February 21, 2023

Edward R. Murrow's "Wires and Lights in a Box" Speech

"Wires and Lights in a Box"


Keynote Address to the Radio-Television News Directors Association
October 15, 1958
This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But I am persuaded that the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television in this generous and capacious land.

I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard, the one that produces words and pictures. You will, I am sure, forgive me for not telling you that the instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you of the fact that your voice, amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other, does not confer upon you greater wisdom than when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.

You should also know at the outset that, in the manner of witnesses before Congressional committees, I appear here voluntarily—by invitation—that I am an employee of the Columbia Broadcasting System, that I am neither an officer nor any longer a director of that corporation and that these remarks are strictly of a "do-it-yourself" nature. If what I have to say is responsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it. Seeking neither approbation from my employers, nor news sponsors, nor acclaim from the critics of radio and television, I cannot very well be disappointed. Believing that potentially the commercial system of broadcasting as practiced in this country is the best and freest yet devised, I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in my mind no reasonable grounds for any kind of personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture, and our heritage.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 PM., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: "Look now and pay later."

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive quite literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then perhaps some young and courageous soul with a small budget might do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done—and are still doing—to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained, and more mature than most of our industry's program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is: an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.

Several years ago, when we undertook to do a program on Egypt and Israel, well-meaning, experienced and intelligent friends in the business said, "This you cannot do. This time you will be handed your head." It is an emotion-packed controversy, and there is no room for reason in it." We did the program. Zionists, anti-Zionists, the friends of the Middle East, Egyptian and Israeli officials said, with I must confess a faint tone of surprise, "It was a fair account. The information was there. We have no complaints."

Our experience was similar with two half hour programs dealing with cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Both the medical profession and the tobacco industry cooperated, but in a rather wary fashion. But at the end of the day they were both reasonably content. The subject of radioactive fallout and the banning of nuclear tests was, and is, highly controversial. But according to what little evidence there is, viewers were prepared to listen to both sides with reason and restraint. This is not said to claim any special or unusual competence in the presentation of controversial subjects, but rather to indicate that timidity in these areas is not warranted by the evidence.

Recently, network spokesmen have been disposed to complain that the professional critics of television in print have been "rather beastly." There have been ill-disguised hints that somehow competition for the advertising dollar has caused the critics of print to gang up on television and radio. This reporter has no desire to defend the critics. They have space in which to do that on their own behalf. But it remains a fact that the newspapers and magazines are the only instruments of mass communication which remain free from sustained and regular critical comment. I would suggest that if the network spokesmen are so anguished about what appears in print, then let them come forth and engage in a little sustained and regular comment regarding newspapers and magazines. It is an ancient and sad fact that most people in network television and radio have an exaggerated regard for what appears in print. And there have been cases where executives have refused to make even private comment on a program for which they were responsible until they had read the reviews in print. This is hardly an exhibition of confidence.

The oldest excuse of the networks for their timidity is their youth. Their spokesmen say, "We are young; we have not developed the traditions nor acquired the experience of the older media." If they but knew it, they are building those traditions and creating those precedents every day. Each time they yield to a voice from Washington or any political pressure, each time they eliminate something that might offend some section of the community, they are creating their own body of precedent and tradition, and it will continue to pursue them. They are, in fact, not content to be "half safe."

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the fact that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly prods broadcasters to engage in their legal right to editorialize. Of course, to undertake an editorial policy, overt, clearly labeled, and obviously unsponsored, requires a station or a network to be responsible. Most stations today probably do not have the manpower to assume this responsibility, but the manpower could be recruited. Editorials of course would not be profitable. If they had a cutting edge, they might even offend. It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use this money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that will be paid for that is not libelous, obscene, or defamatory. In that way one has the illusion of power without responsibility.

So far as radio—that most satisfying, ancient but rewarding instrument—is concerned, the diagnosis of the difficulties is not too difficult. And obviously I speak only of news and information. In order to progress it need only go backward. Back to the time when singing commercials were not allowed on news reports, when there was no middle commercial in a fifteen minute news report, when radio was rather proud, alert, and fast. I recently asked a network official, "Why this great rash of five-minute news reports (including three commercials) on weekends?" And he replied, "Because that seems to be the only thing we can sell."

