I learned something today by reading on the Internet the Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture delivered on December 7, 2019 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. As a young girl growing up in Poland in the 1960s and the 1970s, a country at that time still under communist rule until 1989, she was often listening to the radio. As she described it, radio was her “great childhood companion.” In her Nobel speech, Tokarczuk mentioned hearing programs from all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris.

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

Literature Laureate Olga Tokarczuk
Photo: Clément Morin

The first photograph I ever experienced consciously is a picture of my mother from before she gave birth to me. Unfortunately, it’s a black-and-white photograph, which means that many of the details have been lost, turning into nothing but gray shapes. The light is soft, and rainy, likely a springtime light, and definitely the kind of light that seeps in through a window, holding the room in a barely perceptible glow. My mom is sitting beside our old radio, and it’s the kind with a green eye and two dials—one to regulate the volume, the other for finding a station.

Photo by Dušan Tatomirović

This radio later became my great childhood companion; from it I learned of the existence of the cosmos. Turning an ebony knob shifted the delicate feelers of the antennae, and into their purview fell all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris. Sometimes, however, the sound would falter, as though between Prague and New York, or Moscow and Madrid, the antennae’s feelers stumbled onto black holes. Whenever that happened, it sent shivers down my spine. I believed that through this radio different solar systems and galaxies were speaking to me, crackling and warbling and sending me important information, and yet I was unable to decipher it.

News and literature in the age of the Internet

By Ted Lipien

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

I have never met Olga Tokarczuk and never had a chance to interview her, but in 1984, when I was working for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service broadcasting from Washington D.C., I interviewed for the radio the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Czesław Miłosz, a Polish poet of the World War II generation who had spent a good portion of his life living in exile in the United States before his death in 2004. His and Tokarczuk’s political outlook based on liberal ideas guiding their creative writing is similar, but the books they wrote express their interest in people and human events by looking at them from different angles and using different literary forms. One common theme uniting them is that Miłosz like Tokarczuk wanted to be a witness to history and was committed to preserving historical truth.

Now that I know about Olga Tokarczuk’s early fascination with radio, if I had had a chance to interview her, I would have wanted to ask her whether in her teenage years she had listened to Polish programs of Radio Free Europe, the BBC and the Voice of America as they had a great impact on me when I was growing up in Poland in the 1960s. Born in 1962, she could have heard these broadcasts if her mother had listened to them, as millions of Poles did at that time, or she may have started listening to them a few years later on her own, but she did not mention these stations by name in her Nobel Lecture. I wonder what she thought about life in Poland before the fall of communism. Did it bother her to be lied to about history by Communist Party officials and regime journalists? Did she at any time want to leave Poland and live in the West? Could she have become a great Polish writer if she had emigrated? Czesław Miłosz went into exile in the early 1950s, but he was already at that time a well-known poet in Poland.

By joining the Voice of America staff in 1973 as a young trainee-broadcaster after emigrating to the United States from Poland three years earlier, I tried to repay my debt of gratitude to the Western radio stations for giving me an honest portrayal of history. Radio was then the most powerful medium for instant international communication with nations whose rulers did not want theirs populations to receive outside news. Communist regimes resorted to jamming radio signals of these stations but without much success. Radio was the only way for journalists in the West to reach large numbers of people living in Poland under communism and is was largely the only way for the Poles to get uncensored news and information although some of them lived through World War II and experienced post-war communist repressions or they could learn about history from their parents and some of the more school teachers who were willing to take risks and teach true history to students. I had two such teachers in my youth.

In her lecture, Tokarczuk made some interesting observations how the media world has changed since the arrival of the Internet.

The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes. Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words.

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

There are now millions of sources of what is described as “news.“ Practically everyone with access to the world wide web can be a provider of either true knowledge or fake news, sometimes to hundreds of thousands or millions of people at practically no cost. During World War II and the Cold War, usually only governments could afford the high price of high-power transnational shortwave radio transmissions of news programs. Now, almost anyone can play the role of a journalist or a commentator. For the money totalitarian and authoritarian regimes spent before on radio transmissions, they can now hire at much less expense an army of anonymous trolls to manipulate public opinion at home and abroad.

Journalism is only as good and as honest as the people who deliver the news. Had Tokarczuk been alive during World War II and listened to wartime Voice of America broadcasts, she would have heard pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin propaganda delivered from the United States in Polish by such journalists as Mira Złotowska and Stefan Arski who later went back to Poland to work for the communist state media, or she would have heard English news written by the Stalin Peace Prize future winner, American communist author Howard Fast. However, if she had listened to the Voice of America during her youth from the 1960s until the 1980s, she would have heard the programs of the famous World War II anti-Nazi Polish underground army fighter and anti-Communist VOA broadcaster Zofia Korbońska. Had she listened to Radio Free Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s, she would have heard not only political news, but also the RFE music program, “Rendez-vous at 6:10,” hosted by Janusz Hewel. I had tuned to his program regularly in my youth and later worked with him when he was hired by the Voice of America moved to Washington, DC. She mentioned listening to Radio Luxembourg. The station was famous among teenagers in Poland for its music programs.

