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Today, editorial opinions focus on the home front.

Editorials move from trying to change the world to targeting community life.

A long, thoughtful, and delightfully preposterous letter to the editor in the Syracuse Herald-Journal of May 1, 1947, reaches an interesting conclusion about the film The Best Years of Our Lives.

The World War II veteran is "exploited to the extent that he unintentionally helps promote an element which is intended to destroy the very things he fought so valiantly to preserve for us," the writer says.

He argues that the film, which had won an Oscar for Best Picture, is really a clever piece of Communist propaganda from the dupes and fellow travelers in Hollywood.

The Red Menace becomes a recurring theme in a week's worth of editorial page tearsheets from nearly a half-century ago. Editors and readers alike missed no opportunity to denounce the Kremlin and its worldwide network of conspirators against freedom. The consensus was that despite American's longing for peace, a third world war seemed inevitable.

Coincidentally, World War II veterans figured prominently in an editorial during the parallel week of 1996: The editors expressed their satisfaction that seven heroes of that conflict finally would be recognized with Medals of Honor - recognition that had been denied them for more than 50 years because of racism.

The editorial voice of the Herald-Journal has moved an octave or so toward the bass end of the ideological keyboard since 1947. Still, some editorials from then could find a comfortable home on today's page: an unqualified endorsement of a proposal to create a Legal Aid Society, for example. And some comments from 1996 wouldn't have seemed radical to postwar readers: a condemnation of government-sponsored gambling, a lament at how little control school districts residents have over how their taxes are spent.

One conspicuous difference between then and now is that editorials have grown longer while letters to the editor have gotten shorter. The editorials of 1947 are not so much whole essays with a beginning, middle, and end as they are single-thought wisecracks on current news stories. They rouse an image of an overworked editorial writer thumbing through the paper and cranking out quick-hitters to fill up the next day's space.

In 1996, more attention is paid to local issues than in 1947. That's as it should be; that's where the newspapers' opinion can have a real impact. That's the most important improvement in the Herald Journal's editorial page.

All the editorials denouncing Stalin, written in all the Syracuses all over the country, did nothing to affect the course of international events. Stalin wasn't a subscriber.

Taking on the mayor is harder. If we don't get it right - or even if we do - we run the risk of bruising the feelings of some very important people: the readers. But we also have the chance to affect community life in substantial ways.

It's worth the hard work, worth the risk.

NCEW member Peter Lyman is editorial page editor for the Syracuse Herald-Journal and Syracuse Herald American.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lyman, Peter
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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