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

1954. The Rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser

Nasser Fights the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
Bill Downs with then-Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser for an interview in Cairo in 1954
Bill Downs interviewed Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in late 1954. In a memo to CBS management, Downs gave his impressions of Nasser and Egypt, noting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolutionary government's economic reforms, and the future of the country. Below the memo is the list of the original questions Downs drafted months earlier for the interview.
December 2, 1954

TO: Sig Mickelson, Ed Murrow, Ed Morgan

FROM: Bill Downs, CBS Rome
This is intended as a rundown of impressions, observations, and news I picked up during my recent twelve days in Egypt. I talked with US Embassy officials, resident newsmen and, of course, had the two and a half hours with Prime Minister Nasser during the lengthy filming of the interview (which I hope someone has seen by this time). I also traveled in the desert some sixty miles north of Cairo on the western edge of the delta to look over their model reclamation project and over to the Suez Canal zone to talk with the British concerning their evacuation.

My impressions are limited to government spokesmen and, of course, I did not get to any members of the Moslem Brotherhood who form the biggest question mark in the new regime. I gather that there is little point in getting the spot interviews with the fellahin, since their ignorance and superstition are now augmented by fear of the police. Anyway, they are still mainly interested only in the next meal, and their policies are based on that one important fact.

My impression of the young men who are now running Egypt is that they are an extremely confident group of army officers dedicated to furthering the country into the twentieth century, but also nervous concerning the Moslem Brotherhood and its threat to them and the future of their national program. They have been shocked at the revelations concerning the Brotherhood plot to seize control of the country. It was extremely well-organized and involved fanatical cadres assembled along military lines assigned to assassinate the Revolutionary Command Council, take over, and bomb and burn government buildings and installations with carefully hidden caches of arms, ammunition, and explosives in every major city of the country.

At least a thousand leaders of this counterrevolution have been incarcerated and will go on trial. The bumf has it that upwards of four thousand conspirators and suspects have been arrested and jailed.

The plot was so well designed that some government officials suspect that professional revolutionaries might have had a hand—the main basis for the claims that the Communists are collaborating with the Brotherhood. Another obstacle in assessing the danger is that no one, not even Nasser, is exactly sure how large the secret organization is, the state of its discipline, the extent of its fanaticism, or the loyalty of its membership to the Moslem cause. It has been stated at various times by various officials that the Brotherhood membership ranges from 100,000 to 250,000 or 400,000.

When I saw him, Nasser appeared to be extremely careless of his personal safety. We met in the offices of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, a building across the street from the old Parliament in which he does much of his work. The Colonel laughed when he pointed out that Army troops had been placed around the Revolutionary Command Council headquarters around his own billets and the presidential palace.

But someone forgot about the Office of the Council Presidency. It was discovered that, across the street in an apartment building, the Brotherhood had staked out an observation post. They intended to move in and take the entire cabinet including the Prime Minister with some fifty troops dressed in military police uniforms. The plot didn't come off, but they found the uniforms. At the time, only two policemen were at the gate.

Still, the nervousness was evident, particularly when I asked him about rumors that his wife and four children had been threatened. What disturbs all of the Nasser regime is that they keep turning up belts of gelignite designed to be worn around the waist. The idea is that a fanatical member of the group will put on this explosive and at some propitious moment advance smiling to fact the Prime Minister, and then touch off the stuff—blowing the assassin and the assassinated to perdition. There is no way to address such fanaticism, and the leaders of the Brotherhood have money and the mosques behind them.

In a way, Egypt's is the strongest revolution in years. It had all the traditional aspects when Farouk was kicked out. The aristocracy fled, hangers-on were jailed, property was confiscated, and all the rest. Yet throughout it all it has been comparatively free of blood, and one of the features of this regime is the intentness to avoid bloodshed wherever possible. The speculation is that, in the current reason trials, there will be few, if any, death sentences. The handling of the problem of General Naguib is typical of the attitude.

As I wrote to you earlier on the Egyptian situation, General Naguib is a sincere Egyptian patriot, but now he is apparently not willing to go along with even the present mild RCC dictatorship. This was evident when they kicked him upstairs last spring and made him president. However, the General's personal popularity is tremendous—something like MacArthur's—and it was not politically expedient to move against him at that time. The unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Nasser provided the excuse, and apparently the Nasser boys are going to get away with it.

In my interview with Nasser I submitted the questions beforehand. His English is not very good, and they answers were prepared for him. One of my questions read: "Since the recent attempt on your life, the world has been wondering as to the future place of General Naguib in Egypt. Also, what effect does your government's banishment of the Moslem Brotherhood have on your relations with the other Arab countries?"

Nasser struck the first part of the question, but the answer had been supplied by his staff. I used it as coming from a government source, or at least I hope to use it by the time you get this. The unused answer was:

"General Naguib was prepared to listen to false promises made by subversive and extremist elements under the illusion that they would invest him with full power. While we are advancing toward real democracy, Naguib wanted to become an absolute dictator.  Unfortunately, he did not realize that they intended to utilize him to serve their end and then get rid of him."

