August 26, 2014

1940s. More World War II Political Cartoons

Wartime Editorial Cartoons

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August 25, 2014

1954. A Short Trip to the Middle East

Nothing But Tradition to Fight Over
Bill Downs during an interview with Gamel Abdel Nasser in late 1954

Bill Downs was CBS' Rome correspondent from 1953 to 1956. In this letter he describes his two week trip to the Middle East in June 1954 and offers his opinions on the state of the region.

June 10, 1954

Dear Folks,

Finally have gotten out from under the canonization and a host of visiting firemen to drop a line about my recent trip. The toughest part about it was making out the expense accounts, which involved at least six currencies and a long and doubtful memory.

I went to Lebanon, Jordan, Cairo, Cyprus, and Israel in something like 13 days -- it was too fast, but I did get a lot of contacts made, picked up a few stories, and was able to get back in time to go to Paris for the big correspondents meeting.

The Middle East is fascinating -- but they haven't quite discovered the 20th century as yet. In fact, I don't think the Arabs are particularly interested in it. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is a beautiful place loaded with American cars which everyone drives at breakneck speed down the narrow streets with a thumb on the horn. It's one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, with a perfect seashore and mountains in the background. They have a big American University there, which makes it the intellectual center of the Arab world...but that's about all.

I next flew down to Arab Jerusalem in Jordan. Jerusalem is cut in half by the war with a kind of no man's land perhaps a block wide separating the Arab and Jewish sections of the city. The Arabs have the old part with all the Christian and Moslem shrines. I went to the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and over to Bethlehem. Most of the roads are under military observation, and every night there is some kind of shooting incident. It's a beautiful but barren country...but there's nothing there but tradition to fight over.

The next hop was down to Cairo where I spent five fruitless days trying to get a filmed interview with the new head of the Egyptian revolutionary government, Colonel Nasser. The trouble was that it was Ramadan, the Moslem religious holiday, which forbids Moslems from touching food or drink during the daylight hours. In other words, nothing much got done. However, the CBS stringer, Frank Kearns, did finally get the Nasser interview a couple of weeks later.

Traveling from the Arab world to Israel is a touchy business. There's a war on, and if you have an Israeli visa in your passport the Moslems won't let you in the country. Consequently the Jews, understanding the problem and hot after tourists, give visitors a kind of separate passport which you carry hidden and use when you fly to the island of Cyprus. There you pick up another plane to go to the Israeli airport at Lydda.

Where the Arab world is still struggling with wooden plows, nomad Bedouins, and ancient superstitions, the Jews are creating a 20th century society in the Mid-East. The spirit is tremendous...a little like our early Western days of expansion. They have a long way to go before they make the desert bloom, but they are making progress. Whether you approve of the Zionists or not, you have to hand it to them. For these were the same people, a lot of them, who came out of Hitler's concentration camps. I did get a film interview with the Prime Minister, Moshe Sharrett. You remember the Zinders from Washington -- I believe we went over there for drinks one night when Herblock the cartoonist was there. Well, Harry and Hamdah are in Jewish Jerusalem now. He's public relations adviser to the government. They asked that I send you their regards.

I got back to Rome around the 16th and Roz and I left immediately for Paris for a few days. The conference with Frank Stanton concerned splitting up radio and TV news -- which it was agreed is practically impossible in the foreign field. So I will continue to wear two hats here. The TV work is getting heavier all the time -- but no additional money as yet.

Paris is about twice as expensive as Rome -- but it still turns out the best food and wine in the world.

I've got to go to Greece and Turkey next -- perhaps next week. But right now things are quiet and I hope it remains that way.
.  .  .



August 11, 2014

1942. Downs Joins CBS

From London to Moscow
Bill Downs' cable home in September 1942 announcing that he would be joining CBS
Bill Downs wrote these letters home to his family in Kansas City, Kansas in 1942 after being offered a job by CBS. Since 1940 he had worked in London as a wire reporter covering World War II for the United Press. The ellipses between paragraphs indicate omissions of personal details.
August 30, 1942

Dear folks,

. . .

I have had an offer of a job from Columbia Broadcasting System to do news commentary along the lines of Ed Murrow and Charlie Collingwood. I'm seriously considering it as I think it will pay more money. Besides, radio news commentary is a good racket to get in on—especially now when radio reporting is just getting underway on a large scale. I have made a test broadcast to New York. The studio there made a recording of my voice which the various big shots will listen to and judge whether it's okay. If it is, and I should know within the next few days, we start talking turkey. I know I'll get more money. However, the job probably will entail my being transferred to some other spot besides London after I break in on the job. Current possibilities are either Moscow or Cairo. I wouldn't mind either assignment. From a personal point of view, I think it would be a wise move. Not only would it establish my name—i.e. if I'm any good—but the work is easier and I believe it has more of a future. I can always write on the side if I want.

. . .

All my love,


September 13, 1942

Dear Mom, Dad and Bonnie Lee,

. . .

As I cabled you, I have quit the United Press and joined the Columbia Broadcasting company. The offer was just too good to turn down, and besides, I would like to see the other side of the war. I also believe that this international coverage of news by radio is a coming thing likely to expand fast. I will be on the ground floor for a career in that field after the war. All in all, I'm happy with the shift.

Here are the details. Ed Murrow called and asked me to make a voice test, which proved satisfactory. Then he offered me $70 weekly and a full expense account to go to Russia. It means that my salary will pile up each week that I'm there. They agreed to purchase all the kit I need—such as heavy clothing etc.—and said the stay there should not exceed one year, after which I will be shifted somewhere else on the battlefront. Probably will get a brief vacation when I come out of Russia to the United States.

I do not leave UP until my notice is up sometime next week. Then I will break into the radio racket here in London for three or four weeks getting a few news broadcasts under my belt, after which I'll leave for Moscow.

It was a hell of a decision to make. I didn't want to walk out on the best story of the war by leaving the Western Front. Still, I figured that the Eastern Front is going to last through the winter and into next spring and that it will continue to be an important factor in the war. The competition will be so hot over there and I should be able to make myself a name. The payoff is good and the prospects better, so I'm sure I did right.

. . .

I don't want you to worry about me. Everyone else has been taking care of themselves over there and there's no reason why I can't do the same. You won't of course hear from me as often as when I worked in London, but I'll get messages back via radio as often as possible. Anyway, you'll be able to hear my voice over CBS about five times a week.

I should be able to leave London without any debts—including cleaning up $150 worth of U.S. income tax—although I don't expect to have much left over. Anyway, I don't owe anyone, which is something for me.

I won't be leaving until around the first of November so I'll have time to receive a couple of letters from you. I'll write whenever I get a chance to cop a couple of spare minutes. Meanwhile, you might keep an ear peeled for the worldwide news roundup by CBS, as I should be going on the air sometime soon. Let me know how I sound.

. . .