May 25, 2017

1945. The Power of False News

"To Prevent War—No News Blackout"
"Dr. Goebbels, through his control of the press, 'whipped the German people into that fanatical frenzy necessary to the savage purposes of the Nazi dictator.'" (The New York Times, March 11, 1945, p. 12)
Two months before the end of World War II in Europe, Kent Cooper, the Executive Director of the Associated Press, wrote about the importance of a free press. He cited the phenomenon of false news and government-sponsored press which fostered nationalist sentiment in Europe and Japan in the years leading up to the war. Cooper wrote:
"If, in the news processes, there is intentional and persistent distortion of facts with the purpose of inciting prejudice, men will respond to the passions thus aroused. When the people of one nation are thus incited against the peoples of other nations, the result is war.

"The part false news plays in bringing about war is as amazing in its extent as it is little understood. Malevolent-minded governments have long recognized the power of news. Tainting and distorting it, they have used it to serve their selfish purposes. Benevolent and peace-minded governments have not concerned themselves about these distortions by others—until war has overtaken them . . . [T]hrough jealousy or in revenge there are fiends who, through the news, have successfully poisoned the minds, not of one or two persons but of a whole nation . . .

"Availability of the truth, the most powerful force in the world, through a free press served by an adequate system of world-wide communications established for the purpose, should be our aim. For we should not forget that when we plan to enshrine freedom in any field, the first requisite is the right to know."
From The New York Times, March 11, 1945, pp. 12, 33, 35:
To Prevent War—No News Blackout

We must spread the truth, says Kent Cooper, and make it a shield to guard world peace.

Executive Director of the Associated Press

Nestled in a small space not far from the north bank of the Thames in battle-scarred London is Printing House Square. There—through all that has happened to the British in more than a hundred and fifty years—there is still published a newspaper called The Times. In its fifty-thousandth issue recently it reviewed the century and a half of its existence, commented on the difficulties of publication, shortage of materials and of staff, the dangers of continued effort in wartime, and concluded:

"Though, before the sixty-thousandth issue of The Times makes its appearance, science may well have revolutionized the mechanism by which written word is reproduced and distributed, the fundamentals of journalism will not vary. It will still be the duty of a newspaper to hold fast to the distinction between fact and opinion and, whatever views it may hold and express, to furnish for the readers' judgment a supply of news as full and impartial as energy and good faith can make it."

Unfortunately, that declaration of the function of newspapers could not have defined the actualities of newspaper publication in many lands before the war. If it could, there would have been no war. And that is just how transcendently important to peace is "a supply of news as full and impartial as energy and good faith can make it." For news is the sole basin upon which men promptly learn and judge the thoughts and actions of their fellow-men who are beyond their immediate local acquaintance.

If, in the news processes, there is intentional and persistent distortion of facts with the purpose of inciting prejudice, men will respond to the passions thus aroused. When the people of one nation are thus incited against the peoples of other nations, the result is war.

The part false news plays in bringing about war is as amazing in its extent as it is little understood. Malevolent-minded governments have long recognized the power of news. Tainting and distorting it, they have used it to serve their selfish purposes. Benevolent and peace-minded governments have not concerned themselves about these distortions by others—until war has overtaken them.

•    •    •
Every country, even though only partly civilized, has laws to punish those who intentionally poison the food of others. Through jealousy or in revenge such crimes have been committed, but usually only one or two lives have been placed in jeopardy. No fiend has yet concocted an attempt to poison the bodies of an entire population of his own or another country. But through jealousy or in revenge there are fiends who, through the news, have successfully poisoned the minds, not of one or two persons but of a whole nation.

For an understanding of how news has come to play so important a part in the lives of civilized men let us go back to the beginning. Once the town crier spread the news. Then came the newspaper, supplemented later by the broadcasting station. The marvel known as electricity served to bring men into closer knowledge of one another. Actually, the first practical application of electricity for the benefit of the whole people was to bring the news from far and wide. The telegraph, cable, telephone and finally the wireless annihilated the distance between nations and between individual communities.

In this country each locality was linked with all others and our whole life integrated into one homogeneous national community. And yet our conception of the importance of news dissemination and publication, for which science furnishes the means of instantaneous world-wide transmission, remained provincial; or perhaps we ignored the subject altogether. The news was one of the things to which we had become so accustomed that we thought about it only when we could not get it. While we had seen, unconsciously, what it had done to unify our own country, we had never realized that it contributed more than anything else to synchronized thinking and action.

The news could never have served us as it did and does serve us had it not been for the freedom of the press, which made the printing of that news possible. We had our freedom, we had a press free of government control which stood guard for that freedom. Satisfied with our own development, we did not greatly concern ourselves with the affairs of the world. Then from our provincial dreaming we were twice rudely awakened to find that science has indeed made our globe smaller. News could no longer be confined principally to our own activities. And with the coming of the second World War we began to ask ourselves where these wars are bred.


The history of the European press in the years that preceded the present war reveals clearly how large a part poisoned news played in bringing on the war. That poison was of two kinds—a kind of gray poison that was doing its work almost everywhere in Europe and in Asia before the advent of Hitler, and the utterly black poison that came with the Hitler-Goebbels scourge.

Even in the years before the Nazi blackout, events had given little comfort to those who believed that freedom of information and an honest, responsible press were the surest shields of peace. In almost no country was the truth faced. Typical of the situation, and possibly in its worse form, was what was happening in France from 1919 to 1939.

Not only were Havas, the French news agency, and the French Government in effective league to prevent the full picture of world developments from reaching the French people, but the French press itself abdicated its proper responsibilities and functions. Long before the second World War fell upon the bewildered French people they had been deserted by all but a small fraction of the press.

Newspapers were largely subsidized, in one fashion or another. Editors and reporters frequently were on Government, party or business payrolls and many newspapers were directly controlled by political or financial groups. News columns were bought as a common practice. This was true particularly of the Paris press. There were some independent newspapers, but most of these were in the provinces. The character of the French press was a mighty contribution to the disunity and confusion in which France marched to her catastrophe in 1939-40. And this was the picture in a nation that was considered a democracy.

•    •    •

But the blackest poison was that generated in the Thirties in Germany, Japan and Italy. Then the suffocation of truth in the news was put on a totalitarian basis.

Freedom of the press died with all the other freedoms in Germany on the night of Jan. 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor. Newspapers and radio became instruments of a regime with criminal purposes. Editors and reporters became functionaries of the State. Journalism was defined by law as a "public task regulated by the State." The Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment was established under Goebbels. All media of information and expression were crushed into the Nazi mold, all bent to the purpose of whipping the German people into that fanatical frenzy necessary to the savage purposes of the Nazi dictator. By 1939 it was done; the Germans were ready to assume the responsibility for plunging the world into war.

•    •    •

Japan's road into the darkness was similar. The press of Japan never had been free of rigorous government control, but in the late Nineteen Twenties there was developing a small group of Japanese newspaper men and thinkers with an enlightened conception of the responsibilities of the press and the importance of truth in the news transmitted from one country to another. Some beginnings were made toward adaptation of the cooperative principle of news agency operations.

When the militarists on Sept. 18, 1931, embarked on the conquest of Manchuria and seized the reins of power in Tokyo, they began a revolution of which the significance was little understood abroad. The small element of the press that valued the small measure of freedom previously enjoyed was among the first victims. Terrorism, intimidation, powerful pressures were enlisted to bring the whole press into line. Even the comparatively liberal Asahi newspapers of Tokyo and Osaka eventually had to succumb.

The story of the Italian press under Mussolini's dictatorship followed what we now recognize as the pattern for destroying all freedom of the press.


The deep night that blotted out the truth in Germany, Japan and Italy need not fall on any country again, nor need there be maintained in most countries a murky twilight as far as knowledge of other people is concerned. Since it has been proved that poisoned news can generate a war, its antithesis, truthful news, should have a chance to prove that it can maintain the peace. Truthful news and a free press can do more than anything to avert war, but the acceptance of both must be real and sincere, not lip service paid to the ideals of a free press in countries which pride themselves on democratic institutions.

