MUTUAL UNRESTRICTED FREEDOM OF NEWS
By PALMER HOYT, Publisher of The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Delivered before the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Medford, Oregon, September 18, 1945
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XII, pp. 60-62.
AUGUST 6, 1945, is a date that will live long in the minds of man. It will live as long as history endures. On that date—and for the first time in a long and varied career—man was midwife to an epoch.
When President Harry S. Truman officially announced that our armed forces had dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, he opened the door on a way of life for man beyond concepts yet entertained. It was as though a thousand years had passed during the few moments it took him to utter the simple paragraph.
In looking down the long corridors that science had thus opened man felt fear as he had not known it since the dark day when he crouched shivering in a cave. When the controlled smashed atom became a fact, man was aware that he had the alternative—life or death. Between them he could choose.
Man realized that his was now the power of total destruction and that this new Atomic Age held at once hope and horror beyond his previous powers to conceive. He realized, did Man, that this was not the age he had lived in during sultry July and the first burning days of August. He knew that he had zoomed suddenly and without warning from the Rocket Age to the Atomic Age.
He knew, for example, did Man, and without entire understanding, that war had become something different. What use now vast armadas of sea or air, huge armies on the land? He knew, did Man, that war had gone into the laboratory and closed the door behind it. The bang of that shut door startled him as he had never been startled before.
Man had taken the second bite from the apple of knowledge and the taste was bitter-sweet on his tongue. It was obvious now that the talk of a third world war was equivalent to discussion of race suicide. Man could agree that another war could result in only one of two things—world dictatorship or the destruction of civilization. Man became increasingly aware that something new was needed to offset and counteract the peril he had created. Man realized with increasing clarity that the San Francisco charter for which he held such high hopes was no longer adequate to the task it faced. He knew, did Man, that there must be a Magna Carta that would make possible a mutual understanding between the nations. The same kind of mutual understanding that exists between the 48 commonwealths that make up the United States—the same understanding that has bound this Union together through its almost 170 years of existence.
This Magna Carta, Man realized, would outlaw current diplomacy, already a half a century out of date, by eliminating political censorships and insuring the free flow of truthful news between the peoples of the earth. This Magna Carta, Man knew, would have to be based on a solid rock—the peoples' inalienable right to know.
Yes, there could be but one answer. Mutual understanding between the nations and this answer to be achieved in only one way—by the free flow of news—American style, the elimination of all political censorships and free and equal use of communications.
The dropping of the atomic bomb has brought forth many reactions. And elicited many answers. Almost at once those strange bedfellows—the Osservatore Romano and buxom-brained Dorothy Thompson—agreed that the atomic bomb should never have been invented at all. Columnist Raymond Moley allowed as how it wouldn't make much difference in the conduct of wars; Howard Blakeslee, Associated Press science editor, came forth with small comfort, saying that after all the atomic bomb couldn't blow the world to bits; the Saturday Review of Literature saw immediate need for a world state; Life magazine thought it was a matter of individual conscience—the individual conscience against the atomic bomb; those interested in religion thought the answer lay in the principles set down by Jesus Christ.
And, of course, Christianity is the answer—but Christianity can only flourish where there is freedom. This new world must be in the minds of men. It must be now the "One World" of Wendell Willkie or the "No World" of the Evil One. Yes, the answer is in Christianity and in the practical concept of one world. The answer is in the four freedoms, but before there can be freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of worship and freedom of expression, there must be mutual understanding.
There is only one way this mutual understanding can come about. It must spring from a firm and practical base—the free flow of news and information—the world-wide freedom of the press, and when I say the press, I mean not only the newspapers, but news services, radio, communications and the free and untrammeled flow of magazines and motion pictures.
I would be less than realistic if I did not say that I am well aware of the difficulties involved. I am well aware that Russian viewpoint is still totalitarian and that she has her own concept of the free press, which is that the Russian press is the freest press in the world, because it prints only what the government wants. I am well aware that there is a ceiling—a ceiling -of ignorance—that covers Russia like a blanket. This ceiling will lift in time. But in the meantime, we should make the strongest representations to this great new world power on the necessity of the elimination of political censorships in all countries if civilization is to continue. We should demand the right of our correspondents to have the same access to news sources that Russian correspondents have in the United States.