When it came to political news and information, the message was then, as it is now, only as good as the messenger. Tokarczuk believes that in the current informational chaos filled with hate speech, feel-good stories and fake news, literature can help readers find a deeper understanding of the world by providing a broader context in which humans look at themselves and interact which each other. In remembrance of her mother, she titled her lecture “The Tender Narrator,” hoping perhaps that she may encourage more people to communicate with love rather than hatred. Her advice may be much more difficult to apply to short-form journalism and to social media posts on the web, but journalists should pay attention to her words. Tokarczuk has received anonymous death threats on social media from fringe anti-Semitic Polish extremists. I also saw respected Voice of America journalists in the United States publicly posting a video with the VOA logo condoning violence against an American politician. The Polish extremists are almost certainly not journalists, and some of them may be Vladimir Putin’s trolls, but both in the United States and in Poland, social media outlets have contributed to destroying among journalists and other Internet users many previously observed limits of personal and journalistic decency, not to mention journalistic accuracy and objectivity.

To my disappointment, I did not find last week on the Voice of America English news website any coverage of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture. When international news radio broadcasting was still popular, it may seem now that it was a much better medium for practicing good and comprehensive journalism, allowing for a more nuanced presentation of facts and opinions than the Internet has done so far. That may be true to some degree. VOA’s radio journalists were focused not only on delivering news censored behind the Iron Curtain but also on presenting and explaining ideas behind the news. The Internet, however, has far more information that can be instantly accessed in much less time than the radio was able to provide during the Cold War. The problem is not the amount of information but people’s ability to find accurate news and, more importantly, find an objective analysis. During the Cold War, radio listeners learned to trust some of the individual broadcasters and reject those they disagreed with, just as they do now, but now their sources of information are almost limitless, confusing, and often anonymous or operating under false flags.

For better or for worse, the era of international radio broadcasting is largely gone, as it has been replaced now in most countries by Internet-based platforms of trans-border communication. Such trans-border communication in itself is also becoming less relevant in most countries for many news consumers interested in domestic issues, unless it is managed by journalists living in diaspora who are in touch with their audience and have in-country news contacts on a daily basis. In general, people prefer the ease of using domestic media and domestic information sources for both domestic and foreign news over media outlets run by foreign governments or other foreign entities. This was also the case for practical rand technical reasons during the Cold War, but people behind the Iron Curtain knew then that not all news from domestic sources was accurate and that much of it was disinformation and propaganda. They had to rely on stations such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the BBC or the Voice of America to be fully informed.

Thanks to the Internet, dissident journalists can now reach their audience in most countries and still remain independent from any inside or outside government support. They can be working in their own countries or abroad. There are still, however, states such as China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Iran and Russia, where many dissident journalists are in prison. Many journalists have been victims of assassinations. Hundreds of millions of poor people still have no Internet or mobile phones. If had a chance to interview Olga Tokarczuk, I would have asked her how she would propose to bring more decency to journalism and how she would want to communicate her message to help journalists in countries without a free media in their struggle for universal human rights. Would her message be different for countries such as the United States and Poland which have a free media and free speech? Olga Tokarczuk’s idea of relying on literature to expand understanding of other people’s emotions and actions is a correct one, but what would be her advice for journalists in the era of the Internet?

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

How we think about the world and—perhaps even more importantly—how we narrate it have a massive significance, therefore. A thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes. This is a fact well known to not only historians, but also (and perhaps above all) to every stripe of politician and tyrant. He who has and weaves the story is in charge.

Today our problem lies—it seems—in the fact that we do not yet have ready narratives not only for the future, but even for a concrete now, for the ultra-rapid transformations of today’s world. We lack the language, we lack the points of view, the metaphors, the myths and new fables. Yet we do see frequent attempts to harness rusty, anachronistic narratives that cannot fit the future to imaginaries of the future, no doubt on the assumption that an old something is better than a new nothing, or trying in this way to deal with the limitations of our own horizons. In a word, we lack new ways of telling the story of the world.

John Amos Comenius, the great seventeenth-century pedagogue, coined the term “pansophism,” by which he meant the idea of potential omniscience, universal knowledge that would contain within it all possible cognition. This was also, and above all, a dream of information available to everyone. Would not access to facts about the world transform an illiterate peasant into a reflective individual conscious of himself and the world? Will not knowledge within easy reach mean that people will become sensible, that they will direct the progress of their lives with equanimity and wisdom?

When the Internet first came about, it seemed that this notion would finally be realized in a total way. Wikipedia, which I admire and support, might have seemed to Comenius, like many like-minded philosophers, the fulfillment of the dream of humanity—now we can create and receive an enormous store of facts being ceaselessly supplemented and updated that is democratically accessible to just about every place on Earth.

