American Diplomacy is published in cooperation with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences
and its Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense and with the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. EDITOR: Csaba T. Chikes
It might surprise some to learn that government bureaucrats have a sense of humor and that it occasionally appears among the records preserved in the National Archives. One such instance was recently located in the files of the World War II-era Office of War Information (OWI). That agency was responsible for formulating and implementing information programs to promote, in the United States and abroad, understanding of the status and progress of the war effort and of war policies, activities, and aims of the U.S. government.
In December 1942, even as the U.S. and its allies made slight progress towards victory in World War II, one official in OWI’s News Bureau prepared a report with the subject “SANTA CLAUS.” The memorandum dealt with rumors “concerning the alleged appearance of a man in whiskers who come down many chimneys bringing gifts to hundreds of American homes” and provided an analysis of the known “facts.” Those facts touch on wartime shortages, the Allied alliance, and morale, among other things. Only reading the original can do justice to the imagination of the writer.
David A. Langbart is an archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives. He specializes in the records of the Department of State and the other foreign affairs agencies. Any opinions expressed in the commentary herein belong to the author and do not reflect those of any agency of the U.S. Government.