March 6, 2017

World War III: "Start the Presses!" by Erwin Canham

Start the Presses!
"By 1960, all of America's important magazines were printing Russian editions, with contents keyed to meet a huge demand for information." Illustration by Lowell Hess in Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 104
In 1951, Collier's magazine published a special issue entitled "Preview of the War We Do Not Want" speculating about a hypothetical World War III and what it might look like. The war begins in 1952 and ends in 1955 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by a UN occupation of Russia. Writer Robert E. Sherwood provided an extensive history of the war.

A number of other notable figures contributed fictional reports about the war and its history, including Edward R. Murrow, Hal Boyle, Walter Reuther, Marguerite Higgins, Walter Winchell, Kathryn Morgan-Ryan, Allan Nevins, Hanson W. Baldwin, Oksana Kasenkina, Lowell Thomas, Harry Schwartz, Margaret Chase Smith, and Arthur Koestler.

In this article Erwin Canham, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, describes the newly free media in Russia under UN occupation.

From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, pp. 39, 104-108:
Start the Presses!


Moscow, 1960

It seems unreal, even now, to stroll out to the lobby in the shoddy prefab which passes by the name of the Hotel Metropole, and look at the newsstand. And listening to the radio doesn't make sense, either.

Freedom of expression in Russia is still in a very explosive stage. The dozen to 15 single-sheet newspapers somehow printed here (the number varies almost from day to day) illustrate the wild confusion of liberated Russian thought. With the exception of Alexander Viktorov's New Word (Novoye Slovo), they are violently opinionated partisan sheets.

But the Russians have also turned hungrily to the world from which they were formerly barred. They have a mixed diet. It includes the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune, the composite edition of the American Press (Amerikanskaya Gazeta—the wartime world edition of the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune) which is printed from plastic plates here in Moscow, and British and French papers, Switzerland's excellent Neue Zürcher Zeitung, plus other representative dailies from all over the world.

American magazines are in great demand, particularly for their typical advertising. But the Russian editions of the popular U.S. magazines far outsell the English editions. Newsstands are loaded down with magazines such as Collier's (Koliers), Life (Zhizn), Time (Vreinya), Newsweek (Novosti Nedeli), the Reader's Digest (Chitatelskoye Obozreniye) and the Saturday Evening Post (Subbotnyaya Vyechernyaya Pocfita). Quick, the pocket-sized magazine, recently made its appearance, but only in the English version, and this has only a tenth of the circulation of Russia's own capsule news magazine, which oddly enough is called Skoreye, meaning Quicker.

Most striking of all is to read the measured cadences of Walter Lippmann, set in double-column 10-point down the front page of the New Word and the dramatic prose of Walter Winchell in the widely circulated Light of the World (Svet Mira), which in format looks like New York's Daily Mirror. Hollywood columns are very popular in all the papers that can get them. So is the comic-strip character Seerotka Anya (Little Orphan Annie), who reminds the Russians of the wanderings of their own tragic homeless children.

In short, the Russians are eager to read anything, eager to print their own personal and individual convictions, eager and exultant and undisciplined and exuberant in this heady air of freedom.

But let me begin the inconclusive and confused history of the postwar Russian press with the personal story of Alexander Viktorov. I first knew Alex when he was a minor press officer in the Soviet delegation at the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932. He was dark, slender, handsome, and looked more French or Polish than he did Russian.

At Geneva in those years Maxim Litvinov set the tone for the Soviets. It was a far cry from the days of Vishinsky, Molotov or Beria. In 1932, lots of old revolutionaries were still around. Among them Karl Radek, the famous Soviet publicist, Nikolai Krestinsky, Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and such old Bolsheviks as Rykov, Bukharin and Tomsky. All of them had been purged by the mid-thirties.

And so, we thought, was Viktorov. He simply disappeared overnight from his job as head of the American Section in the Foreign Office. His foreign friends were sorry at his fate, for we all liked him, found him intelligent, flexible, and filled with healthy but discreet doubts.

We had not suspected the iron in his character. For Alex had not been purged. Deeply disillusioned, he had gone underground in Russia. And he had stayed underground during all of the second World War, for he hated the Nazis. He realized that if the Soviet regime survived, it would grow more ruthless than ever, and the day for him and his friends to emerge was not yet.

