Raymond Gram Swing, the son of Albert Temple Swing, a proffesor at Oberlin College, and Alice Mead Swing, was born in Cortland on 25th March, 1887. In his autobiography, Good Evening (1964) Swing recalled: "My father had humor, though I would not call him an affable man in those years. He was too sternly conscientious, and he was a strict disciplinarian of his children. My mother was gifted and charming... This helped reconcile me to the stern seriousness of my father. I now believe he was more preoccupied than stern. But it was something of an experience to pass one's father in the street, as I often did, without his saying a word, only silently nodding, and striding on without a smile or a halt."
The most important influence on Swing was his mother's brother, George Herbert Mead, a professor at the University of Chicago. Through him he discovered the work of Jane Addams and John Dewey: "The visits were always stimulating. An undercurrent of religious differences was noticeable in some of the talk between my father and George Mead, who had ceased to be a Christian... He was an intimate friend and associate of John Dewey, and is now recognized and studied by scholars as the pioneer of all social psychologists. But he was more than an original thinker; he and his wife were persons of uncommon generosity and selflessness who influenced hordes of young people."
Swing attended Oberlin College and this had a lasting impact on his political views: "Oberlin itself was founded by New England Puritans in a wooded and uninhabited plain thirty-three miles beyond Cleveland, and it was a remarkable combination of austerity and liberalism. Even in my student days, boy and girl students were not allowed to dance together, card-playing was prohibited, and smoking was sternly forbidden. Yet Oberlin had the distinction, unmatched by any college in this country, of having been the first to have given degrees to women on the same terms with men, and to Negroes on the same terms with whites... I owe Oberlin as a college community two debts, only one of which I realized at the time. That was an appreciation of music. The other was its liberal view of the equality of women and Negroes. As a youngster I did not think Oberlin was liberal at all, and had only contempt for its rigid rules. But my attitude toward the rights of women and persons of other than the white race was shaped at Oberlin without my being aware of it. One of my best friends in my senior Academy year was a talented Negro musician who was to become an outstanding composer. We took long walks and had long talks. Oberlin had been a station in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War and had helped in the escape of slaves. The college was abolitionist to the core. That also means it was passionately intolerant of the South. But that was part of its hatred of slavery, which I recognize as more important than a tolerant understanding of the point of view of Southern whites. Just being a part of Oberlin gave me an innate sense of the political equality of men and women, all men and all women."
Swing admits that "with all the fun I was having, I did poorly in my studies, excepting English and German" and after a year was asked to leave the college. Swing found work as a cashier in a barbership. This was followed by employment as a clerk in a men's clothing store. He became friends with Grove Patterson, the editor of the Toledo Blade. In 1906, Patterson used his contacts to get Swing a job with the Cleveland Press. "The job offered me was the most modest one existent on a newspaper - to be night man on an afternoon paper... I had to make the rounds - that is, telephone all the police and fire stations in the city to find out if anything had happened, and if anything sounded important enough I was to wake up the city editor."
At the age of twenty he became editor of the Orrville Courier , a newspaper with a circulation of 1,300. As the town had two newspapers and only a population of 3,000, the scope for increasing readership was not very good. However, after a year in the job he was sacked. "Soon after I left, it was bought out by the rival newspaper... My dismissal may have been one of the terms of the deal, though this only occured to me later on."
Swing's next post was as city editor of the Richmond Evening Item in Indiana. "The appellation city editor was on the grandiose side. The entire news staff consisted of three persons, the second one being a reporter who knew the community, the third, a student correspondent in a college situated in the city. In addition there was an editor, a fiery little nervous redhead who had ability well beyond the requirements of his post."
A year later he found a reporting job at the Indianapolis Star. In 1910 Bennett Gordon, a supporter of Albert J. Beveridge, a leading figure in the Progressive Party, purchased the Indianapolis Sun and appointed Swing as its managing editor. "I put together a staff of newsmen, most of them colleagues on the Indianapolis Star, and, with what now seems to me hardly any effort at all, we appeared as a full-blown newspaper, I was twenty-three, the youngest man on the staff.... I worked much too hard on the Indianapolis Star - fourteen and fifteen hours a day - and I must say my colleagues worked hard, too. we were, to be sure, interested in the re-election of Senator Beveridge. But we were much more interested in creating a newspaper, and I think we put together a pretty good one."
In 1912 George Herbert Mead paid for Swing and his new wife, Suzanne Morin, to have a year in Europe. The couple spent time in Paris, Munich and London. While in France he met Paul Scott Mowrer, the European correspondent of the Chicago Daily News. As a result he was appointed as the newspaper's Berlin correspondent. One of his first jobs was to interview Albert Einstein. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
After hearing Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg speak in the Reichstag where he introduced a bill increasing the German Army by two army corps he wrote an article of several thousand words predicting the outbreak of war in Europe. He later recalled: "I waited for the four or five weeks to pass which it would take to deliver my solemn and warning article to Chicago and for it to appear on page one and be delivered to Berlin. Four weeks passed, then five and six, and finally eight. And then I was to discover an article of mine on an inside page, with von Bethmann-Hollweg's speech omitted, along with all reference to the danger of war... Subsequently I was told that Charles Dennis, the managing editor, had said he was not going to put up with any nonsense about the danger of war from his youngsters in the European bureaus."
Swing was asked by Bethmann-Hollweg to go to London to pass a message to Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary. Bethmann-Hollweg warned him: "I must caution you... not a word of this in the newspapers. If it is published, I shall have to say I never said it." Swing wrote about his meeting in his autobiography, Good Evening (1964): "I had little firsthand knowledge of the British at that time. I knew how the Germans regarded them, Sir Edward Grey in particular. He was considered the arch-conspirator, the passionless builder of Germany's ring of enemies, and especially dangerous because of his ability to speak hypocritically about moral virtues - while acting in farsighted national interest. The Sir Edward Grey I met was a revelation. He had the personal appearance of a shaggy ascetic. He was tall, erect, slender, with thin but untidy hair. His clothes were not well pressed. At the time, I knew nothing about Sir Edward Grey, the naturalist, of the breed of Englishmen he represented -sensitive, shy, and complex - or that he was one of the best-educated men in the world. I delivered my message from Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg and ended with the instructions I had received to return to him and repeat what Sir Edward had to say in reply. Sir Edward's face turned crimson when I spoke the word "indemnity." I thought of Baroness von Schroeder's explanation of it and almost blurted it out. But Sir Edward gave me no time to blurt out anything. He ignored what I said about no annexations in Belgium and Belgian independence. He struck at the word "indemnity" with a kind of high moral fury, and launched into one of the finest speeches I had heard. Did not Herr von Bethmann-Holhweg know what must come from the war? It must be a world of international law where treaties were observed, where men welcomed conferences and did not scheme for war. I was to tell Herr von Bethmann-Holhveg that his suggestion of an indemnity was an insult and that Great Britain was fighting for a new basis for foreign relations, a new international morality."
On the outbreak of the First World War Swing became bureau chief in Germany for the Chicago Daily News. In 1915 he covered the invasion of the Dardanelles where he came under attack from the Allied fleet. He later admitted that he welcomed the response from the Turkish battleship, Hamidieh: "The climax of the day came when we heard sharp commands from Hamidieh, followed by a flash, another and another, and then a tremendous roar as its big guns fired at the Allied ships. I confess that we sent up a cheer. No matter how we wanted the war to end, we were ourselves imperiled by those ships down the straits and could not help identifying ourselves with the defending Turks. We rejoiced. we stood up and yelled our delight."
Swing also interviewed General Liman von Sanders and reported on trench warfare at Gallipoli: "Both sides were thoroughly dug in by this time. It was like the stalemate on the Western front. The trenches were well built, deep, and adequately protected. The Turks, we were told, made admirable soldiers, a fact which is now universally known. But before the Gallipoli landing, it had not been known or acknowledged, and to a certain extent had not been true... We walked for a couple of hours in the trenches, being permitted to come to the point closest to the Allied trenches, the precise distance of which was not a stone's throw away from the Anzacs. If I had shouted over to them from the top of the trench, they would have heard me. We had come on a quiet day. No gunfire went off while we were in the trenches and no grenades were thrown. Now and again, a single plane overhead dropped a few bombs, apparently on Liman von Sanders's headquarters. The soldiers we passed were grimy, and for the greater part were taking their ease, lying on their blankets or leaning against the trench side."
Swing was the first to report the existence of Big Bertha. He also carried out interviews with political leaders such as Matthias Erzberger. When the United States entered the First World War Swing left Germany. "I came away from Germany with a belief that the Germans were ready, or certainly on the way to being ready, to negotiate a moderate peace. I had this assurance from Matthias Erzberger and other Reichstag leaders of the center and left. So when I arrived in the United States, I wanted to have the opportunity to present their views to President Wilson." He was unable to obtain a meeting with Woodrow Wilson but did have discussions with Edward House, the president's personal advisor on European matters. Swing recalled: "The word that I got back from the White House was that the President did not want to hear anything about moderate Germans. He was angry with the Germans and did not believe that any of them, or enough of them, were moderate."
In 1918 Swing was employed by Nation Magazine where he wrote editorials and several full-length articles, including one on the Lawrence Textile Strike. In 1919 Swing, who had divorced his first wife, married the feminist Betty Gram, who had served a prison sentence and had gone on hunger-strike for her beliefs. He shared her views on equality and he adopted her name and now became known as Raymond Gram Swing.
After the war Swing returned to Germany as the European correspondent of the New York Herald. He renewed contacts with politicians on the left, Matthias Erzberger, Philip Scheidemann, Frederich Ebert and Rudolf Breitscheid. "My best friend among the new leaders was Rudolf Breitscheid, head of the Independent Socialists, a tall, narrow-shouldered man, a little stooped, who to me personified the hopes and virtues latent in the Weimar Republic."
Swing also had meetings with several leaders of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, including Karl Radek and Yury Lomonosov. "Among the Russians of importance I met was Iurii Vladimirovich Lomonosov, who was a transportation official and had what surely was one of the most intractable tasks in post-war Russia. The railroads had been paralyzed by the war, many of the lines were torn up, and the rolling stock was virtually ruined by neglect or destruction. Lomonosov was in Germany to arrange for the repair and purchase of locomotives and freight cars. He had little money to pay for anything... Another Russian I met in Germany, and one who was to play a fateful role in Soviet history, was Karl Radek. He was the opposite of Lomonosov, a fully seasoned conspiratorial Communist who had served a brief prison term in Germany for Communist activities. Radek was a sharp-faced, bespectacled journalist and had a profound interest in what was happening everywhere."
