June 24, 2015

1946. The United Mine Workers Strike in Pittsburgh

District Leaders Stonewall Questions About the Walkout
United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis (seated in center) at South Park in 1952 (source)
Bill Downs


March 19, 1946

The good people of western Pennsylvania this morning are beset with confusion.

In every Pittsburgh streetcar and in the taxi cabs the conversation hinges on two things: the foreign situation and the coal strike.

Driving through the rich coal fields and their depressing mining communities, however, there is almost a holiday atmosphere; a laxity and relaxation—the miners standing on the street corners, the taverns full during the evenings. There is much talk of the coming fishing season.

But since the strike is now going into its fifth day, the coal diggers' wives are now putting the men to work in their gardens and at other household tasks.

It's estimated that the coal strike has already cost the nation eight million tons of coal.

But when you try to talk with union and company officials about solving the present layoff, there is this confusion that I spoke about.

To the union out here, the answer to my questions summed up are "John L. Lewis has spoken." The loyalty Lewis commands in his United Mine Workers is undiminished. The operators are more vociferous. They charge that the miner's union is acting in bad faith under bad leadership, and that this leadership has double-crossed them in the present contract.

Then the conversation usually gets back to whether there is going to be another war or not.

Out here in the coal and steel country there is a peculiar lack of urgency about the whole thing.

The economic "chain reaction" to the UMW pension strike is already being felt. A few steel mills are beginning to make precautionary shutdowns. The United Steel Workers union calmly explains that it expects layoffs to begin next week. On Sunday, railroad coal is cut 25 percent by government order. And if the shutdown continues, there will be other layoffs in industries ranging from coal to aspirins, nylons to synthetic rubber.

Bill Downs


March 20, 1946

There's nothing spectacular about the nation's coal strike.

Yesterday I went out to the struck mining town of Library, Pennsylvania, the site of a big Consolidated company mine only a half hour drive from Pittsburgh.

By mining camp standards, Library is comparatively neat and prosperous. The man I was looking for is named Tom Evans. I stopped at a filling station and asked where he lived. The attendant said: "Go up into the patch." The "patch" is where the miners live on top of a hill overlooking the town and the mine. Its rectangular, bleak houses are set in straight rows, giving the community the appearance of a military barracks. Fumes from a burning slag pile rise up to give the atmosphere a sulfurous pungency.

Tom Evans lives in the first house on the right going into the patch. He was standing outside when I drove up. I shook hands with him and his right hand was hard, but an old mine accident turned the last two fingers in. Evans was dressed in clean work clothes, and he and two other miners were simply standing and talking and relaxing, and apparently not quite knowing what to do with their free time during the coal miner's pension strike.

The men's faces had that pale, bluish look of men who work underground. They are suspicious of strangers.

"Well. We aren't doing much during this strike," Evans said. "Been too wet to put in gardens. We're just resting mostly. We're doing a lot of thinking about fishing."

What about the pensions that caused the strike?

Evans was reticent in answering. "We figure," he said, "that we have the pensions coming. Word came down to go out, so we got out."

I asked Tom Evans how the pensions would affect him, and got the rather astonishing news that he has been in the hard and soft coal mines of Pennsylvania for 53 years. I asked him how old he was.

"Sixty-two," he replied. But we went into the mines early in those days."

I pointed out that when the pensions go through he will automatically be eligible to retire on maybe 25 dollars a week provided for men over sixty with 20 years in the mines.

"I don't know," the miner replied. "I'm not interested in retiring. I'm healthy, and I still have some work left in me. Don't think I'm interested."

But Tom Evans is president of the union local and is leading the miners at Library in the strike...for pensions.

Bill Downs


March 31, 1946

This is Bill Downs in Detroit.

John L. Lewis' denial that he had nothing to do with "inspiring" the nation's soft coal miners to stage their pension walkout will be heard with wonder in the coal country.

I was in the western Pennsylvania coal fields a few days after the pension walkout began, and I inquired just how all the miners knew simultaneously when to stay home from work. This is what I found.

In Pittsburgh I saw John Busarello, district head of the United Mine Workers there. I asked Busarello just how news of the walkout was promulgated. The district leader said that officially all the district headquarters had received Lewis' letter reporting the failure to establish the pension plan.

Then I asked Busarello in these words: "And then word came down for the boys to go out, is that right?" He replied: "That's about it." But he stressed that technically this walkout is not a strike.

Later I went into the fields and talked with the miners. One man said that he and his fellow miners had quit work only after word had come down from district headquarters to walk out.

I could not determine how these alleged orders were dispatched, but in past labor crises, unions often set up code words which, telegraphed or telephoned, govern the collective action of the union members.

I have been covering the running story of industry and labor relations for a number of years now, and one thing usually happens in situations such as what is developing in the present dispute in the coal industry. During the legal infighting—the name calling and personality clashes on top levels—the persons most affected are overlooked. As tempers rise and coal stoppage becomes a matter of public welfare, the fate of the hard working miner, his pension, and his welfare will be shoved into the background.

But for the past three weeks now, the miners have not worked. No money has been coming in, and this is already beginning to be felt in his pocketbook and the family budget.

The words now flying in Washington are not putting meat on the tables of the coal miners in the field.

April 8, 1946

TO: Ted Koop

FROM: Bill Downs

Dear Ted,

I thought you would like to have this for the record in connection with the situation brought up by the charges of UMW's John Busarello. Here's the play by play:

I called the UMW District 5 headquarters in Pittsburgh on the afternoon of March 19. The strike was just about three or four days old at the time but very quiet. I introduced myself to Busarello, a pleasant, quiet-looking, grey-haired little man, and we talked for about fifteen minutes.

We agreed that things were quiet; that at the moment there was not much of a story. I said that I was looking for a new angle and was wondering how the UMW managed to get the word around to all the unions at the same time; that the job of contacting 400,000 men must be a big one. At this point, Busarello mentioned that technically there was no strike, and that all the district had received was Lewis' report on the pension situation.

At this point I was getting ready to go, having made myself known and seeing no story in the interview. As we were walking towards the door I said: "Then you received these letters, then the word came down for the boys to go out, is that right?" Busarello shook his head yes, grinned and said, "That's about it."

It is to be noted that this conversation took place on Friday, March 19, just ten days before John L. Lewis declared that he had nothing to do with "inspiring" the miners to take a walk. As a matter of fact, I discarded the interview as not newsworthy, although I figured if Busarello wanted to tell me the mechanics of promulgating orders to the miners he would have done so at my earlier suggestion. In other words, neither Busarello nor I considered the interview anything more than a friendly introductory talk.

The District Leader, in response to a request, recommended that I go out to Library, Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Consolidated Mine there if I wanted to talk with some of the miners.

I went to the coal fields that afternoon and talked with a number of the miners, all of whom either by direct statement or inference confirmed that they had walked off the job under orders from the union.

However, again I want to stress that the story of how or under what circumstances the miners went off the job was still not a story at that time. My broadcast from Pittsburgh on the following day merely dealt with the mining town of Library, the color and quotes from Tom Evans. Busarello was not even mentioned (See March 20th b'cast).

I returned to Detroit and forgot about the incident until John L. Lewis' statement disclaiming any connection with the current walkout. I covered the last miner's strike and have dealt with labor unions closely for the past three years, and I know something about how they work. The more I studied the Lewis statement, the more I realized that I had a story. Not a big story, but at least what I believed and still believe to be the truth. I considered at the time and I wrote it that I could suppress my interview with Busarello, as offhand as it was at the time. As it develops, it would have been the easiest thing to do. But my job is to report.

The result was the March 31 broadcast on "News of America."

It is to be expected that Mr. Busarello would deny the remark he made. District leaders of the United Mine Workers are not by election. They get their positions by direct appointment from the Lewis office in Washington. Thus any subordinate in the union found digressing from the national union policy is in trouble. As I pointed out, at the time of getting the interview, neither Mr. Busarello nor I knew he was getting in trouble.

However, I resent the implication the head of District 5 has made on my reporting and my honesty. I also resent the implication on my intelligence that the whole story creates, because it has been my experience that the administrative personnel in the district offices of the UMW—all appointees—don't go to the toilet if they think their breaking water or wind might offend Lewis.

It may happen that the UMW may try to pin an "anti-labor" label on me. It occurs to me that we have ample rebuttal and one story in particular to counter any such charges. You remember during last year's coal strike I went to Charleston, West Virginia, and there did a color story on the living conditions in the valleys. And this story prompted the West Virginia Coal Operators Association to blast me for my reporting.