I would like to say, too, in this connection that there are two very dangerous schools of thought in this country currently relative to Russia. On the extreme right they are already talking about fighting the Russians. Nothing the Russians do pleases them. Then there is another school, headed by the Stork Club liberals, who would give Russia everything she wants without question. And who see in Russia a new and strong democracy aborning.
Both of these viewpoints are wrong. Another is indicated. It should be adult and sane. We should treat Russia exactly as we treat any other nation. And I am sure that such a course of action would be pleasing to the Russians, who are nothing if not realistic.
In any event, the fact that we may not be able to deal currently with Russia relative to international freedom of the press need not keep us from making an immediate start. We can certainly have—and now—the international freedom of press I have indicated in any country that we occupy—such as Japan—or any country we support economically— such as France.
And since our nation and all the nations of the world are in jeopardy, I wish to go a step further and say that no country on the face of this earth should receive one dollar in loans called by whatever name it may be or one pound of lend-lease, by whatever name, unless it will lift the curtains of ignorance that shield its people from the facts of international life.
History has placed in the hands of President Truman the greatest potential weapon for peace yet conceived— the secret of atomic energy. And history will record with interest what he does with it. Good fortune and the energy of the American people have placed in Mr. Truman's hands another weapon—more potent even than the atomic bomb. It is an economic weapon. With the whole world sitting astride a powder keg, it ill behooves the United States of America to further supply any totalitarian state with what may easily be the sinews of war. To further carry on such a policy makes no sense whatsoever.
It now behooves the world to know all about itself and it behooves the nations of the earth to know about each other if they are to stay in business. The situation today is not unlike one in which two people are living in a Duplex, with one of them making dynamite. The other had best know about it or they might both be blown to smithereens. As William Tugman recently said in the Eugene, Oregon, Register Guard, "The leaders in every part of the world must be taught to live like goldfish. We cannot outlaw the atomic force, but we can outlaw the state secret."
It no longer will be possible for part of the world to be informed and part of the world to be kept in ignorance. The atomic bomb is a fact. Its destructive force is as yet not fully reported. But its potential is obviously beyond our present powers to conceive. There is talk currently of a jet plane capable of 4000 miles an hour. After the startling developments of recent days, this seems entirely reasonable. Such a combination would link all the nations of the earth in the most awful network of destruction ever conceived. Even with the planes now available the chain of death is little less than immediate in its implications.
Nor can we hope forever to keep the secret of the atomic bomb from the other nations of the earth. Sir James Chad-wick, chief British scientist in the atomic bomb project, declared the other day that the atomic bomb is not strictly a British-American secret, declaring that any nation can learn the answers in about five years of experimentation, provided it has access to the necessary raw materials. "I think," said Sir James, "that this is a very serious point."
I agree entirely with the British scientist. It is a very serious point and brings clearly to mind a statement made last September by Lord Vansittart, speaking over an international hookup when he said, "The next world war may well start with the destruction of civilization overnight."
There can, therefore, be but one adequate prophylactic. The mutual exchange of all types of news unhampered by political censorships and unrestricted by artificial boundaries of tariffs or customs. For example, it is now essential that we know what the Russians are doing and what they are thinking about and that the Russians be informed what we are doing and what we are thinking about. Otherwise, the peace will not be kept and if peace is not kept, the peoples of the earth face dangers as yet barely imagined.
In this new age many of the arguments of yesterday seem substantially less important. It is no longer of great moment that some of our left-wing liberals fear Yankee imperialism so greatly that they would have us surrender all of our Pacific bases to the control of the United Nations. Nor is it particularly consequential that some right-wing conservatives might still like to revert to a status of narrow nationalism. It is much more to the point to ponder the fact that three-fourths of the world and three-fourths of the peoples of the earth are still "blacked out."
It is increasingly vital that we consider, for example, the Fascist hierarchy now being built up in the Argentine and that freedom of expression and of the press have again gone out of existence in that great land. It is more than important for us to realize that Russia, civilization's latest giant, is "blacked out" as far as ordinary news and information are concerned, in the sense that we understand them.