We should realize today as we should have twenty-five years ago that members of this great world family of human beings are either not well enough acquainted or not acquainted at all. Since they do not all live in physical proximity they can come to know each other only by what they hear and what they read. An exchange of truthful international news would bring acquaintance and the result of acquaintance would be world-wide community of interest.

If we are convinced that for an enduring peace an international community of interest should be established, we should see to it that America holds out inexorably for the two things that make world-wide community of interest possible—a world-wide free press and a communications system adapted to serve the press everywhere in a truly practical manner.

For myself, I would proclaim now that we expect to accomplish this in the peace. I would not wait until the war ends, would not leave these vital elements to be tossed around upon the sea of indecision and intrigue which always prevail in peace negotiations.

The establishment of a free press involves no expenditures, though it does involve a great deal of practical enlightenment on how newspapers through advertising and subscription rates can maintain themselves independent of political or private subsidy. On the other hand, an international communications system would cost a great deal of money, but it would not cost more than a fraction of 1 per cent of the cost of world armament.

•    •    •

With these two instruments available for the establishment of an international community of interest, we shall have at least a groundwork for what might seem now to be utopian.

The blessings of adequate communications and a free press surely were not given to us to exploit solely for our own benefit and to keep just for ourselves. Here in the United States the principle of true and unbiased news was first developed. If we would keep out of another war, then in self-interest we should see to it that the principle is given to the world in a militant effort to improve international relations. Availability of the truth, the most powerful force in the world, through a free press served by an adequate system of world-wide communications established for the purpose, should be our aim. For we should not forget that when we plan to enshrine freedom in any field, the first requisite is the right to know.

May 24, 2017

1949. The Council of Foreign Ministers Meets in Paris

Occupation Powers Discuss Germany as Strike Cripples Berlin
"Delegation heads at the 1949 Council of Foreign Ministers meeting (left to right) Dean Acheson for the United States, Andrei Vyshinsky for the Soviet Union, Robert Schuman for France, and Ernst Bevin representing Great Britain" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 28, 1949

Berlin naturally is taking great interest in the foreign ministers conference in Paris. You might say that this city is taking a "clinical" interest in the proceedings.

The Berlin viewpoint on the conference is very much the same as that of a patient on an operating table who watches a consultation of his physicians who are about to operate on him. In Berlin there is the same anxiety, the same fear, and the same hope of a man about to undergo major surgery.

At the first of this week there was much hope of success in Berlin. Even two days before the ministers convened, some 12,000 anti-Communist rail workers began the biggest strike in Berlin's postwar history.

The reports of the first meeting of the foreign secretaries came in last night. What was Vyshinsky doing, how did he act, the Germans asked. And the first reports were encouraging. One dispatch said: "Mr. Vyshinsky appeared smiling and joking and quoting Russian proverbs of which he is so fond."

This was the mood indicated by the New York agreement on the lifting of the Berlin Blockade. Trucks and trains and barges were beginning to pour into the city, and although the anti-Communist strikers were slugging it out with the Soviet-organized directorate of Berlin's elevated railway, there was hope that maybe the strikers and the Russian occupation authorities would catch the mood of friendliness; that this local East-West struggle would be called off or suspended while the Big Four was meeting to decide the fate of Germany and Berlin.

But instead of getting better, matters began to get worse here. At best, the strike of the Berlin rail workers is a complicated affair, but it is a situation that has its very roots in the economic and political problems that the conferees in Paris are trying to settle.

Berlin, like Europe, is split into an Eastern and Western segment. Also like Europe, Berlin's main communication system, the elevated railway, connects both segments and is vital to the life of the city. Some 16,000 of the elevated rail workers work and live in the Western half of the city, but they get their pay in the currency of the Soviet section—a currency, incidentally, that has about one quarter of the purchasing power of the West mark.

The UGO, the anti-Communist trade union formed during the blockade, voted last April to strike but held off for six weeks to see if some solution could not be reached. When the blockade lifted, they decided to strike. They maintain that if the Russian-controlled elevated railway collected its fares in the American, British, and French sectors in West marks, there would be more than enough revenue to meet their Western payroll. The elevated now collects fares only in East marks.

But the matter goes deeper than that, for it would also mean an official recognition from the East of what the Russians originally called an "illegal currency." And this matter was one for settlement by Mr. Vyshinsky.

Meanwhile, the Berlin elevated strike deteriorated into a series of clashes between Western anti-Communist strikers and Soviet-directed railroad police and strikebreakers who moved into elevated stations throughout the Western part of the city. The railroad police, including many of the Russian-recruited "people's police," brought along their guns. At least one man was killed, a number of others wounded.

And rightly or wrongly, the Berlin strike crisis, in the eyes of the people here, has become a kind of test case of Soviet sincerity regarding Germany.

Although we here who have been dodging East German police bullets in covering the strike story might be considered too close to the local situation to see the big picture, every American, British, and French official in Berlin with whom I have talked agrees that the actions or failure to act by the Soviet military government this past week has violated the spirit of the New York agreement lifting the blockade, and that the actions of the Communist-directed police in trying to break the strike of the West Berlin rail workers reaches a new high in Communist cynicism in their efforts to wipe out opposition from the people of Western Berlin.

These officials say that it is repetition of the situation that has risen time and again in dealings with the Soviet Union—agreement in principle that breaks down when these principles are to be carried out. And if that is what is going on in Paris right now, then Berlin should be an example to guide the foreign ministers in their deliberations.

These facts stand out in the past week here in Berlin:

First, the incongruous situation arose in which advocates and leaders of a "workers' state"—the Communist proletarian system—used force to break the strike of another group of working men, a section of labor which they hope to win over in what they call their tide of history.

Second, there is no doubt that the Soviet military government at any time could have stepped in and ordered settlement of the strike and saved the life of one man, injury to hundreds of others, and prevented economic dislocation that must hurt East Berlin as much as it does the Western part of the city. They did not and have not chosen to do this.

Third, Russian transport officials have refused virtually every offer of cooperation the Western Powers have asked for in solving the dilemma of moving rail transport into the city. When four British and American passenger trains were stranded in Potsdam a few miles west of Berlin, the Soviet authorities mysteriously disappeared. They would give no answer for requests to send trucks and buses for the passengers. And there has been the same negation of every effort the British and Americans have made to start rail traffic moving again.

On the credit side of the East Berlin ledger is the fact that the Russian-controlled railway directorate did finally offer to grant West mark pay to the strikers. But UGO workers, fearing a trap, have refused to return to work until their union is recognized, until they have assurance that there will be no reprisals, and that rail workers formally discharged for political reasons will be reinstated.

There is no solution either for resumption of rail traffic or the end of the strike in sight right now. But if the present crisis continues in Berlin, Mr. Acheson, Mr. Bevin, Mr. Schuman, and Mr. Vyshinsky may hear officially of it in Paris, according to reports here. They are being advised on a day-to-day basis of the progress of events here.

If the Russians are sincere in their appeal for a conference to reach agreement on the German question, then there is another proverb that can be quoted to him.

It is found in all languages: "Actions speak louder than words."

May 23, 2017

1949. Battle for the Berlin Railway

East Berlin Fights Massive Union Uprising
"Officers of the French military police stand on a platform of the Gesundbrunnen train station in Berlin, 24 May 1949" (DPA/Alamy)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 21, 1949

Rioting broke out in a half-dozen places here this morning as 12,000 anti-Communist trade union workers moved to enforce their strike on Berlin's elevated railway.

Approximately fifty people have been arrested thus far, many of them strikebreakers from East Berlin taken into custody for their own protection. There have been a number of black eyes and bloody noses—some bricks were thrown and clubs used—but no one thus far has been seriously injured. At the Tempelhof elevated station near the Russian sector border one shot was fired in the air by West Berlin police.

The UGO [Unabhängige Gewerkschaftsopposition] anti-Communist trade union is striking against the Russian-controlled railway directorate which has refused their demands to be paid in West marks instead of East marks.

