A BOOK REVIEW ON “THE PRESS AND THE COLD WAR

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                                   Paul Brodoway ( Alberta, Canada)

The University of Alberta

Секція (Етно-, соціо- та психолінгвістика у навчанні професійної англійської)

A BOOK REVIEW ON “THE PRESS AND THE COLD WAR”

 Статтю присвячено огляду проблеми взаємозв’язку американського уряду та преси, що порушується в книзі «Преса та холодна війна» Джеймса Аронсона

Ключові слова: холодна війна, преса, уряд, політика.

 Статья посвящена  проблеме взаимосвязи американского правительства и прессы, чтоподнимается в книге «Пресса и холодная война» Джеймса Аронсона

Ключевые слова: холодная война, пресса, правительство, политика.

 This article is devotedto the problem of the relationships between the American governmentand the pressraised inthe book “ThePressand the Cold War” by JamesAronson

Keywords: cold war, the press, the government, policy.

James Aronson is one of those rare breed of men who did not allow ambition to get in the way of his principles.  A graduate of Harvard and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, he discovered, soon after entering the world of journalism, there existed amongst the major newspapers, “censorship so subtle that it was invisible.”  This led him to quit working for the commercial press and to become involved in the alternative press.

Aronson became a founding member of the National Guardian in 1948, and eventually its editor.  His analysis of Cold War Journalism, in which he focuses on the relationships between the American government, the military and the press, as each struggles to deal with the menace of communism, is insightful, revealing and objective.  As a result of his analysis, Aronson contends that after World War II the press became “to a large degree the voluntary arm of established power.” (24)

After reading The Press and the Cold War, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could finish reading this interesting and provocative work without being influenced towards a reconsideration of the various topics discussed in the book, such as Truman’s victory over Dewey, McCarthyism, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis and the Viet Nam War.  Because Aronson relies upon extensive quotations from leading American newspapers to support his thesis that the press is the voluntary arm of established power, he is able to cite specific instances to add further weight to his argument.  He provides a particularly revealing account of the hysteria that the press whipped up against Henry Wallace.

Wallace had been Vice President of the United States when America entered World War II, but Roosevelt found it politically expedient to replace him with Harry Truman in 1944.  In 1948 Wallace decided to run for the Presidency, but refused to follow Truman’s example of taking a tough stand against Communism in order to avoid being labelled as soft on communism.  Largely as a result of his stand, Wallace was derided by the press, and many of his followers were pelted with eggs and tomatoes at the National convention of their party.

Interestingly, the policies proposed by Wallace were warmly received in Moscow, so that United States Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith felt constrained to call on foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov to emphasize that the policies advocated by Wallace would never be implemented by the United States.  At the end of his bristling statement he offered to leave the way open for further dialogue so as to reduce tensions between Russia and America.  This platitudinous statement was given without the expectation that Molotov would respond favourably to it.  When Molotov offered to talk immediately about settling difficulties between the two countries, Washington was so taken back that the situation became embarrassing because it became obvious that the Americans had no intention of talking things out.  The headline in the Los Angeles Times read “Russian Note Arouses Suspicion of Truman”. (42) This loss of equilibrium by the American press was short lived as the very same evening another Los Angeles paper boldly stated that: “U.S. Won’t Bow to Russ.” (42)

The above account is one of a number of accounts that Aronson uses to show how the American press worked to suppress meaningful dialogue between the two sides in the cold war.  He gives a chilling description of how the press cooperated with the government in 1949  to suppress, “a nationwide organization of progressive-minded intellectuals and artists,” (52) the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions when the Council called for a conference on world peace in order to reduce cold war tensions.  In this particular case the press did not find it difficult to stoop to exclusionary tactics to strangle meaningful dialogue amongst the public while going out of its way to misrepresent the conference delegates, through the levelling of numerous unsubstantiated charges.  Exclusion and misrepresentation were used by the press in this particular instance and are given by Aronson as the essential means used by the press to stifle informed speech.