A dream fulfilled is often disappointing. It has turned out that we are not capable of bearing this enormity of information, which instead of uniting, generalizing and freeing, has differentiated, divided, enclosed in individual little bubbles, creating a multitude of stories that are incompatible with one another or even openly hostile toward each other, mutually antagonizing.

Furthermore, the Internet, completely and unreflectively subject to market processes and dedicated to monopolists, controls gigantic quantities of data used not at all pansophically, for the broader access to information, but on the contrary, serving above all to program the behavior of users, as we learned after the Cambridge Analytica affair. Instead of hearing the harmony of the world, we have heard a cacophony of sounds, an unbearable static in which we try, in despair, to pick up on some quieter melody, even the weakest beat. The famous Shakespeare quote has never been a better fit than it is for this cacophonous new reality: more and more often, the Internet is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

Research by political scientists unfortunately also contradicts John Amos Comenius’ intuitions, which were based on the conviction that the more universally available was information about the world, the more politicians would avail themselves of reason and make considered decisions. But it would appear that the matter is not at all so simple as that. Information can be overwhelming, and its complexity and ambiguity give rise to all sorts of defense mechanisms—from denial to repression, even to escape into the simple principles of simplifying, ideological, party-line thinking.

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

In this ardent division into truth and falsehood, the tales of our experience that literature creates have their own dimension.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Thus literature poses questions that cannot be answered with the help of Wikipedia, since it goes beyond just information and events, referring directly to our experience.

But it is possible that the novel and literature in general are becoming before our very eyes something actually quite marginal in comparison with other forms of narration. That the weight of the image and of new forms of directly transmitting experience—film, photography, virtual reality—will constitute a viable alternative to traditional reading. Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

I don’t want to sketch an overall vision of crisis in telling stories about the world. But I’m often troubled by the feeling that there is something missing in the world―that by experiencing it through glass screens, and through apps, somehow it becomes unreal, distant, two-dimensional, and strangely non-descript, even though finding any particular piece of information is astoundingly easy. These days the worrying words “someone, “something,” “somewhere,” “some time” can seem riskier than very specific, definite ideas uttered with complete certainty―such as that “the earth is flat,” “vaccinations kill,” “climate change is nonsense,” or “democracy is not under threat anywhere in the world.” “Somewhere” some people are drowning as they try to cross the sea. “Somewhere,” for “some” time, “some sort of” a war has been going on. In the deluge of information individual messages lose their contours, dissipate in our memory, become unreal and vanish.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

For full text of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture, see:

Olga Tokarczuk Nobel Lecture: The Tender Narrator

Previous ArticleNext Article
N.

New York Times covers Biden in Warsaw from Berlin

Opinia.US SAN FRANCISCO — It is not a good time for Poland in Washington and in U.S. media. The New York Times covered Vice President Biden’s visit to Warsaw from Berlin. It could have been worse; the report could have been filed from Moscow or the paper could have used a short AP story, as did The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and almost all other major U.S. newspapers.

The fact that Vice President Biden went to Warsaw to reassure the Poles about American security commitments to Poland was partly due to earlier negative media coverage in the U.S. of President Obama’s decision to scrap missile defense plans in Central Europe initiated by President Bush. Thanks to the ineptitude of the White House and the State Department public relations experts and diplomats, the announcement of the decision by President Obama on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland actually helped to elevate U.S. media coverage of the whole issue and may have resulted in Biden’s trip to the region.

But U.S. media interest in Biden’s trip is limited. There is still a great reluctance on the part of liberal papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post to engage in any serious questioning or criticism of of President Obama’s foreign policy. Also, in general, U.S. media does not pay much attention to vice presidents.

A visit by the vice president was the best Poland could hope for. Biden is far more interested in Central Europe than Obama, but the president is likely to continue his rapprochement with the Kremlin. It’s difficult to say whether his worldview will allow him to conclude at some point that Moscow is not interested in improving relations with the U.S. or in helping him in Iran. For now, he is using Biden to prevent a major loss of electoral support for himself and the Democratic Party from Americans with Polish and other Central European backgrounds, while still trying to implement his policy toward Russia.

Poland, of course, has no choice but to wait out this difficult period in relations with its only real political and military ally. American presidents do not govern forever, and American people would not tolerate a major sellout of Central Europe to Russia, as they did during President Roosevelt’s last years in office. What Poland needs is more critical U.S. media coverage of President Obama’s foreign policy and much greater involvement of the Polish American community in the public debate of these issues.

Polish Americans can only feel sorry for Prime Minister Tusk who had no choice but to repeat Vice President Biden’s undiplomatic talking points, which bordered on being offensive. Poland cannot afford not to have a good relationship with the U.S., particularly with the president who has very little interest in Poland and in Central Europe but is quite focused on Russia.