In this kind of complex and confusing world, you can't tell very much about the why of the news in broadcasts where only three minutes is available for news. The only man who could do that was Elmer Davis, and his kind aren't about anymore. If radio news is to be regarded as a commodity, only acceptable when saleable, and only when packaged to fit the advertising appropriation of a sponsor, then I don't care what you call it—I say it isn't news.

My memory—and I have not yet reached the point where my memories fascinate me—but my memory also goes back to the time when the fear of a slight reduction in business did not result in an immediate cutback in bodies in the news and public affairs department at a time when network profits had just reached an all-time high. We would all agree, I think, that whether on a station or a network, the stapling machine is a very poor substitute for a newsroom typewriter and somebody to beat it properly.

One of the minor tragedies of television news and information is that the networks will not even defend their vital interests. When my employer, CBS, through a combination of enterprise and good luck, did an interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the President uttered a few ill-chosen, uninformed words on the subject, and the network thereupon practically apologized. This produced a rarity. Many newspapers defended the CBS right to produce the program and commended it for initiative. The other networks remained silent.

Likewise, when John Foster Dulles, by personal decree, banned American journalists from going to Communist China and subsequently offered seven contradictory explanations for his fiat, the networks entered only a mild protest. Then they apparently forgot the unpleasantness. Can it be that this national industry is content to serve the public interest only with the trickle of news that comes out of Hong Kong, to leave its viewers in ignorance of the cataclysmic changes that are occurring in a nation of 600 million people? I have no illusions about the difficulties reporting from a dictatorship, but our British and French allies have been better served in their public interest with some very useful information from their reporters in Communist China.

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising, and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and, at times, demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks, with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales, or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.

It is, after all, not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice presidents, and at the same time—frequently on the long, same long day—to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs.

Sometimes there is a clash between the public interest and the corporate interest. A telephone call or a letter from the proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer. It is tempting enough to give away a little air time for frequently irresponsible and unwarranted utterances in an effort to temper the wind of political criticism. But this could well be the subject of a separate and even lengthier and drearier dissertation.

Upon occasion, economics and editorial judgment are in conflict. And there is no law which says that dollars will be defeated by duty. Not so long ago the President of the United States delivered a television address to the nation. He was discoursing on the possibility or the probability of war between this nation and the Soviet Union and Communist China. It would seem to have been a reasonably compelling subject with a degree of urgency—a test. Two networks, CBS and NBC, delayed that broadcast for an hour and fifteen minutes. If this decision was dictated by anything other than financial reasons, the networks didn't deign to explain those reasons. That hour and fifteen minute delay, by the way, is a little more than twice the time required for an ICBM to travel from the Soviet Union to major targets in the United States. It is difficult to believe that this decision was made by men who love, respect, and understand news.

I have been dealing largely with the deficit side of the ledger, and the items could be expanded. But I have said, and I believe, that potentially we have in this country a free enterprise system of radio and television which is superior to any other. But to achieve its promise, it must be both free and enterprising. There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or in the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse. I do not suggest that news and information should be subsidized by foundations or private subscriptions. I am aware that the networks have expended, and are expending, very considerable sums of money on public affairs programs from which they cannot receive any financial reward. I have had the privilege at CBS of presiding over a considerable number of such programs. And I am able to stand here and say, that I have never had a program turned down by my superiors just because of the money it would cost.

But we all know that you cannot reach the potential maximum audience in marginal time with a sustaining program. This is so because so many stations on the network—any network—will decline to carry it. Every licensee who applies for a grant to operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity makes certain promises as to what he will do in terms of program content. Many recipients of licenses have, in blunt language, just plain welshed on those promises. The money-making machine somehow blunts their memories. The only remedy for this is closer inspection and punitive action by the FCC. But in the view of many this would come perilously close to supervision of program content by a federal agency.