In his analysis of the press coverage of the North Korean war, Aronson presents a credible hypothesis that the war was initiated by the South Koreans and the American military had a vested interest to not allow this to become public knowledge.  Also the American government and military, in order to gain an advantage in public opinion, dragged on the peace negotiations so that they could paint the North Koreans as recalcitrant and opposed to a reasonable settlement of the war.

Aronson’s assessment of American press coverage in the Viet Nam War is enlightening.  He does not treat the war as an attempt on the part of Americans to fight Communism, but as a war waged by the American government to prevent the self-determinism of a people by reducing them to mere pawns on the chessboard of American foreign policy. (207)  He describes the commercial press’ participation in the step by step process which led, despite continuous reassurances of imminent victory, to a build up of forces that reached a half million American troops.  Aronson then shows how the press was later “enlisted in the propaganda effort to portray “Hanoi and Peking” as standing against negotiations to bring peace to South Vietnam.” (219)  After Johnston sanctioned the heavy bombing of North Vietnam journalists made it appear that the United States had “no alternative but to bomb Hanoi to the peace table.” (259)  Complicity by journalists to print what the government and the military wanted the public to know was not due just to misplaced patriotism but was in part due to the legacy of the Kennedy era.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, John Kennedy delivered a get tough speech to the American media.  In his speech, he emphasized that the United States was for all intents and purposes involved in a relentless war with an enemy whose “war time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.” (162)  Towards the end of his speech Kennedy asked that every newspaper consider with respect to every story it printed, not just, “Is it news”, but to always keep in mind the question, “Is it in the interest of national security.” (162)  Kennedy succeeded in blurring the line between the acceptability of press censorship during wartime and the unacceptability of censorship during peacetime.

Aronson does not enter into a discussion as to why the press would have accepted self-censorship; he does provide an important clue as to why it was so willing to do so.  In his discussion of McCarthyism, he describes how at the end: “McCarthy had been assigned to oblivion by the established power.” (85)  Aronson then explains why McCarthy was no longer news: “The time had come to rule out the McCarthy method.  It was no longer needed–the job had been done and McCarthyism-without-fanfare had become prevailing policy.”  In effect McCarthy was only a pawn who was used to bring about the institutionalization of government policy. (85)

Aronson concludes his book by first emphasizing that the “public must become the watchdog of the watchdog” (278) He tries to be optimistic about the future, but as his optimism is still rooted in reality, it is at best lukewarm.  Personally, like Aronson, I am not that optimistic that the commercial press is willing to fully inform the public as to the real issues that need to be addressed in the search for true democracy.  Aronson has presented a too frightening revelation of how easily the press can be manipulated in times of supposed crisis to believe that journalists, as a group, can of themselves become leaders in the march to real democracy.  Real democracy requires that all participants agree to fair-play and not pretend to be doing so.  To me, the account of Molotov’s willingness to actually talk peace and the American’s only pretending to want to talk peace illustrates how the American government and the military were using the media, and especially the press, to stage manage the cold war so as to ultimately obtain the unconditional surrender of the Communist world.  Meaningful dialogue was therefore impossible and the press naively or intentionally refused to acknowledge this fact.

I therefore agree with Aronsons’s thesis that the press has allowed itself to become a willing instrument of established power.  Aronson does not draw out the relevant conclusions from his implications of the press’s willingness to become an instrument of established power because he has limited his discussion, and perhaps rightly so, to an exposition of how the press provided a biased account of the actual issues central to a proper resolution of the Cold War.  Many would argue that the Cold War has already been resolved but it is difficult to believe that deception practiced on such a massive scale as revealed in this book can lead to true peace.

This raises the question, how does the public determine the true motives of its leaders when the press is not truly desirous of evaluating the actions of government?  Is vigilance of itself sufficient to ensure that the truth is told?  Aronson has not hesitated to present the truth, but freedom has a price and Aronson does not indicate what price must be paid for a truly free press to exist in the United States of America.  His book is still a great study for students of history, journalism, political science or anyone searching for a greater understanding of the Cold War.

Відомості про авторів: Бродовей Пол — магістр історії Альбертського університету, бакалавр теології Коледжу Олдерсгейт, запрошений викладач англійської мови у Національному університеті «Острозька академія».

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