Some U.S. analysts, who may have been briefed off the record by the Obama White House, have suggested that Vice President Biden’s visit to Central Europe was meant as a subtle warning to Moscow. That is highly unlikely judging from on the record comments to reporters by Biden’s national security advisor Tony Blinken. His remarks were clearly designed to let the Poles know that they should not try to interfere with President Obama’s attempts to improve relations with the Kremlin.

During the trip, Europe will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that effectively signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War in Europe and around the world. Adding to his earlier problems with comprehending European and world history, President Obama cancelled his plan to attend the anniversary ceremony in Berlin.

“The vice president’s going to mark the moment, but his focus is going to be much more on the future than on the past,” Biden’s aide Tony Blinken said before the vice-presidential trip to Poland. “In his view, the real validation of 1989 is less in what we took down and more in what we built and continue to build together: strong democracies, strong partnerships that deliver for people in all of our countries and beyond.”

This comment reflects the Obama Administration’s thinking that Central European leaders and societies are too focused on history and are too fearful of Russia. Sounding more like an “Ugly American” than a member of the administration that promised a new, sensitive approach to dealing with other nations, Blinken also said that “The United States is thinking about the region less in terms of what we can do for Central Europe and more in terms of what we can do with Central Europe.”

“The countries are no longer ‘post-communist,’ or ‘in transition’; they are full-fledged members of the NATO alliance and the European Union, with serious and substantial responsibilities,” Blinken said. He failed to mention that while Poland has carried a heavy burden for the U.S. in Iraq, in Afganistan and in Central Europe, President Obama refused a Polish invitation to attend the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, made repeated comments about “resetting” relations with Russia, and made many Central Europeans highly nervous by cancelling the Bush missile plans.

Poor Prime Minister Tusk repeated Biden’s talking points almost word for word. He had no choice.

Contrary to news reports, Vice President Biden did not come on a fence-mending mission. He and his security advisor told the Poles to expect less from America, to get over Cold War and World War II history, and on top of it, to accept more responsibilities for supporting democracy in the region because President Obama does not want to look bad to the Kremlin by doing it himself. Hence his decision not to go to the fall of the Berlin Wall commemoration.

Critics had said that the Bush Administration was harsh and undiplomatic in dealing with other countries. It did not even come close to the level of arrogance shown by senior Obama Administration officials in dealing with Poland. Unfortunately, due to limited interest and limited U.S. media coverage, most Americans are still not aware of this shameful treatment of one of America’s closest ally.

Koniec wiadomości/analizy Opinia.US. Można ją opublikować z powołaniem się na Opinia.US. End of Opinia.US report/analysis. Opinia.US reports/analyses may be republished with attribution.

Creative Commons License
Ten tekst by Opinia.US is licensed under a Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa 3.0 Stany Zjednoczone License.

Creative Commons License
This work by Opinia.US is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Your email:

 

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Opinia.US

U.

U.S. Congressman on Katyn Massacre Coverup at Voice of America

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
September 17, 2017

On April 13, 1943 Radio Berlin (Reichssender Berlin) broadcast official news of the German Nazi government that German military forces in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, in the then German-occupied region of the Soviet Union, had uncovered a ditch that was “28 metres long and 16 metres wide [92 ft by 52 ft], in which the bodies of 3,000 Polish officers were piled up in 12 layers”. The Germans blamed the murders on the Soviets. The Soviet government blamed it on the Germans — in this case a blatantly false Soviet accusation designed to cover up the mass murders which had been committed by the secret Soviet police NKVD on the orders of Stalin and the Politburo in April and May 1940.

The Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn Forest massacre was, however, accepted and promoted by the Roosevelt administration, including the Voice of America (VOA) despite evidence available to President Roosevelt and the Office of War Information (OWI) officials who were in charge of overseas VOA broadcasting and domestic U.S. government propaganda that the Soviets were the likely perpetrators of the mass murders. OWI officials, including its director Elmer Davis, repeated Soviet propaganda on Katyn not only overseas but also in domestic broadcasts in the United States. OWI officials, including future U.S. Senator from California Aland Cranston, tried to intimidate and censor some of the American media outlets, most of them Polish American radio stations and newspapers, which attempted to report truthfully to Americans on the Soviet crime.

During April-May 1940, thousands of Polish prisoners of war in Soviet captivity were moved from their internment camps and taken to three execution sites, one of them being the Katyn Forest. The total number of Polish POWs executed by the Soviets in the spring of 1940 is now estimated to be over 20,000. Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors; 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. 1

September 17, 1939 is the date of the invasion of eastern Poland by the Soviet Union under the secret provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also know as the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which launched World War II on September 1, 1939. After Hitler betrayed Stalin and Soviet Russia eventually became a major military ally of the United States in the war with Nazi Germany, the Roosevelt administration used the Office of War Information, where radio programs of what would become known later as the Voice of America originated (during the war the VOA name was not yet officially used), to hide the origins of the German-Soviet attack on Poland in September 1939 and to help cover up Stalin’s crimes. Many members of the U.S. Congress, however, both during and immediately after World War II, kept warning about the secret collusion between the Roosevelt administration and the Soviet Union.