Soon after the outbreak of the Third War, the American Central Intelligence Agency heard from Viktorov. This is not the place to tell the story of his wartime services. They were notable, but cautious. He was determined to survive and to preserve enough of his friends to be useful in the postwar years. He had fully abandoned Marxism in the early thirties, and—oddly enough—in Geneva he had become a Calvinist. He had appreciated the historic services of free religion in building free government. He wanted to help Russia into a religious rebirth and to revive a new devotion to ethical concepts, though not with any of the esoteric fanaticism of some postwar cultists.

Thus, in 1955 when the war ended, Alex emerged fully into the light. He refused all invitations to work in the new provisional government. He realized that experienced men were badly needed, but he felt that a free press was an even more desperate need. So, in Moscow, he started the New Word. Already for several years, he and his friends had been printing clandestine sheets. They had a few fonts of type and an excellent small job press they had stolen during the second World War. From about 1953 on, through Gordon Gray's Psychological Warfare Division, and especially in co-operation with the agents of the Committee for Free Europe, they provided much of the propaganda material for handbills which the Allies printed and dropped by the millions over Russia.

So Alex and his colleagues were ready for a big job. Then came the crucial decision. After intense discussion, the Allied Commission (United Nations Temporary Occupation Command) decided to leave the Russian press completely free, and the radio as free as technical circumstances would permit.

There was one basic requirement: the provisional government insisted that Communist party members—especially those who had been members of the editorial staffs of newspapers or radio stations before the defeat—be barred from taking part in the new press or radio. Men like Viktorov, who had demonstrably left the party, were not barred. There were not many of them. But so close had the Communist press been to the party—so integral a part of the machinery of subduing the minds of men—that former party journalists were obviously unqualified to work in the free press. They had to be proscribed.

Apart from this prohibition, the postwar Russian press was left almost wholly to its own devices. I say almost wholly because two very useful instruments, the Agreed News Statement (some people call it Operation Agnes), and the Re-Education Serials, are partial interferences with a totally free press. They will be explained a little later.

It was a venturesome decision to let the Russian press find its own way into the land of freedom. Even now it is too soon to be sure that we were right. The Russian press is still in a state of yeasty confusion. Single-sheet newspapers representing every conceivable fraction of public opinion continue to sprout all over the country. They are printed in cellars and caves and ruins and prefabs. Their equipment has been salvaged from the shambles of the cities. But so vast was the prewar Russian press, and so dispersed, that a good deal of mechanical equipment has survived.

The splendid big buildings and presses and composing rooms of Pravda and Izvestia were totally destroyed. So were the printing plants of the 23 other central, all-party newspapers—the iron core of the Soviet press. These big papers accounted for 7,513,000 copies of the 31,107,000 copies of newspapers published daily in the Soviet Union. They were almost totally wiped out. After the central ruins of the big cities ceased to be dangerously radioactive, it was possible to salvage a few pieces of printing equipment. Reginald Orcutt, the amazing supersalesman for the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, who knew every nook and cranny in the typographical world, emerged from his retirement at Newport, Rhode Island, and was able to trace the whereabouts of numerous linotype machines in unsuspected places.

The provincial and local press fared somewhat better than the big city papers. Even here, however, the major regional newspapers suffered almost total losses. There were 462 Soviet republican, territorial and regional newspapers of the provincial press in 1947. This group included such giants as Radyans'ka Ukraina, or Leningradskaya Pravda. Their facilities were obliterated. But some considerable part of the printing plants of 309 of the 462 provincial papers survived and was salvaged. The smallest and the most scattered were saved.

But there was still another level of the Russian press, and it is still more important today. The district, county or city newspapers (small cities, not metropolises) numbered 4,333 in 1947. Their average circulation was under 2,000. Some of them were printed in the plants of big papers, or in connection with major industrial factories. These were largely destroyed. But the others survived—not the publications themselves, but their equipment. It was rapidly taken over by all the aspirant editors who sprang out of the very soil, each eager to pour his fervent message into the puzzled ears of his surviving fellow citizens.

•   •   •

Beyond these printed "lower" newspapers, there used to be hundreds of thousands of typewritten and handwritten wall newspapers in factories and shops, on collective farms, in schools, Red Army units, offices and housing developments. They were a definite tool in the party process of indoctrination. Their equipment was not particularly important, but the habit of producing and disseminating such "newspapers" greatly stimulated the intense circulation of ideas now going on.

