Monday, September 25, 2023

The War of Words by Molly Guptill Manning

First Line: When Dean Chatlain led his unit into battle in Southern Tunisia in early 1943, he did not expect the day's events would turn him into a literary hero.
Hitler's Germany was #1 in the number of newspapers published and sold. His propaganda budget was $134 million per year. When the United States entered World War II, US Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that something had to be done to combat the Nazis' campaign of misinformation. The best defense was to lessen censorship and to let American troops bring the truth into focus by writing and disseminating it themselves. 
By war's end, over 4,600 unique GI publications had been printed around the world. In newsprint, troops made sense of their hardships, losses, and reasons for fighting, and these newspapers became the heart and soul of their units. They were kept by the soldiers and mailed back home to their loved ones, with strict instructions to save them all. 
From Normandy to the shores of Japan, American soldiers exercised a level of free speech the military had never known before... or since. As in her When Books Went to War (one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read), Molly Guptill Manning does a masterful job of showing what went into the creation of these GI newspapers. How typewriters, paper, mimeograph machines and stencils-- everything that the soldiers would need to create their newspapers-- were gathered and shipped. She shows the opposition George Marshall faced in putting this program together as well as how stateside newspapers enthusiastically joined forces with him. There were some mighty tender egos to be reckoned with, and I enjoyed how soldiers found ways to circumvent them to say what they wanted to say.
Probably the most important lesson learned by the War Department at this time was the fact that keeping soldiers and civilians in the dark actually lowered morale. At the beginning of America's entry into World War II, morale was very low. Soldiers couldn't understand why they were being sent to Europe when it was the Japanese who'd attacked Pearl Harbor. Why weren't they being sent to the Pacific? When the War Department eased up on censorship and began to let people know what was going on, morale skyrocketed. Soldiers knew what they were fighting for, and civilians were now eager to do their part in the war effort. 
There are so many powerful personalities to learn about in The War of Words. So many amazing stories of what had to be done to keep getting those newspapers into the hands of the troops. So many lessons those in power had to learn. (For instance, the need to provide news aimed at troops who were Black, Japanese-American, Native American, and women.)
On a personal note, as I read The War of Words, I was constantly reminded of my mother and a good friend who put their heads together to create a hometown newspaper for my cousin who was serving in Vietnam. Filled column by column with juicy gossip from my little farm town, it kept my cousin informed of what was going on at home-- and it became so popular that it was put on the bulletin board for everyone else to enjoy-- and they did even though they didn't know the people being gossiped about.
Never underestimate the power of words. 

The War of Words: How America's GI Journalists Battled Censorship and Propaganda to Help Win World War II
Blackstone Publishing © 2023
eBook, 323 pages
Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


  1. Absolutely fascinating, Cathy! And I didn't know your mother had been part of a hometown newspaper! I've always firmly believed in the power of the press and of freedom to read and think. This sounds like a really strong discussion of that on top of everything else.

    1. My mother and friend had a "homemade" tabloid, filled with rumors, speculation, gossip... all the things you would not find in a regular newspaper, but would bring a soldier much closer to home.

  2. Words are important and so powerful. I love that your mom helped create a hometown newsletter like that! I miss our daily newspaper; it's all online now and not the same.

  3. I enjoyed WBWtW also, so I'll definitely look into this one as well. The subject matter reminds me of the event where Jacqueline Winspear brought tears to my eyes as she described handling and reading soldiers' letters as part of her research for the Maisie Dobbs series.

    1. Yes. Winspear's brought tears to my eyes more than once.

  4. Sounds like a really good book. This is the second time that one of your posts has triggered my desire to find a copy of When Books Went to War - and I still haven't done it. All those cheap paperbacks printed up for our military really changed the publishing industry forever. I love that probably unexpected side effect.

  5. It's great that your mother produced that hometown newspaper. Dare I say that I come from another world on this? Friends were publishing an anti-war newspaper here, which included news from draftees in Vietnam. Copies of it were circulated here and shared among many soldiers in Vietnam where one copy would be read by many people and passed along.

    1. The dissemination of news is vitally important.

  6. Yes, he was-- although the roles were greatly curtailed after World War II.


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