Close cooperation between Soviet and American government propagandists and employment of Soviet agents of influence at the wartime Voice of America helped to obscure the betrayal of U.S. allies and democratic values at the February 1945 Yalta Conference between President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The betrayal was accompanied by U.S. government’s pro-Russian propaganda and censorship of information to prevent Americans and foreign audiences from learning about the true nature of Soviet communism and Stalin’s intentions to subjugate Central and Eastern Europe. While protecting Stalin and Russia from criticism was excused by some during the war as dictated by military necessity, it was harder to excuse continuing coverup of Stalinist crimes in post-war Voice of America broadcasts.

After the war, one of many members of the U.S. Congress who raised alarm about Soviet influence and censorship at the Voice of America was a U.S. Representative from Illinois (1951 to 1959) Timothy P. Sheehan. He was a Republican member of the bipartisan Select Committee of the House of Representatives which investigated the 1940 Soviet mass murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia. In a supplementary statement to the committee’s Final Report, Congressman Sheehan included a segment on “Propaganda Agencies.” The congressional investigation put a stop to most of VOA’s censorship of the Soviet responsibility for Katyn Forest Massacre in which more than 20,000 Polish military officers and government leaders were executed by the NKVD secret police.

 

 

Timothy P. Sheehan, R-IL:

“Admittedly, during the Katyn investigation, we but scratched the surface on the part that the Office of War Information and the Voice of America took in following the administration line in suppressing the facts about the Katyn massacre. During the war there may have been a reasonable excuse for not broadcasting facts which were available in our State Department and Army Intelligence about the Katyn massacre and other facts which proved Russia’s failure to live up to her agreements. After the war there certainly was no excuse for not using in our propaganda war the truths which were in the files of our various Government departments.

One of the witnesses from the Department of State, which controls the policy of the Voice of America, stated that they did not broadcast the fact of Katyn behind the iron curtain was because they did not have sufficient facts on it. Yet the preponderance of evidence presented to our committee about the cover-up came from the files of the State Department itself.

The Voice of America, in its limited broadcasts about the Katyn massacre, followed a wishy-washy, spineless policy. From other information revealed about the policies followed by the Voice of America, a committee of the Congress ought to make a thorough investigation and see to it that the Voice pursues a firm and workable propaganda program and does not serve to cover up the mistakes of the State Department or the incumbent administration.” 2

In a segment on “Misjudgment of Russia,” Congressman Sheehan also mentioned the role of the Voice of America in misleading not only foreign but also American public opinion. During World War II, many of the Office of War Information news and broadcasts were widely distributed to media in the United States. The U.S. Congress put a stop to domestic distribution of VOA programs by passing the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act. The Final Report of the so-called Madden Committee, named after U.S. Representative Ray J. Madden, D-IN, was issued on December 22, 1952.

 

Timothy P. Sheehan, R-IL:

“Roosevelt’s misjudgment that Russia would honor her agreements, in spite of the factual record of her past broken promises, has proven to be the major error in our entire foreign policy. In setting this policy, our Government, through the State Department, the Army Intelligence (G-2), the Office of War Information, and the Voice of America, followed the policy line so that the American people were misled. During the war the American public was led to believe that Russia was a loyal and trustworthy ally and after the war and until very recently, the executive department covered up the fact that they were so grossly mistaken about Russia.

To me, the reason why our Government suppressed the truth about the Katyn massacre was because this was but a small part of the giant error made in our foreign policy program. If our Government would have disclosed the truth about Katyn and the sellout of Poland, it would have had to disclose more truths about the perfidy of Russia. The American people would have then spoken in no uncertain terms and the Democrat administration did not want that to happen for very obvious reasons.” 3

 

Union Calendar No. 792

82d Congress, 2d Session- – – – – – – – – – – House Report No.2505

THE KATYN FOREST MASSACRE

FINAL REPORT

OF THE

SELECT COMMITTEE TO CONDUCT AN

INVESTIGATION AND STUDY OF THE FACTS,

EVIDENCE, AND CIRCUMSTANCES ON THE

KATYN FOREST MASSACRE

PURSUANT TO

H. Res. 390

AND

H. Res. 539

(82d Congress)

A RESOLUTION TO AUTHORIZE THE INVESTIGATION

OF THE MASS MURDER OF POLISH OFFICERS IN THE

KATYN FOREST NEAR SMOLENSK, RUSSIA

DECEMBER 22, 1952.—Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on

the State of the Union and ordered to be printed

UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE

WASHINGTON : 1952

 

SELECT COMMITTEE TO CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION AND STUDY OF

THE FACTS, EVIDENCE, AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE KATYN FOREST

