What Journalists Do

Journalists, by profession, record not only what is going on at a point in time, but their reactions to it. That is particularly true now during the presidency of Donald Trump.

I was reminded of that when I was re-reading the “Foreword” of “Berlin Diary,” the bestselling book by William L. Shirer that discusses the reasons why he recorded his impressions of the day-to-day activities in Germany that ultimately led to World War II.

Here is what Shirer wrote, in part, in that Foreword:

Most diaries are written with no thought of publication. They have no reader’s eye in view. They are personal, intimate, confidential, a part of oneself that is better hidden from the crass outside world.

This journal makes no pretense of being of that kind. It was recorded for my own pleasure and peace of mind, but with the idea that one day most of it might be published.

Obviously this was not because I deemed that I and the life I led were of the slightest importance or even of any particular interest to the public. The only justification in my own mind was that chance, and the kind of job I had, appeared to be giving me a somewhat unusual opportunity to set down from day to day a first-hand account of a Europe that was already in agony and that slipped inexorably towards the abyss of war and self-destruction.

The subject of this diary therefore is not its keeper, but Europe which he watched with increasing fascination and horror plunge madly down the road to Armageddon in the last half of the 1930s. The primary cause of the Continent’s upheaval was one country, Germany, and one man, Adolf Hitler. Most of my years abroad were spent in that country in proximity to that man. It was from that vantage point that I saw the European democracies falter and crack and, their confidence and judgment and will paralyzed, retreat from one bastion to another until they could no longer, with the exception of Britain, make a stand.

From within that totalitarian citadel Shirer said he could observe how Hitler, acting with a cynicism, brutality, decisiveness, and clarity of mind and purpose which the Continent had not seen since Napoleon, went from victory to victory, unifying Germany, rearming it, smashing and annexing its neighbors until he had made the Third Reich the militant master of the Continent and most of its unhappy peoples his slaves.

Shirer noted that some of his original notes were lost and others he burned rather than risk them and himself to “the tender mercies of the Gestapo.” But he was able to smuggle out the bulk of his notes and copies of all of his broadcasts before they were censored.

In the last paragraph of the “Foreword,” Shirer noted that the “names of persons in Germany or with relatives in Germany have been disguised or simply indicated by a letter which has no relation to their real names. The Gestapo will find no clues.”

The Foreword is dated April, 1941.