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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(10 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 6, 10 February 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Leland Stowe of the Chicago Daily News writes rather frankly of the plight of newsmen sent to Finland. He even goes so far as to say that the dearth of news about little democratic Finland is due largely to the fact that this alleged fight for democracy is being conducted by a band of “autocratic generals” led by Mannerheim.

“Most of Finland’s remarkably capable army officers have had very little contact with democratic traditions,” writes Stowe.

This is why newsmen “have rarely encountered greater obstacles to procuring information” and why the war in Finland “from a journalistic standpoint is the toughest proposition that they have ever encountered.”

“The real censorship,” he continues, “seems to come while you are in contact – a careful control of what you shall be allowed to learn – long before you sit down to write.”

“If reports from Finland are often confusing and contradictory, it is largely because circumstances compel us to report all important military engagements either at second hand or after the event. We are probably the only alleged war correspondents of this century who have had to try to report two months of fierce and fluctuating hostilities without getting within hearing distance of gunfire more than two or three times at the most.”

This does not modify, of course, certain obvious general facts about the military situation on the Finnish fronts. It does not lessen the impression of criminal clumsiness, faulty staff work, poor communications, and general ineptitude which Stalin’s general staff has given in this miserable adventure. But it is a warning not to swallow wholesale all the pap that is being fed to us, all the vicious propaganda whose real purpose is not to support a non-existent “democracy” in Finland (ruled by the “autocratic generals”, remember) but to whip up anti-Soviet feeling in this country and to prepare it for entry into the war.

An example, incidentally, of what the handling of “news” can do was afforded last week by the meeting of the Balkan Entente. Here was a meeting of small states divided into groups that are already definitely linked to this or that great power or else are the scenes of conflict among them. Yugoslavia is in Italy’s orbit and Turkey and Greece in that of the Allies, while Rumania remains ticklishly balanced between the Anglo-French bloc and the Reich. The conference took place and of course decided nothing, and from every capital representing violently conflicting interests, came “expressions of satisfaction” over the outcome. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

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