Traffic on the elevated ring that serves all sectors of the city is proceeding at a restricted pace. The strikers have moved into power plants where they can shut off electricity.

I went to the disputed Tempelhof station this morning. About a thousand strikers were milling about at the entrance while, above the tracks, strike-breakers and the specially-trained, black-uniformed "people's police" from the Soviet zone stood on guard. A few heads were bumped. It was a bizarre sight, even in this bizarre city. And it was the first time in my experience in covering labor that I saw Communists used as strikebreakers.

The Communist propagandists are already calling the strikers "tools of the Western capitalists." They assert that the strike was timed to make the Paris negotiations on Germany more difficult. The Communists also charge the UGO union with sabotage and wrecking.

The American military government officially is taking a "hands-off" position in the strike, although the Berlin commandant General Frank Howley said that American military police would be used if necessary to preserve order and security in the city.

Right now there is a four-power meeting of transport authorities underway, and the new strike situation is under discussion. Four Russian officers appeared at the Tempelhof elevated station this morning to investigate the situation. West Berlin police had to give them protection from irate strikers.

There's another important story in Germany today. The necessary two-thirds majority of the West German states have ratified the Basic Law for the new German republic. That's good news at least.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 21, 1949

The sound of gunfire sounded in the streets of Berlin tonight. At this moment the issue at the Neukölln elevated railway station in south Berlin is not settled, as striking Western railway workmen clash with the Soviet-sponsored police of East Berlin who control the elevated and against whom the anti-Communist workmen are striking.

So far the injuries of people caught up or participating in this rioting have not been serious. There have been plenty of bruised heads and eyes and bleeding noses. The closest scrape came a few hours ago at the Wannsee station where an East police bullet nicked a striker trying to take over the station.

It has been a strange twenty-four hours. Correspondents here have been chasing from rail station to rail station as reports of trouble come in. When you arrive at places like Tempelhof near our airdrome on the border of the Soviet sector, there are the crowds of roughly-dressed people, some wearing the uniform of the railway employee. Then there are always the youngsters. Ranging from ten years to twenty, they form the most volatile and aggressive group. It is a little frightening, for these youths carry iron bars and clubs and knives. You look at the pinched dirty faces of these youngsters, the impression confirms itself. At these riots one could hold a very successful Boy Scout meeting—or a massacre.

Berlin tonight has had neither.

At the Tempelhof station this morning I saw men beaten, some of them for no more reason than the fact that they had ridden the struck elevated railway from the Russian sector of the city—where there is no strike—and got off to find themselves in the hands of strikers. This morning the West Berlin police moved in to disperse crowds.

Tonight that stopped. At the Schöneberg station, one of the most important transfer points in the elevated system, the police stood by and did little to disperse the thousand people who gathered in anticipation of fireworks. The aggressive feeling of the mob was demonstrated when the striking workers moved in up the railroad line to the station. Some of the crowd started throwing the bricks from the bombed buildings at them, not recognizing that these were the strikers whom they were supporting.

The strikers took the station, and only a plea from a leader of the striking anti-Communist union prevented violence to East Berlin employees inside. The violent attitude of the mob expressed itself later when a truck took some fifty strikebreakers back to the Soviet zone. Only a few bricks were thrown at them.

A few hours ago I returned from the Wannsee elevated station where the first actual gunshots of this strike were fired. We heard of the shooting, and since Wannsee is very near the press camp on the western edge of Berlin we were able to reach it quickly.

We drove to the disputed elevated station and found the gates barred. We pounded on the gate. A man, hiding himself in the darkness, asked who we were. We said that we were American reporters. He replied: "I don't speak your language. Go away." Our German was not that bad.

As we drove off, three shots rang out. We had been talking to the East Berlin police who were doing the shooting. We didn't know it then, but we did later.

The strikers have not taken the Wannsee station nor Tempelhof, and there are reports now circulating that the rump government of East Berlin is now shipping in riot squads by the railway they control to take over the stations.

The democratic trade union, UGO, is staging this strike because they demand their wages be paid in West marks. But this is a schizophrenic city in more than an economic way. There also is a Communist-dominated trade union, the Federated, which is opposing the strike. Thus you have the spectacle of the proletarian state strikebreaking, opposing the workers they hope to win to Communism.

But actually this struggle between Germans—because the occupation powers are keeping their hands off—is a product of a much larger struggle that is now going on between the East and the West. The thousands of people who were waiting to attack the East Berlin police and strikebreakers were not thinking in terms of West marks.

I'm not exactly sure what they were thinking about except laying their hands on the people who, to the West Berliner at least, have become a symbol of their troubles.

The frightening thing is that for the first time since the war they have risen up to strike back—violently and viciously. Not only the strikers and their adherents, but also the armed East police so carefully indoctrinated by the Russians.

The lesson of this night is for both the East and the West.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 22, 1949

Berlin's little "civil war" over the city's elevated railway system still is raging at this moment as anti-Communist strikers make assault after assault on the rail stations held by East German police and strikebreakers from East Berlin.

Scores of people have been injured, and last night the railroad police occupying—or trying to occupy—passenger stations in the British, American, and French sectors began using gunfire to repulse the strikers.

So far only one man has been reported killed. The striking UGO union says he was a refugee not concerned with the strike who was shot while standing in a crowd near the Russian sector border west of here. However at least half a dozen people have been hit by bullets, but none are reported to be seriously injured.

At this moment the hottest spots in the city are the Charlottenburg and Zoo stations in the British sector and near the heart of Berlin. Charlottenburg is where the British military trains come in, and where the first blockade-lifting train was greeted only ten days ago. A few hours ago a truck with about forty Soviet soldiers drove to the Zoo station. The crowd stoned the vehicle as it drove away.

This morning several hundred strikers put in an attack on the Charlottenburg station. Shots were fired and four people injured. Some fifty strikebreakers retired and were promised safe conduct out of the station. However the crowd broke through a police cordon and two pro-Communist strikebreakers were badly beaten. Later the mob burned Soviet-licensed newspapers in the square in front of the station. At this moment the Charlottenburg station is still in the hands of the strikers, while the Zoo station, the next stop away, is held by the pro-Communist strikebreakers.

The situation this morning is confused, but it appears that the East sector police are being shipped into the disputed stations in trains bristling with arms. The strikebreakers have now retaken the key power stations, and except for a few passenger stations, they have most of the elevated line under their control.

The striking UGO leadership now is meeting to draw up an appeal for support of the Western military governments, but the American, British, and French authorities continue to pursue a hands-off policy. If no settlement can be reached, the striking union said it will call for a general strike throughout the city.

The Communist press this morning charges that the strike is all a great plot being fostered by the United States. The official Red Army newspaper, Tägliche Rundschau, says America "wants to create a 'civil war' atmosphere" in West Berlin on the eve of the Paris foreign ministers meeting in order to bring about a breakdown in the talks. The headline in the Russian-licensed National Zeitung reads: "The American Assault on Berlin."

The only Americans involved here are the correspondents. We have been running from one trouble spot to another all last night and probably all this night too.

The German bullets still have that nasty whine we learned to hate so much during the last war.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 23, 1949

I have just returned from the Zoo station, a major objective in Berlin's battle of the elevated railroad.

The anti-Communist strikers have forced the German Soviet-zone police and their strikebreakers to leave. But for the first time in this bitter struggle between Germans and Germans there have been fatalities. Burgomeister Ferdinand Friedensburg, Deputy Mayor of the West Berlin government, told me that two youths had been killed and two seriously hurt. The Russian-licensed radio station in Berlin said that twenty people had been hurt in the rioting at Zoo, but we have no count of the injured inside the station.

This new incident came after a day of quiet in the tense strike situation in which some 12,000 Berlin railwaymen are demanding their pay only in West marks instead of the less valuable East marks authorized by the Russian military government.