MASSACRE

RAY J. MADDEN, Indiana, Chairman

DANIEL J. FLOOD, Pennsylvania

FOSTER FURCOLO, Massachusetts

THADDEUS M. MACHROWICZ, Michigan

GEORGE A. DONDERO, Michigan

ALVIN E. O’KONSKI, Wisconsin

TIMOTHY P . SHEEHAN, Illinois

JOHN J. MITCHELL, Chief Counsel

ROMAN C. PUCINSKI, Chief Investigator

LUCILE S. BIEBIGHAUSEE, Secretary

[Page 9]

OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

When the Nazis, on April 13, 1943, announced to the world the finding of the mass graves of the Polish officers at Katyn and accused the Soviets, the Allies were stunned by this action and called it propaganda. Mr. Elmer Davis, news commentator, then head of the Office of War Information, an agency established by Executive order, told this committee he reported direct to the President. Under questioning he admitted frequent conferences with the State Department and other Government agencies. However, testifying before this committee, when faced with his own broadcast of May 3, 1943, in which he accused the Nazis of using the Katyn massacre as propaganda, he admitted under questioning that this broadcast was made on his own initiative.

This is another example of the failure to coordinate between Government agencies. A State Department memorandum dated April 22, 1943, which was read into the record (see vol. VII of the published hearings), stated:

and on the basis of the various conflicting contentions [concerning Katyn] of all parties concerned, it would appear to be advisable to refrain from taking any definite stand in regard to this question.

Mr. Davis, therefore, bears the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full in­vestigation. A very simple check with either Army Intelligence (G- 2) or the State Department would have revealed that the Katyn massacre issue was extremely controversial.

Furthermore, members of the staff of both OWI and FCC did engage in activities beyond the scope of their responsibilities. This unusual activity of silencing radio commentators first came to light in August 1943 when the House committee investigating the Na­tional Communications Commission discovered the procedure.

The technique utilized by staff members of OWI and FCC to si­lence was as follows: Polish radio commentators in Detroit and Buf­falo broadcasting in foreign languages after the announcement of

[Page 10]

 

the discovery of the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn reported facts indicating that the Soviets might be guilty of this massacre.

In May 1943 a member of the FCC staff suggested to a member of the OWI staff that the only way to prevent these comments was to contact the Wartime Foreign Language Radio Control Committee. This committee was made up of station owners and managers who were endeavoring to cooperate with the OWI and FCC during the war years. Accordingly a meeting was arranged in New York with two of the members of this industry committee. They were specifically requested by the OWI staff member to arrange to have a Polish radio commentator in Detroit restrict his comments to straight news items concerning Katyn, and only those by the standard wire services. The fact that a member of the FCC staff attended this meeting is significant because the FCC in such a case had no jurisdiction. In fact, the FCC member was in New York to discuss the renewal of the radio license of one of these industry members. The owner of the radio station in Detroit was contacted and requested to restrict the comments of the Polish commentator on his station, and this was done.

By applying indirect pressure on the station owner, these staff members accomplished their purpose, namely, keeping the full facts of the Katyn massacre story from the American people. (See vol. VII of the published hearings.)

Office of Censorship officials testified and supported the conclusion of this committee that the OWI and FCC officials acted beyond the scope of their official Government responsibilities on this matter of Katyn. Testimony before this committee likewise proves that the Voice of America—successor to the Office of War Information—had failed to fully utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee in 1951. The committee was not impressed with statements that publication of facts con- cerning this crime, prior to 1951, would lead to an ill-fated uprising in Poland. Neither was it convinced by the statements of OWI officials that for the Polish-Americans to hear or read about the Katyn massacre in 1943 would have resulted in a lessening of their cooperation in the Allied war effort.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON

Mr. Justice Jackson appeared before this committee and advised that he had received no instructions or information concerning the Katyn massacre. When asked to explain how the Katyn affair happened to come on the agenda of the Nuremberg trials under the indictment of Herman Goering, he stated that the Soviets were responsible for drawing indictments on war crimes committed in eastern Europe. Mr. Justice Jackson stated as follows:

To the United States was allocated the over-all conspiracy to incite and wage a war of aggression. The British were assigned the violation of specific treaties and crimes on the high seas. Violations of the laws of war and crimes against humanity were divided on a geographical basis. The French undertook crimes in western Europe, and the

 

[Page 11]

Soviet prosecution was assigned the duty of preparing and presenting evidence of crimes in eastern European area largely in Soviet occupation, and to much of which the others of us had no access. The geographical area thus as- signed to the Soviet representatives included Katyn wood and Poland as well, but at that time it was not known that the Katyn massacre would be involved.

When asked by the committee if he had received the various reports then in the files of the State Department and Army Intelligence (G-2), Mr. Justice Jackson testified that he had not. When asked by the committee what he would have done if he had received these reports, he replied as follows:

Of course, any information would have been helpful. If we had had information of that kind, I cannot pass on whether this would have been adequate, but if we had had adequate information of Russian guilt, we would not have consented at all to have the charge against the Nazis. It would have strengthened our hand in keeping it out immensely and probably would have resulted in the Soviets not making the accusation.

