It's Friday, May 8, 2020, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation intended to be educational or evocative. Today there was no shortage of candidates, as this is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day -- the date of the 1945 Nazi surrender to Western allies in Europe. The planned celebration will be muted. Among the many May events postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus -- a litany that includes high school proms, graduations, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the Indy 500, Cannes Film Festival, the French Open tennis tournament -- is the dedication of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.
Today's quote does not come from Ike, however. Nor does it come from any of the 5 million American men who were under his command when World War II ended. The line of the day concerns a journalist who covered that war, and who bucked the rules to report that the fighting had ended -- and paid a dear price for doing so. His name was Ed Kennedy, and I'll relate his story in a moment.
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Ed Kennedy, no relation to the Boston Kennedys, was a seasoned war correspondent even before the United States entered World War II. He spoke fluent French, exhibited bravery under fire, and chafed at government censorship. This last instinct was admired by his fellow print correspondents right up until the day it wasn't. That day derailed his career.
It happened in France on May 7, 1945. As the Paris bureau chief for the Associated Press, Ed Kennedy was one of 17 American correspondents allowed to witness the German surrender at a little red schoolhouse in Reims, a city 80 miles northeast of Paris. It happened at 2:41 a.m., French time, but the news didn't get out for 12 hours -- and it wasn't supposed to go out then.
On the way to Reims, the reporters were told that there would be a news embargo. This was nothing new to these seasoned correspondents: World War II military censors always cited the same rationale -- the troops' safety -- which the journalists abided by, even in cases when that explanation was an obvious stretch.
Ed Kennedy and his 16 colleagues figured the embargo would last a few hours. But in the light of morning, they were told that it would last 36 hours -- until 3 p.m. the next day. To Kennedy, this was an "absurdity," the word he would use in a memoir not published until nearly 50 years after his death.
He appealed to the Army officers on the scene, to no avail. Then, just after 2 p.m., German officials announced the surrender over the radio to citizens in Flensburg, a German city occupied by the Allies. Kennedy knew this could only have happened if the U.S. Army had authorized it, and he complained again. The censors waved him off: He'd have to wait, along with everybody else, for another 25 hours.
Can you imagine sitting on a story like that? Ed Kennedy couldn't, and the way he figured it the military officials had broken the embargo themselves. So he slipped off to a phone not monitored by censors and dictated a story to his office. He didn't tell his bosses in New York that he was breaking an embargo, and they didn't ask. So the AP "flash," as it was called, went out to the world: ALLIES OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED GERMANS SURRENDERED UNCONDITIONALLY.
Under that headline was Ed Kennedy's scoop, which generated wild and impromptu celebrations around the globe. As you can imagine, his 16 colleagues who had abided by the news blackout were furious. So were the censors and the U.S. generals, all the way up the chain of command to Supreme Commander Eisenhower. Kennedy's instinct turned out to be right: There was no valid military justification for withholding the news. The reason was political. Harry Truman and Winston Churchill had acceded to Joseph Stalin's request to delay the announcement until the Red Army officials could get to Berlin. The announcement was supposed to be a joint one.
Ed Kennedy suspected something like this, but to him, political considerations were not legitimate reasons for censorship. He thought the question was this basic: Why did the German people have a right to know the war was over before the people in France, Britain, and the United States?
This wasn't a universal view. Kennedy's bosses at AP apologized for their actions, apparently as a condition for being allowed access to covering the war's aftermath, and then fired Ed Kennedy. And most of the other correspondents in Reims never forgave him. Boyd DeWolf Lewis, the top UPI man in Europe, was still fuming about it into his 90s, telling an interviewer that Kennedy should have been "boiled in oil."
Eisenhower, who essentially considered embedded reporters to be adjutant junior officers in his army, was also incensed. Ike had to be talked out of court-martialing Kennedy, which was impractical as the journalist was, in fact, a civilian. But by the time he wrote his popular postwar memoir, Eisenhower had mellowed. "One American reporter published the story before the release hour, which infuriated other newsmen who kept the faith," he wrote. "The incident created considerable furor, but in the outcome no real harm was done, except to other publications."
Over time, Kennedy's actions came under some reconsideration. The first to do so was the New Yorker's A.J. Liebling. Writing that same month, Liebling said the question of whether a promise "extorted" from a journalist by military men in a military plane several thousand feet above a war zone "has any moral force" was a question for theologians. Three years later, the Atlantic Monthly published a defiant piece by Kennedy in which he said he'd do it again.
Yet despite his experience, knowledge, and language skills, Ed Kennedy was never given another assignment as a foreign correspondent. The ambivalence he engendered was epitomized by the New York Times, which ran his V-E Day story under a banner headline, sending joyous New Yorkers streaming into the streets, then published an editorial the next day excoriating the correspondent who had furnished the story.
Bob Considine, who worked for a rival news service during the war, and later helped Babe Ruth write his autobiography, was struck by the irony. He blamed Kennedy's bosses for not sticking by their guy. "If AP had not chickened out on him," Considine said, "Ed would be remembered as the intrepid reporter who saw his duty and answered the call."
Kennedy drifted out to California, divorced and without his only child, a daughter he'd been close to. He took a job as managing editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press and then went farther north to the central California coastal town of Monterey in 1949. As editor and associate publisher, Kennedy turned the local paper around, supplementing its coverage of garden clubs and the like with front page news analysis of world events that he wrote himself. The Monterey Herald had become one of the best little papers in the country in late 1963, when 58-year-old Ed Kennedy stepped out of a saloon and into the street where he was hit by a car and killed. Nearly 50 years later, his daughter helped get his memoir published by Louisiana State University Press. The same year, 2012, the AP formally issued a posthumous apology to its onetime Paris bureau chief. A movement arose, briefly, to award him a Pulitzer Prize.
That didn't happen, but there is a fitting tribute to Ed Kennedy in the California town of Seaside. It's on a small plaque in a city park and it reads: "He gave the world an extra day of happiness."
And that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.