The situation has all the aspects of a little civil war. Tonight's shooting was not as sustained nor as frightening as it had been last night and the night before, but it was much more effective. Only a half-dozen shots were fired—but four men fell.

It happened at about 9:30 Berlin time tonight just as it was getting dark. The Zoo station in the British sector was occupied by about five hundred Eastern police and strikebreakers. A group of East Berlin police—spick and span in their special issue black uniforms—walked out onto the open track of the elevated. What they had not anticipated was that there were strikers in nearby buildings bordering the track. Rocks started coming at them. They fired wildly then ran back into the station. The strikers picked up their casualties.

News of the death spread wildly. Strikers and their sympathizers armed themselves with clubs and iron bars and began to shout for Communist blood. Western police moved in reinforcements and a sound truck was called to try and calm the mob.

A British public safety officer, hearing of the trouble (and perhaps it was his invention), sent word to the pro-Communist group inside the station that unless they withdrew immediately he could not be responsible for their safety in case the mob broke in.

The leaders of the East Berlin group conferred by telephone with their superiors in the Russian sector of the city, and shortly afterward walked back to their sector. Deputy Mayor Friedensburg told me that he hoped there might be a settlement of the strike soon, and that tomorrow the city council would submit proposals.

The Communists are charging that this strike is inspired by the United States to disrupt the Paris conference of foreign ministers. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have had nothing to do with it. But one thing it most certainly will do, and that is underline the differences between East and West. A difference that, strangely enough, hits at the root of Communist policy. Because after all, the men who are on strike and who the East is trying to break are not exactly capitalists.

The strikers have moved a mile to another elevated station, Westkreutz, and another ultimatum for the pro-Communist police to leave has just been given. Looks like more trouble.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 24, 1949

West Berlin this morning could be described as a man with a club in his hand, facing trouble from the East but at the same time glancing over his shoulder to see if his troubles are being settled in Paris.

In fact, to borrow a phrase from Ed Murrow, Berlin today is the conscience of Germany, for it is here that the basic differences between the Russian brand and the Western brand of democracy are being fought out.

The city has returned to a state of restive quiet this morning after a night of strike violence. The renewed rioting last night cost at least one youth his life when anti-Communist strikers ousted East Berlin railroad police from the Zoo elevated station in the British sector. The Soviet-controlled police fired into a crowd of a thousand persons when strikers began stoning them. After two hours in which it appeared that the mob would get out of control, British safety authorities notified the three hundred strikebreakers inside the Zoo station that Western authorities could no longer be responsible for their safety. The five hundred men inside withdrew. But the mob was out for vengeance and proceeded to take seven more West sector stations on the Berlin elevated railroad.

This morning it is reported that the anti-Communist rail union now holds all but five stations in Western Berlin. The Russian-sponsored police and strikebreakers still occupy two stations in the American sector, two in the French sector, and one in the British, which is jointly occupied by East and West police.

Deputy Mayor Ferdinand Friedensburg told me last night that the West Berlin city council would make proposals to the Russian rail directive to end the strike, and to pay the men their wages in West marks which they are demanding.

I got confirmation last night that the Communist-led East Berlin government has been importing men from the Russian zone to help break the anti-Communist union. A railroad worker who abandoned the fight told me that he had been ordered into the city from a switch point east of here, but was only told he was going to do repair work in Berlin. He said he knew nothing of the strike.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 25, 1949

Berlin is quieter this morning than it has been at any time in the past three days, and the strike crisis seems to have eased off somewhat as rioting crowds wear themselves out and the 12,000 striking railway workers seek a settlement of their wage demands.

The casualty toll of the past sixty hours shows seventeen persons hospitalized, four of whom are member of the Communist-zone railroad police. Scores of other persons were treated by first aid stations, but an earlier report that one man was killed has not been confirmed.

The strike is still on, and the elevated trains are running only in the Soviet sector of the city. This morning there appears to be hope that the Soviet-controlled railway directorate will meet the demands of the striking trainmen of West Berlin who want their pay only in West marks.

The Russian-licensed newspaper, Tribune, says today that the strike was unnecessary; that negotiations are underway and that there is a promising prospect that adequate West mark pay can be granted to the strikers. The Communists continue to try to place blame for the strike on the United States, charging that it is a grand conspiracy to disrupt the Big Four foreign ministers conference in Paris.

The anti-Communist union conducting the strike issued a proclamation last night demanding that the Russian-controlled police, who have been trying to break the strike, be withdrawn; that the Western police take over the elevated; and that the rail directors sell tickets in the Western sector of the city for West marks so that pay could be made in that currency.

An extraordinary meeting of the West Berlin government this morning asked that the American, British, and French military commandants authorize Western police to take over the elevated stations in their sectors and give military police backing if necessary. The three Western military commandants met this morning to consider the strike situation. They resumed their meeting a few minutes ago to consider the magistrate proposal.

Important events are taking place in Bonn. The basic constitutional law for West Germany has been ratified by the required two-thirds of the states, and at the last meeting of the constitutional convention this afternoon the new Federal Republic of Germany will be proclaimed and the black, red, and gold flag of the republic will be officially hoisted for the first time.

During the meeting of the foreign ministers, an eight man German committee representing the new republic will sit in Frankfurt to advise the three Western nations.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 25, 1949

Renewed fighting between anti-Communist strikers and East Berlin non-striking railroad men was reported an hour ago at two places on the city's elevated railway.

Reports are still coming in and we have no indication of the seriousness of the incidents or whether there have been any casualties. The clashes are reported at the Anhalter station on the American-Russian sector border in the center of town and at the Priesterweg railroad yards. The fighting is between East Berlin repair gangs attempting to get the shut-down elevated running again, and the strikers.

These incidents followed the first quiet night Berlin has had in five days. The orders yesterday by the American, British, and French commandants for West Berlin police to occupy the elevated stations in their sectors were carried without incident. The orders were issued as a public safety measure after the killing of one striker at the Zoo station the night before last.

Today West Berlin police are in all stations of the three Western sectors. However, in the Priesterweg railroad yards, thirty-seven Russian soldiers were stranded because the striking union workers will not allow them to take out steam engines as transports. Four locomotives were steamed up this morning, but the strikers cut electric power that runs the turntable and immobilized the yards. Some of the Russian officers left by truck, but others still remain.

At this moment, the Russian-sponsored economic commission of East Berlin is considering a proposal of the rail directorate to collect West mark fares so that the striking workers can receive their pay in this currency.

This issue precipitated the strike, but now the anti-Communist union says that there are more than the pay issues involved. They demand that all men who went on strike be reinstated, and that their union, opposed by the Communist-sponsored Federation of East Berlin, be recognized.

There is hope in some quarters that the strike may be settled by tomorrow.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 26, 1949

Western Power authorities today are questioning if and just how much the Soviet military government in Germany has lifted the Berlin Blockade. They charge that the Russians are employing the same tactics they have used in the past—to agree in principle and then to obstruct in carrying out the details.

This morning thirty-six trains were lined up just outside Berlin in the Soviet zone city of Potsdam. Four of these trains were passenger trains containing some 140 American and British travelers trying to get to Berlin. On one American train, thirty-five military and civilian personnel have been sitting in their passenger coaches for the past twenty-four hours. They were in radio communications with American transport officials here and said they had run out of water but still had some food left.

Repeated requests for permission to send buses and trucks to Potsdam for the stranded passengers have been ignored by Soviet military authorities.

The reason for this rail traffic snafu is that the key control tower at the main switch point for trains coming into the West has been abandoned, although it is under Russian control.

Ostensibly this is because the West Berlin rail workers are on strike, but the anti-Communist rail union conducting the walkout has asked permission to man the switch tower and to lead the trains from the West over tracks now being picketed by the strikers. The Russian-controlled railroad directorate refused this request.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 27, 1949

The Anglo-American airlift delivered more than eight thousand tons of supplies to Berlin yesterday. These daily reports look like becoming news again this morning as virtually all railroad traffic between this city and the West is shut down for the fourth day in a row. The airlift continues to fly, yes, but actually Berlin does not have the blockade conditions it endured for eleven months. Truck and barge traffic is running into the city in increasing proportions.