Before this committee was formed, many allegations were made that Americans on Mr. Jackson’s staff at Nuremberg assisted the Soviets in the preparation of this case on Katyn against the Nazis. The committee desired to clarify this point and specifically asked Mr. Jackson this question, and he denied that any member of his staff participated in the preparation of the Katyn indictment. The committee viewed with interest Mr. Justice Jackson’s statement in his testimony which is as follows:

This history will show that, if it is now deemed possible to establish responsibility for the Katyn murders, nothing that was decided by the Nuremberg Tribunal or contended for by the American prosecution will stand in your way.

 

CONCLUSIONS

1. In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis. For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942. And, it is equally true that even before 1942 the Kremlin rulers gave much evidence of a menace of Soviet imperialism paving the way for world conquest. Through the disastrous failure to recognize

 

[Page 12]

the danger signs which then existed and in following a policy of satisfying the Kremlin leaders, our Government unwittingly strengthened their hand and contributed to a situation which has grown to be a menace to the United States and the entire free world.

2. Our committee is sending a copy of this report, and volume 7 of the published hearings, to the Department of Defense for such action as may be proper with regard to General Bissell. We do so because of the fact that this committee believes that had the Van Vliet report been made immediately available to the Department of State and to the American public, the course of our governmental policy toward Soviet Russia might have been more realistic with more fortunate postwar results.

3. This committee believes that the wartime policies of Army Intelligence (G-2) during 1944-45 should undergo a thorough investigation. Testimony heard by the committee substantiates this belief, and if such an investigation is conducted another object lesson might be learned.

4. Our committee concludes that the staff members of the Office of War Information and Federal Communications Commission who participated in the program of silencing Polish radio commentators went beyond the scope of their duties as official Government representatives. Actually, they usurped the functions of the Office of Censorship and by indirect pressure accomplished domestic censor- ship which was not within the jurisdiction of either of these agencies.

5. This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.

6. This committee began its investigation last year, and as the committee’s work progressed, information, documents, and evidence was submitted from all parts of the world. It was at this same time that reports reached the committee of similar atrocities and violations of international law being perpetrated in Korea. This committee noted the striking similarity between crimes committed against the Poles at Katyn and those being inflicted on American and other United Nation troops in Korea. Communist tactics being used in Korea are identical to those followed at Katyn. Thus this committee believes that Congress should undertake an immediate investigation of the Korean war atrocities in order that the evidence can be collected and the truth revealed to the American people and the free peoples of the world. This committee will return to Congress approximately $21,000 in surplus funds, and it is suggested that this money be made available by Congress for such an investigation.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The final report of the Select Committee Investigating the Katyn Forest Massacre hereby incorporates the recommendations contained in the interim report, filed on July 2, 1952 (H. Rept. No. 2430).

[Page 13]

This committee unanimously recommends that the House of Representatives approve the committee’s findings and adopt a resolution:

1. Requesting the President of the United States to forward the testimony, evidence, and findings of this committee to the United States delegates at the United Nations;

2. Requesting further that the President of the United States issue instructions to the United States delegates to present the Katyn case to the General Assembly of the United Nations;

3. Requesting that appropriate steps be taken by the General Assembly to seek action before the International World Court of Justice against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for committing a crime at Katyn which was in violation of the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;

4. Requesting the President of the United States to instruct the United States delegation to seek the establishment of an international commission which would investigate other mass murders and crimes against humanity.

RAY J. MADDEN, Chairman.

DANIEL J. FLOOD.

THADDEUS M. MACHROWICZ.

GEORGE A. DONDERO.

ALVIN E. O’KONSKI.

TIMOTHY P. SHEEHAN.

[Page 14]

 

SUPPLEMENTARY STATEMENT BY MR. SHEEHAN

On November 22d I addressed a letter to the Honorable Ray J. Madden, chairman of our committee, listing my conclusions for the consideration of the Katyn Committee to be incorporated in the final report.

Most of these conclusions have been incorporated in the final report and I am happy to join with my colleagues in making this a unanimous report. However, it seems to me that there is need for further emphasis on several points covered in the report and I feel these points can be best emphasized by this addendum to the final report.

MISJUDGMENT OF RUSSIA

On page 3 of this final report the opening sentence under the heading “Second phase” read:

The Congress requested that our committee determine why certain reports and files concerning the Katyn massacre disappeared or were suppressed by departments of our Government.