Evidently both the mine union and the mine operators have yet to realize that the truth is a two-way street.



June 23, 2015

1945. The United States First Army Front

"Monsoon Season" in Western Germany

Bill Downs


February 18, 1945

DOUGLAS EDWARDS: We have heard a report from Supreme Allied Headquarters. And now news from one of the Western fighting fronts. For that story, Admiral takes you to the American First Army somewhere in Belgium, Bill Downs reporting.

BILL DOWNS: The entire United States First Army climbed out of bed this morning and let out a groan. Generals getting up from their beds in ruined basements, sergeants rising for breakfast from under haystacks, and the GIs generally throughout the army area took a look at the weather and moaned.

Yes, it's been raining again.

One officer, a veteran of the Southwest Pacific, said: "They should've told us that Western Germany has a monsoon season."

Another GI, drinking coffee rapidly being diluted by the rain, cracked: "What are those guys out in the Philippines going to think of us if this keeps up?"

And someone else said that if the rain didn't stop, they would all be developing webbed feet.

We've had four dry and sunny days over this part of the front. Consequently, today's rain was doubly depressing. Simply standing in a chow line is almost becoming an amphibious operation.

But seriously, this rain is no laughing matter. During the four days of sunshine the flooded Ruhr river was beginning to recede. The lakes behind the Ruhr dams are steadily going down. But any more rain and it may further hinder our movement.

Little of significance happened on the First Army front today. The Germans sent out three extremely large patrols in the Schleiden area, giving them protection by Nebelwerfers and artillery. However, when our artillery got to work, the patrols went back home and nothing came of it.

A prisoner taken the other day said that the Germans have built up a good supply of ammunition on this side of the Rhine, but that they fear to use it right now because of our counter battery fire. This confirms earlier reports that the Germans are preparing for one of the great battles of the war on this side of the Rhine west of Cologne. It may be one of the last great battles for the liberation of Europe.

This is Bill Downs returning you to Admiral.

1958. A Listener Responds to Downs' Criticism of the South and Segregation

Letter From a Listener
"With Georgia Gov. George Busbee (left) looking on, U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge campaigns forcefully in Augusta in 1980. He would win the Democratic Primary, but lose to Republican Mack Mattingly in one of Georgia's most shocking political upsets" (source)

Bill Downs received this letter from Edith Dickey Moses of Bluffton, South Carolina in February 1958. It is a response to a radio piece about politics in Georgia. The typos and punctuation are left intact, though some paragraphs are split up for readability.

Downs forwarded this letter to either Edward R. Murrow or Edward P. Morgan at CBS:

Ed - Here's that letter. Suggest you look through it just for fun - Bill Downs

Dear Mr. Downs:

This is no brief for the Talmadges, but I commend you for not portraying Herman as an illiterate "wool hat". Eugene Talmadge garnered thousands of votes because his northern critics invariably pictured him as a Tobacco Roader who could not speak the King's English. Actually he was Phi Beta Kappa and had an inordinate amount of charm when he chose to use it. And after all - it is Ellis Arnell's ambiguous New Constitution which is responsible for the mess.

It is the sheerest rot for anyone, including Arnell, to say that Facists have taken over Georgia. If I remember, Maine once had three governors for a hundred and forty days. The blunt truth is that Arnell missed a golden opportunity to do great service to his state. He became enamored of the limelight and Ellis Arnell. If he had stayed at home and kept his trap shut and tended to his knitting he could have instituted all sorts of reforms but I know dozens of anti-Talmadge Georgians who simply got fed up to the teeth with Arnell.

His first fatal mistake was to nominate Wallace who was and is thoroughly detested in Georgia as he was and is in my home state of Indiana. (Arnell misread the public pulse. He thought the extreme left-wing was a growing concern.)

His next mistake was to go up North to make speeches - return home - and say "I did not say that" or "I was misquoted". His next was to vilify his own state and its people to outsiders. That is a poor way to win friends and influence elections. His next was when he permitted Fortson and other Arnell henchmen to try to break his own Constitution's bend on a second term. Arnell said he had nothing to do with it - which, of course, was assured. He could have stopped it within ten minutes.

His last mistake was to accept that New Orleans invitation from the Southern Conference of Human Welfare. It is such an obvious Communistic front aggregation that Arnell publicly stated he would accept the tribute although he was not in sympathy with its objectives. This actually happened - and I haven't had a scrap of respect for Arnell since that moment!

The blunt truth is that Northerners are not qualified to pose as authorities on the South. I can say my piece because I am a Northerner. My grandfather gave his life for the Union. I haven't a single inherited prejudice. But I have lived down here for twenty years and I know that one must live down here in order to know what it is all about.

I also know that Northerners are the grossest of hypocrites on this racial issue. Here is a sample: They caterwauled about voting in the South where, incidentally, no one was murdered. And negroes did vote in many states. And they barely mentioned the fact that Marcantonio thugs slaughtered a Republican worker in cold blood. To date the criminals are still running lose. But had that happened in the South and had the victim been a negro you would all have raised merry hell. And you know it. Apparently it's no crime to murder a Republican!

I have always wondered how northerners can have the unmitigated gall to vilify the South considering the glass houses in which they live. Northern negro ghettos do not spring up over night. They grow because when negroes begin to encroach on white territory the whites fold their tents, call a moving van, and quietly steal away. They do it because they do not want negro neighbors. They do not want their children to go predominately negro schools. (In this village we live check by jowl.) And in the north no one screams "Fascist" at these northern segregationists. Really, Mr. Downs - don't you think you should clean house up north before you start in with a broom down here?

Herman Talmadge was right when he mentioned the problem that exists in counties where negroes outnumber white. I live in such  county. I presume 60% of negroes are illiterate in this county. (That is disgraceful. It is a situation that is being remedied but that doesn't help the present situation. I should say that 80% of negroes of voting age in this country are at least semi-illiterate.) I am assuming these negroes put up their own candidates - an all negro ticket - and elect all of them. Which they have a perfect right to do. Which they undoubtedly would do.

You, I presume, live in New York. How am I going to transpose our situation to New York - with its majority of semi-illiterate negroes, who have swept all their candidates into office. This would be the picture: New York's representatives in Albany and Washington would be negroes. Your Mayor would be a negro. So would all city employees. Your police would be all negroes. Your public health system and your school system would be negro-manned. Indeed, all civic functions would be in the hands of the negroes. You would have, in short, negro "supremacy" and there would be nothing you could do about it. How would you like it? The answer is: You would not. Period. Yet that is what you expect southern whites to endure in counties where the majority is black.

No southerner defends white supremacy on other than the grounds of expediency. He admits that, morally, it hasn't a leg to stand on. He merely knows that where such conditions exist it is a question of white or black supremacy. Being white - he is sufficiently human to prefer white. And again - so would you.

I do not pretend to know the answer. It is a terrible situation. But I do know, Mr. Downs, it is the easiest thing in the world to recommend medicine one does not have to take himself. That is what you are doing. That is what every northern critic is doing. And, frankly, it makes me gag.

It has only one amusing facet. You all throw Lincoln in our teeth. I expect that from Winchell for he hasn't a sound education as a background. But I do not expect you, Mr. Downs, to intone: "And Lincoln's birthday was just three days ago." Lincoln was a real "segregationist". He has said everything Bilbo and Rankin have said but he wasn't so vulgar about it. And if you doubt this I refer you to these speeches:
June 26, 1857 at Springfield

Aug. 21, 1858 at Ottowa, Ill.
And his words to a negro delegation in Washington - August 14, 1862. Here are some excerpts: "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races - I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of the negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

Or: "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the races----as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference. I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position."

Read these speeches - especially his blunt words to the negro delegation. You will never make a mother Lincoln faux pas - if you do. I was taught in Indiana that the Emancipation Act was purely a war measure - to deprive the South of manpower and labor - and thus hasten the end of the war. Certainly Lincoln hated slavery. It was thoroughly immoral. But he was definitely a white supremacy man. Check up on it!


Edith Dickey Moses

June 22, 2015

1948. "The Man Who Killed Stalin"

"The Man Who Killed Stalin" by Bill Downs
Joseph Stalin, Harry Truman, and Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 (source)


by Bill Downs (in Berlin)

I suppose it was natural that we called him Vladimir Ripley. The first day we ran into him was on a snowy street in Moscow. Recognizing us for Americans, Vladimir approached and without introduction said, "Believe it or not, I have uncle in Buffalo."