So it seems that we cannot rely on philanthropic support or foundation subsidies. We cannot follow the "sustaining route"—the networks cannot pay all the freight—and the FCC cannot, will not, or should not discipline those who abuse the facilities that belong to the public. What, then, is the answer? Do we merely stay in our comfortable nests, concluding that the obligation of these instruments has been discharged when we work at the job of informing the public for a minimum of time? Or do we believe that the preservation of the Republic is a seven-day-a-week job, demanding more awareness, better skills, and more perseverance than we have yet contemplated?

I am frightened by the imbalance; the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once wrote, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could. But let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their network. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market.

And this brings us to the nub of the question. In one sense it rather revolves around the phrase heard frequently along Madison Avenue: "the corporate image." I am not precisely sure what this phrase means, but I would imagine that it reflects a desire on the part of the corporations who pay the advertising bills to have the public image, or believe that they are not merely bodies with no souls, panting in pursuit of elusive dollars. They would like us to believe that they can distinguish between the public good and the private or corporate gain.

So the question is this: Are the big corporations who pay the freight for radio and television programs wise to use that time exclusively for the sale of goods and services? Is it in their own interest and that of the stockholders so to do? The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."

I refuse to believe that the presidents and chairmen of the boards of these big corporations want their corporate image to consist exclusively of a solemn voice in an echo chamber, or a pretty girl opening the door of a refrigerator, or a horse that talks. They want something better, and on occasion some of them have demonstrated it. But most of the men whose legal and moral responsibility it is to spend the stockholders' money for advertising are in fact removed from the realities of the mass media by five, six, or a dozen contraceptive layers of vice presidents, public relations counsel, and advertising agencies. Their business is to sell goods, and the competition is pretty tough.

But this nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination, and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.

Let us have a little competition. Not only in selling soap, cigarettes, and automobiles, but in informing a troubled, apprehensive but receptive public. Why should not each of the twenty or thirty big corporations, and they dominate radio and television, decide that they will give up one or two of their regularly scheduled programs each year, turn the time over to the networks and say in effect: "This is a tiny tithe, just a little bit of our profits. On this particular night we aren't going to try to sell cigarettes or automobiles; this is merely a gesture to indicate our belief in the importance of ideas." The networks should, and I think they would, pay for the cost of producing the program. The advertiser, the sponsor, would get name credit but would have nothing to do with the content of the program. Would this blemish the corporate image? Would the stockholders rise up and object? I think not. For if the premise upon which our pluralistic society rests, which as I understand it is that if the people are given sufficient undiluted information, they will then somehow, even after long, sober second thoughts, reach the right decision. If that premise is wrong, then not only the corporate image but the corporations and the rest of us are done for.

There used to be an old phrase in this country, employed when someone talked too much. I am grateful to all of you for not having employed it earlier. It was: "Go hire a hall." Under this proposal the sponsor would have hired the hall. He has bought the time; the local station operator, no matter how indifferent, is going to carry the program—he has to. He's getting paid for it. Then it's up to the networks to fill the hall. I am not here talking about editorializing but about straightaway exposition as direct, unadorned, and impartial as fallible human beings can make it. Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore also the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information. It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are many, even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling.

There may be other and simpler methods of utilizing these instruments of radio and television in the interests of a free society. But I know of none that could be so easily accomplished inside the framework of the existing commercial system. I don't know how you would measure the success or failure of a given program. And it would be very hard to prove the magnitude of the benefit accruing to the corporation which gave up one night of a variety or quiz show in order that the network might marshal its skills to do a thoroughgoing job on the present status of NATO, or plans for controlling nuclear tests. But I would reckon that the president, and indeed the stockholders of the corporation who sponsored such a venture, would feel just a little bit better about both the corporation and the country.

It may be that this present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflects the political, economic, and social climate in which it grows and flourishes. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information, and our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. I would like to see it done inside the existing framework, and I would like to see the doing of it redound to the credit of those who finance and program it. Measure the results by Nielsen, Trendex, or Silex—it doesn't matter. The main thing is to try. The responsibility can be easily placed, in spite of all the mouthings about giving the public what it wants. It rests on big business, and on big television, and it rests on the top. Responsibility is not something that can be assigned or delegated. And it promises its own reward: both good business and good television.

