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BRADEN, Thomas. (Greene, IA, Feb. 22, 1917--Denver, CO, Apr. 3, 2009). Braden's parents were returning to Dubuque, their home, when their son was born in Greene, Iowa. Thomas Braden grew up in Dubuque and attended school with Theodore Richards Ellsworth. His father worked a variety of jobs, including at a tie store and a bank. His mother was a writer for American Mercury, the magazine founded by H.L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan.
Braden dropped out of high school during the GREAT DEPRESSION and worked briefly for a printing press in New York. He wanted to go to college and applied to Dartmouth, which was one of the few schools that accepted students without a high school degree. Interested in journalism, he became editor of the campus newspaper. He graduated in 1940. (1)
In 1941, Braden went to England and was among a small group of Americans who enlisted in the King's Royal Rifle Corps in the British Army to fight in WORLD WAR II. He later joined the U.S. Army and shifted to intelligence work for the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA. With Stewart Alsop, the columnist and political analyst who had also fought with the British Army and joined the OSS, Braden wrote the book Sub Rosa: The OSS and American Espionage (1946). (2)
After the war, he taught at Dartmouth for a few years and met poet Robert Frost who encouraged him to pursue journalism. In 1950, however, he joined the CIA and worked for Allen Dulles, who became CIA director in 1953. One of Braden’s first objectives was to keep the labor unions in Europe from going communist. Like most of Europe, they needed money. Braden became the bagman. Fifteen thousand dollars got unions in France to stop communist maritime workers from dumping U.S. supplies into the sea or burning them at ports. “We subsidized the unions to make sure it didn’t happen anymore,” he said. He also bribed communist dockworkers. “If we didn’t bribe them, we wouldn’t have gotten our supplies landed,” he recalled. “It was also my idea to give cash, along with advice, to other labor leaders, to students, professors and others who could help the United States in its battles with communist fronts. (3)
He also helped the agency wage a propaganda war by sponsoring cultural events, including a European tour of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and placing agents in various organizations, including Encounter magazine. Braden himself was a covert cultural agent who worked as executive secretary at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (4) After Ramparts magazine exposed the CIA's system of funding anti-communist front organizations all over the globe, Mr. Braden defended the program in an article in a 1967 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. He said the secret program was his idea. Keeping secrets from Congress, he wrote, simply made good sense: "In the early 1950s, when the cold war was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare." (5)
After leaving the CIA in 1954, he moved with his family to California, where he became involved in politics. During most of the 1960s, he was president of the state Board of Education, where he often feuded with Max Rafferty, the conservative superintendent of public instruction. In 1966, he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor against Democratic incumbent Glenn M. Anderson.
For 13 years, Braden published the Blade-Tribune, which he had purchased in 1954 with a $185,000 loan from Nelson Rockefeller, the industrialist who became New York governor. (6) He repaid Rockefeller when he sold the paper for more than $1 million in 1968.
After selling the newspaper, he moved with his wife, Joan, and their large family to Washington, D.C., where he became a columnist. He often argued with Patrick Buchanan after writing a column critical of the Nixon special assistant in 1973. Four years later, Braden was chosen to replace Frank Mankiewicz, a former Robert Kennedy campaign aide, on a nationally syndicated radio program called "Confrontation" on which Buchanan provided the opposing viewpoint. In 1982, Braden and Buchanan took their debates to CNN, launching "Crossfire." Braden and Buchanan became known as the "Punch and Judy" of Washington commentators. Guests left the broadcast studio saying they felt as if they'd been in a bar fight. Others never got to speak at all because Mr. Braden and Buchanan were so intent on attacking each other's positions. (7) Braden argued from the left for seven years, until he was replaced by Michael Kinsley in 1989.
As a columnist, Braden often struggled to find material. "When he was desperate for a column, he wrote about us," his daughter Susan Braden once said. He turned the pieces about his children into a book, Eight is Enough, after a Washington colleague, columnist Joseph Alsop, told him that his best writing involved his family's ups and downs. In March, 1977 an ABC-TV series "Eight is Enough, based on his book, debuted. (8)
The book did not sell well at first, despite the many entertaining tales. Braden told about a daughter's pet boa constrictor that went missing. He also told of the time the family's lamb nuzzled up against a famous dinner guest, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Eventually the 1975 book about his eight children inspired the ABC television series of the same name. (9)
Braden's wife died in 1999. His son Tommy, the seventh of his eight children, died in 1994. His surviving children are David Braden of Taipei, Taiwan; Mary Poole of Alexandria, Va.; Susan Braden of Takoma Park, Md.; Joannie Braden, Nancy Basta and Elizabeth Braden, all of Denver; and Nicholas Braden of Washington, D.C. He also leaves 12 grandchildren.
1. Watkins, Tom. "Former CNN Talk Show Host Tom Braden Dies at 92," Online: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/03/tom.braden.obit/
2. Sullivan, Patricia. "Tom Braden, author of "Eight Is Enough", "Crossfire" Debater," Online: http://www.findadeath.com/forum/showthread.php?19421-Tom-Braden-author-of-quot-Eight-Is-Enough-quot-quot-Crossfire-quot-debater
3. Meroney, John. "CIA Operative Tom Braden’s Plot to Topple the USSR with Modern Art," Online: http://playboysfw.kinja.com/cia-operative-tom-braden-s-plot-to-topple-the-ussr-with-1457132402
7. "Tom Braden, Who Fathered ‘Eight Is Enough,’ Dies at 92" Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/arts/television/06braden.html
8. Day, Mike, "Research Reveals Odd Occurrences in Late '70s," Telegraph Herald, December 19, 2021, p. 10A
"Thomas Wardell Braden," Linwood Legacies. Online: http://www.linwoodlegacies.org/the-braden-family.html