In 1922 Swing joined the Wall Street Journal: "I was willing to join the Wall Street Journal not because I anticipated a career as a financial reporter and correspondent, but because I thought it would add to my understanding of the economic structure of the United States and Europe, which underlay all the news and needed understanding if the news was to be adequately treated... I reasoned that if I could work for the Wall Street Journal in Europe for two or three years, I would have rounded out my education as a foreign correspondent."
Swing next job was as the London bureau chief for Philadelphia Daily Ledger. His first task was the reporting of the Dawes Plan. He also covered the election of the first Labour Party government led by Ramsay MacDonald and the industrial conflict that ended in the General Strike. During this period he developed close relationships with John Strachey and Ellen Wilkinson. In 1929 he accompanied MacDonald on his visit to the United States to meet President Herbert Hoover.
While living in London Swing sent his children to the school run by Bertrand Russell and Dora Russell: "We wanted a progressive school for our children, being somewhat alarmed by what we knew about discipline in the so-called public schools in Britain.... Bertrand Russell was only a part-time schoolmaster, giving some attention to the older children, none of whom was beyond primary-school age. He was a fascinating instructor, as our own children testified. But the responsibility for the school lay with Mrs. Russell and two young women teachers. The school was conducted according to themes of freedom, which Mr. and Mrs. Russell ardently believed in. It was a small boarding school, with day students from the district, and was attended by children from intellectual homes, but it did not last beyond its first year."
Swing joined the editorial board of Nation Magazine in September, 1934. Although he had originally been a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. However, he disliked the growing centralization of control in the government through the National Recovery Administration and believed it "gave the structure a disconcerting similarity to aspects of fascist movements in Europe." He wrote in the magazine in January, 1935: "unless labor is given equal power with management in the dispensation, ours will be a fascism of the European brand. There is no escape from it."
In 1935 Swing was concerned about the emergence of Huey Long as a possible candidate for the 1936 Presidential Election. Swing recorded: "I went to see Huey Long as the first subject of a series of articles on the potential fascist leaders then making themselves felt on the periphery of American affairs.... At that time, Senator Long was generally considered the buffoon of the American political stage. He was vulgar, ill-mannered, and amusingly impertinent. The man who plays the fool and is not counts on being underestimated and profiting from it. At the time I went to see Huey Long, the American public in general did not take him seriously. It knew virtually nothing about his accomplishments, his power, or his potentialities."
Swing also wrote a series of articles on other right-wing figures, Father Charles Edward Coughlin, William Randolph Hearst, Francis Townsend and Gerald L. K. Smith. This eventually became the book, The Forerunners of American Fascism (1935): "In my articles I was trying to recognize the demagogues without whom fascism could not come into being, and identify their following and their ideas to discover how much fascism was latent in them. A good deal was to be found in the dogma of Father Coughlin, some in the appeal and techniques of Huey Long. I also wrote a chapter on William Randolph Hearst... I did not call Dr. Francis E. Townsend a potential fascist, though I should have, for he later joined Gerald L. K. Smith... I did not consider Hearst a conscious fascist. But he was whipping up public fear of Communism, without which fascism could not come to life."
In 1935 Sir John Reith, the managing director of the BBC had a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was concerned about the way he was being portrayed in Britain. He was especially upset by the suggestion by Stanley Baldwin that the New Deal was a "dictatorship which Britain never would accept". As Swing pointed out: "Mr. Roosevelt proposed to remedy this by an exchange of broadcasts between the BBC and an American network. Sir John Reith agreed on the condition that he should choose his own American broadcaster, and the American network his British counterpart. This point being agreed to, he chose me, although I was virtually unknown as a broadcaster at the time in the United States." It was a great success and "the audience for the weekly American commentaries at one time was estimated to be well over thirty per cent of the entire population in Great Britain."
Swing also became the American correspondent of the Daily Chronicle. "Though being the leading liberal newspaper in London at that time it did want something more than was sent by the correspondents of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. All three newspapers have to cater to large circulations, hence they wanted spicy news that reflected the current judgment of the British masses on American life, which was not well-informed or overly friendly. The importance of the Roosevelt administration and the New Deal was not rated highly, and there was no sustained interest in domestic affairs in America or American foreign policy."
In 1936 Swing was recruited by WOR, the main broadcasting station in New York City. His programs were made nationally available via the Mutual Broadcasting System. As Swing pointed out: "The sponsor was the general Cigar Company, which wanted to push the sale of White Owl cigars. Why listeners to my analysis of world news - surely half of them women - should be considered a lucrative market for cigars, I did not care to question... Since the sale of White Owl cigars went up during my sponsorship by their makers, they knew what they were doing... They said I would probably never gross more than $40,000 a year. This again proved a wrong estimate, for in the last year of my sponsorship by the General Cigar Company, 1941, I was paid something over $87,000."
Over the next few years Swing pointed out the dangers of Adolf Hitler and urged an alliance with Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. He later recalled in his autobiography: "On the whole, I read the events correctly as a commentator, though I made a few misjudgments of important details in my broadcasts. One mystifying factor in the equation was the Soviet Union. I believed it was in the interest of Moscow to line up against Hitler and establish a formidable deterrent against aggression, for the Nazi leader was more likely to strike against the Communists than anyone else. But Moscow had been cold-shouldered in the negotiations of the Munich settlement, and some strong anti-Communist predilections in the West were making themselves vocal. Still, Hitler was the arch anti-Communist, so that the ultimate association of the Soviet Union with the West was logical."
In July 1940, Swing joined Henry Luce, C. D. Jackson, Freda Kirchwey, Robert Sherwood, John Gunther, Leonard Lyons, Ernest Angell and Carl Joachim Friedrich to establish the Council for Democracy in July, 1940. According to Kai Bird the organization "became an effective and highly visible counterweight to the isolation rhetoric" to America First Committee led by Charles Lindbergh and Robert E. Wood: "With financial support from Douglas and Luce, Jackson, a consummate propagandist, soon had a media operation going which was placing anti-Hitler editorials and articles in eleven hundred newspapers a week around the country." The isolationist Chicago Tribune accused the Council for Democracy of being under the control of foreigners: "The sponsors of the so-called Council for Democracy... are attempting to force this country into a military adventure on the side of England."
According to The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45, a secret report written by leading operatives of the British Security Coordination (Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill), William Stephenson played an important role in the formation of the Council for Democracy: "William Stephenson decided to take action on his own initiative. He instructed the recently created SOE Division to declare a covert war against the mass of American groups which were organized throughout the country to spread isolationism and anti-British feeling. In the BSC office plans were drawn up and agents were instructed to put them into effect. It was agreed to seek out all existing pro-British interventionist organizations, to subsidize them where necessary and to assist them in every way possible. It was counter-propaganda in the strictest sense of the word. After many rapid conferences the agents went out into the field and began their work. Soon they were taking part in the activities of a great number of interventionist organizations, and were giving to many of them which had begun to flag and to lose interest in their purpose, new vitality and a new lease of life. The following is a list of some of the larger ones... The League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy... The American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor... The Ring of Freedom, an association led by the publicist Dorothy Thompson, the Council for Democracy; the American Defenders of Freedom, and other such societies were formed and supported to hold anti-isolationist meetings which branded all isolationists as Nazi-lovers."
Swing defended the Council for Democracy by arguing: "As first conceived, the Council for Democracy was simply to be a co-ordinating body to pull together the work being done by a number of small organizations. But as it got under way, it became clear that a central organization supplanting many of the smaller ones would be more effective, and that is what the Council became.... Europe was at war; the United States was not. The war in Europe was one of the least complicated wars to understand; it was one of both conquest and ideology, waged by fascists. Democracy in Europe was in the most dire peril, which meant that in time it might well be in dire peril in the United States, too. The need for a Council dedicated to the preservation of democracy was incontestable. It had work to do; and within its means, as I now look back on it, it did that work. There was some indifference to democracy in the United States, as I assume there always has been. There was little outright fascism, but an inclination among not a few to be tolerant of it, which was the equivalent of being indifferent to the defense of democracy."
Swing was invited to Chequers two months after Rudolf Hess arrived in Britain. In his autobiography, Good Evening (1964) he explained: "After the meal, the Prime Minister invited me to take a walk with him in the garden. This turned out to be the occasion for an unexpected and, I must say, somewhat disconcerting exposition to me of the terms on which Britain at that time could make a separate peace with Nazi Germany. The gist of the terms was that Britain could retain its empire, which Germany would guarantee, with the exception of the former German colonies, which were to be returned. The timing of this conversation seemed to me significant. Rudolf Hess, the number-three Nazi, had landed by parachute in Scotland less than two months before, where he had attempted to make contact with the Duke of Hamilton, whom the Nazis believed to be an enemy of Mr. Churchill and his policies... Mr. Churchill said nothing to me about Herr Hess. But he expounded to me the advantage of the German terms; and he seemed to be trying to arouse in me a feeling that unless the United States became more actively involved in the war, Britain might find it to her interest to accept them. I may be ascribing to him intentions he did not have. Later I was to learn that Hitler himself had proposed broadly similar terms to Britain before the war actually began. But I was under the impression that the allurements of peace had been recently underlined by Rudolf Hess... But it troubled me to have him give me his exposition, which must have lasted a full twenty minutes. For my part, I believed that the United States's interests made our entry in the war imperative. But I did not believe it would spur the country to come in to be told that if it did not, Winston Churchill would make a separate peace with Hitler and put his empire under a Hitler guarantee of safety."
Swing met President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first time on 24th May, 1942, and came about through his friendship with Harry Hopkins. "As a talker Mr. Roosevelt went rapidly from one subject to another, almost by a kind of compulsiveness, not actually conversing with me or with Mr. Hopkins. I had the impression that in his way he was garrulous, which is certainly no fault, but it nevertheless astonished me to find a trace of it in as great a man as Franklin Roosevelt."
Roosevelt wanted Swing's opinion on the wisdom of appointing Elmer Davis, to replace Archibald MacLeish as head of the Office of Facts and Figures (later renamed Office of War Information). Swing thought that MacLeish was doing a good job but later recalled: "But I did speak up to voice my admiration for Elmer Davis. Mr. Roosevelt asked me if I thought newspaper correspondents would consider him a good appointment, and I assured him that I did not believe any colleague would be held in higher esteem."
In 1944, along with Dorothy Thompson, Swing wrote several speeches on foreign policy for Roosevelt. "My esteem for President Roosevelt had not been without certain reservations. I have mentioned his readiness to be guided by purely political advantage in domestic questions. He also said things to callers which apparently were meant to he misunderstood as agreement with them in a way that stirred the roots of my puritanical disapproval. But he was a complex person, and out of this complexity rose a stature in national and world affairs that both astonished and ultimately overwhelmed me. I came to regard him as one of the greatest men of his age."