This was in 1943, about the time that Moscow was full of Poles. Comparatively full of Poles, that is, since the mysterious forces that have torn Poland for many centuries were rending again. General Anders' captive Polish Army was being revived from Russian prison camps after being caught in Hitler's invasion from the west and the Red Army's march-in from the east.

We never did determine whether Vladimir was a Pole or a Russian or a what. I have often thought of him as the "Complete Slav," in the style of Isaac Walton's fisherman.

Vladimir had the Russian soul, but it was a merry one. It was evident that he had once been with an army—whose army was questionable. Somehow, somewhere, he had received an education. With that wonderful Slavic aptitude to pick up foreign speech, Vladimir would say: "Believe or not, I speak all languages and when speak all sound like the language Vladimir."

How he existed in Moscow, I don't know. He had a western-style Chesterfield coat with the most moth-eaten fur collar I have ever seen. We often suspected that he was working for the NKVD, but he did not effect the jet black, long-billed cap and stern expression of the secret police. Vladimir, incongruously, wore a Russian GI fur hat. He absolutely rejected the mark of the Soviet bureaucrat—that of wearing the right hand in the opening of the coat, Napoleon-style. All the pictures of Joseph Stalin display this gesture, and the faithful copy it almost as a a badge of office. I suspect Ripley also had no gloves.

Of course, we never really got to know Vladimir in Moscow. He just seemed to have the same tastes we had. On a fine spring day, there he would be enjoying the weather in the Park of Culture and Rest. The night Lepeshinskaya was dancing Swan Lake at the Ballet, there would be Vladimir parading in the lobby making eyes at the devushkas. How he got the tickets, how he got to Moscow, no one has ever found out.

I've thought about it many times, and my conclusion is that Vladimir Ripley and his "believe or not" philosophy is part of that lucky group of people in all nations who remain unaffected by wars, revolutions, weather, women, or weddings.

He had the look of the old-time burlesque comedian about him—a kind of Slavic Sliding Billy Watson. His face was the color and shape of a prize ripe tomato. A couple of his teeth were missing, but the loss was made up in the brilliance of the pair of the gold teeth right in front of his face that gave him the air of an East European Bugs Bunny. His stature was on the side of the tall midgets. He could, on occasion, look like the most stern and worried member of the Russian Communist Party, but it was an act. So many attitudes in Moscow are so self-consciously acted.

Vladimir became a project with us of the wartime American colony in Russia. His beaming face turning up unexpectedly in the dull, drab, depressing, and despotic background of warring Moscow was for us a rare and refreshing thing to behold.

It was a strange, tip-of-your-hat, smiling relationship that probably existed only because that was the era of good feeling between the East and the West in 1943. The Red Army had just done a great and historic thing. It had licked the crack German army at Stalingrad. The Russians were feeling justly proud of themselves, as the personal communiques of Marshall Stalin himself testified. At that time, foreign correspondents of the Allied nations did not worry the Russians as we apparently do now.

When I left Moscow, the last I remember seeing of Vladimir Ripley was marching on a snowy street carrying a banner expressing the factory workers' love of "Our Great Leader and Teacher, Comrade Stalin." I think it was Vladimir but, believe it or not, I don't think he ever saw the inside of a factory.

It was in Berlin five years later that Vladimir Ripley again came into our lives. Of course, a lot of things happened in between. The Russians went on to exploit their Stalingrad victory to drive every last Wehrmacht soldier into their prison camps or into Germany or into the rich black soil of the motherland. The Western Allies landed in France and joined with their Red Army colleagues on the Elbe. There was Potsdam. The atomic bomb was dropped.

Working on a refugee story in Berlin one day, I stopped at a camp where hundreds of miserable men, women, and children were lined up for registration and possible shipment to the West. They weren't only Germans. They were Poles, Russians, Hungarians, Yugoslavs—a collection of all the nationalities and races of Europe sifted here through the sieve of war.

Sure enough, a little man stepped out of the crowd and tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Believe or not..."


We shook hands. He smiled with his two gold front teeth, the rest of his face as red as ever. His hair was a little more sparse and grey. The lines in his face were deeper. But there seemed to be no lack of twinkle in his eyes or buoyancy in his spirit.

"Tell me," Vladimir Ripley asked, "Believe or not, you still correspondent?"

I assured him I was. He grinned and remarked something about "believe or not, except in America most correspondents intelligence agents."

I asked him if he were correspondent, or an agent or what. What was Vladimir Ripley doing here in Berlin in a refugee center?

Vladimir shrugged his shoulders and again grinned, but made no reply. I noted for the first time how he was dressed. He was wearing civilian clothing much better than when I last saw him. His ragged, fur-collared coat had been replaced by a black, double-breasted model. He even sported a battered black hat that had once been a Homburg. Now it looked like a fedora with a broken gutter.

I repeated my question. "Vladimir," I demanded, "what are you doing here?"

For the first time, Vladimir looked distressed. He again shrugged his shoulders.

"Believe or not, Gospodin," he said, "I am the man who kill Stalin."

I gave him a cigarette, which he accepted with the studied nonchalance only of a man who hadn't had a smoke in a long time and didn't want to show it.

He lit the cigarette, took a deep breath and said, "Is there somewhere we talk?"

I took him to a nearby bar, and for the first time I saw that Vladimir was becoming an old man. It was the first time I had ever seen him relaxed.

"Believe or not," he repeated softly, "I am here in American sector Berlin only because I kill Joseph Stalin."

We had schnapps and he began to revive. We had another one or two and he was soon back to his sparkling self. He spotted a copy of the American-licensed newspaper in Berlin, Neue Zeitung. He asked if he could have it. To my surprise, he tore the newspaper in half and folded it into a pair of rectangles. Then, taking off his shoes, he inserted the newspaper in them to cover the holes in the soles.

"This paper is much harder texture than Pravda," Vladimir smiled. "I am conducting experiment whether Pravda or American paper lasts longest."

The mention of Pravda seemed to stimulate him as much as the schnapps.

"You ask why I am here. I remember you from Moscow so I will tell you. The reason you see me so much in Moscow is that I work for the propaganda in foreign office."

I remember the mysterious work of the Russian propaganda ministry. It was part of the foreign office. They even controlled the news censorship. We could protest cuts in our stories as far up as Molotov, but it didn't do any good. That was the propaganda setup.

The workings of the propaganda branch of this ministry was a complete mystery to us. We didn't know who prepared the communiques or who formulated the basis of propaganda policy. We still don't. All decisions had to be approved by the Politburo, of course, but there must have been a large staff of experts with foreign experience who thought up the original ideas. There were too many of them to come even from Comrade Stalin.

So, it looked like Vladimir Ripley was one of the men behind the scenes.

He grinned and continued: "It was good life I have in Moscow. I was not too high in government. Not too low. I often dream of the ballet."

I thought I was in for a session of remorse, of recrimination and a confession of what we came to know as the soul of Mother Russia. But Vladimir was made of more volatile stuff.

"Believe or not," he said, "in many ways is great joke. I kill Stalin! Ho!" He broke into a fit of suppressed giggles.

He began talking. "You remember when Politburo decided Stalin was to be the great general, the great military strategist, the originator of victorious strategy? Stalin became generalissimo, supreme field marshal commander who would rank with Kutusov and Peter the Great."

I told him I remembered.

"Reason for this," he continued, "Politburo knew our generals and commanders in field would have to have much powers. Maybe dangerous powers. So Stalin became military man as well as political man."

Vladimir paused and grinned. "Of course, we had political commissars attached to every unit make sure any deviationists be reported and punished. But even brilliant renegade Polish General Rokossovsky was brought out of house arrest so he could fight the fascist beasts."

He broke his story here to ask for another schnapps.

"Believe or not, it was I who had part of job to glorify Generalissimo Stalin in the great peoples' struggle against the Nazi wolves who invaded the homeland," Vladimir whispered. He wasn't smiling now. He meant it. Then he grinned and looked up.

"But then I make my mistake. It was after capture of Berlin, after Potsdam. We work hard on Potsdam. I go back to Moscow. There I make my mistake."

I was getting a little itchy about this. "For God's sake! Speak up. What mistake?"

"Well, believe or not, I am shifted to foreign office Far East section. After we defeat Germans we want defeat Japanese, particularly those Japanese in China. We have great plans for China," Vladimir said.

"I did good. I work hard. I do much research. I follow the pattern. When we win in Stalingrad, Stalin is there and we have victory. But he not really there, understand, except in my typewriter."

