Ike Said “We’ll know in 50 years…”

In the comments to this post on propaganda, Praktike dinged me and suggested I read Michael Beschloss’ book on planning for the aftermath of WWII, ‘The Conquerors.’

As I’d noted, it was on the list (I have an Excel file of all the books, records, and movies I mean to get around to), but his recommendation pushed it to the top of the list.

Got it yesterday, started it today, and am about halfway through.

I want to leave you with one big thought, and a few choice morsels to consider.The book is told at a gnat’s eye view – tracking interdepartmental politics in the White House, personality clashes, clashes of ideas and policies, and it reminds me of how contingent history really is. By that I don’t mean to take a side in the ‘inevitable historical forces’ vs. ‘great human action’ vs. ‘random workings of chance’ debate on a philosophy of history, but to suggest that the unfolding of history is certainly more complex than the understandings of any of the actors participating in it – including us.

Something worth keeping in mind as we debate the grand sweep of strategy.

Two quotes that made me go “uh-huh!!” from the book:

“The success of this occupation can only be judged fifty years from now. If the Germans at that time have a stable, prosperous democracy, then we will have succeeded.”

– Dwight Eisenhower, October 1945. Frankfurt, Germany

After midnight in London, Morgenthau gave an address on CBS Radio to the American people, which Roosevelt’s speechwriter Robert Sherwood and the CBS London correspondent Edward R. Murrow helped to write. He told his audience that while touring the fallout [sic] shelters, the “principal thought that filled my mind and heart” had been “we must never forget!” It was not enough to hope that postwar Germans and Japanese would “behave themselves as decent people”: “Hoping is not good enough…Germany and Japan must be kept disarmed.”

Can you imagine Dan Rather helping John Snow write a policy speech given from Baghdad? Can you understand how the notion that he was an American first, and a journalist later might have figured in Murrow’s makeup? How would that have played with Eason Jordan, do you think?

21 thoughts on “Ike Said “We’ll know in 50 years…””

  1. Wouldn’t the Murrow anecdote be a better example of how the liberal media was in bed with the ruling elite, blah blah blah?
    Today, Dan Rather wouldn’t write speeches for John Snow because it would be an apparent conflict-of-interest. Let’s say Snow were to approach Rather about writing his speech. If Rather refused, I imagine it would be out of professional integrity before any of the anti-americanism you’ve smeared all over the man.

  2. Big time (and by the way, Liberal leaning) Journalists will claim that they provide the greater service to their country by their broader service to humanity, and that through providing objective reporting and commentary.

    The example of Edward Murrow, in the instance you mention, suggests there may be another way.

    If there is a struggle against terror which may ultimately threaten all of civilized society or free peoples, maintaining objectivity is morally tantamount to neutrality.

    And neutrality in the face of true evil is immoral, and not as self-seving as it may seem. For if the evil is not vanquished, the objective reporter who stood aloof may find that there is no audience of free people left to inform.

  3. And now we’re chagrined because Japan and Germany hide behind the “no external military activities” clauses to duck international responsibilities, even with regards to their own security. Be careful what you demand, you might get it.

  4. Just once, do you think you could stop being a knee-jerk ideologue, and look at the larger issue?

    For instance, if Madeline Albright had asked for Rather’s help, and he had provided it, you’d be having a hissy fit — especially if Rather then reported on the Albright speech and gave it high marks.

    Personally, I think that what Murrow did was completely inappropriate if one reasonably assumes that he would be covering the impact of the speech in Europe.

    I also think that George Will’s participation in Reagan’s 1980 debate preparation, and subsequent praise on national television for Reagan’s debate performance, was inappropriate.

    Rather than take ideological potshots, why don’t you think about what you write first?

  5. I’d just like to note that Eisenhower’s did not include anything regarding Germanys religious preference or stance towards America. Seemingly a democratic state intensely disliking America was more of a victory than a tyrant state closely allied with us. Shiiaphobes take note.

  6. Yes, times have changed. I would prefer a Press that took a neutral stand towards the White House rather than the sort of support the Press afforded to the WH during the Roosevelt Administration or the reflexive hostility towards whomever is in the Oval Office that we seem to see now (you may quibble about whether Clinton got gentler treatment from the Press than, say, Reagan or Bush but, if my fading memory serves me, he didn’t receive a complete pass).

    I’m afraid it will take another generation of journalists before they forget that it’s possible to base a career on bringing a president down (if ever).

  7. The difference between then and now says more about the state of the country then about the state of journalism.

    Very, very few Americans were against the war effort. So, there was no controversy with Morrow, because it was truely inconceivable for an American to be opposed to the war effort or the administration.

    Today, we don’t enjoy that kind of national unity. Who’s to say what’s better or worse? Personaly, I think that kind of unity of national will can be scary. It’s useful when there’s an existential threat, like during WW2. Otherwise, it’s nice to have a rational opposition around to check national hubris and group think. Fortunately, this seems to be the natural state for Americans.

    Back to journalism… Dave has it right. Neutrality is not defined by being opposed. That’s why claims of media neutrality ring hollow. They bring it up only when it suits their needs.