In July 1945 Swing was offered a new contract by the Blue Radio Network that was worth over $100,000 a year. Swing pointed out in Good Evening (1964): "I read in Variety in July, 1945, that 120 stations with 129 sponsors were taking my broadcasts, and mine was the biggest co-operative venture up to that time. The total paid by sponsors was stated to be close to a million dollars and I was said to be grossing about $160,000 a year."
In 1946 Swing joined the peace organization, Americans United for World Government that eventually merged into the United World Federalists. "The anticommunists in the United States at that time were particularly voluble. When the Cold War came to be openly waged, the anti-Communists of the days prior to it could and did contend that its coming was inevitable, and no possibility for peaceful understanding with the Soviet Union had existed or could exist. They may have been right. But that is hypothesis only. It was not knowledge based on experience, on which American policy could be firmly based. So long as there was some hope of co-operation for peace, the United States was obligated to try to cultivate it."
Swing was a strong opponent of Joseph McCarthy and on the advice of Edward R. Murrow and Hans von Kaltenborn, he agreed to debate with Ted C. Kirkpatrick, the co-author of Red Channels, at the Radio Executives Club on 19th October, 1950. "I shall be brief in giving the reasons why I believe the approach of Red Channels is utterly un-American. It is a book compiled by private persons to be sold for profit, which lists the names of persons for no other reason than to suggest them as having Communist connections of sufficient bearing to render them unacceptable to American radio. The list has been drawn up from reports, newspaper statements and letterheads, without checking, and without testing the evidence, and without giving a hearing to anyone whose name is listed. There is no attempt to evaluate the nature of the Communist connections. A number of organizations are cited as those with whom the person is affiliated, but with no statement as to the nature of the association."
In response to this speech, Kirkpatrick's magazine, Counterattack , published an article on Swing where it was claimed that: "The National Council of American Soviet Friendship was cited as subversive in 1947; in late 1948 he was still listed as one of its sponsers... In his broadcasts Swing often followed an appeasement line and defended Russian policy." The magazine went on to attack an article he had written for the Atlantic Monthly where he had argued that the people of the United States "can choose whether to work with the Soviet Union as a partner or whether to surrender to memories and fears."
In 1951 Swing was employed by the Voice of America (VOA), the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government. Soon afterwards Joseph McCarthy began his attacks on the organization. In April 1953, McCarthy questioned Theodore Kaghan, acting Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency in West Germany. Apparently, when Roy Cohn and David Schine, two investigators for Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, toured Europe early in 1953, Kaghan called them "junketeering gumshoes." When he appeared before the committee, Kaghan admitted he had been a socialist in his youth but had never been a member of the American Communist Party. Following Kaghan's testimony, Robert L. Johnson, the new head of the VOA, launched a review of the security clearances of several dozen officials in his department, including Kaghan. After discussions with the State Department, Kaghan was forced to resign from his post on 11th May, 1953.
Swing resigned from VOA in protest against the treatment of Kaghan. The following day the New York Times published Swing's letter that "the agency had been crippled perhaps beyond recovery by slanderous attacks on its integrity, and that the State Department was guilty of spineless failure to stand by its own staff." He also added that the economy cuts by the administration had reduced the VOA to relative impotence.
Swing now went to work with Edward R. Murrow in his radio program, This I Believe. It was sponsored by Ward Wheelock, a wealthy advertising agent. As Swing points out: "His (Wheelock) interest in obtaining and publicizing the personal beliefs of common and unusual persons was altogether unselfish, and I was told that he had come upon the idea after a tragedy in his family. He first consulted Mr. Murrow about it and obtained his consent to introduce the speakers. Then he offered the program to CBS, himself assuming the annual cost, which probably ran to about $75,000." Contributors included Aneurin Bevan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, William Douglas, Louis Fischer and Bernard Baruch. The program came to an end after the death of Wheelock while sailing in the Caribbean.
Swing also helped Murrow with See It Now programs: "The work with Murrow continued until his difficulties with CBS reached the point of inducing him to decide to take a sabbatical. He told me about this in confidence a few days before it was announced.... The following week Murrow let it be known he was leaving CBS for a year, and I could tell Barry Zorthian (program manager at the Voice of America) I was available. Only three months were needed this time for me to obtain my security clearance, and then I became for the second time first political commentator of the Voice of America."
After suffering a serious heart attack in December, 1960, Swing reduced his radio work but continued to be involved in the campaign for civil rights. Swing, along with John F. Kennedy and John Kenneth Galbraith, began a campaign to bring an end to the racial discrimination carried out by the two main social clubs in Washington, the Metropolitan and the Cosmos. The campaign began by Galbraith nominating Kennedy for membership of the Metropolitan. Kennedy then withdrew his application when the club refused to serve lunch to a black diplomat. Galbraith now nominated Kennedy to the Cosmos Club. Swing also nominated Carl Rowan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for the membership to the club. When Rowan's nomination was rejected, Swing and Gailbraith resigned from the the club and Kennedy withdrew his own nomination. This caused so much bad publicity that both the Cosmos and the Metropolitan were forced to change their policy and began to allow black people to be members. However, the clubs still refused to accept Rowan as a member. In 1963 Kennedy showed his disapproval of this by appointing Rowan as his Ambassador to Finland.
Raymond Gram Swing died on 22nd December, 1968.
Oberlin itself was founded by New England Puritans in a wooded and uninhabited plain thirty-three miles beyond Cleveland, and it was a remarkable combination of austerity and liberalism. Even in my student days, boy and girl students were not allowed to dance together, card-playing was prohibited, and smoking was sternly forbidden. Yet Oberlin had the distinction, unmatched by any college in this country, of having been the first to have given degrees to women on the same terms with men, and to Negroes on the same terms with whites...
I owe Oberlin as a college community two debts, only one of which I realized at the time. That was an appreciation of music. The other was its liberal view of the equality of women and Negroes. As a youngster I did not think Oberlin was liberal at all, and had only contempt for its rigid rules. But my attitude toward the rights of women and persons of other than the white race was shaped at Oberlin without my being aware of it. One of my best friends in my senior Academy year was a talented Negro musician who was to become an outstanding composer. We took long walks and had long talks. Oberlin had been a station in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War and had helped in the escape of slaves. The college was abolitionist to the core. That also means it was passionately intolerant of the South. But that was part of its hatred of slavery, which I recognize as more important than a tolerant understanding of the point of view of Southern whites. Just being a part of Oberlin gave me an innate sense of the political equality of men and women, all men and all women. I was not a little surprised when the appellation liberal first came to be applied to me. My father had been a Republican. I started out thinking I was one. After I left home, the Republican party split, and I went with the progressives. But I was no more liberal than slightly left of center in my school days. I debated against trusts on the Academy debating team; this is as far as political radicalism at Oberlin reached at that time.
As the year 1914 progressed, my attention turned more and more to world affairs, and I made one major effort to interest the Chicago Daily News in the mounting danger of war. This was when Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, as a countermove to France's adoption of the three-year military service, introduced a bill increasing the German army by two army corps. I attended the session of the Reichstag when the bill was introduced and listened attentively to the Chancellor's speech. I realized that war might well be an imminent possibility. And while I had to write my report of this event and its possible significance for the Daily News to be sent by mail, I was sure that for once I would have a story on page one. I wrote several thousand words; I quoted von Bethmann-Hollweg at length, explained the power struggle that dominated Europe, and frankly foresaw the possibility of war. I waited for the four or five weeks to pass which it would take to deliver my solemn and warning article to Chicago and for it to appear on page one and be delivered to Berlin. Four weeks passed, then five and six, and finally eight. And then I was to discover an article of mine on an inside page, with von Bethmann-Hollweg's speech omitted, along with all reference to the danger of war. It carried a headline about "a picture of the German Reichstag when the government brings in a bill." Subsequently I was told that Charles Dennis, the managing editor, had said he was not going to put up with any nonsense about the danger of war from his "youngsters" in the European bureaus. But August came, and brought the outbreak of war. A few weeks were to pass before the Daily News changed from mail stories to cables, and I was later given a relay man in Holland to whom I sent my telegrams for forwarding to London and reforwarding to Chicago, and also authorized to send messages via wireless to New York.
In the immediate days before the war, I tried to send cables to Chicago, cables about mobilization, about declarations of war, about passports being given departing ambassadors. All of these efforts to report the early days of crisis in August were fruitless. Not a dispatch of mine arrived in Chicago. I paid out countless German marks for sending them. I don't know where they were held up. They simply vanished. It was three or four weeks before a by-line of mine appeared over cable or wireless dispatches from Berlin.
When the German government published its White Paper on the origin of the war, I was convinced by it. Here were diplomatic comments which appeared to demonstrate that Germany had tried to prevent the war. What I did not know at the time was that diplomatic papers of any contrary tenor and effect would be omitted from the White Papers, and that White Papers as such were generally to be studied with skepticism. I was not to learn more of the truth about Germany until the British issued their diplomatic papers. This education came too late to save me from writing for the Daily News a full report of the German version of the start of the war, without a word of sophisticated doubt. The White Paper reported that the Kaiser had tried to prevent the war. So he did, though he agreed to actions that made its prevention extremely unlikely. My article was gladly and uncritically reproduced by the Chicago Daily News. Chicago was a city with a large German population. I was told subsequently I had saved the Daily News 50,000 German subscribers. A local German patriotic society reprinted my article under the title: How Germany Was Forced into the War, a pamphlet still to be found in reference libraries. I have long since stopped blushing about it.
Among the acquaintances I made at this time was Baroness von Schroeder, wife of a Junker nobleman of wealth and station. She was known as "the American Baroness," though she was a native of Canada. She was tall, had sloping shoulders, an upturned nose, wide-apart bright blue eves, a retreating chin, and a flair for politics. She was a socialite supporting the moderate von Bethmann-Hollweg against army extremists. She gave dinners to which the Chancellor and his friends were pleased to come. She repeatedly told me that von Bethmann was a moderate, opposed to any annexations after the war. I said that if that were true, he should tell me and let me repeat it to Sir Edward Grey, for the British certainly had a different view of him. And that was precisely what she brought to pass.
I was received by the Chancellor in the somber palace where his office was situated. I was invited to sit in the ample chair at the side of his huge desk, and there I was told, without any preliminary conversation, just what I was to repeat to Sir Edward Grey. Germany would not annex any Belgian territory after the war and would guarantee Belgium's independence. But he added a fateful phrase. I also was to tell Sir Edward that Germany would want an indemnity for having been forced into the war.
Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg may have noted my disappointment at hearing this. "Can I trust you?" he asked. "Not a word of this must be published in the newspapers. You understand that?" "Of course," I said. "And you are able to deliver the message to Sir Edward Grey in person, for it must go to no one else in London." I said I was confident the London office of my newspaper could assure this. "Then come back and tell me what he says." The Chancellor, a tall figure of a man, with gaunt cheeks above his short beard, rose from his desk. "I must caution you again," he said, "not a word of this in the newspapers. If it is published, I shall have to say I never said it." I repeated that I understood, and he held out his hand gravely.
My mind raced with dissociated ideas. I realized that I was in the office of Bismarck and von Bulow, where the modern German empire had been blueprinted, and that here the issue of the European war and the European peace was to be shaped. I was astonished to be there, and that I should be there undertaking to bear a message to London. I also was disconcerted by the sentence about an indemnity. I knew it made the mission to Sir Edward Grey futile.
I so confessed to Baroness von Schroeder, to whom I at once reported. "Don't be so stupid," she said. "The Chancellor was simply protecting himself. He has to do that. If the army hears he has been talking peace with Sir Edward Grey, he can point to the demand for an indemnity. After all, he has to take precautions. This is a risky step for him. Sir Edward need only say that an indemnity is out of the question, but that he is interested in the proposal about Belgium. He will be smart enough to see why the indemnity has to be mentioned."
This reassured me. That night I was on the train for Holland and a day later walked into the London office of the Chicago Daily News. Edward Price Bell, who was in charge, was astonished, but when I told him why I had come, he lifted the telephone and it was at once arranged that I should be received by Sir Edward Grey late that afternoon. It was faster work than would have been possible in Berlin.
I had little firsthand knowledge of the British at that time. I knew how the Germans regarded them, Sir Edward Grey in particular. He was considered the arch-conspirator, the passionless builder of Germany's ring of enemies, and especially dangerous because of his ability to speak hypocritically about moral virtues - while acting in farsighted national interest. The Sir Edward Grey I met was a revelation. He had the personal appearance of a shaggy ascetic. He was tall, erect, slender, with thin but untidy hair. His clothes were not well pressed. At the time, I knew nothing about Sir Edward Grey, the naturalist, of the breed of Englishmen he represented -sensitive, shy, and complex - or that he was one of the best-educated men in the world.
I delivered my message from Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg and ended with the instructions I had received to return to him and repeat what Sir Edward had to say in reply. Sir Edward's face turned crimson when I spoke the word "indemnity." I thought of Baroness von Schroeder's explanation of it and almost blurted it out. But Sir Edward gave me no time to blurt out anything. He ignored what I said about no annexations in Belgium and Belgian independence. He struck at the word "indemnity" with a kind of high moral fury, and launched into one of the finest speeches I had heard. Did not Herr von Bethmann-Holhweg know what must come from the war? It must be a world of international law where treaties were observed, where men welcomed conferences and did not scheme for war. I was to tell Herr von Bethmann-Holhveg that his suggestion of an indemnity was an insult and that Great Britain was fighting for a new basis for foreign relations, a new international morality.
Whether I might have saved something from this interview and the efforts behind it is a question I still am not able to answer. If I had been ten years older, I should have asked Sir Edward to let me tell him a little about the political situation in Berlin, and in doing so would have explained that the mention of an indemnity had undoubtedly been a kind of escape clause for the Chancellor, in the event that the army learned that he was talking about peace with the British Foreign Secretary, through an American intermediary. I should have impressed upon Sir Edward that the message in which the Chancellor was interested was the pledge of no annexations and the guarantee of Belgian independence after the war. I should have pointed out that Sir Edward had it in his power to encourage quietly the moderates in the German guvornrnent, but that a blank refusal even to give one word on the promise about Belgium might weaken, not strengthen, the very influences he must wish to see reinforced. I said none of these of these things and should have said all of them. But I am not sure that if I had it would have made any difference. Sir Edward's whole case for going to war rested on the German violation of the guaranteed neutrality of Belgium. A promise not to violate it further or again would not have impressed him. Sir Edward, in his memoirs, wrote that early in the war an American correspondent had come from the German Chancellor with a message that Germany would expect an indemnity for having been forced into the war, and did not even mention the promise against annexation and the guarantee of Belgian independence. That was all he remembered from my visit. If I had carried out my mission with more sophistication, perhaps he would have remembered the real purpose of it.
When I returned to Berlin, I was again received by Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg and repeated to him what Sir Edward Grey had said. He listened without comment, then thanked me for my report. He could not have been surprised. His government had made a public promise of no annexations with no effect on the British. I do not believe it dawned on him that everything Sir Edward had said was stirred by the sinister word "indemnity," which he himself had used. And I am sure that Baroness von Schroeder was able to solace him at the next dinner he attended at her house on the ground that my visit had demonstrated that he alone was a man of peace.
It is more than a guess that the outcome of World War I - and much more - turned on the role of Turkey. Had the crumling Ottoman Empire, then under the rule of the Young Turks, been an ally of Great Britain, it is easy to imagine that Russia could have been bolstered with adequate supplies sent through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea and sustained itself against the attack of the German army on the Eastern front. If Russia had not collapsed, there would have been no Bolshevik revolution, certainly not in 1917, and the rapid growth of Communism would have been deferred and its future altered. International relations everywhere would have been totally different today.
The Allies made two tremendous efforts to overpower Turkey after the war had started. Both were inspired by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. It is one of the galling ironies of his history that Churchill virtually vetoed a British-Turkish alliance shortly before the war. He had visited the Young Turks in Constantinople in 1909, and when a Young Turk delegation went to London in 1911 to seek a British alliance, this was turned down, largely through Churchill's influence. The Young Turks, under Enver and Talaat, had ceased to be an attractive social force and had degenerated into a corrupt and decaying oligarchy, which is an excuse for Churchill's judgment - save that history does not excuse consequences, and the British decision was one of the most fateful made in modern times.
A nine-mile walk on horseback is not an ordeal, but it is an undertaking, and I was glad when we arrived at Liman von Sanders's headquarters. Here we went through the formalities of introductions and partook of refreshments, but with the lesser lights. We were not to meet the Commander till lunch. Then we were taken into the trenches.
Both sides were thoroughly dug in by this time. It was like the stalemate on the Western front. The trenches were well built, deep, and adequately protected. The Turks, we were told, made admirable soldiers, a fact which is now universally known. But before the Gallipoli landing, it had not been known or acknowledged, and to a certain extent had not been true. The Liman von Sanders mission arrived well before the war, and though, as I was to learn, he was not a sociable man, he was a great organizer and trainer of troops. He had zealous support from Enver and Kemal, and the Turkish army was soon to be the equal of any in the kind of warfare that had developed.
We walked for a couple of hours in the trenches, being permitted to come to the point closest to the Allied trenches, the precise distance of which was not a stone's throw away from the Anzacs. If I had shouted over to them from the top of the trench, they would have heard me. We had come on a quiet day. No gunfire went off while we were in the trenches and no grenades were thrown. Now and again, a single plane overA head dropped a few bombs, apparently on Liman von Sanders's headquarters. The soldiers we passed were grimy, and for the greater part were taking their ease, lying on their blankets or leaning against the trench side.
The lunch with General von Sanders and his staff was not informative. The General was terse and reticent. He did not like strangers about. I am sure he did not like Americans. But he did speak his praise for his Turkish troops and said he had no doubt that the Allies would not be able to get through. If they had landed a few days before March 18, he said, they would have found only light forces below the narrows and no heavy ones above them. The story then would have been different. But he had been given time to bring up reinforcements and prepare his positions.
Our visit was made after a heavy and costly Turkish attack on May 18 and a remarkable armistice arranged after it to allow the gathering of the wounded and the burial of the dead on both sides. I do not now recall that this unusual event and the great battle were even mentioned at the meal. We were told little more than that General von Sanders was sure that the Allies could not get through, which proved to be true.
I renewed my association with Herr Erzberger, Philip Scheidemann, the Socialist leader, and Friedrich Ebert, later to become president. My best friend among the new leaders was Rudolph Breitscheid, head of the Independent Socialists, a tall, narrow-shouldered man, a little stooped, who to me personified the hopes and virtues latent in the Weimar Republic.
It is next to impossible for me to revive in their true perspective the memories of the new factor in world affairs I encountered in postwar Germany, the rise of the Soviet republic. Communism at that time was chiefly an important movement in Russia, with secondary importance in Germany. People generally had not yet adopted fixed reactions to it. The Soviet republic was weak and impoverished; it had had to sign the Brest Litovsk peace treaty as the only way to buy the freedom to begin establishing the new Marxist state in Russia. The beginnings had been made by the time I got back to Germany in 1920, but they were exceedingly flimsy, and Soviet power, as it now exists, was something undreamed of by most of the outside world.
Among the individuals I met in the new Germany were German Communists and representatives from the Soviet Union. The Communist revolution in Russia, as I came to know more about it and meet more of its participants, seemed to me fanatical and almost incomprehensibly doctrinaire. I was unschooled in the baffling rhetoric of dialectical materialism, though I hastily read Marx's Das Kapital in the hope of understanding it. I was sympathetic with the overthrow of Czarism and the objective of raising the political and economic level of the Russian peasantry, but that was not what most Communists talked about in my hearing.
Among the Russians of importance I met was Yuri Vladimirovich Lomonosov, who was a transportation official and had what surely was one of the most intractable tasks in post-war Russia. The railroads had been paralyzed by the war, many of the lines were torn up, and the rolling stock was virtually ruined by neglect or destruction. Lomonosov was in Germany to arrange for the repair and purchase of locomotives and freight cars. He had little money to pay for anything.
The new Germany was under the shadow of the coming reparations bill from the Allies and so was not able to lend. Lomonosov himself was an engaging and cultured man. He was not a professional Communist, and, as it turned out, he did not last long as a member of the Communist hierarchy. He was a technician who wanted to believe the best of the Bolshevik revolution, but he was not a veteran Marxist.
I had to thank him for giving me my first insight into the economic difficulties of the revolutionary regime in Moscow. A burly figure of a man, with a heavy brown beard, he was like a character out of the Russian fiction I had read. But he was kindly to me, and I saw him frequently.
Another Russian I met in Germany, and one who was to play a fateful role in Soviet history, was Karl Radek. He was the opposite of Lomonosov, a fully seasoned conspiratorial Communist who had served a brief prison term in Germany for Communist activities. Radek was a sharp-faced, bespectacled journalist and had a profound interest in what was happening everywhere. He had the talent I have encountered in one or two other Soviet journalists of being able to construct the news behind the news. He could read a communique and tell from the language that was used, or from what was said or omitted, just which faction or person in the Foreign Office of a government had prevailed over some other faction or individual. He may have been able to do this because Communist agents reporting on the differences between elements in government offices had supplied the background information. But he remembered it, and used it. It was a kind of scrutiny which I do not believe many United States diplomatic representatives applied to official statements in foreign countries. This faculty of Radek's greatly impressed me.