But the main supply route, the railroad between here and Helmstedt, is jammed up with more than thirty trains, and the Berlin rail yards are stacked with more than a thousand freight wagons loaded with potatoes, coal, and other cargo with no men on engines to move them. Soviet transport authorities have notified the British that no further trains into the city from the Western zones can be handled until the present freight crisis is solved.

The Soviet military government is doing exactly nothing to solve the situation. Their transport officials cannot be reached, and they are ignoring all Western requests to facilitate rail movement which now is stalled in their zone from Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, westward.

American, British, and French officials here interpret this transport jam as much more than a local Berlin crisis. The Russians take the position that the traffic tie-up is the result of the elevated rail strike in Berlin and that therefore the situation is one for German settlement.

However, the striking anti-Communist union maintains that it is striking only Berlin's elevated railroad, and not traffic from the West. The union asked the Russians for permission to bring in the freight trains and was rejected. Today they say they will work anyway if ordered to do so by the Americans or British.

General Frank Howley, American commandant for Berlin, charges that the entire railroad problem could be solved by the Soviet military government if it so desired, or if they desired to act in the spirit of the New York blockade-lifting agreement.

The new Berlin rail crisis makes an interesting comparison of action competing with words now being spoken in the foreign ministers conference in Paris.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

May 22, 2017

1923. "The Swashbuckling Mussolini"

Arrogance and Authoritarianism in Italy
"Italians love his swashbuckling and blaguer" (from The New York Times, July 22, 1923)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism in the years leading up to World War II.

In the 1920s and 1930s American correspondents in Italy wrote frequently about Mussolini and his fascist ideology, publishing interviews, profiles, and analyses. Several, particularly contributors to The New York Times, have since been criticized for romanticizing the Italian regime. In the 1975 book "Mussolini and Fascism: The View From America" (pp. 24-25), historian John Patrick Diggins writes:
In the United States Mussolini's popularity was to a great extent a product of the press. Most newspapers outside New York City relied on wire services or foreign correspondents for information, and in the early years these sources were generally friendly to Mussolini and his new regime . . .

The most thorough coverage of Italian events could, of course, be found in the New York Times. The Times' correspondents writing on Italy included Arnaldo Cortesi, Edwin L. James, Arthur Livingston, Walter Littlefield, and Anne O'Hare McCormick. With the exception of Livingston, these journalists wrote approvingly of Fascism and its leader . . . yet editorially the Times showed less inclination than its writers to support Fascism. Although the Times, like most papers, condoned Mussolini's seizure of power, by the mid-twenties the editors became disenchanted, seeing "one more parallel" after another between Fascist and Soviet totalitarianism. Nevertheless, the New York Times' treatment of Italy brought denunciations by anti-Fascists in the United States were convinced that Cortesi, McCormick (and in the thirties Herbert L. Matthews and C. L. Sulzberger) and associates were championing the cause of Fascism.
As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Anne O'Hare McCormick covered Benito Mussolini's early years in power and interviewed him on several occasions. Eight months into Mussolini's reign, McCormick wrote about his grandiose public persona and his impact on Italy. She noted his central role in the fascist movement:
I had not been in the country a week before discovering that what Americans find most difficult to swallow in Mussolini and his movement is what the Italians gulp down with the greatest gusto. They love his swashbuckling and blaguer. They delight in his impudence to a Parliament which they all despise. They are enraptured when he reminds the recalcitrant that it is only by his forbearance that they exist; when he threatens his enemies with an army held in leash only by his good pleasure. Boasts of force feed their love of power and their disdain of weakness.
From The New York Times, July 22, 1923, pp. 1, 19:

Latest Heir of the Caesars Has Conquered Because His Countrymen Understand Arrogance


At the moment when dyspeptic Europe ceases to struggle with the digestion of more unbaked democracy than any continent was ever called upon to swallow before, when England recalls the Tories and France remobilizes the chauvinists, when Prime Ministers of a German republic begin to invoke the empire, when Turkey stands pat, when Albania clamors for a Scottish King, when all the new republics are dying of liberty and professional politicians resume everywhere a business of which amateurs are sick and tired, Mussolini the Autocrat mounts the tribune of the Caesars and creates one of those exciting diversions which sometimes change the course of history.

He shouts aloud all the dark and stabbing doubts of democracy that secretly assail those who have tried it. He plays up a hearty and unsanctified nationalism against the pale virtue of co-operation which the enlightened have been trying to cultivate as a super-national grace. He dares to call a Legislature in public what all men call it in private. He arrives at the hour of the sharpest decline in the stock of the liberals and uses language about popular government that relieves the pent feeling of its best friends. He finds Italy self-governed to a deadlock, in a literal paralysis of democracy, and sets the machinery going by turning out the tinkerers and running the whole works himself.

His presence at the head of an enlightened State is therefore in itself a challenge. Is he a symptom of the disease of politics that infects civilization, or is he a remedy? Is he autocrat, liberator or merely demagogue? How far is he going, and where? After eight months of practically unlimited authority what has his Government accomplished? Enough to prove one-man power to be less dangerous than the powerlessness of many men, to show that a general-manager form of control may be applied to a nation as well as to a town? Is he, in a word, as right as he is popular in proceeding on the assumption that people really desire government more than they desire a voice in government?

These are questions that are drawing to Rome reporters and observers from the ends of the earth. Political reviewers, journalists, politicians, bankers, business prospectors, reformers, flock here to make their varying deductions from what they see of Italy under the Fascista regime. They gave it six months last October when the Black Shirt army made its sensational raid on Rome and seized the Government from a panicky Parliament and an eagerly acquiescent King. Now that it has stood that test they begin to suspect that there is something more in it than a scene in Italian grand opera, and inquirers arrive to satisfy what is apparently a universal curiosity in regard to its achievements and its intentions. They gather in the official and unofficial ante-rooms where one waits, sometimes vainly and always long, for different brands of ill-prepared information. They study the budget figures as presented in the recent statement of Minister of Finance de Stefani, perhaps the ablest member of Mussolini's rather too-personal Cabinet. They interview the President of the Council if they can catch him between his almost daily dashes to various points of the political battlefront. They talk to the officials who are primed for such inquiries, an industrial magnate or two, the handy head waiter, who speaks all languages. If their week's tour of inspection allows them to see anything they are not shown, or are not looking for, they take a glance around the country. Seldom by any chance have they the time of the words or the curiosity to talk to the people.

Yet in Italy even more than in most countries there is no use trying to study Fascismo and its chances of success without some understanding of the Italians. I had not been in the country a week before discovering that what Americans find most difficult to swallow in Mussolini and his movement is what the Italians gulp down with the greatest gusto. They love his swashbuckling and blaguer. They delight in his impudence to a Parliament which they all despise. They are enraptured when he reminds the recalcitrant that it is only by his forbearance that they exist; when he threatens his enemies with an army held in leash only by his good pleasure. Boasts of force feed their love of power and their disdain of weakness.

Like Barrie's "Tommy," with whom they have no sentiments and many tastes in common, they adore a masterful man. They have always flourished under a strong hand, whether Caesar's or Hildebrand's, Cavour's or Crispi's. That is because they are not a people like ourselves or the English or the Germans, loving order and regulation and government for their own sake, however weak their Ministers. Experience has taught them to distrust all government and instinct makes them resent the intrusions of authority. They have never been united except by force or by disaster, and they follow a leader as long as he leads, and no longer.

Mussolini is secure while he shows no fear. When his critics accuse him of unconstitutionality they only recommend him the more to a highly civilized but naturally lawless people. The youth, the bravura, the political intrepidity which the old politicians call inexperience, are the strength of the Fascisti. Look at the great portraits that strut among the meek Madonnas and suffering saints of all Italian galleries—Caesars, condottieri, courtiers, Cardinals—and learn how these people understand arrogance.