I nodded and he declared: "It was same at Kiev and Kharkov and Poltava. Stalin is there on my typewriter." He scratched his head. "Believe or not, we never did get Stalin into Berlin before Potsdam Conference. I hope no one thinks of that in foreign office."

We had another schnapps and Vladimir was obviously feeling them.

"So I tell you how I kill Stalin. In my research on Japan, it reasonable that the Generalissimo Comrade Stalin should make an appearance before Japanese workers and they declare they ready to give up war and join in search of Peoples' Democracies for Peace under Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. We do it before, in my typewriter, of course."

He finished his drink and started buttoning his coat.

"Believe or not, I make very good research and report this. I write story. It goes upstairs to the big boys. That's why I here in refugee center."

In desperation I asked: "What exactly did you do?"

"Believe or not," Vladimir grinned, "I write story of Stalin visitation to workers of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Believe or not, that's the day Americans drop atomic bomb."

June 20, 2015

1957. The Smugness of Government Secrecy

The Atomic Energy Commission Responds to Downs' Criticism
"A Soviet R-7 rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending Sputnik into orbit and kicking off the space age" (source)

United States Atomic Energy Commission

Washington, D.C.

November 6, 1957

Dear Bill:

I listened to your 9:25 p.m. show on Thursday, October 31, when you were subbing for Eric—the one referring to the "cosmic brain shrinker."

I think there is no doubt that Sputnik has induced some very widespread soul-searching around Washington. For that we probably should be grateful to the Russians.

However, in speaking of the Eisenhower-Macmillan plan for a greater exchange of scientific information, you said (in reference to Sputnik):
"For the most part it knocked some of the smugness out of such super secret operations as the Atomic Energy Commission."
You also said:
"If President Eisenhower's plans go through and Congress approves, then AEC's Admiral Strauss is going to have to cull molecules with NATO scientists."
There has been no "smugness" on the part of Admiral Strauss toward Soviet scientific capabilities. Quite the contrary, he was one of the first to call attention to the very grim facts. (See Scotty Reston's story on page 13 of today's New York Times.) I enclose a copy of a speech made by Mr. Strauss before the Edison Foundation two years ago warning of the situation.

As to the second quote which I have cited from your broadcast, it might interest you to know that was Mr. Strauss who proposed Macmillan's trip to Washington for the discussion of a wider exchange of scientific information.

Admiral Strauss met with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street on October 9 and again at dinner that evening. From their discussions at that time—following Sputnik No. 1—Macmillan's visit came about. (I know because I was there with Mr. Strauss, en route home from the first General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency at Vienna.)

I thought you might be interested in having this background in the event you talk again on this subject.

Otherwise, I love you dearly.

Best regards,

Everett Holles

Special Assistant to the Chairman


Bill Downs

CBS Washington

November 7, 1957

Dear Ev,

Your critique of the broadcast is most welcome...if only that it proves that someone besides a relative is listening. Believe me, I intended no personal attack on the Admiral or anyone else and hope that impression was not given.

I'll re-quote, as you did, to make my point:
"For the most part, it knocked some of the smugness out of such super secret operations as the AEC..."
I could have said the National Security Council or the CIA or even the FBI. But the fact is, I believe you'll agree, that our "anything you can do I can do better" attitude has caught us with our rockets down.

And for whatever reason, the past record of the AEC on information exchange policy was hardly justifiable. For confirmation of this, ask Teller or (pardon the expression) Oppenheimer or just about any other physicist in the field. The outstanding example of the aridity of our information exchange policy was the first international atomic conference in Geneva a couple of years ago. The Russians showed up with such a fund of information that we had to declassify and fly over documents and reports to keep from looking ridiculous.

Also I have learned completely by accident that the progress we are making in the fusion field has produced some startling results—to the extent that three scientists have recently been secretly honors for discoveries in this area. Yet the British and the Russians only last week made announcements about harnessing the hydrogen atom that received wide attention.

The secrecy picture in the domestic operation of AEC does not appear much better. I do not know, of course, about the number of good men and women who are disengaging themselves from various AEC installations and projects. But the complaints of bureaucratic autocracy—little "dukedoms"—set up by various individual scientific chiefs have been leaking out bit by bit. And this type of thing grows—or is allowed to grow—under the same cloak of secrecy. That is why at about any meeting of physicists or their ilk there are so many outright expressions such as: "Just who the hell would work for the government under those circumstances."

I didn't mean this reply to turn into an attack. And I don't intend in that way. But like sin, secrecy breeds secrecy...which in turn nurtures inefficiency, injustice, fear, conformity—and yes, smugness, goddammit.

I'm glad to know that Admiral Strauss was on the lever which pushed Macmillan and the President together on this problem.

Believe it or not, I'm an admirer of the Commissioner—which stirs me to also be critical.

Otherwise, I love you too dearly.


Bill Downs

June 16, 2015

1949. The Dawn of the German Democratic Republic

The Communists March Through Berlin
East Berlin in 1949. The banner reads "Freundschaft für immer mit der Sowj. Union" (Friendship forever with the Soviet Union).
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

October 11, 1949

Tonight I saw German history repeating itself—with a vengeance.

The occasion: the proclamation of Communist leader Wilhelm Pieck as the first president of what is called the German Democratic Republic.

The scene: Unter den Linden and a reviewing stand in front of the old Berlin University, which for more than four hours this evening was turned into a replica of Moscow's Red Square for one of the biggest political demonstrations since Adolf Hitler used to march his stormtroopers down that historic street.

Germany's communists tonight proved that they learned a lesson in political showmanship from the Nazis. It was all there—the singing, the flags, the torch parade. The only differences are that "hoch" has replaced "heil," the clenched fist has replaced the Nazi salute, and the flowing Georgian mustache of Joe Stalin has been substituted for the amputated version sported by Hitler.

A quarter of a million people—mostly young boys and girls, members of the Communist-sponsored Free German Youth organization—paraded down Unter den Linden tonight to honor Pieck and the Russian-backed government which claims jurisdiction for all Germany.

They carried tens of thousands of torches, the smoke from which blacked out the silhouette of the Brandenburg Gate a mile up the street.

The surprising thing is that these 250,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 were brought into the city on special trains from all over East Germany. There was no mention of it or of the preparations to premiere the new East German government tonight with all the pomp and fanfare of a kind of Russian Hollywood.

The Red Army cooperated to the extent of providing a half-dozen antiaircraft searchlights. Sky rockets were fired. An excellent military band marched some five thousand members of the People's Police to control the crowds. This was perhaps the most significant touch in the demonstration, because the People's Police, trained by the Russians after careful communist indoctrination, are responsible for maintaining the Pieck government in power—as is the duty of such organizations in a police state.

Everyone did a double take when the puppet president himself appeared out of Göring's old Air Ministry, and a squad of 150 black uniformed ex-Wehrmacht soldiers snapped to a Prussian salute and escorted the 73-year-old communist as an honor guard.

It was the Free German Youth organization that stole the show—trained to sing marching songs; carrying placards damning America and the West German government; dressed in bright blue shirts and neckerchiefs and carrying blue flags of their organization. These youths are the stormtroopers of this new Russian satellite state.

Tonight they cooperated by helping the police push back the crowds, throwing themselves into the police lines to shove the people away.

If the German communists aimed to demonstrate their strength in the show they put on tonight, they succeeded.

The most revealing and startling fact to emerge from Unter den Linden is the care and trouble that the Communists have taken to capture the youth of their zone—youth that is or will soon be of military age.

These kids, all 200,000 of them, are tough, rowdy adolescents. The Communists gave them a symbol and a uniform, and today they have a free trip to Berlin and an exciting parade. The appeal to any young person has to be tremendous.

The other significant fact evident from today's demonstration is the strength of the People's Police. The five thousand or so on hand are well-fed, extremely well-trained, and their uniforms differ from the SS regalia only in that they do not carry the deaths-head insignia.

The West Berlin press is regaling the steamrolled government of Wilhelm Pieck today with ridicule. Pieck, they say, is "Wilhelm the Third"—his government should be called "Pieck-istan."

But the East German satellite government is not one to be laughed off, and tonight the world has another source of war with which to contend.

June 15, 2015

1943. Victory Salutes in Moscow

The Desna Line
V-Day victory salute in Moscow on May 9, 1945 (source)
The parentheses indicate text that did not pass Soviet censors for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

September 17, 1943
If you want a thumbnail description of the German army in Russia tonight, it can be said to be a group of Nazis in grey-green uniforms looking for a place to stay this winter. At least this is an accurate definition of those Nazis on the upper Desna river line.

