December 23, 2017

1949. Bill Downs Reports for the American Forces Network

Downs Joins the Troop Information and Education Radio Program
"US soldiers sitting on a tank eat their lunch at the Friedrich Strasse border checkpoint on October 27, 1961 in Berlin, Germany" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 23, 1949

The problem of news and information can be tackled in many ways, and there's a story that the Marines like to tell about themselves that illustrates what I mean.

The incident was said to have occurred during the famous battle involving John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard against the British warship the Serapis in 1779. As you remember, the Serapis was a monster of a ship in those days, carrying forty guns and far larger and stronger than the Richard.

Anyway, Jones put in the attack and was having a rough going. Blood was in the scuppers, as the saying goes, and American marines and British marines were shooting each other out of the rigging like flies. At one point, the British commander shouted an order for Jones to surrender, at which point the American admiral made his famous reply: "We have just begun to fight."

At this point, one bloody and bandaged marine hanging in the rigging turned to another and said: "There's always some so-and-so that hasn't got the word."

Well, there are a lot of us who haven't got the word these days, which is the reason that Dave Nichol and you and I are sitting at this microphone.

Dave and I have the job of passing the word, as it were—Dave for the Chicago Daily News, me through the combined stations of the Columbia Broadcasting System.

AFN passes the word here in Europe to the troops. And if the measure of a nation's freedom is its informed public, then I suppose you could say we are doing pretty well.

But there is a lot of room for improvement.

The ultimate aim of foreign correspondence—of public information—I suppose, is to produce an ideal type of world citizen; a person whose vast knowledge could fathom the propaganda we're getting from the East, whose brain and experience could understand and act on the discoveries now being made in atomic physics, whose understanding could solve the social conflicts confronting us in the fields of racial and national relationships.

I don't think we're going to get it done on this program. But if we understand the problem, then at least we have made some progress.

Actually, the goal of public information, of news reporting, of the Army's T.I.&E. program is to arrive at the truth.