Only last week a friend bitterly disillusioned with a Government that had promised the millennium and only increased his taxes came to me after a speech of Mussolini's in the Senate completely reestablished enthusiasm. "Magnificent!" he exclaimed. "He said that he made explanations but that he owed none. He declared that with sacrifice and solidarity in two years he would make over Italy. He snapped his fingers at all the barking canaille. He says he may be shot, but it does not matter if he is hit going forward instead of going back. At least a man can respect himself in following such a leader!"

Whatever Mussolini does not know, and there are said to be many things not dreamed of in his philosophy, he knows his own people. He knew when to turn on the drama, and I believe he will also know when to shut it off. No citizen of a strictly limited democracy like ours can imagine the relief of being ruled by a good, strong, forthright autocrat after the absolute, unbridled, impossibly logical form of self-government suffered in Italy. The people were already yearning for a dictatorship when Mussolini appointed himself a dictator. So far from a usurpation of authority against the popular will, his march on Rome was like an answer to prayer. The professional politicians had had their chance. They had all failed. Even the Fascisti could do nothing in the Chamber. They were a small group in a helplessly divided body—thirty-two members out of 535. Mussolini only made himself receiver for a Government in bankruptcy.

It must be remembered that in that crisis, when the Government acknowledged its incapacity to function, when anarchy was held down only by Mussolini's army, the Fascisti could have done anything they chose with the country. Everybody admits that the Government was to be had for the taking. Mussolini could as easily have led to power the Socialists or the Communists as his battalions of fighting nationalists and patriots. He had under absolute control the best young manhood of Italy, an armed force of half a million unpaid volunteers, mobilized by his magnetism, dedicated and disciplined to his will.

Wherever he led they would have followed. There are many who think that he could have overthrown the monarchy as easily as he reestablished it. Two-thirds of the army was already Fascist. There might have been a republic, even without civil war. Anything might have happened; all that did happen was that Victor Emmanuel hastened to make the Fascisti constitutional by inviting them to form a Government. The bankrupt Parliament conferred all its powers upon the Fascista leader for a year, and both King and Prime Minister were heartily cheered by the people for their resourcefulness in making the realities so different while leaving all the names the same.

That very night the Fascista forces were out of Rome. They marched to the Capitol and dispersed as soberly and exaltedly as they came. Many were country youths on their first visit to the metropolis; they were tired, dusty and dry after long marches over hard roads. Yet with all the cafes open there was not a case of drunkenness; there was not the slightest disorder and not a murmur against the unwelcome order to return at once to their homes. They showed themselves and departed, but they got what they came for and thus saved their country as thoroughly, and more neatly, than if any one of them had the poor judgement to oppose them.

The leaders of Italian constitutional liberalism, who are more anxious than the best American journalist scenting a story to find out just how far Mussolini is going, declare now that the Government was about to assort itself and the Parliamentary confusion was on the eve of clearing when he made his parade of revolution. They complain because he embarked and proceeded upon his unknown course without any guidance from political experts. They forget that he had watched the experts being expert for two years from his seat on the Right of the Chamber of Deputies; and the restraint he exhibited once he had precipitated the crisis they could not avert was hardly more remarkable than their instant docility to his demands.

They submitted to the most contemptuous lambasting any Parliament has ever received from the responsible head of a Government. Certainly nothing but the lack of any alternative could have induced them to endow their castigator with absolute powers. He continues to abuse the Parliament, but so far he has not abused the mandate he forced from them. He talks about upholding the traditional "jus murmurandi," a right as old as Roman law, but all criticism angers him and he will not have a word of contradiction in his own ranks. He does not suffer any opposition patiently, and though he cannot expel his political opponents, he does not placate or reassure the worried constitutionalists when he reminds them that except for his intervention there would be no Constitution to save. He is secure in the fact that, by whatever coercion of circumstances he arrived where he is, he is there by appointment of the King and consent of the Parliament, so that if he is a dictator he is so by all the constitutional authority there is.

Two-thirds of his grant of power has now expired and many of the observers who come to find out what he has done with it, to estimate how one-man rule works in a modern State, are inclined to be disappointed that he has not created the safe heaven the Conservatives hoped for or the despotic hell the Radicals predicted. I have heard more than one trained interpreter of events assert that the Fascista Government has been advertised for a great deal more than it is worth. It has done few of the things that look impressive in a report. But it has performed one miracle. And because miracles are rare in a world without magic, that wonder, I think, should be celebrated above all its failures and achievements.

The miracle is a miracle of conversion. Here at last is a Government that has transformed a people. If that sounds too strong, I can only say that it is the first and only term that does justice to the first impression made on one who left Italy two years ago and comes back today. Then it was a land visibly running down, with a kind of hand-to-mouth administration, so that one never knew today where tomorrow's Government was coming from. There was no assurance that anything was going to work—railroads, telegraphs, trams, posts, power plants, bakeries, any kind of public or private service. One tried a water faucet skeptically; one bet on the chances of getting a train. Life was a daily gamble, sporting enough for the traveler but pretty desperate for the native. The people were all either idle and rebellious or idle and dispirited. The war had left them bitter and poor; subsequent events had made them lose pride in their country and respect for their Government. Everywhere was slackness, despondency, recklessness.

One left confusion and fear, and under confusion and fear, apathy and discouragement. One returned to a country cheerful, industrious, interested and orderly. All the railroads were running and running on time. There was not even the threat or shadow of a strike. There has not been a single strike in any part of Italy since the Fascisti came into power. The streets were clean, the roads were being mended, the enlivening sounds of construction were heard everywhere. Workers were singing at their work. It was like a land recovered from a blight.

Was this Mussolini's revolution? I asked myself, contrasting the friendly dispatch of the customs inspection at Naples with my last hideous experience at the same port. "We have a Government now!" boasted a Neapolitan, and when I remarked on the transformation to the first Roman I met, he assured me that I would be more amazed the more I saw. "It is hard for a stranger to understand," he said, "but Mussolini has actually changed the minds and spirit of the people. He has dramatized work and sacrifice and national pride and made them popular. Go out to the San Lorenzo quarter, where a few months ago a man was shot for flying the Italian flag. Now they are all patriots there, all working, contented, shouting for Mussolini. I don't know what happened to all the revolutionists."

I sought out one of the still-existent Socialist headquarters for an explanation of the mystery. It was the quietest retreat I found in Rome, deserted except for the voluble and agreeable executive. He admitted that his comrades were dispersed, for the moment shorn of their thunder, infected by nationalism, and that some had basely surrendered to the bourgeoisie.

"Are you as free as ever to organize, to hold meetings, to make propaganda?" I asked, and when he answered with a qualified affirmative, I inquired if it was true, then, as I had heard in America, that the government had instituted a virtual censorship of the press and public opinion.

"Hardly that," he replied. "We publish our papers just the same as ever. The Government has a strong press, which specializes in daily advertisement and adulation of Mussolini and keeps the people stuffed with all his promises, like the reform of the budget and the proposed electoral iniquity. Mussolini punishes all his own people who open their mouths against him. There have been local examples of suppression of newspapers for criticizing the Fascisti, the most notable example being the powerful Corriere della Sera, which was suspended for a day in Milan. But there has been no general censorship. The Italians would never stand for it. And Mussolini won't go so far now as when he was making war on us. He is too anxious to stay in power. As for us," he shrugged, "well, we are out; we have been outraged and persecuted and weakened. But of course we will come back. Mussolini has the people hypnotized, but he has been given so much rope that he is sure to hang himself in the end."

The Fascisti have done things which the political reviewer finds more interesting than these trifles. They have ferreted out the tax dodgers and forced 400,000 citizens to pay income taxes who never paid before. They have simplified and reclassified taxation. They have made a valiant attempt to deal with the bureaucracy that stifles all European States. Several Government departments have been closed, the personnel of others reduced and various administrative economies have been effected. The number of State employees actually discharged, however, is much less than was promised. There is a limit to the number of enemies the most fearless leader can indulge in!