Perhaps no one will do anything about it. I have ventured to outline it against a background of criticism that may have been too harsh only because I could think of nothing better. Someone once said—and I think it was Max Eastman—that "that publisher serves his advertiser best who best serves his readers." I cannot believe that radio and television, or the corporations that finance the programs, are serving well or truly their viewers, or their listeners, or themselves.

I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure might well grow by contagion. The economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure—exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent, and insulated, I can only reply: there is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse, and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who is generally believed to have known something weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival. Thank you for your patience.

February 8, 2023

1943. The Occupation of Kharkiv

Nazi Germany's Colonization of Ukraine
A delicatessen Kharkiv, Ukraine during the Nazi occupation in 1941 (Photo by Johannes Hähle source)

Bill Downs visited the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv following its initial liberation in February 1943. He later reported on the city's reoccupation during the Third Battle of Kharkov. Parentheses in the reports featured here 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

February 27, 1943

I have just had a close-up of how Adolf Hitler's New Order makes history—you know, the kind of history he raves about at the drop of a helmet. The Nazi brand of history he has sold to Italy and certain other countries in Europe. The kind of history Japan is trying to market in the Far East.

At 9:30 this morning I took a plane out of Russia's rich Ukraine. I spent Thursday and Friday wandering around the streets of Kharkov talking to people and seeing what I could see.

Right now, Kharkov is a very special place. It is more than just another city which the Red Army has recaptured. It's the first big city in Europe that has been retaken from the Axis in which Hitler's New Order had a chance to work. You remember the Germans held Kharkov for fifteen months. And I got to Kharkov with a party of other news reporters only eight days after the New Order was kicked outbefore the smell of it had completely left the city.

(Yes, you can still smell Hitler's New Order tonight, if you were in Ukraine. It's the stench of cordite, and the dry smell of bombed buildings and the wet smell of charred wood. It's the sweet smell of blood and the bitter smell of people too weak from hunger to walk a couple of miles to the river to wash.)

(When we flew with a Russian fighter escort towards Kharkov the other day, you could follow the path of the New Order very easily. The miles were marked with the walls of ruined villages where fighting had occurred. Along the railroad leading eastward from the city were the hulks of ruined tanks and occasionally Junkers or a Heinkel bomber.)

(After we landed on the ruined airport—there wasn't a building left standing—we saw our first definite sign that the Germans had actually possessed this Ukrainian industrial center. It was a German sign which read, "Parking verboten." We found out that a lot of things were "verboten" during the German occupation of Kharkov.)

There is no doubt that the Germans thought they were in Kharkov for keeps. All the street signs were written in both German and Ukrainian—German first, of course.

German colonists—at least that's what Hitler calls them—had set up business, and there were restaurants and shops with German signs on them. Yes, the Nazis sent a lot of loyal German families to (examine the corpse of Kharkov) collect what they thought was going to be easy money and a pleasant life in the wake of Hitler's Wehrmacht. No one knows just how many colonists Hitler sent to Kharkov. They were a little difficult to count—like flies on a sugar stack. For months they played at being super-men. Ukrainians couldn't ride in the same street cars with them—they had to catch the one hitched on behind.

If Ukrainians had better homes or business than [the colonists] had been allotted, the colonists went around to authorities and arranged to take over. That's the way the New Order works. But these good Nazi families were too smart to get themselves caught by the Russians. They ran away with everything they could carry early in January when the Red Army started to march.

Two days before the German army fled the city, the Nazi command destroyed every major building in Kharkov. There literally is not one single store, office building, hotel, or government house in the main part of the city which has not been gutted by fire, blown to bits, or bombed.

But during the occupation, the Germans did something else—something much more damaging than making piles of rubble out of buildings.

It's something you can see in the face of every kid you run into on the streets. The women and old men who are left have the same look.

The people are pale from hunger. The boys and girls, particularly, have faces the color of wet dough. They have rings under their eyes like old people.

I stopped what I thought was a 10-year-old boy on the street to talk with him. He was thin and had black hair that hung down into his eyes.