The Red Army's capture of Briansk has thrown the Germans out of the lynch-pin in what was to be the link between the Nazis' northern and southern winter line.

When Hitler's summer offensive failed around Kursk and when the Russians started their breakthroughs, the Germans were forced into a fighting retreat towards the Desna. (In fact, one Russian division captured German high command documents telling of the preparation of the Desna for the winter. This document ordered that, if necessary, the German troops were to fall back on this line.)

They have fallen back alright, but the Germans have lose their military balance...they're still falling.

The Briansk victory and the routing of six Nazi divisions means that a serious hole has been punched in this Desna line. Ninety miles down the river another Russian breakthrough across the Desna is still making progress around Novgorod-Siverskyi. We have yet to see how far the Russians intend to follow up these breakthroughs, particularly this close to the fall rainy season, but the most natural defense line behind the Desna are the upper reaches of the Dnieper river.

Meanwhile, all along the other sections of the front south of the Sea of Azov, the Russians are moving westward at the rate of three to nine miles. It may be significant that the Germans lost only eight planes on the entire Russian front yesterday. (The Nazis have evidently abandoned the air to the Soviet air force.)

Moscow is positively getting as used to victories these days that the people think something is wrong if the siege guns and rockets don't salute another Red Army success by at least nine o'clock.

There were two salutes last night, and one tonight. The story goes that Moscow mothers tell their daughters, "I want you home right after victory salute tonight."

Now the daughters are answering, "You mean the first victory salute, or the second?"

June 12, 2015

1947. The New World Order of the Twentieth Century

America at the Dawn of the Cold War
Bill Downs and his wife Rosalind in Oklahoma City in 1947
Bill Downs delivered this speech to a crowd in Oklahoma City on January 17, 1947. This text is taken from his script and notes.
Bill Downs

Oklahoma City

January 17, 1947
I am not going to speak to you today as an "expert." God knows that there are enough of them on everything, from ladies' girdles to dialectical materialism. I'd like to talk to you as a reporter, a title I claim because that's what it says on my CBS paychecks. And I said reporter, not commentator, because when a commentator gets scooped it hurts his reputation. But for a reporter, well, he has more freedom of action. If he's caught with half-masted trousers, it's just considered one of the hazards of the trade.

So let's suppose that you are the editors, and I am a legman in off-the-beat, sitting around the copy desk in a bull session. As a matter of fact, that's just about what radio does in the news field. Your loudspeaker is your reporter who comes into your home and figuratively props up its feet on the edge of your mind.

Within the next few days, radio station KOMA is going to be rapping at a lot of loudspeakers that it could not reach before. About 750,000 more new listeners will be added to its audience. That's a lot of people, and obviously the responsibility of radio station KOMA and the Columbia Broadcasting System is much more than seeing that you get the latest singing commercial as your regular ration of radio.

Now, I told you that I'm a reporter. But you, as the editorial listening audience, would not hire a reporter who didn't have a mind of his own, and opinions of his own, and feelings of his own. A person without these would be pretty dull.

However, it has been the policy of the Columbia Broadcasting System that no reporter's opinion has any place on CBS air. For example, I hate spinach, but there are some people who like the stuff. Now, if I were sent to one of your big spinach production centers in the eastern part of Oklahoma, I would do a straight-away story on the vegetable—the who, what, where, how, and even the why of spinach. But if in my news report I said that I personally did not like spinach, I would be fired from the CBS reporting staff. And it would be a good thing. There is no place on our network for spinach-haters as such. There is a place for reporters who can be fair and honest about spinach, about labor, about management, about conservatives, about communists, or what have you.

The point I'm trying to make is that the responsibility of radio reporting, news gathering, and presentation is a great one. Our job is to get the news to you as completely and fairly as the medium of radio can present it within its limitations. It is a big job, and a hard job. But somewhere along the line of our national history someone figured out that if you give the American people the facts, give them some interpretation to clarify these facts, and then leave them alone, they will usually figure things out for the general good of themselves and the world.

It's something radio learned from the newspapers which preceded radio news. The printed word preceded the broadcast word and, guided by a man named Thomas Paine, set the American standard of news reporting which radio is willing to challenge them in maintaining. However, let me make this point. We radio reporters have never felt in institutional competition with the newspapers or the news services. Naturally every reporter tries to scoop his best friends and his closest colleagues. This is what makes the game interesting. Lee Bond of the United Press here and Boots NorGaard of the Associated Press will testify to that.

What it comes down to is that the radio and the newspaper news coverage supplement each other. The spoken word is usually faster than the printed word. And on that advantage, the advantage of speed, again lies radio's responsibility. Our biggest shortcoming is time. It is literally impossible to give all the details of any one story unless, such as in the case of the President's speech, the news is made over the radio. But for the most part people depend upon radio to bring them the news first.

Since the end of the war and the signing in Tokyo Bay, I have been on CBS home assignment, except for the break outside of the country when I covered the atomic bomb.

It is my observation that reporting the peace is a much more difficult job than reporting the war. During the war we had the issues defined for us. Our objectives were to defeat the enemy. The enemy was identifiable by the guns he pointed at you, and by the shells and bombs he dropped on you. You probably remember the halcyon days when an ally was an ally, and not a mysterious stranger who might or might not be preparing to blow you to kingdom come.

The year I spent in Russia during the period from the victory at Stalingrad to the capture in Kiev was, I believe, one of the most significant of the century. For the first time, the sprawling nation of some twenty-odd nationalities not only felt itself unified in what is known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but they also for the first time felt the hand of foreign cooperation and friendliness. This came mostly from America in the form of Lend Lease war materials, particularly transport, and in the form of UNNRA and Lend Lease food.

The Russian people, who for the past twenty-five years had been told they were surrounded by unfriendly capitalist countries, discovered that capitalism is probably not the bugaboo that Stalin and the Party had been telling them for so long. The result was that we found the Russian people extremely friendly. And only in Oklahoma can I say I have found hospitality from the ordinary people any greater...or any more fatiguing. Really, you Oklahomans would like the Russian people. Their country has the same open, rolling plains; the kind of country that breeds a tough, ambitious people for which no task is too big.

However, whether the people are born on prairies or on mountains, whether they eat rice or buffalo meat, or whether they worship a Buddha or a bullock or a bit of stone, there basically is nothing wrong with people no matter how imperfect they are. The trouble comes when this imperfect animal called man gathers power for himself.

It would be oversimplification to say that the trouble with the Russian people is their government. I suppose you could say the same thing about Americans or British or Frenchmen. During the war we foreign correspondents were discouraged from saying such things about our Allies. But now the censorship is off...although it is still imposed with an iron hand in Russia, and we can talk about such things.

Incidentally, one of the most amusing censorship stories I ran into concerned the Russian censor. The censors there are a very worried group of men. One slip-up and they find themselves cutting wood in Siberia, a portion of the Russian nation hardly recommended as a resort.

(Go into Russian Poltava censorship story)
"I went with my secretary to the Lenin Library to look up the First Battle of Poltava in 1709 when Peter the Great defeated Charles of Sweden. I managed to dig up the number of men involved, the number of horses employed, and the number of guns in that first battle that ended the era of Swedish conquest. I thought it would make an interesting angle to supplement the 1943 battle story. However, the censor stopped all the statistics on that 240 year old battle because, he explained, it is 'military information.' It was obvious that he suspected some sort of a code."
There is no time to go into the vagaries and the shortcomings of the Russian form of government. But there can be no doubt that it is the most intriguing, most fearful, and the biggest nation in the world. Its people are, by our standards, comparatively uneducated, but they are vigorous, strong, and ambitious. They have the faults of any other nation—a fact which the pro-Russian Americans often fail to recognize. There is antisemitism in the Soviet Union, and there is graft and corruption in the government even as in the United States. Its basic fault is the lack of human freedom that we have come to accept as our God-given rights in this country.

The one thing which will defeat or overthrow the Soviet government is the suppression of the people and the smothering of freedom of speech, the press, and the radio. No man and no nation can live freely unless its people are allowed to think freely. The Kremlin recognizes this fact and is now trying to substitute forced mental feeding for free thought. I do not think the Stalin government will succeed. Hitler tried and failed.

Personally, I do not agree with the international crepe-hangers who predict inevitable war with Russia. I do not believe that I am whistling in the dark when I say that there is a real possibility of "One World" being achieved, and being achieved peacefully.