Later, when I returned to the United States and made the acquaintance of one or two Soviet journalists there, I discovered that their insight into American affairs that I happened to know about was sadly distorted by their Marxist doctrinal prejudices. So now I have become doubtful of the accuracy of the judgments of Karl Radek and other Soviet experts whom I wondered at in Europe. But one thing was sure: they took their journalism quite seriously. They knew that knowledge, if it was not of itself power, was essential to obtaining it.
Samara was even more desolate than Moscow. Before boarding our boat, we visited the market, where, under the so-called New Economic Policy recently adopted by Lenin, we watched the peasants selling food for their personal profit, food they had grown on their small private garden plots. But the peasants had little food to sell, and they themselves were haggard and undernourished. We bought some black bread and goat cheese to eat on the boat.
I have never seen a more harrowing sight than people starving to death. After an overnight ride from Samara, we stopped at an encampment of refugees, several hundred of them, who had come to the river from the interior in the hope of being taken away by the government to regions where they could obtain food and lodging. They had built shelters of leafless branches, but they had little to eat but grass. The state had done nothing to save them. When we arrived at the encampment, it was obvious that the refugees thought we constituted an expedition of rescue. They were greatly excited and swarmed about us with pitiful expressions of delight. But these passed when our interpreter explained who we were, and that rescue, while it might later become possible, was a long time away.
This group of refugees had a leader, an old, gaunt, tall, and white-bearded figure right out of a Tolstoy novel. He told us how long they had been waiting there on the banks of the Volga, and how many had died waiting. He took us to the adjoining field where the dead were buried, each tomb decently identified with some primitive wooden marker. About as many in that community had died as now survived, and the death rate was increasing. In a short time all would be dead. The children were the most heart-rending, with their pallid faces and swollen bellies. It needed no expert eye to know that they were doomed to die. The adults were little more vigorous. The old white-bearded patriarch with whom we talked stood erect and carried himself with dignity, but he did it from spiritual, not physical, stamina. All in all, it was a terrible spectacle, the like of which I expect never to see again.
What made the plight of these people both tragic and - if I may use the word - beautiful was the fact that in a field within plain view of the little community was a great mound of sacks filled with grain and guarded by a single soldier, who marched back and forth with a rifle at his shoulder. This was seed grain for the spring. I asked the patriarch why he and his hungry people did not overpower the soldier and bring their fast to an end. He replied, "That is seed grain. We do not steal from the future." I was profoundly moved by his answer. These might be the most wretched peasants to be seen anywhere in the world. But they had a sense of right for which, as they themselves knew, they might have to die, and would do so without question.
We went back to the boat, got the bread and cheese we had purchased at the Samara market, and handed them over to the patriarch. The courtesy with which lie thanked us was exemplary. His refugees started stampeding him, and he ordered them back with a word. Mothers kneeled to express their blessing to us. It was almost unbearable, for the amount of food we gave them was negligible; it would not change the death rate by a fraction.
I must register a fairly close acquaintance with Bertrand Russell, not attributable to his interest in me, but to his having established an experimental progressive school with his wife at that time, Dora. We wanted a progressive school for our children, being somewhat alarmed by what we knew about discipline in the so-called public schools in Britain....
Bertrand Russell was only a part-time schoolmaster, giving some attention to the older children, none of whom was beyond primary-school age. He was a fascinating instructor, as our own children testified. But the responsibility for the school lay with Mrs. Russell and two young women teachers. The school was conducted according to themes of freedom, which Mr. and Mrs. Russell ardently believed in. It was a small boarding school, with day students from the district, and was attended by children from intellectual homes, but it did not last beyond its first year.
I accompanied Prime Minister MacDonald on his visit to President Hoover in the United States in 1929. This mission was preliminary to and prerequisite for the naval-disarmament agreement reached in the following year. The visit was made before prime ministers and presidents flew over the ocean often and easily. This trip was made by passenger liner. In addition to his diplomatic staff, Mr. MacDonald was accompanied by his daughter, Ishbel, and the event of the voyage for me was trouble I caused Miss MacDonald with her father. Ishbel was a pleasant, solid girl. I had made her acquaintance and that of her brother, Malcolm, in London and was glad I would have the opportunity of getting to know her better. I had had many journalistic dealings with her father, so I felt at ease with the MacDonalds on this voyage. The consequence was that I spent several evenings in the improvised ballroom with Ishbel, and we danced together. I ain not a proficient dancer, and I might say that neither was Ishbel. We both had practiced it a little, just enough to take part in it with enjoyment. I presume that our pleasure on these evenings derived from opposite reasons. I obviously was glad to he associating with the Prime Minister's daughter; she probably enjoyed what she assumed to be a brief escape from the responsibilities of that role. But that was her mistake. For we danced on a Sunday night, and some newsman on the voyage radioed that Ishbel Macdonald had danced on board on a Sunday. The result was that word reached the Prime Minister that some Midwestern church organizations had criticized Ishbel for dancing on the Sabbath. With a dark, solemn mien, Mr. MacDonald called her to his stateroom, reproved her, and forbade her to do any more dancing. "He was quite upset," Ishbel told me, and so was she to have been accused of being of discredit to her father. The incident did not affect my relations with either Mr. MacDonald or his daughter. However, since the New York Evening Post assigned a woman reporter to cover Ishbel throughout her stay in America, I did not get to see much of her on this trip.
The Nation, through its history, had been a periodical of dissent, and as such fed the arteries of American political vigor. It was a magazine of limited circulation, less than 40,000 at this time, but with an effectiveness of much greater dimensions. Oswald Garrison Villard, who had inherited the paper and a considerable fortune from his father, the railroad magnate Henry Villard, had conducted it in the creditable tradition of liberal dissent, and by this time had turned over the management of the paper to his editorial board, with Freda Kirchwey as managing editor. He became contributing editor and wrote regular articles under his own signature....
Of Miss Kirchwey, on whom the chief responsibility for conducting the magazine rested, I wish to say that she was one of the best and most likable journalists with whom I ever worked. I am tempted to call her the best woman journalist I ever encountered, but hesitate to rank her ahead of Dorothy Thompson, who was a better writer. But she was among the superior women journalists of her time.
At that time, Senator Long was generally considered the buffoon of the American political stage. He was vulgar, ill-mannered, and amusingly impertinent. The man who plays the fool and is not counts on being underestimated and profiting from it. At the time I went to see Huey Long, the American public in general did not take him seriously. It knew virtually nothing about his accomplishments, his power, or his potentialities. The clergyman Smith, who gave up a wealthy pastorate to serve him, did. I think that at the time he genuinely believed that Long was a liberal and that as an editor of the Nation I would recognize it. What convinces me of this is that he vouched for me without reservation to Long, so that I was admitted to anything and everything I cared to attend, including a two-hour session he held with his county organizers in his bedroom.
This occasion was beyond doubt the most informal meeting of a political boss with his menials that one could hope to watch and listen to. The Kingfish, in green pajamas, stretched out on his bed part of the time, occasionally rubbing his itching toes, stood part of the time, hitching up his sagging nightwear, and on one occasion, in the midst of an outpouring of orders and comment, went to the open bathroom and urinated as he continued talking. The dozen or so local political leaders present spoke up to him freely, argued with him about local sentiment, and found that he knew their districts better than they did, and could tell them how to manage the upcoming election. If I had printed the dialogue I heard, it might well have convicted Huey Long of being a crooked politician. But that fact was not news in Louisiana, and if printed elsewhere about the Senate's leading buffoon, it would not have disturbed the country. The fact that the conversation was being held in my presence did not inhibit the party men; I was Huey's must And it did not inhibit Huey; I had been vouched for by Gerald Smith.
I attended two other sessions with his approval, one of a special meeting of the legislature in the skyscraper statehouse at Baton Rouge, the other of the Ways and Means Committee, both called to take care of thirty-five bills introduced by the Long machine. Long was at both meetings running things without the slightest right of membership. Nobody objected. This was Huey's legislature, his committee, his statehouse, his state. At the special session of the legislature, he answered questions from the floor. When one of the minority opposition objected to the speed with which the bills were read, he promised to have them printed before the meeting of tie Ways and Means Committee the following day. he was the only lively and articulate man in the room, waving his arms, grimacing with eves protruding, face flushed.
In the committee meeting at nine the next morning, Long read and explained each bill, then the chairman put it to a vote, smashing down his gavel. Here, too, he had no right to take part in the proceedings, but no one objected. The committee consisted of fifteen Long supporters and two oppositionists. Three bills were approved in the first six minutes, thirty-five were acted on in seventy minutes, all but one being approved. The rejected bill was one that Long scowled at when he looked at it, passed back to the chairman, and said: "We don't want that. Let them come to us," a remark which no one, explained. The bill was shelved.
This was dictatorship in the guise of the democratic process. And as the session proceeded, the dictatorship added to its power, grabbing patronage it did not yet control, gaining control over the appointment of schoolteachers, obtaining authority to remove the mayor in a town where Long had been showered with eggs, putting its grip on Baton Rouge, which he had failed to carry at the election, by gaining authority to name extra members to the local government board. It plastered an occupational tax on the refining of oil by Standard Oil, which Long had fought throughout his career. Subsequently, the company resisted by laying off a thousand workers. The workers held a protest meeting. Senator Long, threatened with revolt, rushed back from Washington, called out the militia, summoned the legislature in a special session, and struck a bargain with Standard Oil that he would remit sonic of the tax if Standard Oil would refine more Louisiana oil. He remitted four-fifths of the tax, which the legislature ratified. But the occupational tax was on the books to be used to gouge any business the Long machine cared to exploit or punish.
I confess that Huey Long puzzled me. How could the legislators - who looked like ordinarily decent men - put up with him, his blasphemous language, his unsavory conduct? They did not show fear of him; they seemed to like him. In his way, lie was their buddy - but a hundred times smarter than any of them. The dictators of Europe were explained as fulfilling the father-yearning in their peoples. Huey Long was no father image. He was a grown-up bad boy. The Rev. Gerald Smith undertook to explain the Long dictatorship. "It is," he told me, "the dictatorship of the surgical theater. The surgeon is in charge because he knows. Everyone defers to him for that reason only. The nurses and assistants do what lie tells them, asking no questions. They jump at his commands. They are not servile, they believe in the surgeon. They realize that he is working for the good of the patient."