As to the second part of the question, which you may by now have seen, Nasser replied that "the suppression of the Moslem Brethren and the Communists in Egypt will serve the security and stability not only of Egypt, but throughout the world." I suspect the Communist angle was inserted for American consumption. However, it is typical of the conciliatory attitude of this "revolution" that Naguib has now been given the use of two automobiles and a pension which I hear adds up to about eight hundred dollars a month.

The RCC is being attacked on two fronts by its friendly critics. One group says that it should make up its mind to be a revolutionary dictatorship—since it is a dictatorship anyway—and move in on its opposition, attack frontally the superstitions and customs the Moslem religion imposes which impede progress, and take over industries and businesses which refuse to cooperate and get along with the job of modernizing the economy.

The other group, comprised mostly of the wealthy and established families, are shocked by the RCC's treatment of and the charges against General Naguib. They admit that the facts of life about Farouk and Co. and generally applaud the agreement with the British on Suez, but they cannot believe that Naguib was a conspirator in the Moslem Brotherhood plot as charged.

Neither does the RCC, apparently, as per the Prime Minister's reply above. But they felt Naguib had to be removed from their government so they could operate freely. They are conscious of the fact that Naguib is still alive and a symbol of the opposition, but they choose to do nothing about it—yet.

The "revolution" can yet become bloody. But the present policy it to avoid bloodshed and attempt to build up confidence in the regime to promote foreign investment, increase tourism, and most of all un-scare domestic capital to risk new industry and business in the country. This, I believe, is the key to the present policy. If it doesn't work, or if the Brethren make an all-out attempt to take over the country, then watch out.

What you have then is a group of young military men all under forty who are determined to make something of their country, but are on the surface a little embarrassed about how to do it. Many have been educated in British schools and have inherited something of the British attitude of "not being beastly." Nasser continually speaks of the time which will come when "we can have real democracy in Egypt." One gets the impression that he is embarrassed by his dictatorial powers and wants to get rid of them.

To this end, the RCC is about to set up an Advisory Council which will act as a kind of parliament advising the government. They hope to draw in the best brains in the country from all phases of national life. The problem is to make the country secure so that anyone accepting such a position will not automatically become an assassin's' target.

However, the revolution is there even though the RCC is treading carefully and slowly. The speak with pride of "getting rid of the British," and one of their big agricultural projects that I visited, the "Liberation district" some sixty miles north of Cairo, reflects what has become a rote kind of dislike for the British. The new villages in this reclamation are being named after heroes who died in the running fight with the English troops preceding the Suez agreement.

There is also a national pride arising. On any project underway where it applies the officials take care to point out that "this is an entirely Egyptian effort." Nasser talked in terms of "the uneven distribution of wealth that prevailed before the revolution" and said the revolution "is responsible for overturning a system which made for the wide differentiation between classes and the feudal system of trade industry and agriculture in which a privileged few enrich themselves at the expense of those who have only their own labor to sell."

The RCC claims that land reform—the law which specifies that no person can own more than two hundred acres—has been eminently successful. The monarchist estates seized and cut up amount to a small portion of the country, but officials claim that the psychological effect on the population has been tremendous. For the first time in centuries, if ever, someone has concerned himself with the plight of the fellah. He has worked under slave conditions for hundreds of years with no hope of improvement for himself and his family. The mere fact of making it possible for such a man to own land is a tremendously important political factor in the new Egypt. I gathered that this revolution will be extended to industry where eventually there might be such things as labor unions, child labor laws, and industrially sponsored social benefit schemes. At present, such things are unheard of an hardly contemplatable in that primitive society.

The RCC's big project right now is harnessing the Nile, incidentally something comparable to the building of the pyramids. The aim is to not only make more acreage tillable—and they can increase there agriculture about 1/5th by 1.5 million acres—but the idea also is to industrialists.

Toward this end the RCC is electrifying the Aswan Dam, which will be accomplished in 1959 and produce something like 345,000 kilowatt hours. But the big project now awaiting an international study and some financing from the World Bank and other sources is the "High Dam" cutting across a narrow pass some four miles south of Aswan and which will be four times the size of our Hoover Dam, producing the largest artificial lake in the world. This project, if it comes off, might be said to be the true revolution in Egypt.

The High Dam is now being studied by international experts, and the Cairo government is applying to the World Bank for financing as well as seeking loans elsewhere. It will be an electrification project as well as one controlling the annual floods of the Nile. Economic planning experts have already laid out the places for future industry to build its iron and steel plants, nitrate, and fertilizer industries and others. The High Dam will produce ten billion kilowatt hours per year, enough to supply these industries and also to give power to Cairo.