It is obvious that our whole thinking has to be reworked. How important now is peacetime conscription? It was true that even through the terrific blitzes of Europe that the infantry was still the Queen of Battles. No matter how devastating the bombing from the air, lands to be conquered had to be seized and occupied. However, with atomic destruction a reality, it is doubtful that the infantry will be the Queen of Battles again save on the parade ground. By the use of atomic energy entire divisions obviously can be destroyed and returned to the atomic state from which they originally came.
In the final analysis, the fact posed by the atomic bomb poses a tremendous question. It raises the problem of the moral leadership that this world must have if it is to continue to do business at the old stand. There is only one nation which can supply that moral leadership and that is the United States of America. It is up to the nation itself, to the Congress, our national leaders, to our political parties and to the President to see that that moral leadership is exerted and maintained.
In Springfield in 1860 Abraham Lincoln delivered his now-famous "House Divided" address. One simple thesis posed in that speech and projected into the campaign won Lincoln the presidency of the United States, integrated the Republican party and freed the slaves. The thesis—"This government cannot exist half-slave and half-free." Such a question must be posed by the leaders of this country today. The question: "This world cannot exist half-informed and half-uninformed."
As we enter into the Atomic Age, it is obvious that a new rule book must be written for the conduct of international affairs.
It is quite apparent that the rule book written at Quebec, Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam is outmoded. New agreements must be reached, new concepts achieved, if we are going to keep the peace that promises our only salvation.
The moral leadership that America must exert on the world was shaken at Teheran, slipped badly at Yalta and apparently vanished at Potsdam. America, free from ambitions of world domination, has the opportunity today to reassert it.
It is significant to note that not at Quebec or Teheran or Yalta or Potsdam was there more than the barest discussion of the only thing that can guarantee peace—world-wide freedom of news and information. In fact it now appears probable that new and drastic restrictions against such procedures were at least tacitly there agreed upon.
This procedure is all the more amazing because of thefact that the world leaders at the conference mentioned were well aware of the fact that Germany's preparation to conquer the world was based directly on tainted, discolored, false news disseminated by the German government to the German people.
Great strides already have been made in selling the idea of international freedom of information under the leadership of Kent Cooper of the Associated Press, Hugh Baillie of the United Press and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Recently three very able men, Wilbur Forrest of the New York Herald Tribune, Carl Ackerman of Columbia University and Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution, made a world-wide tour in the interests of free-flowing news.
Their main objective was to have included in forthcoming peace treaties the pledges of governments "not to censor news at the source, not to use the press as an instrument of national policy; and to permit a free flow of news in and out of signatory countries."
One of the revealing incidents of their trip came in their visit to Moscow, where they found "an expression of willingness to seek a common ground in the matter of freer exchange of news and more fair and adequate mutual writing and reporting."
But our American representatives also discovered that Russian editors feel that their government-directed newspapers represent the real free press rather than the private publications of America. As the late Constantine Oumanski once said: "Our press is absolutely free—we print only what the government wants."
In many ways the world-girdling trip was discouraging.
But at least a start was made that should have far-reaching benefits. One of them is the proposed international conference in Australia on press freedom. For it should ever be borne in mind what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said recently in this connection: "It is the first act of dictators to seize press and radio and thus control men's minds. By the same token, it should be the first act of a free world to liberate press and radio that men be informed. As Thomas Jefferson said: "When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe."
As I said before, great strides have already been made in selling the idea of unshackling news. But these strides are not enough. History has made the accomplishment of the objective essential. Generally speaking the press, radio and motion picture leaders of America and of the British Commonwealth of Nations have not accepted the leadership in this vital program. It is imperative that they do not shirk their vital responsibility.
It is also imperative that our leaders and those of the other United Nations come to the clear realization that an uninformed world has neither the right nor the opportunity for a continued existence.
I believe entirely that this world cannot stand another war. But I believe as completely that this world is headed for such a war and destruction unless immediate steps are taken to insure the beginning at least of freedom of news-American style—between the peoples of the earth. A civilization that is not informed cannot be free and a world that is not free cannot endure.