Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda during World War II.(Review)

By Welch, David; The Secret History of Pwe The Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945. David Garnett. et al. | History Today, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda during World War II.(Review)


Welch, David, The Secret History of Pwe The Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945. David Garnett., Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda during World War Ii. Gerd Horten, History Today


Gerd Horten University of California Press xiii + 218pp 29.95 [pounds sterling] ISBN 0 520 20783 1

The Secret History of PWE The Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945 David Garnett (with an Introduction and Notes by Andrew Roberts) St Ermin's Press xviii+ 496pp 25 [pounds sterling] ISBN 1 903608 08 2

ACCORDING TO GERD HORTEN, the author of Radio Goes to War, most Americans who lived during the Second World War were not aware that there was an American master plan for disseminating radio propaganda. During the war Americans' already heavy dependence on the radio intensified. More than 90 per cent of American families owned at least one radio and listened, on average, for about four hours daily.

Radio Goes to War is divided into two parts. Part one deals with radio news and noncommercial government radio propaganda from the late 1930s to the 1940s, highlighting the role of radio within the politics of the time. The second part analyses the increasingly commercial and privatised political culture that defined wartime America. (There is a less satisfying epilogue on the legacy of the cultural politics of wartime propaganda.) Horten argues that radio broadcasting played a crucial role both in terms of mainstream political propaganda disseminated by the government and within the broader context of America's cultural transformation during wartime. `They entered World War II as adversaries and ended as partners'. Thus while the Roosevelt administration used radio to promote various campaigns, the most significant participation occurred though the covert integration of propaganda appeals into popular shows such as the radio soap operas and the comedy programmes of Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

According to Horten, no medium merged entertainment, propaganda, and advertising more effectively than radio. America's wartime radio propaganda emphasised an increasingly corporate vision of America's future. Horten argues that wartime broadcasting represented a key transition from the devastating era of the Great Depression, which undermined America's trust in big business and the free enterprise system, to the consumer and corporate culture that was so openly embraced in the post-war period. Indeed the key transformation in this book is the reaffirmation of corporate dominance, over the civic sphere, during the course of the war. This partially explains why the powerful challenges to the corporate order in the postwar period overwhelmingly failed.

In a cogently argued and well researched book, this excellent analysis of American radio during the Second World War is significant not just for an understanding of the role of radio in the propaganda war effort, it `also helps to explain the substantial divergence between the eras that preceded and succeeded the Second World War.

Two small quibbles: the archival sources could have been set out more clearly in the footnotes and the book would have greatly benefited from a bibliography.

The Secret History of PWE (The Political Warfare Executive) is the final draft of the official history of one of the nine secret services of the Second World War. Of all Britain's secret intelligence organisations, the least known is the PWE, developed to conduct psychological warfare against the Nazis. …

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