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Beat the devil.

"Reagan wants to remove the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, not oust them." This was Connie Chung on an NBC "Newsbreak" the night of Reagan's press conference, when he gave up pretending and said straightforwardly he wanted to invade. Chung's line pretty accurately sums up the relationship of the U.S. media to Reagan in these dark days. They will parrot, mostly without criticism, anything he says, however ludicrous it might be. You have to go back to the Nazis to find expressions of thuggish intent so laced with ignorance and mendacity as those made by Reagan and George Shultz in recent days. And the press is utterly complicit and utterly cowed.

The left says that in the case of an invasion of Nicaragua, it will resist. This is playing Reagan's game. For months he has been accomplishing an invasion but calling it something else. Now, after the press conference, the left should say straight out that the United States has declared war on Nicaragua and that all pledges of resistance are operational.

What Did You Do in the Cold War, Daddy?

I sit down and draft a preposterously long telegram--some eight thousand words, if I remember correctly. . . . I seem to have aroused a strain of emotional and self-righteous anti-Sovietism which in later years I will wish I had not aroused.

This is George Kennan, describing in The New Yorker for February 25 how bad he feels about helping start the cold war. He is still vaguely surprised that the U.S. ruling elite in 1946 was not displeased to get an 8,000-word telegram urging "containment" of the Soviet threat. Now, like Adm. Hyman Rickover and William Colby and all the other reformed souls going back to Gen. Smedley ("I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism") Butler, Kennan says he's sorry. But he was a bad guy when it counted, and "self-righteous anti-Sovietism" has never been in better shape.

These self-righteous anti-Sovietists have a tricky moment coming up on May 8, the fortieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazism. The problem is how to avoid mentioning that the Soviet Union had more than a little to do with that defeat. The easiest way is to do just that--avoid it. The way the fortieth anniversary of the Yalta agreement was handled in the press and on TV a few weeks ago is a pretty good guide to what will happen in May. The burden of this commentary was basically that the meeting between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin was one in which a trusting Roosevelt, over the protests of Churchill, was duped by Stalin into ratifying the enslavement of millions.

This absurd thesis has always been advanced by the merchants of rollback, but it's being advocated with more than usual intensity by those who contend that all arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union are a mistake. "Look on Yalta," they say, "and beware."

There seems to be considerable ignorance about what actually happened at Yalta. In The Wall Street Journal for February 7, the erratic oligomath Paul Johnson--the only man I know with clenched hair--wrote, "At Yalta the Western powers agreed (at Stalin's request) to deliver their devastating double air strike on Dresden, Germany, precisely to encourage the Soviet armored thrusts." As a matter of fact, Stalin took the sensible view that bombing was of little military utility ("Bombs and rockets rarely find their target," as he put it) and would scarcely have been militarily "encouraged" by the terror-bombing of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were crammed into Dresden when the Allied planes struck, or by the U.S. Mustangs that returned the following day to machine-gun the fugitive survivors. The Americans and the British bombed Dresden to demonstrate to the Russians, who were bearing the brunt of the fighting, what would now be called by the Reagan gang "resolve" and "will."

On NBC Nightly News for February 4, Tom Brokaw announced that in the view of "critics," the agreement at Yalta was a "brutal division that gave Joseph Stalin and the Russians an advantage they could never have won on their own." That was an odd way of putting it. The truth is that the Russians had fought the Germans back through Eastern Europe and thus had won an advantage entirely on their own.

Brokaw then introduced Garrick Utley, who announced that he was "here in Torgau, on the banks of the Elbe." Forty years ago, Utley said, Europe was divided by the superpowers, and "the people of Torgau had no voice in that." Considering that the people of Torgau had been led up to then by Hitler and had suffered the misfortune of being on the losing side, this was scarcely surprising.

The notion that Stalin behaved in a beastly fashion to the Germans was also suggested by a February 8 news story in The Wall Street Journal: "After World War II Stalin politically terrorized and economically exploited Eastern Europe, especially East Germany. Whole factories were disassembled and sent back to the Soviet Union." What did they expect, goodwill visits from the Bolshoi? Germany had just claimed at least 20 million Russian lives. The shipment of factories, reparations agreed to by the Allies, seems a rather genteel penalty, and perhaps in better taste than the West's idea, which was to ship Nazi war criminals in good working order--not even disassembled--to safety in the United States or Latin America.

"By agreeing to divide a defeated Germany" at Yalta, Utley said, "the deed was done." The problem here is that they didn't agree to divide Germany at Yalta. There were zones of military occupation. Formal division came much later. Gen. Lucius Clay's decision to institute a separate currency in West Germany in 1948 and the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany the following year are more relevant than what Utley imagines happened at Yalta.