The new budget proposes to reduce the national deficit to one and a quarter milliards of lire, about four milliards less than it is today. Committees are working on educational reforms, on a reform of the electoral system, on new provisions for constant emigration which the few natural resources of the country and the rapidly growing population make necessary. But these are mostly in the future—great schemes which all Governments dream about in their youth and few ever grow old enough to realize. The project for electoral reform is interesting enough to be considered in another article. It will bring an issue to the fight Mussolini must have with the constitutionalists and measure the strength of the growing opposition to his policies. As outlined, it is a novelty, never tried before in any country, and it will probably never be tried again even in this if it succeeds in its purpose of putting the Fascisti in power for the next four years.

Not even if all the proposed budgets balance, and if Mussolini works out a formula of economic salvation for his country, a problem he has not even tackled, his greatest reform will still be the one he has already accomplished. He may in time find experts to create industries and outlets for trade; the creation of a national spirit and the restoration of order and confidence in Government will remain his personal triumph. Always remembering that Italy is full of Italians and not Americans or French or Germans, it is nothing less than amazing to watch the whole country trying to be like him. By working fourteen hours a day, by living hard and taking hard exercise, by talking always of courage, strength, law, discipline, he has inspired among Italians a cult of the strenuous life such as Roosevelt once popularized in America.

He calls himself "the trustee of the youth of Italy," and he makes the young men, the ex-soldiers, university students, schoolboys, farmers' sons, feel for the first time that the country is theirs, and that it is their job to work for it and their responsibility to see that it is well ruled. Discipline, the least favored of all virtues among his countrymen, is the favorite word of their leader. Not even a Church supposed to specialize in discipline has been very successful in imposing it on its Italian adherents. In other countries Catholics are orderly and well organized; in the center of Christendom, if a foreigner can judge by observation, they seem to take the liberty of worshiping God in the manner they please. The discipline of the Fascisti, now the national militia, is therefore no mean achievement. It is true that in this army Mussolini wields a despotic power. He is called and is the "Duce"—leader whose word is law, who brooks no insubordination and expels his best friends for a whisper of contradiction or a gesture of disloyalty.

He includes the Church in his policy of restoring what he calls the "hierarchies," of bolstering up authority wherever he finds it. The first and not the least astonishing thing he did as Prime Minister was to take the King and all his Ministers to mass at the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the basilica carved out of the Baths of Diocletian by Michelangelo.

"Mussolini was the first to make a Christian out of the Unknown Soldier," smiled a great Roman Cardinal, whom I asked how the ex-editor of Avanti was doing as an apostle of religion. "Until he ordered his Ministers to their knees to pray for the soul of the dead warrior, it has been in Italy a pagan cult, like the ancient worship of the god of war. I don't know how much is religion and how much is statesmanship," the Cardinal added, "but it is a popular novelty here to have a government which refers with respect to the Vatican, raises the image of Christ in the schools, and acknowledges what is, after all, 'the religion of Italy.'"

The new Government cultivates the spectator. One of the reasons for its popularity among a people smarting under a sense of being undervalued in the world is that it gives them at last a leader who is a headliner, so to speak, able to command public attention and keep Italy on the front page. And Mussolini concentrates most of his efforts on healing the wounded amour propre and building up the morale of the nation. He makes politics a kind of noble show and keeps enlivened and interested the audience, so bored by his predecessors. During the last few weeks, scenting that he is at the beginning of the second and most perilous phase of his regnancy, the phase of criticism, disappointment, reaction from the high mood, he has made triumphal excursions to all parts of the country.

He is far less arrogant in addressing the people than he is to the politicians and to the various financial, journalistic and Masonic rings that used to rule the country. He is wise enough to know that the chiefs of the old order will always be his enemies, and that it is among the people that he must find his friends. And nothing is more surprising in a skeptical race than the popular belief in this peasant who preaches aristocracy and this ex-Socialist who defends hierarchies. He started out with a following of the adventurous young of the middle class.

Now the middle class does not shout for him so unanimously as in the beginning. They find that Fascismo is not a property defense league; it makes property pay. The workers are reassured by the same discovery. I suspect that a good many of the lost Socialists may be found among the Fascisti. On the other hand, there have been desertions as well as expulsions from the ranks of the Fascisti. The material out of which revolutions are made is not so good for making reforms. Mussolini is said to have confided to a friend that he will have to disgust 30 per cent of his followers in order to go on with what he has to do now.

In the United States we have a democracy, which means that the majority of people, acting on motives which often have nothing to do with government, freely elect officers who do not give them what they want. And in Italy a strong minority has elected itself and is giving the country the kind of government the majority want but did not know how to get. In other words, the will of the majority seems to be better satisfied in Italy at this moment than in the United States. The Italians certainly enjoy a personal liberty and freedom from regulation beyond even our conception of liberty.

I suppose peoples as well as Presidents and Prime Ministers can't be opportunists, and that the dictatorship of Mussolini, prevailing by the will of his people, may be classified as a democratic expedient. He is a reaction against nothing but inaction, and proves no more than that when a leader appears the people will follow. They will chafe after a while under his heavy pose of inflexibility; they will tire of the fascinating spectacle of watching him do everything himself. Perhaps, having performed one miracle, in that day he will have other incantations to work other wonders. It is not easy to say where he is going, but it takes no prophet to predict that two elemental and powerful popular appetites, the hunger for leadership and curiosity as to what happens next, will carry him at least beyond his year of trial.

May 21, 2017

1949. Soviets Mark the Fourth Anniversary of Victory Day

Soviet War Memorial Inaugurated in Treptower Park
The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park in East Berlin on July 19, 1961 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 8, 1949

Today is V-E Day plus four years in Germany. Here in Berlin it has meant only that the bloodiest military struggle in history with the Germans has been replaced by history's most exasperating political struggle over the Germans.

The Soviet military government today is dedicating its giant memorial to the Russian soldiers who died in the capture of Berlin. Located in Treptow, it is an impressive affair containing the mass graves of thousands of Soviet soldiers. Atop the main mausoleum is a large statue of a Russian soldier, a child on one arm and with a sword in the other.

The Russian-licensed German press today marks the fourth anniversary of victory in Europe with the usual attacks on Western democracy charging that another war is in the making. They also demand the withdrawal of occupation troops. The Communist press makes no mention of the historic lesson in the presence of the legions of Russian troops in Treptow who will never leave Germany.

The newspapers in blockaded Berlin also comment on this anniversary with a history of disagreements during the past four years that has brought about the present East-West crisis. The interesting thing is that not a single German publication even hints that Germany might have had a part in making this V-E Day an anniversary—an anniversary of the second defeat of German totalitarian expansionism.

In Bonn today the West German parliamentary council is expected to pass the final draft of the Basic Law which will form the foundation of the West German republic. The three Western military governors will approve it on Thursday.

The Communist-led People's Congress has sent a memorandum to the Big Four foreign ministers in Paris asking for the unification of Germany and for a peace treaty.

Britain's foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, has been having a look at the airlift this morning. He is now speaking to the city council of blockaded Berlin, and in a few hours from now will make a statement to correspondents here.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

May 20, 2017

1949. The West Prepares for Indefinite Blockade

Decisive Steps in Berlin
Map of the West Berlin air corridors from the American, British, and French sectors of Germany (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

March 13, 1949

The interlocutory period in Berlin's international separation case, wherein there might have been a reconciliation between East and West in this blockaded city, now appears to be over.

The final divorce decree bisecting the city for an indeterminate time is about to be handed down.

This will be done in two ways. It is reliably reported that the Western Powers will decree that the West mark is the sole legal currency in the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. At present, factory and city administration workers are paid in both the East and the West mark, a practice that works hardship on West sector residents since the Soviet-sponsored mark is worth about one quarter of the West mark. This is a decisive step. It was over the introduction of the West mark that the Russians slapped on their Berlin blockade last June.

The incompatibility of the East and West, and the determination of the United States and Russia to pursue their present policies, is further demonstrated by the Air Force announcement that present airlift pilots will be assigned to the Berlin supply runs for a period of three years. An airlift village is planned near the base at Wiesbaden to house the families of the men flying over the blockade.