The fact that we forget is that governments are dynamic, ever-strengthening things. You Democrats in the audience can verify that. But it is as ridiculous to say that the government of the United States is going to remain the same for thinnest fifty years as it is to say that the Russian government will remain the static dictatorship it is now.

For example, look back fifty years into our own history. The economy of the country was controlled by the men who controlled the money. At that time, to think that the working man might have something to say about how to run the business or industry in which he labored would have been branded as the rankest socialism. Antitrust laws? Social insurance? Minimum wage? Fifty years ago this was rank communism. The royalists in England were saying the same thing back in 1776 when an upstart group of colonists dared oppose the divine right of kings.

Today we hear a lot about the inevitable battle between capitalism and communism. In this changing world, it is difficult to tell what these two words mean, because as a system of enterprise they also are dynamic and change. As a matter of fact, any Russian citizen, or the government itself for that matter, will tell you that there is no communism in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party members will remind you that the name is Soviet Socialist Republics. Communism is something they hope to attain.

The changes that are going on today in Russia's economic life smell suspiciously capitalistic. They long to have a sped up system. Their workers are paid according to the amount of work done, not on the basis of need as it says in Das Kapital. The privilege dispensed in the government rivals the most patronizing and efficient political machine we have in the United States.

Governments change as they grow. They advance, they compromise, they exist only to serve the greatest good of the greatest number of people. When they stop operating on that principle, they die or are overthrown. Right now the Stalin government has the confidence of its people, who sincerely believe that the government is operating for their welfare. They point out that the government is only some twenty-nine years old; younger than most of us here. It won a victory against the most powerful army ever to make an offensive attack on a peaceful country. Its Five Year Plans are sweeping and ambitious, and so far the people are willing to sacrifice to achieve the goals of the country.

No one to whom I talked while in Russia, or to authorities and my friends who have lived there since I came out of that country, predicts any revolutions or upheaval inside that nation. It is a very difficult thing to do under a dictatorship.

The point is that we have to live with Russia as she is while she grows up, whether we like it or not. I'm afraid that the Soviet Union is here to stay, depending upon us and other factors I'll go into later. Meanwhile, we must continue as nations to work together and cooperate with each other until that day in the far distant future when men really and truly understand and love one another.

Before we get off this subject of national and international growth—of dynamic change—I'd like to point out that right now in the Far East there is, I believe, in progress one of the greatest and most important revolutions under way since the days the boys at Lexington and Concord laid their lives on the line.

You hear and read the reports of the Chinese Civil War—the story of the fighting in Rangoon or India seem remotely terrible to you, and the fierce battles being fought in Indo-China and Java are more than bloody Far Eastern precinct battles. They are the signs of a discontented and oppressed people testing their muscles to throw out of power—possibly out of the entire Far East—the white men who they feel have kept them under their heel. I believe it is the most important revolution since 1776.

I had some dealings with these revolutionaries. As a matter of fact, they darn near killed me, and they did kill an OSS colonel who, ironically, was one of their greatest sympathizers. Both in Indo-China and in Java there were signs on the buildings and on trucks and ox-carts quoting the American Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and our Bill of Rights. Again the paradox was that the white man, in bringing his culture and his exploitation to the Far East, also brought his concepts of liberty and human freedoms. You could say that the white man literally is being hoisted out of the Far East by his own petard.

(Recall incident at Saigon)

This young revolutionary told me something that I have never forgotten. He was in tears. He spoke in French through his own interpreter. It went something like this:
"We regard Americans as our friends. The whole Far East sees in America the things which all men want despite the color of their skins. You build your country on the principles of liberty and freedom and equality. That is all we want. We consider Americans our allies in this fight. But if we have to, we will fight you even to achieve these things."
The picture in the Far East is a confused and baffling one, but I believe that this young Annamite lieutenant stated the basic issue. The danger is that the White Man will really be expelled from the Far East, and the Far East will form their own kind of isolationism. Then we will have the delicate and dangerous job of bringing them back into the world before events on a hemispherical scale force an even bigger slaughter than the one we just went through.

June 9, 2015

1949. West Germany's Booming Industry Alarms Britain and France

The Reinvigorated Ruhr
The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, February 1949. Photo by Carl August Stachelscheid (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 28, 1949

It is becoming increasingly clear that the economic future of Western Europe will depend in a large part upon what happens in some 1,300 dirty, sooty square miles of Western Germany.

The Ruhr is gradually becoming the focal point of the Western European recovery under the Marshall Plan. The quantity of coal, steel, and power produced in this valley—only forty-five miles long and thirty miles wide—will largely determine the amount of taxes the American taxpayer will have to contribute to the revival of Western Europe.

If the peace of the world depends upon a reconstructed Western Europe, then the Ruhr and its German workers have a tremendous part to play in the achievement of this goal.

I have just returned from a week of traveling in the Ruhr industrial complex, talking with industrialists, workers, political leaders, and occupation authorities. It is not the most pleasant place in the world. The mile after mile of mines, foundries, and furnaces; the run down and dirty laboring communities; the smoke and soot from the chimneys.

The district was badly bombed during the war, and places like Essen and Duisburg are still mostly huge piles of rubble.

But underneath the grime and the damage, there is a great vitality. The people have lost their defeated shuffle and now walk with vigor and spirit. Everyone can work who wants a job, and now that the reformed West Mark has achieved confidence and value, the Ruhr German is working hard.

The city of Düsseldorf, which the Ruhr control authority has made the unofficial capital of the district, is overflowing with life. The shops, where plaster is hardly dry, are jammed with everything from pot scrapers to fur coats. Jewelers are back in business with gems and gold and silver. In blockaded Berlin, for example, you find a large number of antique shops where desperate families trade the last of their valuables for marks. In the Ruhr there are few antique shops. Everything is new.

A wealthy merchant class is emerging in the revived Ruhr economy. These men could be compared with the carpetbaggers in our own civil war. You see them in the most expensive restaurants, driving the biggest automobiles, and wearing the finest clothing. They are the middlemen, sometimes dealing on the black market and sometimes not. If an industrialist needs scrap iron, these men know where to get it. If it is sheet steel, they can make a deal.

You have probably seen caricatures of the traditional German businessman with a round, protruding stomach and a fat, moon face. The corporation stomach is returning to Germany by way of the carpetbagger. You don't find it in the people who do the work.

Yes, the Pittsburgh of Western Europe is rapidly getting back on its feet, and this fact alone poses serious problems for the American, British, and French who must channel Ruhr production into the entire economy of Europe. The Germans have ideas of their own as to how this should be done.

At present it is estimated that the United States is pouring a billion dollars a year into Western Germany to keep her alive. The only way that Germany can repay this is to export on the foreign market. If that were all there is to the problem, it would be simple.

But the British and French have different viewpoints. Britain particularly is in the position of "export or die," and a British official told me frankly that "if someone is going to die, it will not be the United Kingdom."

The French have a similar viewpoint with another added factor. They say we must be careful not to make the mistakes of the last war. Revive the German economy and German nationalism will follow. Then you have a Teutonic threat of war on your hands.

The Americans insist that this position is illogical. Our aim is to revive the European economy. The Ruhr and Western Germany form a vital part of that economy. The life of a free economy, America says, is competition. And if German production is in competition with other countries, it can't be helped. American authorities point out that this revived German production will also be in competition with United States industry.

That is the argument between the three occupying powers. The Germans watch these tensions and act accordingly.

The Germans put up a tremendous howl, and still are sobbing, when the international control of the Ruhr was announced.

Right now the British have an embarrassing trial on their hands in the case of seven German workers who refused to dismantle a drop forge in Bochum, claiming that it was a plant necessary to the peacetime German economy. The British, I gathered, are a little sorry they brought the thing up.

This is the first instance of passive resistance against an occupation power in Germany. A similar thing occurred in 1923 when the entire Ruhr population refused to work for reparations. France and Belgium sent troops in, and for almost two years the Ruhr was under a state of siege until Germany was reduced to a state of bankruptcy and her resistance broken.

The Germans know, and we know, that the occupying powers cannot afford to let a similar situation develop now when we are trying so desperately to put Western Europe back on her feet. It places great power in the hands of the people who were supposed to be conquered in the last war.

Right now the Ruhr is governed by a "level of industry" regulation that sets steel production at 11.7 million tons of steel a year. It is expected that this level will be raised to 14 million tons. This will mean the first real postwar boom in the Ruhr. It will also mean greater exports into the European economy and fewer dollars needed in Germany.