There continues to be, of course, a severe shortage of newsprint in Russia. The Russians can no longer get the large supplies of pulp they had requisitioned from Finland. But their own forest reserves are ample, and many of their paper mills—not being near war-industry sites—have survived. Transportation of newsprint has been primitive, but so great has been the urge for expression that zealous would-be publishers have used patched-up trucks and river boats and oxcarts and sleighs to get their precious rolls. Black-market prices have been astronomical, but still the hunger to speak and to know has surmounted obstacles.

Thus it was with Alexander Viktorov and his New Word. Just as soon as Communist authority collapsed in Moscow, he produced his press and type cases from their hiding place. They had been concealed, as a matter of fact, in a cellar under a stable in the forest behind Konstantin Simonov's dacha. Simonov, perhaps the Soviets' most popular novelist and playwright, knew of the clandestine press, and sympathized with it, but never dared to go underground himself. He was killed in Berlin, late in the war, by a Russian defector who had been fired from the cast of one of Simonov's plays because his interpretation of a certain part was found to contain "dangerous imperialistic deviations."

As soon as the collapse came, Viktorov transported his equipment over to the dacha formerly enjoyed by Vyacheslav Molotov. This was a superb, big lodge and its foundations did not even tremble when the creaking old press rumbled away. These dachi were admirable buildings for immediate postwar use. Located 20 or 30 miles outside Moscow in the forests, they had been rigidly guarded during the war. The miserable refugees streaming out from the cities were never permitted to seek shelter there. Bayonets and machine guns protected the privileged occupants until the collapse. Then came the swift and merciless terror. And so Molotov's dacha was beautifully available for Viktorov's printing plant.

Later, of course, Viktorov moved back into town, on the inner edge of the old city, in a rehabilitated building. And there he began to publish an excellent two-page newspaper. It would be pleasant to record that Viktorov's paper became a model for all Russia, and that others patterned on its intelligent liberalism sprang up everywhere. But of course that didn't happen.

Most of the many political groups now emerging are represented in various single-sheet newspapers. There is no limit to the splinter viewpoints or the fanaticism expressed. The situation is marked by confusion and by pettiness. And yet some light begins to emerge. Viktorov's paper, for example, is flourishing as a journal of information, rather than of opinion. Its editorial expressions are very moderate and restrained. It concentrates on telling the people what is going on in the world.

Here Viktorov, and all the rest of the Russian press and radio, owe much to the Agreed News Statement and the Re-Education Serials. The United Nations press section was never more daring, nor more successful, than when it persuaded the private wire services to set up the World Copy Desk and produced a daily Agreed News Statement.

This 500-word document is certainly not very exciting. It is still written in prose style only slightly improved over that of the diplomatic communiqué. But it does tell everybody in the world who cares to read it or listen to it (not only in Russia) what can be agreed upon by an international panel of shirt-sleeve editors as a statement of daily events.

The ANS was born because UN press technicians had discovered it was not impossibly difficult to write summaries of events at the UN upon which widely divergent groups could agree. Thus, back in the old days of the Soviet regime, Vishinsky, Malik and even Beria had been satisfied not to protest at the communiqués issued by the UN which summarized their speeches. It was a long step, however, to extend this technique to a rewriting of the total top news of the day.

But it was a stroke of statesmanship when, in 1954, the directors of the AP, UP, INS, Reuters and Agence France-Presse, were invited to provide small staffs of rewrite men for the World Copy Desk. Only the pressures of war could have produced such an agreement. However, once these practical newspapermen got to work, they had no particular difficulty in producing brief rewrites of the world's news upon which they could professionally agree.

Of course, opinion and interpretation were rigidly excluded. The rewrite men put down only what had manifestly occurred. When there was a conflict in war communiqué claims, they frankly said so; and as long as the war lasted, they paid little heed to the specious claims of the Soviet communiqués.

In the postwar atmosphere, the World Copy Desk came into its own. It was as rigidly factual as human beings can be. And in the end it proved to be surprisingly workable.

•   •   •

The Agreed News Statement in no sense replaced the file of news stories sent around the world by the private wire services. Its principal effect on them was to put them on their competitive toes, and enhance their sense of responsibility. They could always reach newspapers and radio stations many minutes and sometimes hours before the ANS was on the wires. The wire services soon saw the interest and utility of the statement, and began to transmit it to their customers.

