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May 2

Written by: Diana West
Saturday, May 02, 2015 7:58 AM 

The AP's Edward Kennedy, who believed news of the end of World War II belonged to the world, not the Soviet propaganda department.   

Almost exactly seventy years ago this week, Allied military censors prevented the Associated Press's Wes Gallagher from filing a story, one week before VE-Day, reporting that American and British armies, sweeping across northern Europe into Germany in the spring of 1945, "could have easily taken Berlin before the Russians did so in May 1945 but for some reason were not allowed to do so." (The same thing went for Vienna and Prague.)

Here is the story and its ramifications, as discussed in American Betrayal, pp 322-326:

So wrote the distinguished journalist and longtime AP executive Kent Cooper in his book The Right to Know: An Exposition of the Evils of News Suppression and Propaganda (1956), a provocative look at the first half of the twentieth century as a series of disasters stemming from government manipulation and censorship of the news. This particular act of censorship, Cooper argued, was not a matter of military security. It was political censorship, pure and simple, and thus a violation of the policies that were supposed to govern press coverage of the war. The consequences, Cooper argued, were dire:

If Gallagher’s story had been published the day it was written, it is not probable that the American people would have blandly accepted the idea that the West should step aside in Russia’s favor without at least a guaranteed corridor reaching to Berlin.46

Once upon a time, the absence of such a “corridor” to divided Berlin through a hundred miles of Soviet-controlled “East Germany”—all forgotten features of Cold War history at this point—brought U.S.-USSR relations almost to a boiling point and led to the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the 1948 airlift. The failure to secure a corridor was a blunder widely blamed on U.S. diplomat John G. Winant, who, according to the AP’s Wes Gallagher (again), had flatly refused to negotiate a ground route to divided Berlin for fear of arousing “mis- trust” in the Russians. Winant committed suicide in November 1947, having be- come “deeply affected,” writes Cooper, by the rising tensions of the Cold War.47

The consensus was to pin the blame on Winant. Hanson Baldwin, however, became convinced that the blame for Berlin lay not on the shoulders of a dead man but rather in the corridors of power in Washington—in the White House and the State and War Departments. Winant, he wrote, “was an agent [of policy] rather than a formulator.” When our military negotiators—Eisenhower and Gen. Lucius D. Clay—finally took up the matter of Berlin and access to Berlin after Winant’s tenure, they were negotiating, Baldwin argues, “against the background of a psychological delusion, then so prevalent in our govern- ment, that the Russians were our political as well as military ‘buddies,’ and that we could ‘get along’ with Stalin.”48 That ship of fools sailed on, just like the Arawa.

Cooper makes the convincing case that informing the American people, rather than censoring these vital facts, would have triggered widespread public outcry and the kind of debate essential to the functioning of a democratic republic. Cooper believed such debate “surely would have brought about . . . modification of the pro-Russian policy.” He was probably right. It’s difficult to imagine Americans opening the morning paper at the butterless breakfast table where Johnny’s chair had been empty for several years and reading about how U.S. and British troops appeared to have been ordered to cool their heels along the Elbe (near Berlin), the Mulde (Prague), and the Enns (Vienna) so the Russians could go marching in, and then simply turning the page.

Hence (it seems), no such information was passed by military censors to the American people, and no such public debate ever took place. This was a turning point. The U.S. government had clearly seized control of political news, of political facts, to use as weapons of political policy—and, in effect, weapons of Soviet political policy. It gets worse. An even cruder, emptier example of this manipulation was the embargo placed at the behest of the Allied leaders, Stalin, Truman, and Churchill (dragging his heels), on the news of the surrender of Nazi Germany in France on May 7, 1945, until the Russians could rig up their own surrender ceremony in Berlin on May 8, 1945. This stupendous act of appeasement, blanked out of national memory, was thankfully circumvented by a wise and bold AP reporter named Edward Kennedy, who believed the news of Germany’s surrender “belonged to the Allied peoples,” as he later wrote, and not to the Soviet propaganda department. Kennedy created a giant controversy for refusing to go along with this blatant political censorship. On learning that Allied military headquarters (SHAEF) had already authorized German radio to broadcast the news of the May 7 surrender, Kennedy filed his story regardless of the embargo, regardless of the Soviet plan. As Kennedy explained his decision (which cost him his job with the AP) in an Atlantic Monthly essay in 1948, “Truman and Churchill—the latter reluctantly and only on pressure from Washington—agreed to hold up the news, which belonged to the Allied peoples, until the time of the Berlin meeting . . . The Russian action was quite in line with the Soviet conception of the press for propaganda, and nothing to get excited about; the fault was ours for falling for it” (emphasis added).49

Of course, according to this new way of looking at our history, we fell for it because we were pushed, both from the outside and, more important, from the inside. As a result, Americans at large were left to try to make half-sense of the partial truths doled out by our leaders. Later, Cooper notes, a smaller, book-reading audience would sort through the many war memoirs written by military and political figures, Churchill’s most famous among them, containing “laments” over their authors’ having been “pushed around by the insatiable Russians.” Cooper—the man who coined the phrase “the right to know”— comments acerbically:

Not one of them, however, has expressed any realization of how different it all might have been had they disclosed what they later so dolefully put in their memoirs to excuse their actions. The fact that they so needlessly conducted all political matters in secret and kept them so under protection of war censorship should be the basis of remonstrance from a democratic people.50 

Should be. But we were, the whole lot of us, with precious few exceptions, a nation of Captain Hillses, a nation of Roosevelts, a nation of Hisses, a nation of Kennans, a nation manipulated, inured, numbed, cushioned, silenced— continually protected from the sharpest of timely revelations, continually told to be afraid of them. We were impervious to the cries of the most plaintive Cassandras, who themselves were often pressured or consigned to mumble into their memoirs or grumble off to Samoa. Only the most principled, the most shrill, the most desperate, or the most stubborn were constitutionally (in the personal sense) able to rise above the overwhelming buzz and static. It was on this level where the battle royal really began, pitting the lone truth-teller against the forces of suppression, in a political and informational landscape that had been denuded of all vital context. This reality vacuum, this echo chamber of lies, was both created and preserved by what Cooper quite intriguingly paints as autocrats in charge of both governments (U.S. and USSR). “Clothed with autocratic powers,” he writes, “individuals in charge of both governments demonstrated how political censorship had helped Russia to win the war and the peace while England and America helped Russia win the war but lost the peace.”

Of course, writing in 1956, Cooper didn’t know the half of it and all that, but this seasoned newsman was acutely, if not uniquely, perceptive in observing the role U.S.-USSR censorship jointly played in Soviet triumph and Western defeat. As he put it, “History records that this occurred because both governments proceeded secretly, just as if they were in a private venture.”51 

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