At present there is a moratorium on foreign investments in Germany, but both British and American authorities have recommended that this ban be lifted.

Opening Germany to foreign investment will be of greatest importance to American financiers. As one German industrialist put it, America is the only nation in the world today that has money to export. This industrialist, who has connections in the United States, says American capital is extremely interested in investing in Germany.

"However," he explained, "No one is going to risk money in this country until the international political situation becomes more stable. There has to be the prospect of ten years of peace before the dollars will risk going to work here."

These are only part of the complex problems facing Western Powers as they seek the road to economic revival, stability, and peace.

The main questions being asked are:

Is Germany becoming the dominant economic factor in Europe, as the British fear?

Is Germany being so strengthened that she will become another threat to peace, as the French fear?

Only time will give the answers to these and other problems. Meanwhile the Ruhr and West Germany continues to pull itself out of the rubble of war. Make no mistake about it, the Germans are the hardest working people in Europe.

June 8, 2015

1956. A Letter from an Old D-Day Comrade

Twelve Years Since D-Day
LST 287, later transferred to the Philippine Navy and renamed the RPS Samar Oriental (LT-502)
Bill Downs accompanied Allied forces at Gold Beach during the Normandy invasion. One LST crewman, Fredrick Freeman Leister, wrote a brief letter to Downs twelve years later recalling the experience.
To: Bill Downs

From: Fred F. Leister

September 20, 1956

Mr. Bill Downs
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Downs, 
Each time that I have heard you broadcast for the past few years I have intended to drop you a line. You will probably be surprised to hear from me after so long a time. 
I am the ex-Chief Engineman aboard the L.S.T. 287 that we were both aboard in the Normandy invasion with Chief Engineer W.A. Wilson and Captain F.P. Eldredge. I often think about that morning when we were all in the main engine room making our wills of motorcycles and so forth to each other. I was certainly glad to hear that everything turned out O.K. with you. 
After the (?) I was transferred to the South Pacific and was a very lucky person myself. 
If you could find the time I would be very glad to get a line from you and I would like to give almost anything I own for a copy of your release to the news of the invasion that you were on with us aboard the L.S.T. 287. 
If I am ever around where you are broadcasting I will certainly look you up. 
Yours truly, 
Fred F. Leister 
San Diego, California

June 3, 2015

1943. The 'Second' Battle of Poltava

The Fight for Poltava
"Soviet soldiers preparing the rafts to cross the Dnieper (the sign reads 'To Kiev!')" Battle of the Dnieper, 1943 (source)
In 1951, Bill Downs recalled his reports on the Battle of the Dnieper as a prime example of Soviet censorship. He wrote:
"As for the suspicion and fear, the best example I have of that concerns the Battle of Poltava near the end of 1943. I went with my secretary to the Lenin Library to look up the First Battle of Poltava in 1709 when Peter the Great defeated Charles of Sweden. I managed to dig up the number of men involved, the number of horses employed, and the number of guns in that first battle that ended the era of Swedish conquest. I thought it would make an interesting angle to supplement the 1943 battle story. However, the censor stopped all the statistics on that 240 year old battle because, he explained, it is 'military information.' It was obvious that he suspected some sort of a code."
The broadcast below is one example of this. The parentheses indicate text censored by Soviet press officials for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

September 23, 1943

It was just a little over 234 years ago that the Russians achieved one of their historic victories. It was at Poltava where the Russians, fighting under Peter the Great, defeated the Swedish army under Charles XII.

Two countries and thirty-four years later—today—the Russians have won another big victory. They have again defeated an invader at Poltava. An Order of the Day from Marshal Josef Stalin announces the capture of this city.

Today's victory is a big one, but no one is claiming that it is as great a victory as that which vanquished the Swedish army in 1700. And it is interesting to note that some 42,000 Russians engaged some 27,000 Swedes in this ancient battle. (When the fighting was over only some 1,300 Russians were killed.)

The modern battle for Poltava has been going on for about a month since the Red Army advance west of Kharkov. The Germans in this sector concentrated large forces of tanks, mobile guns, and infantry to serve as a powerful armored guard to protect the German retreat from the Donbass. (This armored guard was originally designed as an armed fist which was supposed to counterattack and retake Kharkov. This plan failed to materialize.)

Today this armored fist is in full retreat to the Dnieper. The German base of Poltava was one of the most powerful in the Ukraine. It was taken with much greater casualties for both sides than either the Russians or the Swedes suffered two centuries ago.

It is a Russian victory that Peter the Great would have been proud of.

Tonight's Russian communiqué also announces more great advances. The Red Army, driving down the railroad leading southwestward into Kiev, has taken a station only some twenty-two miles from the city. This is the closest that the Russians have been to the capital of Ukraine since 1941.

Around the key city of Smolensk the Red Army has developed another threat to this bastion, this time from the south. A Soviet breakthrough has placed the Russians only some fifteen miles south of the city. Now the Germans have to face a pincer movement on their northern and southern flank defenses supporting Smolensk.

Another Red Army gain is announced westward of Bryansk. Here the Russians are on the march in the direction of Gomel and have taken a key railroad town some ninety miles to the west of the city.

June 2, 2015

1956. The Campaign Circus

Organizing Political Mayhem
"Caricaturist George Wachsteter takes this view of the CBS-TV political commentators at work" (1956). Featured are Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Robert Trout, Bill Downs, Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, and others.

Bill Downs

CBS Washington

Organizing Political Mayhem

The highlight of the hullabaloo that characterizes the political campaign for Middletown, USA is the night that the presidential candidate makes a major speech in the municipal auditorium.

The local politicians sweat blood. The last minute emergencies seem to spring out of the floor. At least one lady in the "Women for Runninghard" organization gives up in a faint. The competition among the local bigwigs to be on the reception committee sometimes leaves scars that last for years. And usually someone always forgets to put a pitcher of water and a glass on the speaker's stand.

The big moment arrives. The dignitaries assemble on the station platform. The local brass band, which incidentally will also play the campaign song of the other candidate when he hits town—goes into its carefully planned list of tunes. The town's biggest Cadillacs are drawn up to receive the visiting politicians. And at the tail end of the procession there is a transit bus marked "Press, TV and Radio."

The train pulls in on schedule. Middletown policemen keep the small fry out from under its wheels. Local photographers and radio and TV broadcasters close in to record the event. The Candidate steps off the train wearing the same broad smile that he has worn in a score of towns.

Shakes hands. Shakes hands. Grins. Shakes hands.

Meanwhile behind him the campaign train disgorges several hundred people. Secretaries, speechwriters, economists, farm experts, and just plain politicians.

The reporters traveling with the candidate carry their typewriters, cameras, tape recorders, briefcases, and whatever other tools of the trade and immediately head for the bus. They already have the advance of the Middletown speech. Their job now is to check it, pick up local color, and try to assess in a very few hours just what is the political flavor of the town.

The Chief of Police signals to the motorcycle escort which roars into the lead, sirens whining. The Candidate is taken to the best local hotel, best suite, given the chance to wash up and meet some more dignitaries, and the time arrives to leave for the speech.

The party faithful give a big ovation. The introductions, to meet radio and television time commitments, happily are brief. There may be a dinner featuring creamed peas. Always creamed peas.

The Candidate makes his speech. He says his thanks. The Cadillacs and bus appear mysteriously from nowhere. The entire party of some 300 to 400 persons pile in, pile off again at the station, climb onto the train. The train pulls out, leaving behind the hand wavers and the same band playing the same tunes.

Half of Middletown has had its big day. The other half will celebrate when their own Candidate arrives and substantially repeats the same process.

The phenomenon that is the American political campaign has followed this general pattern since the days that highways and railroads permitted reasonable travel by men seeking votes and public office. In the past thirty years, radio and the airplane have facilitated and sped up the campaign and the number of people to which a candidate can personally make his appeal.

The impending 1956 campaign will see the use of television adapted to campaign techniques as it has never been before. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have already optioned time on all major networks to make their key appeals.

But at the base, no matter what the media, the organization of a presidential campaign in these United States remains substantially the same as it was in the days of Abraham Lincoln. The Candidate and his party must present his personality and the party principles to as many citizens as possible and hope to win their approval.

Over the years, the art of winning voters has developed into what amounts to a science. And this science under our political system receives its major test every four years when the American people choose a president.

