The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


PRESIDENT TRUMAN’S message on the atomic bomb requested “security regulations governing the handling of all information” in this connection and “suitable penalties . . . for violation of the security regulations.”

Directly after this proposal, the President went on to explain: “The measures which I have suggested may seem drastic and far-reaching. But the discovery with which we are dealing involves forces of nature too dangerous to fit into any of our usual concepts.”

The question now to be raised is whether our tradition of a free press is a “usual concept” which no longer fits the modern world. If we are embarking on secrets, on a long-range program of secrecy with penalties for those who violate it, in time of peace, the question is: How free is the press?

Consider: —

1.The atomic bomb is the armament of the future.

2.Our armament policy bears on our entire foreign policy and our position in the world.

3.Our foreign policy and all other policies have always been developed by open debate, public argument, in Congress and throughout the land.

4.It is now proposed that Congress should turn over a controlling source of policy to “an atomic energy commission,” which would operate secretly and give the public such information as it sees fit.

5.The commission would be presumably some combination of scientists, brass hats, civil servants, and politicians.

Unfortunately, not even the professionals are infallible. Witness Pearl Harbor. We don’t expect anyone to be infallible. That is why we continue to have representative government in this country. We have built the greatest nation in the world by acknowledging the fallibility and the changeability of human wisdom.

The Germans did not see it that way. And here in our country, in 1939 and 1940, there were many defeatists who assured us that the democratic way could not stand up to the tests of modern methods of warfare, so magnificently developed by a totalitarian scheme. Unless we militarized the whole country from that time on, they said, we were all washed up. The world of the future was to be a world of “discipline,” a world of uniforms. We should all have to obey orders — and high time, too, they said.

It is against precisely this kind of government, this kind of high secrets, that we have insisted over the years on the constitutional right to a free press. Are the vaunted blessings of atomic power worth the sacrifice of our traditional and hard-won freedom of the press?

No more Pearl Harbors

Consolidation of the Armed Services is urged as an essential feature of post-war military policy. But it is only one feature of our program. Other items include the maintenance of the draft, provision for technological research, improvement of intelligence work, and, above all, an international policy on the utilization of atomic energy for war.

It is believed that there is greater need than ever for technological research, which has still to be organized on the lines suggested by Vannevar Bush. We shall not discard our work in intelligence as we did in the 1920’s. From now on, the research and analysis that were carried on by the Office of Strategic Services will be done by the State Department.

The head of this important work will have the title of Special Assistant to the Secretary of State. Soon there will be an interdepartmental committee which he will direct. It will be equipped with a staff, and will fan out to all the regular departments, which will supply information on request for the screening of all data required for national security. Intelligence work was neglected in the pre-war days when America trusted in isolationism.

State puts on weight

The State Department has already grown into the largest foreign office in the world. It has absorbed economic administration, disposal of surpluses abroad, intelligence work, and a host of other functions that would make the old-line diplomat raise his eyebrows. Concentration of this sort is in keeping with Mr. Truman’s notion of reorganization. The President wants to see the regular departments absorb all necessary wartime agencies and activities.

Although Mr. Truman may be erring a little on the extreme side of systematization in revamping administration, reform was badly needed. It is by no means complete, even in the State Department, where a reorganization has been in progress, according to Secretary Byrnes, that will end all reorganization. A gap is still obvious there. The State Department needs some kind of brain trust.

At the Council of Foreign Ministers in London, for instance, the American delegation was often caught off balance by data presented by other delegations. A case in point was Trieste. Two weeks after the start of the conference, a hurry-up call for a dossier on Trieste came to the State Department. It had to be compiled by the Office of Strategic Services. A file on Trieste had been taken to London when the delegation sailed, but evidently the delegates were carried out of their informational depth during the discussions.

Sumner Welles thinks that the Assistant Secretaries constitute a brain trust in the form of a committee on foreign policy. But the Assistant Secretaries have too much to do in administration and in carrying out specialized tasks in diplomacy. Take William L. Clayton, whose financial discussions with the British have kept him from giving attention to overall questions before the department. Perhaps the new intelligence service may fill the gap by keeping the policymakers primed.

