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The War of Words

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Member Reviews

A GI View of the News

When World War II started newspapers and magazines were at a zenith in American culture. US military leaders, including George C. Marshall, decided the Army needed its own newspapers and magazines to inform troops. Surprisingly, they gave the GIs running the publications a remarkable freedom to report as they saw fit.

“The War of Words: How America’s GI Journalists Battled Censorship and Propaganda to Help Win World War II,” by Molly Guptill Manning, tells the story of the GI press in World War II. It shows they were a weapon leading to US victory as much as the tanks and artillery wielded by the GIs.

Manning makes Marshall the champion of the GI newspaper. She also shows why. Marshall understood morale’s importance. He believed keeping GIs uninformed, with no place to gripe, contributed to low morale. The book shows how and why Roosevelt supported Marshall. She shows how the Nazis harnessed propaganda to further their efforts. Marshall and Roosevelt believed a patriotic free press within the US military would counter that.

By war’s end, over 4,600 separate GI periodicals appeared, including newspapers and magazines published at the post, divisional, and theater level. Some, like Stars and Stripes and Airman, had worldwide reach. Others like the Camp Bowie Blade were strictly local. A few, like 45th Division News, had tremendous impact. Famed war cartoonist Bill Mauldin started there.

Manning shows the correspondents at work, occasionally under fire, to gather news and write it up for their publications. Some were newspapermen before the war, willing to ply their prewar trade along their GI responsibilities. Others, like Andy Rooney, picked up reporting in the army and continued in civilian life.

Manning traces the effects of these publications on the men who fought in World War II. She uncovers the effort required to produce them. It required a massive allocation of paper and ink. Printing presses and reproduction equipment had to be secured and shipped. She also shows the varying levels of support offered by different commanders. General Eisenhower favored the papers and gave those under his command wide press freedom. General McArthur disliked giving GIs any latitude to print anything at variance with McArthur’s view of what should be said.

“The War of Words” is a fascinating look at the US press and US military during World War II. It focuses attention on an overlooked aspect of the US military in that war.

“The War of Words: How America’s GI Journalists Battled Censorship and Propaganda to Help Win World War II,” by Molly Guptil Manning, Blackstone Publishing, 2023, 274 pages, $25.99 (hardcover), $9.99 (e-book), $36.95 (audio CD)
This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is

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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.

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Molly Guptill Manning writes books about how words have power. She does this by writing about little known parts of WWII history, with this book and her previous work, When Books Went to War. Both are fascinating looks at a slice of history and very thoroughly researched. It is a lot of information to take in, and is occasionally a bit dry, but truly worth picking up for anyone interested in history, particularly US Military History.

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced copy.

Pub Date: September 26, 2023

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If you pay attention to history, and you really should, you'll have heard a lot about the role of propaganda and media in World War II. Perhaps you'll have heard so much that you think you've heard it all.

But you probably haven't, both generally speaking and in terms of the very specific thing Molly Guptill Manning sets out to explain in The War of Words.

I've read a lot of World War II history, but I never realized just quite how the United States set out to counter the propaganda machine of Nazi Germany and build troop morale at the same time through the creation and use of newspapers, in various forms, written entirely by the enlisted men in the U.S. military. Stars & Stripes is, of course, the most well-known because it has been around the longest but during World War II individual battalions, divisions, regiments, etc. often had their own news publications.

And the value of having that was high, as The War of Words lays out. Troops were able to speak to each other, speak about themselves, and speak to the highest ranking officers (and FDR got copies of many of the publications). Where Nazi, and general Axis, propaganda focused on telling their troops what to think, the U.S. military under the guidance of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall focused on letting their troops speak to find their purpose and motivation for fighting hard until the war was won.

Molly Guptill Manning has written a compulsively readable history of one subtopic of World War II. The War of Words isn't bogged down in details and footnotes and data. Because it is a story about how a story was told, it becomes both a nonfiction history and a story in itself.

If you want to learn something new about World War II or about journalism or about how what we write, and what we are allowed to write and to read, affects us, I could not possibly recommend this book more.

Disclaimer: Thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for the chance to read an early copy of this book in exchange for a review. All thoughts are my own and no

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This covered a portion of history that I did not know much about. It showed how the soldiers were anxious for uncensored information. The difference in the response from Eisenhower and other generals was interesting and offered insight in to how those generals treated their soliders.

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