At one time in our history it might have been that organizing a presidential campaign was something like putting a circus on tour. However, the concept of a campaign manager as a kind of combination of P.T. Barnum and a travel agent has changed. The modern campaign manager, characterized in the person of the present White House Press Secretary James Hagerty, must be able to read and assess the scores of charts and statistics of recording votes, opinions, and preferences supplied to him by his party's national committee.

Many times he must speak and act for his candidate on every conceivable subject in such a manner that will not embarrass the campaign or his man personally. He acts as the final arbiter on speeches, introductions, and endorsements. As the campaign progresses, the campaign manager acts as social secretary, alter ego, and sometimes father, mother, and brother to his man. And toward the end of the ordeal, the manager's main job is to get the candidate through election night alive, healthy, and able to make what he hopes will be an inspiring speech of acceptance.

The successful campaign manager must also know how to lose with grace and dignity.

Hagerty handled the two unsuccessful Dewey campaigns in 1944 and 1948 before organizing the Eisenhower victory. In this coming contest he does not like to be referred to as a "campaign manager," although you can be sure that the Hagerty touch will be evident in every move made by the Republicans to reelect the President. The GOP 1956 race will be unique in the Mr. Eisenhower believes that, as president, it would be undignified and debasing the office for him to appear before the citizens he governs as a politician seeking votes. He believes the the incumbent must run on his record in office and the principles for which he has employed in serving that office. Thus the citizens going to the polls in November will approve or reject him and his conduct of the nation's affairs, not just cast a vote for a man and his personality.

However, no one, and particularly the GOP politicians, is going to play down the Eisenhower grin or charm in this contest whether the President thinks it dignified or not.

The major political parties never stop organizing their campaigns from one election to the other. The Democratic and Republican national committees keep permanent staffs to keep records, collect data, and make surveys.

When Thomas E. Dewey was defeated badly by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, the GOP National Committee shook itself down again and started to work on the congressional elections. You remember Republicans controlled the 80th Congress in 1946, good evidence of the importance and value of continuity and continuing work in the national headquarters.

Certainly there are struggles within both national party organizations. In the Republican headquarters in 1952, it was between the Taft forces and the Eisenhower adherents. In the Democratic organization, it is a running battle between the Southern conservatives and the Northern liberals. The national committee is the so-called neutral battlefield where these internal forays are fought. The battles are settled at the national conventions.

While all this is happening between elections, the organizing for the next campaign goes on.

This spring, both the Republicans and Democrats began seriously collecting ammunition for their fall vote drives. Many people don't realize it, but the issues which the candidates will debate, the time and place where they appear, and even the words they are likely to say were all decided a year or six months before either man received his party's nomination. It's all part of organizing the campaign.

For example, in May of this year the Democratic National Committee sent out a questionnaire to every one of their party's senators, congressmen, state governors, National Committee members, state directors, and county chairmen asking a dozen questions which will vitally affect the type and extent of the campaign their candidate will pursue. The Democratic professionals do not know who the candidate will be, but the political vital statistics will be ready for him when the convention chooses the man this August.

This questionnaire asks these politicians to designate his area's four most important cities where the presidential or vice-presidential candidate might appear. It asks for the ethnic makeup of these areas as to race, religion, and background. The Democratic leader is asked to designate the three most important issues in his area from a list of some 25 subjects ranging over taxes, farm problems, civil rights, high interest rates, foreign policy, part-time presidency, and the polio vaccine.

The Democrats ask their people across the country searching questions on economic and farm conditions as well as labor and management problems, and are concentrating this year on the plight of small business.

The Republican National Committee employs its own professional public opinion poll-taking and research organization using the same techniques and often the same methods as the Gallup company and similar concerns.

The GOP organization had its women's division organize what it calls the "Poll Takers of America," a group of amateurs who last winter operated in 47 of the 48 states under the direction of Republican state and county leaders. The winter floods canceled the question drive in Connecticut.

Some 15,000 Republican women polled some 250,000 persons across the country on September 25. The answers were kept confidential. The instructions to the poll takers specified that they should "smile, be brief, and be friendly." The poll takers were told to identify the poll as a Republican party venture only if asked. If the one questioned then says "I'm not going to answer questions for the Republicans," the reply should be: "You'll be doing a real service for your country because our administration wants its policies to be what all the people want."

Democrats say that this poll was conducted with loaded questions such as the opening query that read, "Most Americans agree that the aim of our foreign policy is to work with other countries for a just and lasting peace. Do you think that the Eisenhower administration is doing a good, fair, or poor job in this field?"

The GOP National Committee did get some valuable information on a number of general attitudes from the questions. And the Republicans were able to put out a publicity release statement that the administration's efforts to secure peace met with "overwhelming approval" of the nation's voters.

At the same time that the Democratic and Republican politicians are researching the nation for problems and issues for the campaign, other experts study election results for the so-called "critical areas" which often determine just where the candidate will concentrate his campaigning.

These are 63 Republican "critical" or "marginal" districts across the country—that is, districts where the GOP candidate won by less than five percent of the vote. There are 31 "marginal" Democratic districts in which the Democrats won by less than five percent.

For both parties, the "critical areas" stretch across the country literally from Maine to California, and include areas of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, Kansas and New Jersey. Depending on last minute assessment of the party's chances of swinging a district by perhaps the personal appearance of a candidate, then it will be to that area that the campaign itinerary will lead.

Organizing a campaign is a complex, difficult, and often thankless business.

The organizer who gets the least thanks of all is the "advance man" who precedes the candidate and tries to make certain that all possible arrangements are completed. It's a delicate and diplomatic job. Not only must he expedite the final arrangements, he must also see that the presidential candidate does not unwittingly become involved in a local political scrap of which the number is myriad.

Consequently, leaders of all party factions must get an even break. The wives must not be neglected and the major campaign contributor must—repeat must—get the candidate's gladdest hand. If anything goes wrong with the advance man's arrangements even though he is not there, he usually gets the blame. Usually he's a jump ahead of the candidate hoping each day that "this time everything will work out."

The advance man's job is considered so important that the GOP National Committee has put out a whole manual on the job. Its secrets are so politically delicate that this book of instructions is kept under lock and key.

Each successive campaign is different, and this 1956 drive for both Republicans and Democrats will be no exception.

The national conventions are being held later this year—the Democrats in Chicago on August 13, the Republicans a week later in San Francisco. The result is that the campaign organizers will have less time to plan before the traditional Labor Day kickoff for their individual candidate. This will present difficulty, particularly for the Democrats.

On the other hand, the Republicans feel themselves doubly blessed in the upcoming campaign. Barring unforeseen difficulties, they have their candidate in the White House and their planning is ahead of schedule.

The Democrats know what they are up against in trying to beat the incumbent. The president running for reelection has, in effect, a built-in political organization around him. Since every move and statement by his administration is in a sense political, every cabinet member and every member of his staff act as his spokesmen. Every bill that he signs or vetoes becomes a political document. Every word that he utters ranks somewhere in the category of campaign oratory.

As one Democratic politician pointed out somewhat wistfully, "In this country, only twice has the incumbent in the White House been removed from office by an election." The two were, however, Republicans—William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.

In the last presidential campaign, General Dwight Eisenhower traveled 51,000 miles by train, plane, and automobile. Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson traveled 32,000 miles. At the end of the line, both men said they would never like to go through the ordeal again.

However, in the second volume of his memoirs Years of Trial and Hope, former President Harry Truman speaks of the 1948 whistle-stop campaign during which he virtually single-handedly snatched the election away from Governor Dewey. Mr. Truman says he traveled 31,700 miles in 35 days of campaigning and made 356 speeches—an average of ten a day. "I believed...that people still prefer to make up their own minds about candidates upon the basis of direct observation, despite all the claims of how society depends today upon newspapers, radio, and other media of communication."

The new medium of television was not developed eight years ago to the extent it is now. If the 1956 campaign proves anything, it may prove whether the era of the old-fashioned "whistle-stop" campaign is truly ended.

The Republicans have announced that they are going to depend on electronics and modern means of communication to put across their candidate—both his policies and his personality. Also, after his heart attack it is unlikely that Mr. Eisenhower would subject himself to a campaign ordeal such as the one he undertook four years ago.

The two frontrunners in the struggle for the Democratic nomination have both adopted the personal appearance, hand-shaking technique in the primary contests, and both are known to feel that "whistle-stopping" by train, plane, and automobile is an effective—if tiring—way to get votes.

Right now both the Democrats and Republicans are as organized as they can be. Come Labor Day, hold onto your hats.