Book Reviews -- the Censored War: American Visual Experience during World War Two by George Roeder Jr / Reporting the War: The Journalistic Coverage of World War II by Frederick S. Voss
Washburn, Patrick S., Journalism History
Roeder, George, Jr. The Censored War: American Visual Experience During World War Two. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. 189 pp. $30.
Voss, Frederick S. Reporting the War: The Journalistic Coverage of World War II. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994. 218 pp. $24.95.
Although fifty years have passed since it ended, World War II remains a mesmerizing experience for both readers and academic researchers. We are reminded of that by two new books, George H. Roeder, Jr.'s The Censored War: American Visual Experience During World War Too and Frederick S. Voss' Reporting the War: The Journalistic Coverage of World War II. Both have much to offer, but for different audiences. Roeder is essentially writing for academicians while Voss' book is directed toward the general public and students. Yet, the books have a common theme: each examines war reporting and what journalists chose, or were allowed, to tell those back home.
The book by Roeder, who is a liberal arts professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, makes it more apparent than ever why some have called this "The Good War." The government was determined to get total support for the war, with no letdown as the allies increasingly gained the upper hand. Thus, subtle, visual propaganda was the order of the day, and while accuracy did not frequently suffer, truth did. As the book points out, this control of visual images had a profound effect on Americans because it "helped determine what type of society they shaped during and after the war."
The value of Roeder's book is that it expands our horizons on the extent of government censorship during World War II. For example, he notes that the Pentagon had a secret Chamber of Horrors, where war photographs were kept from the public because of what they showed. Thus, the government allowed no photographs of dead American troops to be used in the media until September 1943 because it feared that they would make Americans want to get out of the war. Then, it was decided that such pictures would "intensify public commitment to the war effort," and some of them were released. Nevertheless, Americans were never allowed during the war to see "horrific" war pictures or scenes suggesting that soldiers were mentally ill.
Although such government control is not surprising, this book details how even corporations and industry organizations willingly joined this censorship. For example, Roeder talks about how those making motion pictures and newsreels, producing advertising, and editing publications also followed government visual goals. It added up to a less-than-truthful account of a savage war because it oversimplified the images of good and bad. This, in turn, came back to haunt Americans. "Had Americans seen more of World War II perhaps they would have had less war to see in Vietnam," Roeder argues. "... More exposure to the ambiguities of war and of relations among nations might have encouraged more rigorous questioning of subsequent policies based more on overgeneralized assumptions about a world divided into 'free' and 'communist' blocs than on critical analysis of particular cases. …