Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II

Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II

Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II

Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II

Synopsis

During World War II, the civilian Office of Censorship supervised a huge and surprisingly successful program of news management: the voluntary self-censorship of the American press. In January 1942, censorship codebooks were distributed to all American newspapers, magazines, and radio stations with the request that journalists adhere to the guidelines within. Remarkably, over the course of the war no print journalist, and only one radio journalist, ever deliberately violated the censorship code after having been made aware of it and understanding its intent.

"Secrets of Victory examines the World War II censorship program and analyzes the reasons for its success. Using archival sources, including the Office of Censorship's own records, Michael Sweeney traces the development of news media censorship from a pressing necessity after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the centralized yet efficient bureaucracy that persuaded thousands of journalists to censor themselves for the sake of national security. At the heart of this often dramatic story is the Office of Censorship's director Byron Price. A former reporter himself, Price relied on cooperation with--rather than coercion of--American journalists in his fight to safeguard the nation's secrets.

Excerpt

A young Frenchman who came from a royalist family but hoped to shape his country along more democratic lines spent nine months observing life in the United States in 1831 and 1832. His original intention was to focus on the prison system, but as he traveled and talked and observed the young republic, his mind wandered much further. He sought the reasons for the vitality and deficiencies of America's public sphere, and among his interests was an issue he considered crucial to the future of France: the balance between liberty and equality. When Alexis de Tocqueville returned home and wrote his insightful Democracy in America, he described Jacksonian democracy in terms that still ring true. He noted that although political liberty occasionally gives citizens great pleasure, equality “every day confers a number of small enjoyments on every man.” As much as democratic communities crave and cherish freedom, he said, they harbor an equally ardent passion for sharing life's conditions. These communities “call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy.”

If Tocqueville had been able to observe the mature republic a little more than a century later, he would have seen his words still fitting America like a well-tailored suit. The nation's citizen army and navy, under the direction of a citizen government, fought World War II with dual motivations. Foremost, expressed in government-approved Hollywood films, armed forces training lectures and movies, and publicity from the White House and the Office of War Information, was the belief in the need to halt fascism and preserve democracy. But underneath was an equally powerful reason that ordinary Americans chose to put themselves at risk. Once they were in combat, they were not fighting for their country and its ideals as much as they were fighting for a team. They felt strong bonds of comradeship, and it was hard to let down the rest . . .

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