Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1948. 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, 1948

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, 1948

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, 1948

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, 1948

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.



Tuesday, 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 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 in February 1958 from Edith Dickey Moses of Bluffton, South Carolina. It is a response to a broadcast 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

Monday, June 22, 2015

1948. "The Man Who Killed Stalin" by Bill Downs

"The Man Who Killed Stalin"
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."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

1957. The Atomic Energy Commission Responds to Downs' Criticism

The Smugness of Government Secrecy
"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

Tuesday, 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.