Another decisive step is contemplated. At present, the Soviet-licensed Radio Berlin originates its anti-Western broadcasts from a big modern building in the British sector. It is unlikely that this will be allowed to continue, a move which will undoubtedly be met with long and anguished howls from the Communists when it comes.

In other words, the on-the-spot situation in Berlin as of now is likely to become worse before it becomes better.

The blockade diet has provoked another story among Berliners who are getting a little tired of dehydrated potatoes. A little boy is asked that, if the stork brought another baby to his house, would he prefer a brother or a sister?

The little boy replies, "I prefer the stork. That we can roast and eat."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

May 19, 2017

1930. German Leaders Divided on How to Deal with Rising Nazi Party

Moderates Divided on Opposition to Hitler
Campaigners outside of a polling place in Berlin on the day of the 1932 German federal election, July 31, 1932 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II.

From The New York Times, December 28, 1930:

Middle Party Leaders Favor Forcing Fascists Into Cabinet as Means of Curbing Them
He Prefers to Play Electorate Till Assured of a Strong Majority In Parliament


Berlin, Dec. 26 — Whether German Fascism will be actively represented in the government during the coming year now depends largely on the course of Parliamentary developments after the Reichstag resumes its sessions on Feb. 2 and such an eventuality as a new election.

Adolf Hitler is known to be definitely opposed to having his party enter the government so long as it is only second in rank. He prefers to wait until the movement may have so completely captured the electorate as to assure him a strong majority in Parliament. With 107 Deputies, the party is now the second largest group in the Reichstag, but, aside from a consistent record as noisy obstructionists, the Nazis' only outstanding achievement since their whirlwind election success of Sept. 9 appears to have been an ability to browbeat the government into placing a ban on the Remarque film, "All Quiet on the Western Front."

However, an accumulating volume of sentiment among leaders of the middle parties appears to have prompted a desire to take the poison out of the movement by forcing it to assume active responsibility, while other motives may have accounted for the desire to use the Fascists as an antidote to the Socialists.

Views of Von Seeckt and Schacht

General Hans von Seeckt, who is rapidly acquiring an influential role in German politics, believes the Nazis' participation in the government to be both desirable and indispensable. Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the former head of the Reichsbank, is also not opposed to having them take a hand. He argues that it is just as impossible to govern against the Socialists as against the equally powerful groups of the extreme Right, who, he adds, did not vote for Hitler's economic policies, but primarily desired to let the world know that the German people were determined not to become a perishing nation.

Nazi sympathizers, however, are convinced that the time has not yet come when the party's leaders can safely accept Cabinet posts, and that their participation in the government in the present Parliamentary situation would measurably weaken the movement. Their contention is that this would force it into a political line-up which would rob it of popularity and definitely prevent the party carrying out its program for revision of the reparations and other treaties.

Increase at Elections Predicted

The movement's momentum, it is argued also in such political and industrial quarters as are not averse to the growth of Fascism, will be greatly enhanced at the next election and any premature attempts to accept portfolios in Chancellor Bruening's Cabinet would decisively paralyze the party's freedom of action.

The Fascists, therefore, are apparently in no immediate hurry and the drift of political and economic events in Germany may be said to be working overtime in their favor.

To General von Seeckt, the militant Nationalist and social spirit which is the propelling force behind the Hitler movement suggests a nucleus for a rallying point of all true Germans. He demands participation of the Nazis in the government in order that it may have the benefit of their youthful reform energies plus the support of those patriotic elements who are actuated by national sentiment, loyal participation in present-day social needs and the will for national defense.

Such a government, says General von Seeckt, would take on the shape of a huge wedge whose point of steel—representing reason—would be driven against the walls of the economic barriers of foreign hostility. The propelling force behind this wedge, the General observes, would recruit itself from all ranks of the German people, and not least from the working masses, who he believes are patriotically German and immune to the "Russian poison."

Continuing, the General says:

"Once this wedge is set in motion it is inevitable that chips will fly in all directions, but they will represent the lukewarm and cowardly formalists and bureaucrats and 'ungermans' and we shall not miss them."

Chancellor Bruening's Attitude

Chancellor Bruening's attitude on the question of official affiliation with the Nazis continues one of several riddles the silent Chancellor has projected into the puzzling currents of German politics. But the situation confronting him when the Reichstag reassembles early in February may bring a swift solution, as the present government's perfunctory relations with the Socialists are gradually reaching the breaking point.

Once they are dissolved it may be safely assumed that the government or that succeeding him is destined to become the active reflection of the recrudescence of Nationalism which set in at the last election.

May 18, 2017

1949. Unexpected Opposition in the East German Election

Communists Blame "Foreign Imperialism" for Election Results
Socialist Unity Party march in East Berlin, July 1952 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 15, 1949

Today we have the spectacle of what the Communists mean by what they call a "free democratic election."

Today and tomorrow the German puppet organization, the Socialist Unity Party, is staging an election throughout Soviet-occupied Germany to elect some 1,500 delegates to the People's Congress. The People's Congress will be the basis of an East German government if and when it is needed to counter the German republic we are sponsoring in the West.

This election underlines the basic difference between the East and the West when the word "democracy" arises. For here is how these elections are being conducted. The ballot leads off with this statement: "I am for the unity of Germany and a just peace treaty. Therefore I vote for the following candidates." Then follows the list of names. At the bottom of the ballot there are two circles, one for voting ja and the other for voting nein.

In the eyes of the Communists this is a perfectly fair and free election, and you can bet your boots that Mr. Vyshinsky will so argue at the council of foreign ministers in Paris next week if the question comes up.

However, how much the politically sophisticated German will be fooled by this election is another question. Hitler used the same method in extorting mandates from the people for his government. What is happening today is that the Communists have selected only candidates who support their policy—who can be bought—or who are tame Germans.

Although the candidates claim membership in other parties—Socialists, Christian Democratic, and the rest—the dictatorship of the Socialist Unity front organization makes this a one-party election as complete as the one-party dictatorial system used by the Nazis and now employed by the Soviets.

The other trick is in the wording of the ballot—every German is for the unity of his country and for a just peace treaty. As a matter of fact, so are all the occupation powers.

I can give you the result of this election right now. It will be an overwhelming ja. The figures, when released, won't matter. There will be no way of checking them anyway.

But what I wonder is just who the Communists think they're fooling.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 17, 1949

Something appears to have gone wrong with the great elections in Soviet-occupied Germany, and reports and rumors are circulating throughout Berlin today that the great Communist plebiscite laid an egg.

As the Germans of the Soviet zone and of East Berlin went to the polls, all the stops were out on the Communist-propaganda machine. The purpose of the election was to select some 1,500 delegates to a People's Congress. But the voters also were told they were voting for peace and unity of Germany. They had no chance to vote for candidates—only ja or nein for the Communist slate.

And the story circulating today is that an embarrassing number of Germans—embarrassing to the Communists, that is—voted nein.

That is the reason, it is said, that no results have been announced, although it has been eighteen hours since the polls closed last night.

The only figures thus far released by the Communist press are that between seventy and eighty percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots. Investigators for the British and American licensed press in Berlin confirm the big turnout, but they give these results:

In four polling places in northeast Berlin, one thousand persons voted yes. 1,167 voted no. In Potsdam, where the Soviet military governor has his residence, one precinct had 317 votes following the Communist party line, but 332 voted no.

If these stories are true, then the Communist policy has taken a severe licking in what was supposed to be a setup of an election.

Tägliche Rundschau, the Red Army newspaper, hinted at the unexpected opposition at the polls in its leading editorial this morning.

"There is no doubt," the newspaper says, "that there are not a few people of undemocratic mind who are under the influence of the false propaganda of the enemies of unity. They voted against the People's Congress because the idea of the formation of a national front is so new."

The Rundschau labels all those who voted nein as agents of "foreign imperialism."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.