He grinned when I introduced myself and said in a tough kind of way that he supposed he would tell me his name. He was Vladimir Voskresensky, a good Ukrainian name. He was 14. You see, kids just don't grow very fast without food.

I asked him what he did while the Germans were there. He shrugged and answered, "Oh, sometimes I begged for food. Some bread or a piece of chocolate if I was lucky. And sometimes I could earn some food by taking my sledge and dragging luggage to the station for German officers. I would get half a slice of bread for that."

I noticed that Vladimir had on an outside man's suit coat which struck him below the knees. He looked a little bit like Jackie Coogan used to in the silent pictures. I asked him where he got that coat—I should never have asked.

Vladimir started out bravely enough. "It belonged to my father," he said. "He was an engineer. They took him to the hotel over there and beat him for four days. He died. I never saw him again."

He was crying when he finished the story. He was a tough kid, like all the kids that survived the New Order in Kharkov.

But those kids won't forget. And neither will the rest of the world.

During the fifteen months of German occupation, a lot of things happened to Kharkov—all of them bad. For example, there are some facts repeated to me at random by a half-dozen people to whom I talked on the streets of the city.

A year ago last October when the Germans took the city they started hanging people. By the second day of the occupation, every balcony stretching for two miles on the main street through the center of the city had become a gallows. Scores of men and women were trussed up and left to hang.

Six weeks after the occupation, every Jew in the city was ordered to go to an empty machine tool shop nine miles out of town. Women cried as they told me about this. 10,000 Jews were herded into this camp. Ten days later a huge ditch was dug and a squad of German Tommy-gunners shot every man, woman, and child.

It is estimated that 18,000 people were executed in the first weeks of the occupation, but no one knows the exact number. The Germans didn't bother about death proclamations or keeping records. I have checked that figure not only with Soviet officials now in charge of Kharkov, but also with a school teacher, a college professor, and four other people who were in the city at the time.

This is simply another example of how the New Order works.
____________________________
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

February 28, 1943

Hitler's guns, which for fifteen months were held against the heart of Kharkov, were pushed further back westward from the city last night. This morning's communiqué announced that another series of inhabited points have been taken west of the wreckage and ruined buildings which today mark the site of one of the proudest cities in the Ukraine.

I left Kharkov yesterday morning after spending Thursday and Friday wandering around the city's streets talking to people and seeing what I could see.

Kharkov was about the size of Washington, D.C. before Hitler got to it. It had a peacetime population of 900,000 which swelled to over a million inhabitants as the war progressed.

Imagine every major building in Washington gutted with fire. Imagine all of the buildings across the Potomac blown to bits. Imagine every railroad station deliberately wrecked. Imagine street car and bus trolley wires lying over the street. Imagine Washington with just two water fountains and the sewage system wrecked with the streets thick with ice. Scatter a goodly number of bomb craters throughout the city. Then you will have a pretty good picture of Kharkov after fifteen months of Hitler's New Order.

But the New Order has done something else to Kharkov. Something more terrible than mere wrecking of buildings and homes and streets. Something more deeply significant than putting up street signs in German and deliberately looting the city. Something more than taking warm clothing from men and women who walked the streets.

Kharkov has a hungry population of only 350,000 today. This means that during the fifteen months of Hitler's New Order, something has happened to about 600,000 people. This does not include a quarter of a million people which the Russian government succeeded in evacuating from Kharkov before the Germans took the city a year ago last October.

In talking with Soviet officials, college professors, and people on the street, here's all I could find out about the 600,000 Kharkov citizens who have disappeared under Hitler's New Order.

During the first days of the occupation about 18,000 people were executed. Bodies hanging from balconies were a common sight. Among these 18,000 executed were about 10,000 Jews—men, women, and children—who were taken nine miles out of the city, shot and buried in a big ditch.

One hundred and ten thousand people were shipped to Germany for forced labor.

Meanwhile, it is estimated unofficially that at least 70,000 people died of starvation under the German rule. (And all the time during the fifteen months the executions went on. As conditions grew worse, more and more people escaped from the city to unoccupied Russia.)