  8. Can you imagine Dan Rather helping John Snow write a policy speech given from Baghdad?

    Sure. The speech would explain how the invasion of Iraq was revenge for Dan Rather’s interview of Nixon, back in Nineteen Whenever-the-Hell – a major turning point in world history. It would include quotes from the ghost of Edward R. Murrow, condemned to haunt the Men’s Room at CBS headquarters for all eternity.

  9. Kissinger had his own press allies helping him out; of course, he used them under the guise of asking for their advice. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of this today. Fox apparently asked the US military what it should emphasize in its reporting during the Iraq War. Whether you prefer that kind of journalism is up to you. As for me, I read the WH, State, and Pentagon press releases and articles on my own so I don’t need that kind of amplification.

  10. Germanys religious preference was almost exactly like that of the US so it is natural that Eisenhower wouldn’t want to change it.

  11. The comparison does not stand up very well. Didn’t Germany have tax financed religous activites before WWII and still does now? I do recall the Nazi’s being anti-Christian, but not interfering with the church. I recall Corpus Christie day being a state holiday in Bavaria and was told the church got a cut of the payroll taxes.

  12. Japan’s religious preferences were different from those of the United States. No attempt was made to change them after the war, and Japan, which does not always agree with the United States, has since then been peaceful because it is a democracy.

    We should recall, too, that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II might have exploited certain aspects of religion, but their wars were for national expansion, not for religion.

    Religion has its irrationality, occasionally deadly, but the biggest wars and the biggest “peacetime” atrocities have had nothing to do with religion.

    Bad faith isn’t the only problem to watch for. Bad ideas are what kill you.

  13. The Nazi’s, like many “revolutionaries” disliked the church. They even made their own Tuetonic religion with Fraulein nymphets running around in all but their birthday suits. The Nazi’s wanted to replace religion in the young with Nazi Socialist worship (The Hitler Young). And to some extent suceeded. The Nazi’s frequently interfered with the church (mostly via state approved vandelism).

  14. The Nazis didn’t like the church. They typically drafted suitable opposing members of the church into the Wehrmacht, to serve as chaplains. Others were sent to concentration camps.

    Really a nice bunch, the Nazis. By the way that is National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or NSDAP.

    In response to this, the church has two wings. The wing that supported the Nazis, and the wing opposed to them, or Confessing Church.


  15. Lurker revises history to use as a false crutch for a flawed argument. It took FDR two years of argument, an attack at Pearl Harbor, and a declaration of war by the Axis Powers to coerce the Congress to enter the global war. There were many Americans who opposed the war against Germany and insisted that we should join the war with Germany against Russia and the UK (Lindbergh, Kennedy, etc.). There were also some who opposed all war…. pretty much like today, when we have a strong contingency who side with the jihadists against American intervention and pre-emption (our own internal soft-insurgency). In addition, is it possible that Lurker does not recognize the external or existential threat from the growing global anti-western jihad? The difference between then and now is that back in our grandparents’ day, most Americans felt we had a country worth fighting for; whereas, today that number is diminished and those that are working for a country not worth fighting for are growing.

  16. Scale Prospector. It’s all a matter of scale. This applies to the amount of opposition and the size of the threat.

    Half of the country was not opposed to WW2. And the jihadis have not yet risen (or at least their perception?) to an exitential threat. Perhaps that is why there’s more opposition now?

  17. Frankly, since the atheistic socialists have a pile of murdered innocents that dwarfs all others, to stand in front of their mountain of 170+ Million skulls and point a finger at others….

    They are the worst of the worst, and are in no position to give advice to anyone.

    Either you value the right of the individual, or you dont.

    Something the authoritarian extremists of the right must be called to account for as well.

  18. A.L., there are parts of the story that I don’t think Beschloss tells all that well, but nonetheless, I think he gives you enough to realize just how bad an executive FDR actually was.

  19. You asked a few days ago what people thought about your site by posing three questions. One dealt with the tone of blogging. There seemed to be agreement that the tone was at the extreme level. I really happy to say that here it has toned down well and posters are starting to realize there are multiple points of view and failings on all sides of the political spectrum.

    As to the notion of what an American is, an American is a floating notion. In Ike’s time many American citizens were _legally_ treated as second class citizens in spite of laws to protect them yet they considered themselves Americans.

    In Murrows’ case having been a national correspondent before the war he was well aware that most Americans were isolationists. Whatever his own personal view was on Dec 7, 1941 it morphed into what just about everyone thought, Nazi Germany, Facist Italy and the Empire of Japan(The Axis) had to go. Every national actor was brought into some wing of the government to participate in a clear plan to defeat militarily the Axis. And he was as an American Journalist prepared to do that.

  20. How many will have to die at terrorist hands, Lurker, before you consider Islamic extremism and its attendant terrorism to be an existential threat? 3,000? 30,000? 300,000? 3,000,000? More?

  21. The jihadists themselves believe they pose such a threat. But because it’s not as overt as Nazi invasion or Soviet nuking, the American public is rather blasé about it all. It may indeed be that the present policy of pulling the state-support rug out from under the terror/jihadist groups will disrupt and disable them.

    Giving young elite Muslims something worthwhile in the way of public and economic lives to work for at home will go a lot further than chasing about the globe trying to squelch terror cells: cut off their food supply, and they will go nowhere. It’s not the poor that keep them going and growing, it’s the aimless.

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