From the disclosure of many hitherto secret documents and from the oral testimony of men like our former Ambassadors Standley and Harriman, Special Ambassador George Earle, the former Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and others, the cover-up of the facts of the Katyn massacre and withholding them from the American people was but a part of the desire on the part of the Democrat administration to cover their basic and colossal error in their foreign policy judgment.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who Mr. Harriman stated set our foreign policy and was the final authority on all foreign policy decisions, thought that Russia would disintegrate immediately after the end of the war. When warned by various of his appointees that Russia would become a great menace, Mr. Roosevelt silenced these men and refused to heed their advice. Mr. Roosevelt kept committing our country to agreements with the Russians in spite of the fact, as Mr. Harriman stated, that—

* * * There were a series of misdeeds by the Russians, from our standpoint, beginning with the Ribbentrop treaty, that it (revelation of the Katyn massacre) would have contributed, I think, to further distrust of the Soviets.

Roosevelt’s misjudgment that Russia would honor her agreements, in spite of the factual record of her past broken promises, has proven to be the major error in our entire foreign policy. In setting this policy, our Government, through the State Department, the Army Intelligence (G-2), the Office of War Information,

[Page 15]

and the Voice of America, followed the policy line so that the American people were misled. During the war the American public was led to believe that Russia was a loyal and trustworthy ally and after the war and until very recently, the executive department covered up the fact that they were so grossly mistaken about Russia.

To me, the reason why our Government suppressed the truth about the Katyn massacre was because this was but a small part of the giant error made in our foreign policy program. If our Government would have disclosed the truth about Katyn and the sellout of Poland, it would have had to disclose more truths about the perfidy of Russia. The American people would have then spoken in no uncertain terms and the Democrat administration did not want that to happen for very obvious reasons.

PROPAGANDA AGENCIES

Admittedly, during the Katyn investigation, we but scratched the surface on the part that the Office of War Information and the Voice of America took in following the administration line in suppressing the facts about the Katyn massacre. During the war there may have been a reasonable excuse for not broadcasting facts which were available in our State Department and Army Intelligence about the Katyn massacre and other facts which proved Russia’s failure to live up to her agreements. After the war there certainly was no excuse for not using in our propaganda war the truths which were in the files of our various Government departments.

One of the witnesses from the Department of State, which controls the policy of the Voice of America, stated that they did not broadcast the fact of Katyn behind the iron curtain was because they did not have sufficient facts on it. Yet the preponderance of evidence presented to our committee about the cover-up came from the files of the State Department itself.

The Voice of America, in its limited broadcasts about the Katyn massacre, followed a wishy-washy, spineless policy. From other in- formation revealed about the policies followed by the Voice of America, a committee of the Congress ought to make a thorough investigation and see to it that the Voice pursues a firm and workable propaganda program and does not serve to cover up the mistakes of the State Department or the incumbent administration.

ARMY INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES

The United States Congress should investigate the wartime and postwar operation of the Army Intelligence (G-2) and the Counter- intelligence Agency. In our search for the missing Van Vliet report in the Army Intelligence Agency, there was revealed a very serious lack of close liaison between the various Government agencies. There was revealed to the committee a definite pro-Soviet sympathy by certain people working for G-2 during the war. In early 1942 one of our military attaches connected with Intelligence recommended that counterintelligence measures be set up against the Russians; he was advised that he showed a Russian bias and did

[Page 16]

not know what he was doing. Several men who were openly anti-Russian were soon transferred out of this department. Documents were missing from this department which tended to be contrary to Russian interests. It was pointed out to our committee in executive session that quite a number of employees in G-2 who were suspected of Communist or leftwing sympathies were transferred to the Counter-intelligence Agency. Just several months ago two German officials of an agency which is the equivalent of our Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to make use of our Counter-intelligence Agency because they stated the German division of this agency was infiltrated by the Communists.

Mr. Harriman in his testimony stated that on the “strong recommendation of our Chiefs of Staff every effort was made to get Russia to come into the war against Japan. The quick and complete collapse of Japan took everyone by surprise because we thought the American armies would be forced to land on the plains of Tokyo. Postwar revelations proved that Japan sought out Russian help about 6 months prior to the end of the war, pleading with Russia to act as a peace intermediary. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were undoubtedly following the advice of Army Intelligence agencies, which apparently were grossly mistaken.

Did Russian influence in our Army Intelligence contribute to this gross miscalculation of Japan’s fighting capabilities? If so, is this element still in Army Intelligence? For the peace and security of our country, some independent body, such as Congress, should investigate.

Mr. Alvin E. O’Konski concurs in the above statement of Mr. Sheehan.

[Page 17]

SUPPLEMENTARY STATEMENT OF MESSRS.

MADDEN, FLOOD, AND MACHROWICZ

We have carefully examined the statement submitted by Mr. Sheehan. We believe that the final report adopted unanimously and signed by all the members of the committee adequately and fully explains all the matters contained in this addendum. We are therefore submitting no additional remarks.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Nataliya Lebedeva, “The Tragedy of Katyn,” International Affairs (Moscow), June 1990 and “The Katyn Controversy: Stalin’s Killing Field”. Studies in Intelligence. CIA (Winter). https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter99-00/art6.html. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  2. The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances on the Katyn Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 15.
  3. The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances on the Katyn Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 14-15.