The Impact of Censorship During World War II on the Average American

Essay 2013 13 Pages

History - America


The Impact of Censorship During World War II on the Average American

“The war came as a great relief, like a reverse earthquake, that in one terrible jerk shook everything disjointed, distorted, askew back into place. Japanese bombs had finally brought national unity to the U.S.”.[1] This Time Magazine report gave a foreshadowing to the upcoming manner of war reports. All nations participating in the Second World War used one or another strategy to commit their countries to war.[2] Government-conducted manipulation of informing a people can be differentiated into an active channel, propaganda, and a non-active one, censorship. Even though, propaganda and censorship usually cohere, this essay shall only throw a light on how US-American censorship shaped the average citizen’s perception before, while, and after World War II.

Censorship is a measure of mass media control when a government reckons that the publication of particular pieces might pose a threat to the current form of government or the nation’s people. The pre-war media landscape offered an expedient basis for all sorts of propaganda tactics: Life -Magazine and other newspapers were not only read by intellectuals but enjoyed increasing popularity since using large coloured pictures. Listening to the radio and going to the cinema became a fashionable and much frequented activity for people of all classes, gender, and race.[3] However, one may not jump to the conclusion, politicians and media officials must have had an easy time influencing the US-American opinions about what happened in Europe. Instead, censorship had a much higher chance of success since the majority of Americans had considered themselves alarmingly brainwashed after World War I.[4] The way their reason had been circumvented made them fear for their democratic principles: Are we any better than these blind Nazi followers?[5]

Moreover, the political course of isolationism did not allow a sudden warmongering.[6] The aim was to maintain peace with Europe in general and even South America in order to regain and stabilize economic prosperity. While the rising fascist regimes in Europe broke one diplomatic treaty after another and the relations with Japan kept deteriorating, the USA followed their own kind of appeasement politic.[7] In 1937, a Gallup Poll illustrates its peak when 94% of the population prefers efforts “to keep out of war over efforts to prevent war”.[8]

Abruptly in December 1941, however, a decision is being made for them rather harshly: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor catapults the US straight into the setting of the World War. After this meaningfully staged tragedy, America irreversibly gives up its neutrality: “First it was indignation, then it turned to anger, and by the time one went to work the following morning it was determination: They can't do that to us”.[9]


[1] Time Magazine, December 15, 1941.

[2] Roeder , G. H.,The Censored War. American Visual Experience During World War Two (New Haven, 1995), p. 2/ 134: It should be kept in mind, however, that American propaganda and censorship were still fairly measured in comparison to, for example, Soviet Russia and Germany.

[3] Cf. Roeder,Censored War, 4f.

[4] Cf. Winkler, A.,The Politics of Propaganda. The Office of War Information. 1942-1945 (New Haven and London, 1978) p. 4f/ 9.

[5] Cf. Roeder,Censored War, 2 on the „growing immunity to overt propaganda” in the USA. Henceforth, no American person or institution might ever have been allowed to acquire such immense power as Joseph Goebbels or the German Propagandaministerium. Consequently, Roeder must be contradicted for American propaganda never was as intense as the Germans’ of the 1930’s but always had to work way more subtly.

Also cf. Sweeney, M. S.,Secrets of Victory. The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II (Chapel Hill, 2001), p. 4. for further research of what, when, and how information had been published detailed written records shall be consulted as most contemporaries passed away already.

[6] Cf. Tindall, G. & D. Shi,America: A Narrative History (New York, 1999), p. 883 elaborating on the idea of the United States causing their isolated status themselves by insisting on demanding reparations from World War One.

[7] Cf. Tindall & Shi,America, 882f/ 888ff on Hitler and Mussolini’s constant provocations by breaking all established foreign policy conventions while Europe remains paralysed, naively hoping all might magically fall back into place again. Instead Europe fascist powers already join forces with Japan which worsens their relations with the USA and led them into a war neither could have wanted.

Cf. further on Tindall & Shi,America, 885 about the U.S.’s Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America.

[8] Cf. Tindall & Shi,America, 892/ 895 and Noakes, J.,The Civilian in War. The Home Front in Europe, Japan and America (Chicago, 1992), p. 80 stating that the German Blitzkrieg seriously frightens the USA as they had managed to ignore the ongoing war fairly well to that point.

[9] Among many others, Don Johnson from Michigan remembers on http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/WWII_Women/RA/NCraig/PHMemories.html . Perrett, G.,Country Made by War. From the Revolution to Vietnam (New York, 1989), p. 438 argues that especially World War II heals “the fissures of a divided, insecure nation and bound it together as nothing else could”. Cf. moreover Tindall & Shi,America, 901/ 904 and Sweeney,Secrets of Victory, 2.


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Title: The Impact of Censorship During World War II on the Average American