world of American student leaders, over the past fifteen years." For its exposé of the CIA, Ramparts received the George Polk Memorial Award for Excellence in Journalism and was praised for its "explosive revival of the great muckraking tradition."
On 20th May 1967 Thomas Braden, the former head of the CIA's International Organizations Division, that had been funding the National Student Association, wrote an article that was published in the Saturday Evening Post entitled, I'm Glad the CIA is Immoral Braden admitted that for more than 10 years, the CIA had subsidized progressive magazines such as Encounter through the Congress for Cultural Freedom - which it also funded - and that one of its staff was a CIA agent. He also admitted that he had paid money to trade union leaders such as Walter Reuther, Jay Lovestone, David Dubinsky and Irving Brown.
According to Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999): "The effect of Braden's article was to sink the CIA's covert association with the Non-Communist Left once and for all." Braden later admitted that the article had been commissioned by CIA asset, Stewart Alsop.
John Hunt pointed out in a revealing interview: "Tom Braden was a company man... if he was really acting independently, would have had much to fear. My belief is that he was an instrument down the line somewhere of those who wanted to get rid of the NCL (Non-Communist Left). Don't look for a lone gunman - that's mad, just as it is with the Kennedy assassination... I do believe there was an operational decision to blow the Congress and the other programs out of the water."
Tom Braden was a company man... if he was really acting independently, would have had much to fear. My belief is that he was an instrument down the line somewhere of those who wanted to get rid of the NCL (Non-Communist Left). Don't look for a lone gunman - that's mad, just as it is with the Kennedy assassination... I do believe there was an operational decision to blow the Congress and the other programs out of the water.