23 May 2013

War, sponsored by Admiral

Edward R. Murrow; Corbiss / Bettmann via source.
Robert Trout, CBS World News Today, July 29, 1945:
Within the hour, Edward R. Murrow, Columbia's chief of European correspondents, reported from London his belief that one of the principal negotiators at Potsdam has stated that his country will go to war with Japan and soon. Mr. Murrow, speaking from London, did not mention specifically the name of the Big Three nation whose status of neutrality with Japan, he stated, is now drawing rapidly to a close, but even the Japanese must know perfectly well which nation it is.
In this quaint spirit of journalistic coyness, I should comment that perhaps I am in this same nation now.

And in this same nation a debate is raging about whether negative statements about its role in that same war should be made illegal. As that debate rolls on, I find myself in yet another cycle of fascination with the war that took over 50 million lives and caused my parents' paths to cross in Chicago instead of their remaining in Japan (mother) and Norway (father).

Last year, I read Bloodlands; the year before The Storm of War; the year before that, all of Winston Churchill's six-volume history of the war. This year, I've not been doing any new war-related reading, but instead, for months now, I've been listening to the weekly CBS News program World News Today, and a few similar programs, as preserved by recordings available through archive.org (1939; 1940; 1941; 1942; 1943; 1944; 1945).

I suppose I don't get either the information or the analysis I'd get from books, but it's definitely an interesting and different dimension to live with the war this way, listening to at least one broadcast a day for a period of weeks. Both the horror and the insidious normalcy of world war are there.

You won't be surprised that CBS News became in large part a cheerleading auxiliary to the U.S. military. It could hardly be otherwise. I say "in large part" because you can usually hear a real effort being made by the anchor person (usually Doug Edwards or Robert Trout) to report the news neutrally (if using the word "Jap" counts as neutral!)--and occasionally correspondents express frustration at censorship. Axis sources are frequently quoted, though often with cautions about their believability, while no such cautions are given for Allied sources. Military analyses by George Fielding Eliot are thoughtful and dispassionate, though it's 100% clear which side he's on.

Part of the fascination of these recordings is the immediacy of the coverage, especially in light of the fuller picture we got subsequently. Erwin Rommel's death is reported as a result of a car accident. As far as I could tell, the awful battles of Monte Cassino were severely under-reported--but in general the meatgrinder represented by the Italian campaigns becomes evident, and is responsible for some of the more frank reports of discouragement.

In the available episodes, there's no reporting at all on peace churches or conscientious objectors, with one possible exception: a moving interview with a medic. Late in the war, the heartbreaking episode of the Warsaw uprising is reported--along with an accurate forecast of its unsustainability. Unfortunately, several important episodes, such as most of the Battle of the Bulge, happened during gaps in the available episodes. Stalingrad is under-reported. In the British elections of 1945, Churchill and his party are predicted to be returned to power with a narrow majority.

It's fascinating to follow the evolving shift from American isolationism to full participation in the emerging United Nations structure. Coverage of the U.S. Senate debate on the UN Charter focused on the willingness of the USA to participate in armed collective security--and predicted that only one to five Senators would eventually oppose U.S. membership.

A very minor point of interest, in comparison with the war news, is the smooth marketing of Admiral appliances on World News Today. Admiral is the exclusive sponsor for most of the war years, and they didn't let you forget it. Not only did they promote "America's smart set," they also practically renamed the news department after themselves, perhaps in line with the fashion of naming entertainment programs after their sponsors. Correspondents finishing their reporting from the field would announce, "Now back to Admiral in New York."

One of the most interesting interviews of all was with George V. Holloman at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. Holloman and his team had been constructing buzz bombs based on scraps sent from the sites of V-1 attacks in England. From the interview:
Bill Slocum, Jr: Do we have any buzz bombs, sir?
George Holloman: Well, we Americans just don't believe in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians.
Slocum: We know now that Germans can fire these bombs 200 miles or so. Therefore, it seems logical to this civilian mind of mine that they might get a few improvements.
Holloman: I never yet saw anything that couldn't be improved, Mr. Slocum.
Slocum: German accuracy with buzz bombs is notoriously bad, Colonel. Do you feel it might in time improve?
Holloman: Improvement is characteristic of Germans. And we can do anything they can do.
Slocum: That's a sad picture you paint of the future, sir.
Holloman: Possibly, except for one thing. There will be no large or small nations in a military sense. It should be merely a matter of making and storing propulsion bombs, and maybe no one will dare start a war.
Slocum: And what will this mean to our aerial warfare of the future?
Holloman: It will mean a lot. Many forward-thinking people are beginning to come around to the opinion that such weapons will replace our present-day tactical warfare--and in the not too far distant future, too.

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