All in all, it is estimated that between 90,000 and 100,000 Kharkov citizens will never be accounted for. It's something to think about as Doctor Goebbels prattles about saving European civilization from the "eastern hordes."
Soviet partisans hanging from the balcony of an administrative building on the Mius-Front near the Ukrainian village of Dyakivka in March 1943 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 9, 1943

(Ever since Hitler took over Czechoslovakia and marched into Poland, we have been hearing about the slavery and semi-slavery into which has been throwing the conquered European peoples. With the Red Army killing his soldiers in Russia—and with the United States and British air forces knocking out his factories in Germany and Western Europe—the Fuehrer has been forced more and more to rely on kidnapped labor to keep his war machine working.)

At Kharkov a couple of weeks ago, I got my first glimpse of just what Nazi "forced labor" means. Simon Legree, with his whip and bloodhounds, was a sissy compared to the Nazi with his rubber hose, his barbed wire, and his hangman's noose.

An estimated 110,000 Kharkov citizens are doing forced labor in Germany today. They range from boys and girls of fourteen years of age to men and women of forty. The only requirements for work in Germany is a strong back and a brace of biceps.

According to the people to whom I talked in Kharkov, the Germans there used two methods of getting workers to work in their factories. They simply picked them up off the street and packed them off, or they sent around a notice saying the workers should report to a recruiting headquarters—or else.

The Germans have an efficient, standard identification card with which they register their foreign workers. It's printed in eleven languages, so it comes in handy for a dozen countries from which they can kidnap labor.

This identification card serves as a passport. When the kidnapped worker gets to Germany, he finds that it allows him to move from his factory, or his labor gang, to his barracks—and no place else.
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Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 16, 1943

We (the American and British foreign correspondents who live at the Metropol Hotel) here in Moscow are a pretty sad group of people today.

It's because of the bad news from Kharkov.

It was only two weeks and two days ago that we were in that Ukrainian city—and every one of us came away with a clearer picture of what Hitler's New Order means to the conquered people of Europe than any one of us ever had before.

(During the fifteen months of occupation by the German forces, Kharkov had all but died of Nazism. Over 18,000 people had been executed. 70,000 had died of starvation. Over 110,000 had been shipped off to Germany. And about 90,000 were simply listed as "missing.")

Today the Germans are back in Kharkov. (It is depressing to think just how many of the 350,000 Kharkov residents we found there two weeks ago will be left when the Red Army again takes the city. And it will be retaken—make no mistake about that.)

(Another thing which saddens the foreign press corps here is the uncertainty of) We are wondering what is going to happen to the people to whom we talked. The people who told us the horrible story of the German occupation.

For example, the little 14-year-old boy who (broke down and) cried as he told how his father was killed by the Germans. (The indigent Ukrainian housewife who wept when she told how her sister had been shipped away to Germany.) The kindly little college professor who was trying to reorganize Kharkov's educational and social services to care for the children orphaned by German executions. He was very pleased when we talked to him that he had found homes and food for 300 of these orphans.

(You see, as news reporters, we used the names of all these people so that you people in America reading our stories could have verified evidence of what the Nazis did to Kharkov.)

If I know anything about the efficiency of the Gestapo, (the names of) these people today head the list of German reprisals. I and the rest of my colleagues here in Moscow can only hope that those people evacuated the city with the Red Army. Or that they go into hiding until the city is captured again.

I know, as every correspondent does, that it is not often the problems of news reporting make significant news. (These things are part of our job).

But there is no better demonstration of just what Hitlerism stands for in this world than Kharkov.

Usually, discussions about "truth" have a nebulous quality that almost always end up in confused arguments about what is right and what is wrong.

I don't want to preach any sermons. There is nothing nebulous about "truth" in Kharkov today. The people who told the truth to us American and British reporters now stand under the thread of execution.

Truth in that Ukrainian city today is a matter of life and death. (And so it is in this whole war raging throughout the world.)

One writer in the Moscow newspapers said this morning that "it is not easy to give up Kharkov." Kharkov is a city of tears. Then he added, "but for every Russian tear, let there be mountains of dead Germans."

That's the way the foreign press corps in Moscow feels this morning.