Even so, the wire services are interlocked with the privately formed International Press Association, which administers the ANS. The IPA has now extended its board of directors to include 18 countries. These represent the private newspaper organizations in their countries. Working newspaper executives speak for such groups as the Arab press, the Latin-American press, the Indian press and so on. The American Society of Newspaper Editors and the American Newspaper Publishers' Association are active members. Co-operating, but separate organizations, are the FIEJ (Fédération Internationale des Éditeurs de Journaux) and IPI (International Press Institute).

Governmental functionaries are rigidly excluded from these operations, but particularly from the preparation of the Agreed News Statement. Translation only is taken over by the technical staff of the UN, and transmission is by UN facilities; there have been plenty of frictions among the national members, but nothing they could not thresh out in terms of their practical professional experience. They can impose no political controls on the World Copy Desk. The copyreaders are frequently rotated from the staffs of the wire services and from principal newspapers throughout the world.

The ANS, which is only 500 words long, has been printed daily in the new Russian press just as fast as communications contacts could be set up, and the material transmitted to editors. It has been a magnificent control on their flights of ideological fancy. Without it, confusion would certainly have dominated everything. And even now, it is a pitched and uncertain battle between the cool daily news statement and the heated invectives which surround it.

The Re-Education Serials have also been extremely useful. Before the war ended, the Peace Division of Operation Paper (later absorbed into United Nations Political Re-Education Department) had groups of exiled Russian scholars and journalists busy preparing brief accounts of the history of the world from 1917 to 1955. These contained essential background without which the Russians could not be expected to understand the events which suddenly burst upon them. They were excellent summaries. Some were distributed as pamphlets. Most of them were dramatized and serialized on the radio. And they were published as newspaper installments. All in all, their effect was very valuable. They continue to be standard reference points against which later discussions can be oriented.

Despite all these efforts, the re-education of the Soviet-fashioned mind was exceedingly difficult, and it is fair to say that only a beginning has been made. The people's minds were numb. When a few of them came alive once more—as in the host of editors who sprang to their crude and creaking presses—their minds tingled with confusion and their voices were often strident and incomprehensible. In many ways they are impulsive in their eagerness, and often incoherent in the sudden rush of words that clog their lips. Strangely unsophisticated syllables spring from their suddenly liberated tongues. Whether and when and how they find their way out of this babel remains to be seen.

•   •   •

The operation of the Russian radio offers a large contrast. In the first place, a large part of its broadcasting equipment survived the bombing, at least outside the scorched-earth areas. This was due, of course, to the dispersion of radio studios and transmitters during the years 1948-'52. By the outbreak of the war, radio studios were underground, outside the cities, not close to factories, rail centers or strategic targets. The Soviet regime realized that production and distribution of newspapers would be difficult in wartime, and made no particular effort to protect them. They depended largely on radio, and realized that communication with their people was indispensable to control. They relied largely on the wired receiving sets which they believed could not pick up anything but the official programs. They had stand-by power plants at major transmitters.

When Allied engineers, working with the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and B.B.C. technicians, not only were able to block Red jamming of our own signals, but forced our programs onto the frequencies the Soviets had used for their wired receivers (by "cuddling"), there was little the Russians could do. The "cuddling" program was laid down so close to the official wave length that it could not be tuned out, and by superpower it dominated the official signal.

Thus, the radio was turned into a powerful weapon against the regime. They stepped up their own frequencies, but to little avail. The "ring pattern" of ultra-high-powered frequencies which had been laid down around the perimeter of the Soviet lands was too much for them. They realized too late that they had lost the electronic war. By that time, some of the facts of the world situation had begun to penetrate Russian thinking. The grapevine spread where the radio did not reach. The disorders and collapse of the last days of the war were measurably caused by the radio offensive.

So it was that the peace found scores of radio stations pretty well in being, though reflecting all the wild disorganization of political and civil conditions. The people were being bombarded with the most irresponsible and fantastic messages. The domestic transmitters had fallen into the hands of adventurers. Soon, in the occupied areas, these were brought under control. Elsewhere, radio is no more orderly than the uncertain regimes which still survive.

Meantime, external transmitters are still capable of putting a program into every surviving Russian loud-speaker. The receiving sets also include some millions of the matchbox-size crystal sets dropped in Operation Beep. (These sets, which cost only $2 to make and need no electric current to run, have already proved invaluable in rural education projects in India and China.)

