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Murrow helped lead America to Britain’s aid

Greg Burns (left) and author Philip Sieb, director of the Center of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, discuss Seib's book about journalist Edward R. Murrow during World War II in Britain.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media
Greg Burns (left) and author Philip Sieb, director of the Center of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, discuss Seib's book about journalist Edward R. Murrow during World War II in Britain.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media
Greg Burns (left) and author Philip Sieb, director of the Center of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, discuss Seib's book about journalist Edward R. Murrow during World War II in Britain.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media

SKOKIE — Had there never been a broadcast journalist named Edward R. Murrow or his “This is London” radio broadcasts during World War II, would the United States have come to Britain’s aid when it did?

Why this is an interesting question is because of how strong of an isolationist mood there was in the country when war broke out, author and scholar Philip Seib reminded his audience Sunday at the Illinois Holocaust Museum,

“It’s very important to remember that when the war began in September 1939 and when the blitz began in September 1940, there was tremendous resistance in the United States,” Seib said about involvement overseas.

That’s why Murrow, broadcasting on radio from London rooftops under attack – and decades before Viet Nam would be credited as the first war to be brought into American living rooms — was so instrumental to U.S. involvement in the war.

Seib wrote the book “Broadcasts Beyond the Blitz” about Murrow’s role in establishing news radio as an effective informational tool and the political propaganda of the time.

He and Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Member Greg Burns discussed Murrow in a kick-off event Sunday to the museum’s new exhibition. Called “Keep Calm and Carry On: Textiles on the Home Front in WWII Britain,” it captures the United Kingdom’s indomitable spirit during World War II and its ability to have survived Germany’s relentless attack on the country.

An audience of well over 100 people Sunday heard the discussion about Murrow, which was an ideal compliment to the exhibition.

Both presenters emphasized that Murrow “took sides” as a journalist, but not as a criticism. The great broadcaster felt no need for “objectivity,” especially when it came to reporting about the Nazis.

Long before many, he saw Hitler for what he was, Burns said. “He didn’t see the need for any particular balance.”

“He took sides and we don’t hold that against him, because he was on the side of the angels,” Seib said.

It was Murrow’s willingness to report from London, while the city was under attack and when no one else did, that helped turn national sentiment around, they said.

“He led the way, and if it weren’t for him, I don’t know if America would have joined the fight against the Nazis when they did.” Burns said.

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