Behind all of this is a sincere desire to raise the standard of living for the fellahin, and one way to do this is to industrialize and get the people out of the villages and plots and into factories. With this in view, the Revolutionary planners are attempting to lure foreign firms to establish spare-parts and machine tool industries there. There are also plans for rubber, sugar beet, Jute, and paper industries. A survey is underway to study the existing Egyptian industry with a view towards expansion and allying into the national economy as a whole.

Exactly what socioeconomic pattern the new Egypt will take is not yet clear. There has been no seizure of business or industry, but Egyptian risk capital is still mightily scared and is in hiding. It may be that the government itself will have to institute the new industries unless foreign companies come in. I think the RCC would prefer capitalists to do the job, but if they do not, then the government will probably move in.

The RCC is particularly proud of its record of social betterment. A slum-clearing program is underway in major cities. In the past two and a half years the government has built some 230 schools as opposed to only seven built by the former regime in the same period immediately preceding. Over two hundred million dollars has been earmarked for such projects since the RCC came to power.

In the land distribution and land reclamation programs the system being set up is quasi-socialistic. People given land are usually organized into settlements similar to the Israeli system. Each new farmer has the right to buy and own a few acres of land of his own as well as his house, but he must raise the crops assigned to him and work on the larger acreage owned by the settlement. His children will attend the village nursery and school. His marketing will be done for him on a cooperative basis. He must buy his bread from the village bakery. He must not be allowed to keep his animals in the house, as is the tradition. He must learn and observe the rudimentary rules of hygiene. And in some cases he will wear the distinctive uniform of his village, perhaps dark trousers with blue shirts. These projects are intended to build up a generation of modern Egyptians and to get away from the traditional nightgown on the street.

In the field of foreign policy, there seems to be an almost deliberate attempt to ignore Israel. One gets the idea that the Egyptians wish somehow the whole mess would go away. Nasser's reply to questions about the "little war" to the north is automatic. He says Israel must first abide by the 1947-48 decisions of the United Nations. Any recognition of the Israeli state would be a fait accompli and thus impair the effectiveness of the UN and establish a precedent wherein conquest by arms is to be recognized. However, one gets the impression that the RCC would like a face-saving solution. One feeler put out concerns giving assurance of communication between Egypt and the other Arab states now cut in two by the Jewish occupation of the Negev.

But the most fascinating phase of Egyptian foreign policy now underway concerns the Moslem Brotherhood vis-à-vis the other Arab states to the north. The Brotherhood is strong in each of the governments of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, and Egypt's banishment of the Brotherhood is bound to be considered an affront. How deeply this will affect the relations between the countries remain to be seen, but it's significant that many Egyptians with Brotherhood connections have received asylum in these countries.

This is about all of it. I apologize for the length—but you can always read this stuff in the can.




The purpose of this interview is not to create controversy but rather to project the views and personality of Lt. Col. Nasser. In other words we hope to educate and produce understanding. Because of the problems of lightings and in order to produce an atmosphere of informality, we would appreciate it if our camera could set up in a garden or some place outside where Lt. Col. Nasser and Bill Downs could talk, Downs asking the questions and receiving the Colonel's replies. Informatively, the question and answer technique is preferred since the soundtrack of the film also is utilized on the coast-to-coast facilities of the CBS Radio Network. It is understood that Lt. Col. Nasser can rephrase, eliminate, or add to the following list of questions, all of which are mere suggestions as to the course of the interview.
1. Colonel Nasser, the Egyptian Revolution will soon be two years old. How do you visualize the future development of the revolution? What phases does the Revolutionary Council see before it? In other words, what has yet to happen before you can turn over the revolution intact to the people? Where does General Naguib fit into this picture?
2. What are the outstanding domestic problems now facing your government? Economic, political, educational, or what?

3. The world has been watching with intense interest the Anglo-Egyptian struggle over Suez. Have there been any recent positive developments? What is your next step if a satisfactory solution is not found?

4. Another major foreign policy problem facing your government is the question of Israel. If I remember correctly, you listed your revolutionary goals "the restoration of the honor of Egyptian arms." Can this be done without reengagement with the Zionist army? What do you regard as the minimum terms for the settlement of the Israeli-Arab dispute? Do you regard the US Middle Eastern policy as recently set down by Undersecretary of State [sic] Byroade as furthering peace in this dispute?

5. What do you see as Egypt's role in the Moslem world? In the Arab world?

6. In the current worldwide East-West Cold War, do you believe that Egypt can remain neutral? Do you regard Soviet Russia as a potential ally or a potential threat to the Middle East?

7. There are persistent reports of increased Communist activity in the Middle East, particularly among the poor and working classes. Do you regard this as a threat to the Egyptian Revolution or to the stability of the Middle East? What is your domestic policy toward Communism?

8. There is admitted suspicion of United States policy and motives in this part of the world. Why is this, and what can be done about it?

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.