This has to be said for Huey Long: he had strong liberal instincts and left to his credit a list of reforms not to be matched in any other Southern state. He shifted the burden of taxation from the poor to those who could afford to bear it. To finance his reforms, he increased the state's indebtedness from $11,000,000 to $150,000,000, but met each increase by new taxation. He passed legislation postponing the payment of private debt. He laid out a system of highways and bridges, and, above all, he dedicated himself to improving the state's education. He remodeled the school system to enable eight-month terms to be maintained in the poorest parishes and provided free textbooks. He strongly supported the Julius Rosenwald campaign against illiteracy, so that 100,000 adults in Louisiana, white and black, learned to read and write in his first term as governor. He backed Louisiana State University, assured it a good faculty, added a medical and dental school, and increased its enrollment from 1,500 to 4,000 in his first term as governor. As governor, he fought the public-utility companies and forced down power and telephone rates. He obtained a reduction of electricity rates in New Orleans. He built a five-million-dollar statehouse, an impressive high-tower building rising on the bank of the Mississippi.
Some of these are solid benefits, which attest that Huey Long knew the good he sought to accomplish. But I concluded that he wanted to do good because he knew it was the way to achieve power.
My next - and final - articles in the Nation were on possible Republican candidates, and I wrote about Alf Landon, of Kansas, and Colonel Frank Knox, then publisher of the Chicago Daily News. The Landon articles, written after extended conversations with the Kansas Governor in Topeka, were frankly commendatory. I found Governor Landon as attractive as anyone I had personally encountered in American public life and said so. His views appeared to me nearly as attractive as his personality. He was being praised by Hearst as a Kansas Coolidge who had balanced his budget, and it was with these words ringing in my ears that I first met the Governor. He was so different that I went far, in my articles, in emphasizing the difference. The Landon I met was a Theodore Roosevelt Progressive, an intimate associate of William Allen White, a believer in civil liberties - he had chaired a Norman Thomas meeting in Topeka - and he was at odds with almost all the conservative Republican dogmas excepting reduction in the cost of government.... In a time when the "hate-Roosevelt" campaign inspired most Republicans, such moderate and liberal ideas were outstanding. I found that the Governor believed in social insurance and collective bargaining, which to me were the two essentials of a new era.
I want now to turn back to 1938 and the Munich crisis. I was on vacation and in Europe when it came to a head, so that I did not handle its development in my broadcasts. But I knew the gravity of what was happening and turned up in Prague on the very day that Czechoslovakia mobilized as a protest against the surrender of the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. There I encountered colleagues hard at work, among then, some of my good friends, such as H. R. Knickerbocker, M. W. Fodor, John Whitaker, and Vincent Sheean. They were in constant touch with the Czech Foreign Office; they all knew President Eduard Benes well, and Ambassador Jan Masaryk in London even better. They understood fully the infamy of the Munich agreement and its evil portent for the future of Europe.
On the evening of my arrival, my colleagues and I occupied a large hotel room with a balcony overlooking Wenceslaus Square in the heart of the city. Hundreds of young men already were marching and shouting in the square. Knickerbocker explained to me the position. Benes had given in to the French and British on the Sudetenland issue, but his ministers had rejected the decision, as he foresaw, until it could be ratified by parliament. Benes then told the French and British that he was powerless and could not keep his promise. There-upon, the French and British told him that if he did not, Czechoslovakia would be branded as the "guilty" party in any trouble to follow, and France's treaty to defend Czechoslovakia against aggression would not go into operation. Benes thereupon called in his ministers again, and they bowed to the decree from Paris. Knickerbocker said that Czechoslovakia would have to fight, not only for itself, but for all of us and our children. Apparently, Benes had intended to delay acceptance so as to force Hitler to attack his country. Then both France and the Soviet Union would be required to defend Czechoslovakia by their treaties with that country. But he had not succeeded.
The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so.
Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union. This makes the perfidy of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact no less venal, but perhaps a little less stupid than at first appeared. It would have served mankind far better for Stalin to have joined in deterring Hitler, instead of giving him the green light to make war. But when it comes to attributing blame for Hitler's war, France and Britain bear part of it for selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich.
One of my friendliest sources in the government was Harry Hopkins, who never was too busy to answer the telephone or see me in an emergency. I visited him often, and during his illness talked with him more than once while he occupied the celebrated Lincoln bedroom in the White House.
I wish to add a comment about Harry Hopkins. I consider him only temporarily debarred from recognition as one of America's invaluable men, and am confident historians will rediscover him and his stature among the great world leaders during World War II. Possibly one reason lie is not yet so regarded is that personally he was brash and indifferent to social niceties. He was playfully a kind of tough guy, talked like one, dressed carelessly, and made no salaams to the great proprieties which most men in public life take for granted they must do.
The public distrusted him for being a professional social worker who suddenly came to execute high government policy under the New Deal. That the policies he helped create turned out to be beneficial and preserved the American way of life, free enterprise included, will in time be recognized.
It was his position as President Roosevelt's chief assistant in World War II that, in particular, needs to be better appreciated and valued. He was not Mr. Roosevelt's closest friend, for the President of the United States does not have friends in the true sense of the word. He cannot have loyalty to individuals, since he has placed his loyalty to the country first. And to be his first assistant calls for humility as well as devotion, and an ability almost on a par with his leader's. In the innumerable conferences Harry Hopkins attended abroad as the President's emissary, he was blunt of speech, adroit of mind, and dedicated to the requirements of victory. It is well to recall that Prime Minister Churchill, in a burst of cordiality, told him that after the war he must come to live in England so that he could be given a peerage and be known as "Lord Heart of the Matter." As chief of the Munitions Assignment Board he had some control of strategy in the war; and because the United States was a member of a coalition, he had some control of world strategy. He was an invaluable liaison between the Pentagon and the White House. It was he who proposed General George C. Marshall to be chief of staff. He also was constantly concerned about the work of cabinet offices. His relationship with the President made such activities inevitable. The amount of work he did would have staggered a healthy man, but he carried the load without complaint until his cancer brought his services to an end.
The luncheon at Chequers as guest of the Prime Minister on Sunday noon was the accolade of the trip. I sat at the right hand of Mr. Churchill, in a room filled with about two dozen diners, among them Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman, who were in England on a lend-lease mission.
Ever since World War I and my experiences at the Dardanelles, I had hoped that one day I might have the opportunity to tell Winston Churchill in person how correct he had been about the possibility of forcing the straits, and how the advantages won in the great naval attack on the land fortifications had been thrown away. I knew, for I had been in the fort on the Asiatic side the night of the great attack, and could testify there were not enough shells to hold off the fleet, had it returned. Mr. Churchill had been condemned up and down his country for the catastrophe of the Dardanelles and the subsequent Gallipoli campaign. I had often wished that I might testify to him how right he had been. Now, by luck, I was sitting next to him at his own luncheon table. Naturally, I told him. The Prime Minister's mind was filled with other considerations than World War I, but he pulled himself away from them to listen to my brief story, which I am sure pleased him. By that time, of course, he knew quite well how right he had been, and how his overcautious contemporaries had thrown away the most decisive victory of the war. But he was pleased to listen to my authentic substantiation of it.
After the meal, the Prime Minister invited me to take a walk with him in the garden. This turned out to be the occasion for an unexpected and, I must say, somewhat disconcerting exposition to me of the terms on which Britain at that time could make a separate peace with Nazi Germany. The gist of the terms was that Britain could retain its empire, which Germany would guarantee, with the exception of the former German colonies, which were to be returned. The timing of this conversation seemed to me significant. Rudolf Hess, the number-three Nazi, had landed by parachute in Scotland less than two months before, where he had attempted to make contact with the Duke of Hamilton, whom the Nazis believed to be an enemy of Mr. Churchill and his policies. Hess was, of course, safely stowed away in a British prison. But if he had had anything fresh and authoritative to say on Hitler's behalf about a separate peace, his imprisonment would not have silenced him.
Mr. Churchill said nothing to me about Herr Hess. But he expounded to me the advantage of the German terms; and he seemed to be trying to arouse in me a feeling that unless the United States became more actively involved in the war, Britain might find it to her interest to accept them. I may be ascribing to him intentions he did not have. Later I was to learn that Hitler himself had proposed broadly similar terms to Britain before the war actually began. But I was under the impression that the allurements of peace had been recently underlined by Rudolf Hess, and that Mr. Churchill was impatient with the United States, lend-lease and Iceland not-withstanding. I did not have the impression that he meant me to convey what he was saying to Washington. Both Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman were at Chequers at that moment. They would be message-bearers, not I. But it troubled me to have him give me his exposition, which must have lasted a full twenty minutes. For my part, I believed that the United States's interests made our entry in the war imperative. But I did not believe it would spur the country to come in to be told that if it did not, Winston Churchill would make a separate peace with Hitler and put his empire under a Hitler guarantee of safety.
To many, the aims of the Council for Democracy will sound platitudinous today, for the dedication of those in public political life to democratic standards and practices, and the public insistence on them, has widened and deepened since 1940. Only in some sections of the country, where the full equality of the Negro is still obstructed, is there something of a lag. I find on reading over the publications of the Council for Democracy that they were outspoken and true to the American ideal, but I am somewhat surprised to realize now that they were called for at all. But they were. In 1940, in particular, many Americans were still so isolationist as to think tolerantly or even approvingly of National Socialism in Germany and fascism in Italy. And they were ready to see democracy languish in this country and defeated abroad if only American isolation could be preserved.
I do not remember the preliminary personal conversations that led to the formation of the Council for Democracy. The initiative must have come from Henry Luce, for he was ready to lend the services of C. D. Jackson, vice-president of Time, Inc., as its chief executive for a year, and to contribute 525,000 to get the Council started. Leonard Lyons wrote in his column of July 30, 1940: "A group will meet at the Waldorf today for the purpose of coordinating all the separate committees which have been formed in defense of democracy. The group is composed of Henry Luce, Raymond Gram Swing, John Gunther, Freda Kirchwey, and Robert Sherwood." The list must be far from complete. But that Waldorf meeting, in the best American tradition, led to the formation of an organization which, in the prewar and war years, stoutly and effectively propagated the principles of democracy.
As first conceived, the Council for Democracy was simply to be a co-ordinating body to pull together the work being done by a number of small organizations. But as it got under way, it became clear that a central organization supplanting many of the smaller ones would be more effective, and that is what the Council became. Later, after the United States entered the war, it became for a time the Council for Victory. Of both organizations, I was chairman of the board, and, for a time, honorary chairman. I was not in a position to devote as much time as the administration of such an organization needs, even if adequately staffed. The hard work during the first year was done by C. D. Jackson. Then Ernest Angell, the New York attorney, took over. Professor Carl Friedrich, of Harvard, was a faithful and inspired leader in his particular field of publishing studies on the workings of democracies written by specialists.
