IN RUSSIA, DAYS THAT SHAKE THE WORLD
Ernest Hemingway said that no one had ever written a truer account of battle than Stendahl in his re-creation of Waterloo in his classic novel The Red and the Black.
"Once you have read it," Hemingway wrote in Men at War, "you will have been at the battle of Waterloo and nothing can ever take that experience from you."
Most people have never read The Red and the Black. They are not likely to at this late date.
But the thousands of television viewers who remained awake through the early hours of Monday morning to watch CNN's coverage of the battle for control of the Russian Parliament building can claim they were witnesses to one of the most dramatic battles in Russian history.
It began in breathless excitement.
"Did you see that?" the excited CNN announcer shouted into his microphone. "The tanks have fired on the White House."
In Moscow, it was 5 in the morning. In Phoenix, it was 7 p.m. By the time the men inside the building began to surrender, it was 5 in the evening, and in Phoenix, it was 7 in the morning.
From the very start, viewers all over the world had a front-row seat as the 700-man elite force of Boris Yeltsin, employing ten T-72 tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers, moved to destroy Yeltsin's parliamentary opposition.
They were led by Alexander Rutskoi, a Russian war hero, who vowed he would fight to the death. The dissident members of parliament barricaded themselves in the white marble building which looks like the home office of Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck and Co. more than it does a government building.
The scenes that flashed continually on the television screen had an indelible impact. There were cameras on both sides of the building and hand-held cameras on the ground. The closest thing we've seen to this in the past are the battle scenes of the Russian Revolution in Doctor Zhivago.
In the film, there are the unforgettable depictions of the saber-wielding Cossacks charging down the cobblestoned streets. CNN matched that with ground shots of men fleeing in panic from machine-gun fire in the darkness.
If anyone doubted that CNN has now supplanted the three major networks as the main source for news, this sustained coverage of a major world event sealed the verdict in CNN's favor.
They were on the scene and filming continuously from before the opening cannon shot and way past the time when the defenders came down the front steps of the White House either on stretchers or with their hands behind their heads in a gesture of surrender.
Watching CNN from your home was like standing in the throng that lined the Kutuzov Bridge, less than 100 yards from the White House.
You actually saw the Russian army tanks fire round after round at the snipers on the roof and at the windows of the White House.
Then huge clouds of white smoke appeared to be rolling up the sides of the building. Flames shot out the windows. Large portions of white marble turned charcoal black.
Down on the streets, spectators raced to and fro, trying to get a better view. Occasionally, they would flee as snipers' bullets struck and ricocheted from the pavement. They would race into a nearby park and their feet would kick up the red leaves that had already fallen from the trees.
On a football field, to the rear of the building, the CNN camera showed you how the tanks and personnel carriers had torn up and rutted the grass.
War is supposed to be a man's business. CNN's coverage through the night was handled by two correspondents named Eileen O'Connor and Claire Shipman. Their reporting was both fearless and superb.
At one point, O'Connor, who had been on the story for days, told what it was like to be inside the White House.
"The lights have been turned off and there are no phones," she said. "There are only a few walkie-talkies. The people inside don't know what's happening or what is about to happen next. When you try to find anyone, you are continually stopped by men who put flashlights in your face and command that you halt."
There were scenes of terror mixed with those of people going about their business as if nothing unusual was happening.
One woman could be seen walking her dog in the park. Another woman burst into tears as she told a CNN reporter that her 4-year-old granddaughter was inside the White House.
And all through the day, the colors kept changing. White puffs of smoke from the cannons followed by orange flames and then black clouds of smoke. When the sun went down, the tracer bullets arced through the sky.
The remarkable thing was that the Russian government allowed all of these pictures to be beamed all over the world. Even more remarkable was that CNN took advantage of the opportunity to show us every bit of film.
Just last week, Dan Rather made a speech before a group of television broadcasters accusing the networks of succumbing to trash television.
Everyone agreed with Rather then. The networks did nothing during this critical historical event to alter anyone's opinion.
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