September 18, 2014

1954. What Became of the American Revolution?

The Revolutions of the Twentieth Century
Some of the CBS foreign correspondents from the 1955 "Years of Crisis" year-end roundup

In the 1950s Edward R. Murrow hosted the annual CBS Radio series "Years of Crisis: Where We Stand," in which CBS foreign correspondents gathered to discuss world events of the past year. In this letter Bill Downs pitches an idea for his segment to Edward P. Morgan. At the time he was CBS' Rome correspondent and covered much of the Mediterranean.

Dec. 1, 1954 
Mr. Ed Morgan 
CBS News
485 Madison Ave.
New York 22, N.Y.

Dear Ed,

I'm still shaking in the sands of the desert out of my brain and want to thank you and whom-so-else-ever for including me in the year-end show. I'll most certainly welcome sitting down with the boys and thrashing out some of the mutual problems that have arisen since the reorganization and which sometimes don't make any sense viewed from over here. But 'twas ever thus and presumably 'twill ever be so.

About the subject matter of the year-end program, I hope we'll be able to include the exclusive film interviews we shot in recent weeks with Ben Gurion and Prime Minister Nasser. As one of the hot spots in the "Years of Crisis" picture, I would suggest that the departure point on the Mid-East story (and possibly the entire program) be the dynamic change or "revolution" in international thinking in recent years. This "revolution" is in evidence in two nations in the Middle East -- Israeli desires to consolidate her present position and make peace with the Arabs -- and the Egyptian revolution has strange parallels to the happenings in Israel even though the two nations technically are at war.

The Mid-East picture is extremely interesting as a developing crisis but perhaps is not typical of what is happening in other parts of the world. But the principles of dynamic evolution and political metamorphosis do apply. For example, in Italy and other nations there is a steady but increasing tendency and trend to try "co-existence" no matter who or how it is defined. This pressure already has been reflected in U.S. modification of East-West trade restrictions, a more moderate tone in State Department diplomatic pronouncements, and other things. It is worth noting, that while these pressures to attempt "coexistence" have been increasing, the West has thus far stood firm on key policy points -- so far -- such as German rearmament and west European unity. It would appear that every nation -- East and West -- is in the position of juggling the bomb of war with one hand while balancing an olive branch on the other.

This does not make for an atmosphere of reason and calm, and the consequent fear that someone will drop the bomb reflects itself in the internal politics of every nation.

I have heard serious arguments that this situation which has developed after the war calls for an entirely new and tough intellectual approach. These arguments go this way. The old days of 19th century liberalism -- when men and ideas were relatively free -- are gone forever. Therefore, free men must evolve a new philosophy, which will be hard enough to withstand the threats and false appeals of totalitarianism and at the same time preserve their freedom of thought and movement. No one has come up with such a new philosophy for the 20th century -- thus the appeal of such concepts which promise everything as communism.

This argument and search for new philosophies, it seems to me, are fruitless. Men don't just sit down and say "this is a new formula for thinking and living." Such things evolve. It is my thought that the post-war success of communism that the Marxists have matched the promises of their creed with the needs and desires of the great mass of the peoples. Thus does communism represent hope -- sometimes the only hope held out to underprivileged people.

In this connection, democracy in general and America in particular has failed to live up to its traditional promise -- at least, so was American democracy regarded by great masses of people in Europe, Asia and Africa immediately after the war.

In other words, the question continually strikes me when I see the communists making headway in Italy and France, or emerging slowly out of the poverty and chaos of the Arab countries, or assuming control in Korea, China, and Indo-China -- the question always arises in my mind: "What ever the hell became of the American Revolution?" It was the most successful the world had ever seen. And it seems to me that it is a legitimate query to ask whether or not it had out-lived its time, its dynamic vitality, and its promise for the future for Americans and other peoples around the world who seek to live in freedom and peace.

I believe that the United States dissipated a great storehouse of international goodwill and potential friendship by forgetting that we are a nation born in revolution and powerful today only because we have the capability and ability to grow and change.

It would appear that we approve of this dynamic principle in handling our domestic problems -- but distrust the principle when applied to our dealings with foreign countries -- friendly or unfriendly. We gave independence to the Philippines, but stood by or opposed similar movements in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.

And now, even domestically, there are movements afoot who are so frightened of change -- the communists seem to have appropriated the word revolution -- that they would paralyze the United States domestically too.

Still, the world is still having its revolutions, with or without American or Russian conspiracy. Israel is one example, Egypt another -- China another and Indo-China yet another.

It is a fact that the leaders of these revolutions still read with awe the American Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Even the forgotten constitution of Soviet Russia is patterned after ours. So in many respects is the Israeli -- and so will be the Egyptian when it comes to be written.

I would like perhaps to include this proposition in the year-end show -- "what became of the American revolution?"

Sorry to be so damn wordy -- but I think the idea is worth kicking around. Let me know. And see you soon.

Salaam and Shalom,

Bill Downs