Obituary: Joseph C. Harsch
Friday 05 June 1998
He was a young reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in Washington when Herbert Hoover began to grasp the magnitude of the Great Depression, and when Franklin Roosevelt inaugurated the New Deal to tackle it. He was in London on 3 September 1939 when Neville Chamberlain announced the declaration of war against Germany. Soon afterwards he was in Berlin, the first correspondent to cover both sides in the Second World War. He was in Hawaii, on his way to the Soviet Union, on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was with General Douglas MacArthur in Australia when he made his famous "I shall return" speech. He reported from the liberated concentration camps in 1945. He travelled behind the newly forged Iron Curtain in 1947 and 1949.
Harsch's book The Curtain Isn't Iron, published in 1950, challenged the then prevalent American assumption that war with the Soviet Union was ultimately inevitable. He was one of the first to foretell the eventual collapse of Russian domination of Eastern Europe. His earlier book Pattern of Conquest, issued in 1941 before America entered the war, brilliantly analysed the German drive for power.
He was not only a good eyewitness reporter of the major events of the 20th century for the Christian Science Monitor and for all three of the major broadcasting networks. He was also steeped in history and able to relate those events to their wider historical context.
Harsch was a lightly built man with a beaky nose and a puckish sense of humour. He grew up in Ohio, where his father had become a Christian Scientist. He studied history at Williams College in Massachusetts, writing the thesis for his MA degree on the Hundred Years War. He then came for further education to Corpus Christi, Cambridge. His dispatches and columns were always rich in historical allusions and comparisons.
It was when he was the bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor in Berlin that Harsch made his first broadcasts, covering on occasion for William Shirer, the famous Berlin correspondent of the Columbia Broadcasting System, who had been the earliest recruit of Edward R. Murrow, CBS's chief war correspondent. In 1943 Harsch, by that time no longer a foreign correspondent, also joined CBS. From then until 1949, in addition to writing a column for the Christian Science Monitor, he broadcast a regular thoughtful news analysis from the CBS Washington station WTOP.
When Raymond Gram Swing relinquished the weekly American Commentary towards the end of the war the BBC replaced him with Harsch, speaking from Washington, alternating with Clifton Utley, speaking from Chicago. Harsch's familiarity with Britain and his clarity of thought made him an ideal interpreter of developments in the American capital.
In 1953 Harsch joined the National Broadcasting Company as a news analyst and four years later gave up the opportunity of co-authoring a syndicated column with his great friend Walter Lippmann in order to return to London as NBC's senior European correspondent. He became a well-known figure on the London scene. The Queen invited him to one of her private luncheons. He was a popular member of the Garrick Club, where he served on the committee and was made a life member. Indeed he was always a most clubbable man. He also belonged to the St James's in London, the Metropolitan and the Cosmos in Washington, the Century in New York and the St Botolph in Boston.
He was stationed in London in the wake of Suez, a time when there were considerable pressures testing the Anglo- American alliance. His broadcasts to the United States sympathetically interpreted what was happening in Britain. When he left to return to America to become NBC's diplomatic correspondent in 1965 he was appointed an honorary CBE.
Like many in the American stage army of news commentators, after two years he changed networks again. From 1967 to 1971 he was a commentator for the American Broadcasting Company. After that he broadcast less, but he loyally continued his column for the Christian Science Monitor. In 1989 his 60 years on the paper were given a great celebration. Its reputation for the quality of its coverage of foreign affairs, acknowledged by non- Christian Scientists, owes much to Harsch.
Joe Harsch married in 1932 Anne Wood, one of two daughters of an American admiral. Both sisters had houses in Jamestown, Rhode Island, a friendly community across Narragansett Bay from Newport. Anne died in January 1997 and Joe was desolate after 65 years of an extremely happy marriage.
Edna Raemer, who had been his editorial assistant for a quarter of a century, moved to Jamestown to help him edit his work on the history of the Harsch family who had arrived in America from the southern Rhineland in 1743. On the eve of his 93rd birthday they decided to get married.
Joseph Close Harsch, writer and broadcaster: born Toledo, Ohio 25 May 1905; contributor, Christian Science Monitor 1929-97, Washington correspondent 1931-39, foreign correspondent 1939-42, Chief Editorial Writer 1971-74; Senior European Correspondent, NBC 1957-65, Diplomatic Correspondent 1965- 67; CBE (Hon) 1965; Commentator, ABC 1967-71; married 1932 Anne Wood (died 1997; three sons), 1998 Edna Raemer; died Jamestown, Rhode Island 3 June 1998.
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