Academic journal article International Social Science Review

From the Foxhole: American Newsmen and the Reporting of World War II

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

From the Foxhole: American Newsmen and the Reporting of World War II

Article excerpt

Introduction

As the fighting occurred on the beaches of Normandy, in the mountains of Italy, and on the islands of the Pacific, Americans craved news about those battles and the fate of their loved ones serving in the military. Over 2,000 men and women who served as war correspondents during World War II supplied that information to them through newspapers, magazines, newsreels, radio, and the newly invented television. The life of the average American war correspondent was little better than that of the soldiers they covered. Many newsmen, like Ernie Pyle, a Scripps-Howard correspondent, lived with the units they covered, enduring mud, enemy fire, and army rations just as they did. Some, including Pyle and Bill Mauldin, a cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, spent considerable time at the front. War correspondents followed the scoop, sending news of the latest action home via telegraph and radio. Often, they were assigned to a particular theater of operations or battlefront, but could travel as they pleased between rear areas and the front. Their work enlightened the home front on the course of the war and offers historians valuable contemporary perspectives of World War II.

In the 1930s and 1940s, most Americans relied on print journalism as their primary source for news. (1) Local and national newspapers brought the latest information from around the world to their readers. Magazines and syndicated news sources provided a broad national audience with the work of the most popular political and feature writers of the period. This era also marked a turning point in the history of communication as Americans experienced new and exciting ways of receiving information. Widespread ownership of radios, popular attendance at newsreels, and the advent of television increased the American public's access to information pertaining to the war.

As American soldiers fought in Africa, Asia, and Europe, newspapers served as the primary connection between the home front and the troops. Unlike the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers who fought in World War II did not enjoy the luxury of instant communication with loved ones back home. Mail delivery from war zones was sporadic and heavily censored. Journalists posted stories to their newspapers from the front every day. Within days of a battle, their words spread the story across the United States. Pyle and Mauldin provided both information about the war and insight into the men fighting in it. Pyle had contact with soldiers in Europe and the Pacific. He also interacted with a wider cross-section of the American armed forces, interviewing flyers, infantrymen, medics, civilians, and naval personnel. Mauldin focused on infantry soldiers who fought in Europe, particularly those involved in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. Neither

journalist could fully and truthfully portray the war as he saw it. Their work was restricted by censorship guidelines implemented by the military. They also self-censored their work due to the "good fight" mentality that prevailed during the war. Journalists understood the importance of their work, both at home and at the front, and were expected to aid the war effort by maintaining high morale. (2)

The work of the news media during World War II is an important source for historians in that it provides a contemporary perspective on the tides of battle just as the American public received such information over sixty years ago. News materials composed during the war are available to historians in a variety of forms. The most valuable source is the original report printed in newspapers and magazines. By informing the public of the course of the fighting, these reports shaped its perception of the war. Their placement among other articles and advertisements which appeared in those newspapers and magazines reveal the prominence of a particular writer and his/her story.

Upon their return home, publishing and film companies approached these journalists with offers to purchase the story of their work on the battlefield. …

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