He faded from the picture after American entry into the war, simply due to his own German origin. The roster of the executive committee of the Council included as distinguished a body of civic leaders as I can recall belonging to any private organization. The names covered two pages in fine print, and the members came from educational and religious institutions, journalism, the arts and sciences, motion pictures and radio, organized labor, the law, business and finance, and patriotic and social-welfare agencies. One could hardly conjure up a group of more certain patriotism and reliable judgment.
Europe was at war; the United States was not. The war in Europe was one of the least complicated wars to understand; it was one of both conquest and ideology, waged by fascists. Democracy in Europe was in the most dire peril, which meant that in time it might well be in dire peril in the United States, too. The need for a Council dedicated to the preservation of democracy was incontestable. It had work to do; and within its means, as I now look back on it, it did that work. There was some indifference to democracy in the United States, as I assume there always has been. There was little outright fascism, but an inclination among not a few to be tolerant of it, which was the equivalent of being indifferent to the defense of democracy.
If I understand correctly some of the liveliest hours you have spent in Brooklyn College have been produced by a conflict between the advocates of Utopia and the defenders of an imperfect democracy. It is a conflict in which the Utopians have a certain advantage. You can always outargue the apologist if you can rest your case on a blueprint. For there are no imperfections in a blueprint. And there are imperfections in the United States, Great Britain, and in any country with a long or short experience in self-government. There are many of them. But what is notable about this country of ours is not its completeness, but that the opportunity remains to complete it. The Utopians do not see this, for their blueprint is complete. And as long as it remains a blueprint they seem to be winning all the arguments. When they come to do the building from the blueprint, they will make imperfections, too, and their dialectical advantage will begin to melt away...
I do not believe that a Utopia can be made out of bad building material. I do not believe the Utopias are really ever made from blueprints. In social building, what is of value is the soundness of the materials. What each of us has to contribute to societv is himself or herself, his honesty within himself, his faith in sincerity, his own sincere dealings. If any of you believe you are going to achieve Utopia by deceit, by raising false flags, by willful misrepresentation, by conscious misstatement, by guile, conspiracy, and fraud, and finally by giving over to someone else the power to think arid judge and study the evidence for you, you know little of the ways of progress. For Utopia is no different from democracy. It, too, is never completed. The task of constructing it is infinite. If it were otherwise - as some young people today believe - they might succeed in their sophistry. It might be so that the ends justify the means. One might arrive at a destination of a perfect society, and then, in a great celebration, make a vast bonfire of all the lies and surreptitious trickery which had been resorted to in reaching the destination, and then start life anew on an elevated plane of social decency...
If you think you are building a better society by temporary deceit, you will be astonished to find that deceit is not temporary, it is a permanent part of the society you have built. Social immoralities never buy anything but social immorality. They do not buy Utopia.
In 1936, I was critical of his decision not to press his proposal to enlarge the Supreme Court. At that time I regarded the Court, as then functioning, as the chief roadblock to social progress in the United States and wanted to see it enlarged by Roosevelt appointees. I thought President Roosevelt compromised too easily in this matter, for political reasons - and while I slid not vote for London in 1936, I did not vote for Roosevelt either. It was only after the second New Deal was under way that my earlier enthusiasm for Roosevelt returned, and it mounted and continued mounting as war came and his capacities for leadership were unfolded. And as to the Court fight, I was to learn that I was mistaken, for the very threat of enlarging the Court had been sufficient to liberalize the tenor of its rulings after 1936...
My one private meeting with the President was in the evening of May 24, 1942, and came about through Harry Hopkins. I had just finished a broadcast which was largely devoted to a speech by Hermann Goring on the ardors of the Nazi winter campaign in the heart of Russia. Mr. Hopkins called me at the studio. "How would you like to come over to the White House," he asked, "and meet the President? We have just been listening to your broadcast." Naturally, I said I would be there as quickly as my car could bring me. I arrived shortly before 10:30.
I was at once ushered into the President's office, where he had been working in shirt sleeves, his desk piled high with papers. He greeted me warmly and asked what I should like to drink. "I am going to take a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon rind," he said. I do not remember what Harry Hopkins took, but I joined him in a gin and tonic.
The President opened the conversation by discussing my broadcast and the difficulties the Nazis had experienced with the Russian winter.
Then he told me I had been asked to come over for a particular reason. He wanted my opinion of Elmer Davis as possible head of the Office of Facts and Figures, a position then occupied by Archibald MacLeish. I liked MacLeish and asked why he should be replaced. "Archie is a poet," Mr. Roosevelt said, with what seemed to me a tone of disparagement. I missed my cue at this point, and it did not occur to me until I was on the way home. I should have replied that John Milton, also a poet, had lost his eyesight working overtime as Latin Secretary to the Council of State under Cromwell. But I did speak up to voice my admiration for Elmer Davis, Mr. Roosevelt asked me if I thought newspaper correspondents would consider him a good appointment, and I assured him that I did riot believe any colleague would be held in higher esteem. Davis's nomination to head the Office of War Information (replacing the OFF) followed within a week or so...
As a talker Mr. Roosevelt went rapidly from one subject to another, almost by a kind of compulsiveness, not actually conversing with me or with Mr. Hopkins. I had the impression that in his way he was garrulous, which is certainly no fault, but it nevertheless astonished me to find a trace of it in as great a man as Franklin Roosevelt. Both he and I had a refill of gin and tonic. I did not miss the opportunity to tell the President to what extent he had been responsible for my broadcasting career in making his proposal to Sir John Reith for an exchange of broadcasts with the BBC, and I warmly thanked him. By midnight I knew the time for my departure had come, and I left. The visit had been a rare treat, and I knew that Harry Hopkins had engineered it as a special favor to me.
This was the only time I saw President Roosevelt and Mr. Hopkins alone together. I knew they were as nearly intimate friends as that term could be used to describe the association of anyone with the President. But I was struck by the deference Mr. Hopkins showed to his chief. He did not speak familiarly to him at any time and always addressed him formally as "Mr. President."
My esteem for President Roosevelt had not been without certain reservations. I have mentioned his readiness to be guided by purely political advantage in domestic questions. He also said things to callers which apparently were meant to he misunderstood as agreement with them in a way that stirred the roots of my puritanical disapproval. But he was a complex person, and out of this complexity rose a stature in national and world affairs that both astonished and ultimately overwhelmed me. I came to regard him as one of the greatest men of his age. Though he was an aristocrat, he liked common people. He enjoyed meeting them, and he put their welfare uppermost in his domestic policy. When I bad to write my commentary on the day of his death, I was too deeply moved to use more though, two-thirds of my time and had to ask the studio to fill the remainder with music. And having written it, I threw myself on my bed and wept as I had not done since I was a boy.
I met Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt on numerous occasions, but did not get to know her personally until after her husband's death I was included in one luncheon invitation she issued to the news corps at the White House during the war. She was good enough to mention my broadcasts as among her favorite radio programs in an interview in the Ladies' Home Journal. It was after this that I made an attempt to arrange an appointment with her. I knew that a few of my colleagues saw her frequently, to their great professional and personal benefit. But her secretary vetoed my request.
Years later I crossed to France on the same boat with the United States mission to the United Nations, of which Mrs. Roosevelt was such a distinguished member. This was when I was commentator for the Voice of America. I had several long and memorable talks with Mrs. Roosevelt on this voyage. Later I met her twice in the home of John Gunther. I am sure she was the most important woman I could know, just ahead of Jane Addams. Somehow, she always said the right thing, in the right words, at the right time, and did so with graciousness. This is commendation that few deserve. Her service on the Commission of Human Rights of the United Nations is of enduring value, even if that code is long in coming into effect. She led world thinking into channels into which it never had flowed before. This was pioneering of a most valuable kind.
Eleanor Roosevelt's influence on her era also calls for special recognition. She was one of the three persons closest to Franklin Roosevelt, all of whom had been active in social service. The other two were Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins. Many of the reforms that marked the Roosevelt administration could be called social-service reforms, and the thinking of those in his circle was predominantly social-service thinking. This was peculiarly American, and may to a great extent have saved America from didactic radicalisms of European type, such as extreme socialism and Communism. I have the impression that Americans of the post-Roosevelt years have not appreciated this enough to bestow credit for it where it is due, on Eleanor Roosevelt, for one, and on Hopkins, a close second. Being a social worker of her era, Mrs. Roosevelt was not primarily a feminist Thus she actually opposed equal pay for equal work for women because she feared that it would bring hardship to mothers who had to accept less than standard wages to provide or supplement the family income. By now the social worker's outlook has pretty largely become the national outlook on social problems, something for which Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins were as much responsible as Franklin Roosevelt himself.
The agreements reached at Administration Oaks to form a United Nations were certainly inadequate beginnings, and Soviet policy in Eastern Europe was open to suspicion. Prejudices against Communism agitated the Western countries. Those who then argued that peace could not be made and maintained with Communism as the Kremlin was practicing it may have been fully justified, but some historians probably will write about the period at the end of the war and immediately afterward with a modicum of forbearance toward Communist behavior. They can be expected to set forth that if the West did not trust the Kremlin, the Kremlin had some reason not to trust the West. There is one striking example of this. Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius offered the Soviet Union a rehabilitation credit of a billion dollars, which the Soviet Union accepted. The acceptance, however, never came to light in official American policy-making. Notification of it was "mislaid" in the State Department for a full year, as ultimately was officially admitted. The action was no doubt personal on the part of the official responsible for it. That is, it was not known to the Secretary of State and the President. But the Kremlin would not know this. It wrote off the offer of aid as a hypocritical beguilement. And since the Soviet Foreign Office read American newspapers with zealous fidelity, it could record a spate of statements hostile to the Soviet Union. The anticommunists in the United States at that time were particularly voluble. When the Cold War came to be openly waged, the anti-Communists of the days prior to it could and did contend that its coming was inevitable, and no possibility for peaceful understanding with the Soviet Union had existed or could exist. They may have been right. But that is hypothesis only. It was not knowledge based on experience, on which American policy could be firmly based. So long as there was some hope of co-operation for peace, the United States was obligated to try to cultivate it.
When Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, on February 9, 1950, delivered his speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, announcing that the Secretary of State knew of 205 in the department who were members of the Communist party, an episode was begun in American history which ended with his condemnation by a Senate committee in 1954. In those four years he throve as a demagogue, and frightened many, if not all, diplomats into failing to give their frank opinions to the government for fear of being falsely accused of Communist tendencies. The government thus suffered from a debility among diplomats. Employees in the Information Agency had to smother their political judgments lest they be pilloried by Senator McCarthy's congressional committee. It was a season of terror for which Senator McCarthy somewhat incorrectly bears all the blame. He became the name-symbol of the epoch, not by accident, for that was precisely what he wanted. He found the Communist issue when he needed something to make himself known and powerful. Through his exploitation of it and by his attacks on innocent persons, he did the United States more harm at home, and in democratic countries abroad, than any individual in modern times. Perhaps more harm was done by Alger Hiss, without whose activities there might never have been a Richard Nixon, made glorious for having brought him to book; and without the Hiss episode, McCarthy would have remained obscure and ineffective. So it is not easy to say which man hurt his times more, Hiss or McCarthy.