Roosevelt was no dupe bamboozled, despite Churchill's efforts, by Stalin. He saw the Yalta agreement as a realistic acknowledgment of postwar spheres of influence in which the United States did very well, the British less well and in which Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe was duly recognized. The Western allies came out of Yalta justifiably pleased with the results, which included the Soviet Union's agreement to enter the war against Japan and thus deal with the near-million-strong Kwantung Army in Manchuria. The idea that Roosevelt and Churchill had a profound interest in democracy, in contrast to Stalin's brutish designs, is grotesque, as a scrutiny of their effoprts to save the pro-fascist monarchies of Italy and Greece speedily attests.

The founding of the United Nations was also settled at Yalta, but Brokaw, Utley and Johnson did not mention the fact. It is not fashionable in the American media to say anything civil about the United Nations.

It's hard to know what the denouncers of Yalta would prefer to have happened. If you start by refusing to accept that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the fighting, and was mainly responsible for the defeat of fascism, then you end by ignoring the realities of the war and prating nonsense about "betrayal" and Roosevelt's "innocence" at Yalta, as if Churchill had not already accepted those realities a year earlier in Moscow in the famous agreement with Stalin on spheres of influence. Of course, many in the Reagan gang agree with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that the best way to remember Yalta in 1985 is to encourage Silesian Germans to recover the "lost territories" in Poland and that the way to arouse the masses in Eastern Europe is to transmit anti-Semitic broadcasts, as Radio Liberty had been doing with such zest.

That's Show Business

Dr. William C. DeVries, the heart switcher, is complaining about all the coverage. He says that some candidates for artificial hearts have backed out of the operation--have chosen to die, that is--rather than face the publicity. But even though William Schroeder and Murray Haydon may chafe, they can't do much about it because publicity is exactly what Humana, the health-care conglomerate backing DeVries, is looking for. Last year Humana had profits of $193 million on revenues of $2.6 billion and had a successful bond offering of $200 million in August. There are so many transmission satellite dishes outside the Humana Louisville hospital that it looks like the Pentagon roof.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the nation's death rate has dropped to a record low and that Americans can expect to live longer than ever. On February 12 The New York Times ran an Associated Press story about the 1982 mortality statistics, headed "Life Expectancy at New U.S. High." The A.P. story was pretty upbeat, and you had to read carefully the ninth paragraph--beginning with the news that infant mortality (deaths within the first year) in the United States is at an all-time low--to see that although the rate of mortality for white infants dropped 4 percent from 1981, the rate for black babies went up 2 percent, to 20 deaths per 1,000 live births, almost exactly double the rate for white children.

So if the editor at The Times had cared to class-angle his headline, it could have read, "Reagan Bad for Black Babies." He could have rewritten the lead to say:

Figures released today by the National Center for Health Statistics dramatically highlighted the bitter impact on the poor of two years of Reagan cutbacks in social spending. Malnutrition and inadequate health care are taking a toll on the most defenseless members of society, poor black mothers and their embryos.

That's Reaganism for you: let the embryo come to term and then allow the magic of the free market to do it in with a supply-side postpartum abortion.

Who says the newspapers report only the bad news? On February 24, The Times ran a story on its front page headed "Decline Slowing for Death Rate of U.S. Infants," by Robert Pear. The lead was fairly decorous, announcing, "Federal officials say they are concerned about a slowdown of the nation's infant mortality rate." Pear went on to report that government health officials are worried because the once-steady decline in infant mortality, which fell from 24.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1965 to slightly less than 11 deaths per 1,000 in 1983, it "stabilizing." We had to wait until the twenty-fourth paragraph of a thirty-three paragraph story to get the rate for black infants--19.6 per 1,000 this time--but Pear did quote the Public Health Service as reporting that though infant mortality in the first month of life is still declining, it is increasing for infants in the next eleven months.

The difference between white and black infant mortality rates is the same now as it was in 1962, before the establishment of Medicaid and other social reforms. The Reagan Administration has cut Medicaid and nutrition and health programs for mothers and infants. Federal officials pronounce themselves baffled by the slowdown and are thinking of calling in Sherlock Holmes. Pear took care to note, "No one has proved that the cutbacks led to additional infant mortality."

There you have it, the Reagan revolution: rising black infant mortality, rising teen-age suicide and an economy acknowledged to be "booming" by the media although the unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent. When cold war demographers thought they had detected an increase in Soviet infant mortality in the late 1970s, there was a rash of articles deducing from this the failure of the Soviet system. Considering s that this is budget time and the Reagan Administration is planning to kill a whole lot more infants, a naive observer might think that there would be more of a commotion about this baby murder. The sophisticated observer knows that Reagan, along with most newspaper editors and TV producers, isn't too unhappy about rising black infant mortality. Not really unhappy, the way they are about Lockheed's cost overruns on toilet seats to be used by U.S. troops invading Nicaragua or about the possible collapse of the Anzus alliance. Get them off the welfare rolls and into the mortuaries.
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Title Annotation:critique of the press
Author:Cockburn, Alexander
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 9, 1985
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