Protective Custody in the Post Office

MENTION OF ANY ONE OF TWENTY-ONE DIFFERENT SUBJECTS might cause the delay, deletion, or suppression of a letter if it came within the sphere of American postal authorities. And that censoring process was approached from different angles. In addition to differences of opinion among the censors themselves, exigencies of war caused the inspection of mail that did not come, technically, within the prescribed censorial limits. Only examples of the various kinds of communications censored, and expressions by the censors themselves, can reveal the type of postal custody we had during the World War.

The organization of mail censorship had several handicaps. It started with a comparatively untrained force of censors who, at first, were inclined to sway back and forth between the conflicting impulses of passing or suppressing each letter examined. This would not have been true of a staff trained for that specific task. In addition, if the censor could reach a decision about the communication directly in front of him, there still remained the problem of determining what percentage of the total mail should be censored. Finally, Military and Naval Intelligence wished to examine all letters, while the Post Office Department desired to keep the mails moving as expeditiously as possible.

Postal opinion of mail censorship was expressed by D. H. Macadam, postmaster at Honolulu, in a letter to the United States Postal Agent at Shanghai: "For my own personal sake, I wish to goodness they would either make it an outright military censorship or turn it over wholly into my own or other civilians' hands." He conceived it his duty to get every piece of mail passed without delay, unless there was a definite military or economic reason for its detention or suppression.

-110-

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Censorship, 1917
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Our Censorship Heritage 3
  • The Seed of Censorship 24
  • Laws against Spies and Traitors 39
  • The Censorship Board 55
  • Cables and Telegrams 73
  • Soldiers, Sailors, and Censors 94
  • Protective Custody in the Post Office 110
  • Banned Books 153
  • Scissors and Films 172
  • No More Soap-Boxes 190
  • Aftermath or Prologue 213
  • Notes on Sources 233
  • Index 241
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