Even so, I do not think all the blame for McCarthyism was McCarthy's, for it existed before McCarthy gave it its name. There is today a different kind of McCarthyism under different nomenclature, and presumably there will continue to be a threat of this distinctive form of slanderous bigotry so long as the United States permits freedom of thought and speech, or until bigotry itself is reduced by the rise of understanding.
I am more than a little disquieted that McCarthy's condemnation by the Senate and his subsequent death have satisfied so many people that McCarthyism is over. For one thing, I consider that the condemnation by the Senate has given unwarranted satisfaction. It was based on an altogether peculiar sense of the importance of secondary matters. I am profoundly grateful that the committee went as far as it did. But I feel that it left out of account in its condemnation most of what Senator McCarthy had injuriously done. It ignored his roughshod disregard of civil rights and his irrepressible mendacity, and the fact that they existed while he was acting with the authority of the Senate. These transgressions were not specifically and helpfully rebuked at the time or ever. American principles and ethics were not strengthened by the Senate resolution of condemnation. The nation did not become healthier through it. It simply was rid of a menace because some Senate conservatives realized that their dignity was being sullied.
About six months after the epochal McCarthy speech about Communists in the State Department, a book called Red Channels appeared, published by the company that issued Counterattack, a weekly newsletter purporting to disclose Communists and those favorable to Communism working in radio, and attempting to have them blacklisted by the industry. By this time the country could be said to have been in a fever about the McCarthy charges. So Red Channels attracted wide attention. The book did not mention me, nor had I been mentioned in the newsletter at the time the book was published. Red Channels did not present proof that any of the persons listed in it were Communists or fellow travelers. It simply called them that. The appearance of the book was an attempt by self-appointed judges to impose their unsubstantiated judgments upon the radio industry, and to do so for financial profit. The book both frightened those who suspected the Communists were infiltrating some of the key institutions of American life and wanted something done about them.
Let me begin by saying that we are dealing with an unsolved problem. One of the questions we have to answer is whether Mr. Kirkpatrick and his associates and Red Channels are the right way to solve it. Let me state the problem as I see it. It is not only how the American public is to be protected from insidious, concealed Communist infiltration in the radio industry. Obviously that by itself is an undeniable necessity of the greatest urgency and importance. But there also is the need of protecting American standards and American freedom, both in radio as an employer and through radio as an instrument of democratic survival. There must not be Communist influence in American radio. But there also must not be the slightest weakening of genuine Americanism in keeping out the Communist influence.
I shall be brief in giving the reasons why I believe the approach of Red Channels is utterly un-American. It is a book compiled by private persons to be sold for profit, which lists the names of persons for no other reason than to suggest them as having Communist connections of sufficient bearing to render them unacceptable to American radio. The list has been drawn up from reports, newspaper statements and letterheads, without checking, and without testing the evidence, and without giving a hearing to anyone whose name is listed. There is no attempt to evaluate the nature of the Communist connections. A number of organizations are cited as those with whom the person is affiliated, but with no statement as to the nature of the association.
Furthermore, in addition to Red Channels and the news letter Counter-Attack which published it, the Kirkpatrick associates offer a so-called screening service to employers, whereby they will tell them whether the names of their employees are on any of their lists. So a profitable enterprise is put together, which makes quite a thing out of pretending to help keep radio safely American by these slipshod and strangely un-American ways.
I could use much of my time in demonstrating that Red Channels is one-sided in important particulars. There are cases of inaccuracies which I shall not try to enumerate. I don't want you to think that if Mr. Kirkpatrick and his associates were more workmanlike I would approve of them. I wouldn't.
The point I want to make is that Red Channels does not show that there is any clear and present danger to the people of the United States if the persons it lists work in American radio. And to prove that is, I believe, the only legal or ethical reason that can be advanced in America for not employing these persons. The technique used is that of the blanket smear, against which, as you experts in public relations will appreciate, there is no adequate disinfectant or deodorant. A person once named, however innocent he may be, can never be quite rid of the taint, the taint not of his guilt, but of his having been named. It is the power of people using these methods that an ounce of insinuation outweighs a ton of fact. It is conviction by a private committee without even a trial. Certain persons are declared guilty without weighing the evidence and then punished for life without possibility of sufficient redress even if the most flagrant wrong has been done...
Let me point out that Red Channels is largely a compilation of the performing artists. There are few commentators in it (and may I say that the two of these I know most about should not be listed at all, and it is an outrage that they are).
In reality Red Channels is little more than a blacklist of these artists which borrows a dignity it is not entitled to because it plays on the very true and present danger to America of Communist influence on American political life. Because Communism is a danger, Red Channels appears to be rendering a public service. The fact is that Red Channels really does not take up much more than the feeblest category of danger, the category of the performing artists, and does not even refer to the third and fourth categories I have named.
I should mention that Mr. Kirkpatrick and his associates have the backing of a committee which can recruit letter-writers and telephone callers to denounce the appearance of blacklisted persons on the air, they can flood a radio switchboard with protesting telephone calls, they can pretend that they represent a large part of the public. And if a radio executive or advertising agency is pressed for time, and frightened about offending a substantial section of the listening public, he may be tempted to shirk his own responsibility to inquire into the truth himself.
Nothing is easier than to gather together a small group of an identical bigotry and the same political hatreds, and produce telephone calls and letters by the dozens. Everyone in radio knows this. Every Congressman knows it. It is one of the facts of life of a democracy. And it is, as I said, nothing new in America.
But let me repeat that the pressure group is not the danger to American life, nor is the blacklist. The danger from these is not that they exist, but that those who have been vested with the power of safeguarding America yield some of their power to pressure groups and blacklisters. The weakness in American democracy would come from those who, having been given responsibility for one of America's most vital institutions, unwittingly, or carelessly, or timidly, yield some of their authority to people who are not entitled to it. Let the danger of communism be met, not by resort to stealthy weapons, not by blacklists, not by unventilated and often inaccurate charges, but openly and with courageous faith in the due process of law, faith in a civilization which fully protects the free rights of the individual.
Actions within any large organization are subject to criticism on account of judgment. Thus an editor of the news desk at the Voice was accused of pro-Communism because he changed the, language of a dispatch about demonstrations in Guatemala to read that they were made by pro-democratic elements and not, as the dispatch had originally stated, anti-Communist elements. Senator McCarthy's questions tried to prove that "democratic" in Latin America was the same as "Communist" But since anti-Communists in Guatemala were not as numerous as the genuinely democratic elements, the news editor had been trying to build up the importance of the demonstrations. It may not have been the most enlightened editing, but the editor did not deserve to be branded before the public as a Communist.
At this point my professional memoirs could understandably come to a close. But I have a little more I wish to tell about and to say. One subject is an episode at the Cosmos Club in Washington; another is the nature and importance of the Voice of America, about which the American public is in strange and virtually complete ignorance.
The Cosmos Club affair has to do with the rejection for membership of Carl Rowan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Mr. Rowan is a Negro. He succeeded Ed Kretzmann at the State Department, and Mr. Kretzmann thought so well of him that he decided to propose him for membership in the Cosmos Club, thus breaking down the color bar, and asked me to meet him, and, if I liked him, to second his nomination. This I did. Mr. Rowan was an Oberlin graduate who had served many years on the Minneapolis Tribune as a journalist, had won two national citations from the journalistic fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, had been chosen by the junior Chamber of Commerce in Minnesota as one of the ten most distinguished young men of the state, and later by the national junior Chamber as one of the ten most distinguished young men in the United States. He had written a number of books, of which one on India has been particularly praised.
He was the first Negro to be nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club with one exception, some decades ago, when a Negro candidate died before action on his application could he taken. Mr. Rowan's nomination came at a time when the subject of segregation in the capital was under the liveliest discussion and when the other leading social club, the Metropolitan, had been in the news because a Negro diplomat had been invited there for lunch and the member inviting him had been censured in writing by the president of the club. President Kennedy, who had been nominated for membership at the Metropolitan, thereupon promptly withdrew his application.
1933, gives perspective in still greater clarity. For on that day the world had its warning and should have known what was in the making. But the world hadn't been training ears to hear warnings or eyes to see such beacons as were lit in the Berlin bonfire of books. And here I shall repeat something about this event which I said a year ago, and do so at the request of the Council of Books in Wartime and the OWL.
I know I didn't appreciate the full portent of the warning of that event in Berlin. But it came to me shortly, and on this anniversary I see again vividly the figure of the man who taught me. He was an unusually tall, an unusually narrow man, with legs as long as Lincoln's, a rounded stoop of the shoulders, and a long, gaunt face. He had been chairman of the Social-Democratic party in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic, and his name was Dr. Rudolf Breitscheid. In my newspaper days in Germany I had come to know him well. And after Hitler seized power I knew that he had managed to escape to France. Then he came to London, and I was deeply moved to hear that I should be allowed to have an hour with him alone at the home of a member of the House of Commons.
I found him in that home, slumped and, it seemed, almost collapsed, in a big chair. He looked up at me with large eyes filled with the pain one sees during a mortal illness. The first glance at him told its story: here was a man whose life-work was in ruins, who had lost not only his country but all possibilities of serving his country or himself, a man bereft and broken.
I expected him to tell me, in that hour, about himself and his escape, and to give me the news of our personal friends in Germany, many of whom, I knew, had been tortured by the Nazis. I was keyed up to withstand the shock of the brutality our friends had suffered. But I was stopped short by his tragic appearance and was unable to start the conversation. I hoped he would begin without prompting, in his own way.
He was silent for quite a time, then he looked up with an expression of utter helplessness in his face, and he said weakly, but with horror: "Swing, they're burning books."
I was startled, and for a moment I thought that he was being irrelevant. I was expecting news of persecution, torture, and terrible personal disasters, and he began by mentioning what I already knew, that in Berlin they were burning books. But he was a true messenger of tragedy, for that was in the furthermost depth of the tragedy, the burning of books. That was the symbol of it.
That fire has not died, and it will not have died until Germans themselves have free minds again and no power remains on the face of the earth to deny the liberty of mans mind. And when the history of this awful war is written, there is a description of it that would be fitting. It was the war to put out the fire which Hitler lighted in Berlin ten years ago today.