The Editor Speaking

October 15, 1939
At this time when the printed word, the motives, and even the essential integrity of the Press are under suspicion everywhere, I think it is of urgent importance that we discuss in mutual confidence the purpose of the Atlantic in the months ahead. Whether the seeds of that suspicion have been planted by agents from abroad, whether they have been blown into our minds by propaganda or censorship, is beside the point. What is needed is reassurance.
I take it that you are just as anxious as I am to secure a balanced and appetizing diet of reading. I take it that you have no more appetite than I have for sensational journalism depicting, however vividly, the destruction of civilization abroad. It is significant to remember that this is a war of peoples as well as a war of machines. Accounts of infantry fighting and elaborations of strategy will take second place to the slow, ponderable actions of the peoples themselves as they rise for the decision. It is likely that in this war diplomacy will count more than tanks or airplanes. Armies may be stalemated while diplomacy exerts its pressure behind the lines.
I think it is the duty of an editor, who must be impartial, to obtain from the spokesmen of the belligerents clear and unequivocal statements of their war aims, and I think it is important that this be done while yet there is a chance for a negotiated peace (such as Lord Lansdowne had in mind in 1917) and before the poison of hate has taken such fast hold upon people that we shall run the risk of a vindictive settlement. Surely this must be the first clearcut objective of the Atlantic.
Will Hitler step out of office if the pressure becomes great? Will he be forced out? Will the British Empire be equal to the strain? How tenacious is the web Russia is spinning through central Europe? What can we at our distance learn from those witnesses who are closer to the heat? These questions must be in your mind as they are in mine. And to answer them the Atlantic will call on the best writers available. But remember this: today the best writing on the war will not necessarily be done in London, Paris, or Rome; it will be done by those who have come away from the scene, by those who, on neutral soil, will do their writing free from the fear of censorship and the spread of propaganda. It is our unique responsibility to provide that cool farsighted view for which news gatherers have neither time nor vantage.
The torch of civilization has been passed into your hands and mine. The development of television, the discoveries that await us in chemistry and medicine, the art of enhancing and enjoying life — these have been arrested abroad and must be preserved by people who are not war-making. I want you to turn to the Atlantic with relief to find stories of warmth and laughter and to forget the nervous shock of headline and radio. I trust you will also find a spiritual content and an American philosophy without which we too should be stumbling in a blackout.
It is not necessary here to cite any contributors by name. I simply ask that you trust us and them. The source of the Atlantic’s influence has always been a certain fair-mindedness. In this crisis those who write for it and those who edit it will be guided by the belief that ‘the only aim of War should be a more perfect Peace.’
Faithfully yours,