Communications and the Cause of Peace: Perspectives on Peace Conference


Communications and the Cause of Peace: Perspectives on Peace Conference





Thank you very much, Ambassador Willis. One of the great problems for us as a democratic open society is the problem of communicating something about ourselves, not through official channels, but through the channels, private and public channels of communication to the peoples of the rest of the world. And it is that aspect of the problem of communication in modern times, that Mr. Murrow will address himself to. Mr. Murrow.



Mr. Chairman, fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen, you will appreciate I trust the difficulty of my position, because what is a mere reporter to say when sandwiched between a great scientist and a great diplomat. I am either a popularizer or sometimes or sometimes a vulgarizer having a little knowledge of a variety of subjects. I will confess that I am what Macaulay once called a smatterer. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge the joy that comes to any reporter's heart at seeing such a sizable captive audience.

You will appreciate that it is much easier to confront only a microphone or a camera. Because there is no course... there is no case upon the record of a camera or a microphone falling asleep, dozing, or walking out.

It seems to me altogether appropriate that this meeting should be held in an institution of this kind. It was roughly 20 years ago today, that I was scrabbling around in the ruins of my third office in London in search of two of the essential tools of my trade--a typewriter and a bottle of whiskey that I had been hoarding against an emergency. And in the course of the scrabbling, I came upon a pamphlet written by an old professor of mine. It was charred but I could still read the final sentence. And it said, "the most urgent task confronting the world today is education."

At that time, I thought it a wholly ridiculous statement, I have now come to believe that he was right. But at that time, I could not appreciate the wisdom of his words.

I would like to suggest that we as a nation cannot communicate anything except what we are.

We cannot through any instrument, perpetrate a fraud, because as our chairman has said, we are operating a free society. And our image abroad is not the Voice of America. It is not exclusively our diplomats. It is the sum total of what we are. It reflects everything from Little Rock, to the price of wheat on the Big Board in Chicago, to the latest Congressional inquiry into the political beliefs of a drama critic--it is the sum total of what we are.

And I think before we discuss, how we communicate, we might usefully examine the kind of nation we are. I have had the opportunity of looking at us from the outside for the last year. Because unless we reflect accurately, what we are, we will not communicate effectively.

I would suggest that this country was founded with faith, hope, and fortitude. A country that was hope, promise, and dreams. Ours in fact, is the only country in the world that has a birth certificate. We have the form of government given us by our founders, the governments of Britain, France, Russia, China, and the rest are outgrowths, either by evolution or revolution of the governments that went before.

The structure of our government has in fact changed less than that of any other. This may perhaps have created in us a certain allergy to change. But we were born free, and we remain free in pursuit of a dream. Jefferson identified the meaning of the dream when he swore eternal enmity to any tyranny over the mind of man.

Today, we live in a world we didn't make. Many of us don't like it, we tried to reject it. Our leadership was thrust upon us. Twice in less than 30 years, the new world came to the rescue of the old.

After the late World War, we followed a policy of generosity to former friend and foe alike, that is wholly without precedent. We sought no territory, no commercial concession. We sought to ensure the peace and we gave of our treasure without stint. There was nothing sordid or selfish about our policy, but has it worked? Vast areas of the world including much of Western Europe, would like to contract out of the current power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. They rather tend to reason this way: they say if these two giants decide to destroy each other at extreme range, we too may perish but not earlier than if we tie ourselves irrevocably to the tail of the American kite, which frequently they regard as erratic, sometimes bellicose, and sometimes too bending. For the time being the West Europeans have no alternative but to maintain solidarity with the United States. Official statements of agreement and common purpose are bound and will continue. But these discernible and not far beneath the surface, the desire to become a spectator. Bellicose statements by American generals and admirals may impress the Russians. They certainly depress and at times frighten our allies. We should talk rather more quietly about our big stick, which doesn't appear to be as big as it did a few years ago. In the so-called backward or emerging countries, we encounter a special problem. We appear to expect them either to imitate us or to obey. They are going to do neither. And no amount of economic aid will change that.

They cannot imitate us because ours is to a large extent, a society built upon business, and they don't have any businessmen. Moreover, they're not terribly attracted by consumer goods which rapidly become obsolete. There is here, I suggest, not a competition for men's minds, but for their bellies or if you prefer a more elegant word, it is a competition in expectancy. Below a certain caloric intake, the words we cherish--freedom, independence, human dignity, the right of dissent--are quite simply without meaning. We are to draw the obvious conclusion from the fact that nations to which we have acted both as midwife and fairy godmother, refuse now to imitate, or to follow our lead.

This should not surprise us.

We should face squarely in our communications, and in our relations, the fact that our nation will never be regarded as truly great, except in a strictly material sense, until we have solved in this country, our own racial and social problems. No amount of communication, in the technical sense, will change their attitude in that regard.

I had prepared for you today a rather dreary discourse shot through with facts and figures about transmitters, decibels, and then I cast it aside, because the fact is that my technical knowledge extends only to the understanding, and I trust I am correct, that the long waves are actually short, and the short waves are in fact long.

So before... I would suggest also that we cannot expect gratitude for our generosity. We should get over the idea that anyone who criticizes our country or its policies is automatically a Communist.

As viewed from the outside, we are running a luxury establishment. True, we are given money, but it has come from our fat, not from our muscle. There is a widespread suspicion that in our country, "things" are in the saddle and ride mankind, and that we have lost our appetite for change.

We in this country can't be deposed, and we are unlikely to resign from the position of leadership that has been thrust upon us. Since the late war, we have saved Western Europe from going communist. We have learned for the first time the irritation that comes from having allies. We have learned that although we are the paymaster for new nations, they will not imitate us.

But we have forgotten that we and not the Russians hold the patent rights on revolution. Forgotten that those who strive to be free, deserve our aid and assistance even though they may not be public or proclaimed the friends of ours. Our power, our wisdom and our generosity and our communication cannot be limited to those who agree in advance that they will slavishly imitate us. Right now, I would doubt that the American dream or the American economy is in a seller's market. We're increasingly being examined by those newly come to freedom, and by those who will arrive there tomorrow. They are disposed to measure us and our system, not by what we have done, but by what they may do, under the pressure of exploding population and limited resources. They do not have a continent to despoil and lay waste as we did. They cannot expect labor and dreams and hopes to come from the outside. 

After a year of wandering about the world, I would suggest that we remember that we're only 184 years old. In the saga of nations that brings us to the edge of maturity. We are young but we are not bold. We're troubled about our neighbors on this shrinking planet. We can no longer give the old excuse of our youth for our indecision.

My own feeling is that what we do in this country in the field of human freedom, expanding educational opportunities, the right to dissent without being accused of disloyalty, the right of the citizen to question the rightness of his rulers, is now being conducted in the full light of the mass media.

Our best hope of survival, to say nothing of leadership, is that we in this country can demonstrate in action and in terms of our friends and to those who are searching for new allegiances, that righteousness does in fact, exalt our nation.

What I am saying is that our problem in communicating with our friends and our enemies is simply that if we are to be effective, we must be truthful. We must recognize that we are not a completed society. We must understand that we are being regarded as a kind of "test tube." And certainly none of our communication can be designed at persuading cajoling slavish imitation of our system. And by saying our system I include specifically, our systems of mass communication, both radio and television, I think I have exhausted my time, Mr. Chairman.




Murrow, Edward R., “Communications and the Cause of Peace: Perspectives on Peace Conference,” RBSCP Exhibits, accessed May 27, 2024,

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