Labor, management, and the consumer

The labor disturbances which have impeded reconversion were no surprise to anybody in Washington. They had been prognosticated freely. That no steps were taken to prepare for them is a shocking commentary on our statesmanship. Government, labor, and management are all responsible. Six months ago, Congress had before it the Burton-Hatch-Ball bill for the systematization of collective bargaining to be put into effect when the War Labor Board was dissolved. If this bill was not worth legislating, where is its substitute?

Sooner or later an industrial peace bill will have to be enacted. Collective bargaining is now established by law but it is still challenged, and organized labor and management are left to battle out their grievances at the expense of the community. The more powerful unions have grown as strong as Henry Ford. They occupy a privileged position in the community, in that they are not held to accountability in the disposal of funds and are not affected by general laws relating to trusts and racketeering.

Orderly procedures already set up for the settlement of disputes were not sufficient to prevent the present discontent. Organized labor has had time and a half for overtime pay too long to get along without it. Management used to consider it a penalty rate, designed to prevent overtime. Now it is something for labor to capitalize on. In the war it was ignored in labor demands as having nothing to do with the price of labor, which is based on the hourly rate. Now, with the loss of overtime, take-home pay has suddenly shrunk, and throughout the country the demand has arisen that the loss be made up by an increase in the hourly rate. And the cost of living is up.

Labor arguments in favor of new wage increases vary. The automobile workers hold the underconsumptionist heory that the retention of purchasing power is the only way to keep the national economy on an even keel. Others insist that war profits make an increase bearable. Others refer to the wardeveloped efficiency of production as a warrant for enlarging the pay envelope. Finally, cost of living is cited as requiring adjustment of wages.

Strike settlements, as usual, are being effected by labor and management without regard to the consumer, for that is what the new price policy means. Whether the new price “line” can be held and a spiral of inflation avoided till reconversion has been completed, only time can tell.

Jacking up prices

The strike wave came at a time when few data were available about the ability of industry to absorb wage increases without jacking up prices. Without a doubt management has improved technological processes which will mean a saving in unit cost in peacetime production. Shipbuilding, for example, as a result of Henry Kaiser’s pioneering, will be much cheaper.

The railroads must have hauled at least 70 per cent more than they did in the last war, with half a million fewer men. In many lines efficiency must have increased. However, for most manufacturers the present is a change-over period, and increased efficiency in the production of war goods bears no relation to what might be done in the production of peace goods.

WASHINGTON (continued)

Organized labor is aware of this fact. Before the price authorities decided to relax price ceilings, labor called on management to take a chance that wartime savings would be carried over to peacetime savings. Industry replied that prudence dictated that the factories should be given a chance to turn around. It stated that the savings factor might be altogether wiped out by the return of competition. When Uncle Sam supplied the market, prices were no problem. Selling and advertising costs were reduced to a minimum.

It will be a different picture in peacetime. In the automobile industry, for instance, competition is likely to be fierce, with profit margins kept low.

Any squeeze that is felt in industry as a result of wage adjustments, however, will be sensibly relieved not only by price adjustments but also by the prospect of lower taxes. The same applies to wage earners. Secretary Vinson has bowed to the storm in Congress for the abatement of wartime taxation by offering relief to both management and labor. There is no prospect, however, of a drastic tax overhaul.

Yet such an overhaul would be the first step toward the maintenance of full employment. To this end the Committee for Economic Development has come out for a study of ways and means of correlating all economic policies of the government as a preliminary to consideration of the full-employment bill.


The mood of the capital has sobered down from the ebullience of V-J days. Peace, it is seen, is a continuous process involving time and effort. That full employment in America depends on peace and security abroad as well as here admits of no arguments. It is the means that produce disagreements.

Abroad, relations with Russia cause the most headshaking. Distrust is rampant. In many places where better knowledge should prevail, fear is added to distrust. Each country is afraid of the other’s power and aggressiveness. There is concern in Washington over the health of Stalin, who, according to those who saw him at Potsdam, is far from well. If anything happens to Stalin, what then? Rejoicing over peace has given place to a realization that the days ahead will be grim and difficult.

Congressmen have never been so harassed. Against their better judgment they have to call for speedier and speedier demobilization because the mothers and wives and sweethearts of America give them no peace. The Army is doing a good job, but gets no credit for it, and our demobilization uncertainties account for a lot of the uneasiness abroad as to how long we shall be willing to stay in Europe.