UNITOC and UNIPROD long debated the question of controls over the Russian domestic radio. Some thought it should be as free as the press. The Americans argued valiantly in favor of a commercial radio, on their own pattern. Nobody agreed with them. But the day was really lost when Britain's Hector McNeil, ebullient as ever, invented and described all too vividly at a UNITOC session the possibilities for a giveaway program entitled "Stop the Muzhik."

And so the Russian radio was set up under a public corporation, modeled after the B.B.C. After all, this was inevitable. There just were not the makings of a commercial radio system in Russia, under a mixed economy, and there had to be control over frequency allocation. So SRK (Svobodny Radio Komitet) was set up. It is not free, but remains under the control of UNITOC. But the Russians who operate the radio network, in so far as they have been integrated, and the regional studios and transmitters inherited all over Russia, are slowly learning more and more about the responsibilities of a relatively free radio.

Television, which had made very little progress in Russia before 1952, nearly fell apart during the war. It is making the slowest of comebacks, because there simply isn't enough equipment or resources to produce programs.

•   •   •

Second in popularity are the ten-year-old TV film transcriptions (with Russian dubbed in on the sound track) of NBC stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Martin and Lewis, and Milton Berle. Most of the dialogue is quite beyond the understanding of the Russians, but they certainly enjoy the pantomime of these artists. There are, however, few receivers, but projects to put in community receivers have been ambitiously drafted. Someday—"later on" (again one runs into this eternal Russian expression)—TV can be very useful in effective political re-education.

The other day I was sitting with Alexander Viktorov in his little office, from which the ruins of the Kremlin could be seen rising out of the potato fields. His press bumped away in the basement, and the plaster dust sifted down on our heads.

"What can newspapers do, Alex," I said, "to help Russia back to sanity and order?"

"Well," he said, "we can keep on printing ANS. That's useful. It does, after all, give us a core of basic news. But it's terribly dull—although. Heaven knows, it isn't as monumentally dull as the Soviet press always was. It was in revulsion against that regimented party dullness that present newspapers have gone to such fantastic extremes. Look at this!"

And he produced that day's issue of the paper with the largest circulation in Moscow, the Light of the World. Page one was dominated by the story of Jenny James, the film star: How I Loved and Lost in Sarawak!

On the back page was the current installment of Ilya Ehrenburg's memoirs: The Great Deception, in which he claims he was playing a double game with the Stalinists all along.

The News (Novosti), which he tossed over to me, gave half a page of pictures (25 per cent of its total space) to Kiev's soapbox derby, which it was sponsoring: The derby had been proposed by one Vladimir Gonin, who had spent six happy months in Akron, under Operation Skid.

Novosti also published, in serial form, George Fielding Eliot's translated life of Marshal Voroshilov, Serpent of the Steppes. Presumably hostile, this study nevertheless did not conceal the glamor of the great marshal's desperate last battles.

"We are having an orgy of human interest," continued Alex. "Plus a greater orgy of political and ideological fantasy. It is an intoxication. The Russian mind, as it comes alive, is running free. Wait until we get more food! You haven't seen anything yet. Our exuberance, our joy, our despair —we will shout them all to the heavens."

"And is that all?" said I.

"No," said Alex. "Because we Russians have also always had a great spiritual yearning. We bear the sorrows of ourselves and of the human race. We crave a universal answer. We will strive for it. I believe you have the spiritual answer for us and it is our inheritance too. I believe your freedom, with all its abuses, is nevertheless based on spiritual values—on a recognition of man's eternal place in society.

"When you and we begin to put into words the true spiritual revolution of history, Russians will understand and they will join. This is the ancient revolution which began with the recognition of one God and one Law, on the hills of Judea. Then our blessed Saviour, Christ Jesus, showed us the everlasting power of love and brotherhood. Greek and Roman institutions made the revolution more orderly. Western European humanitarianism mellowed it. Finally, you in the New World showed how this old and rich inheritance could be carried out for the benefit of the largest possible number of individual people.

"This is the true revolution. It is a spiritual achievement, and we can reach it only with spiritual awakening, cutting through the fog of cults and clericalism and fanaticism. Someday, perhaps, it will be perceived. It will be the basis of political order and of the universal system for which we Russians long. Until we begin to see the shape of the true revolution—and you must see it yourselves—we will leap and gyrate in our frenzy of freedom. But someday, 'later on,' perhaps we shall all know the truth, and it will make us free." — THE END