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Words at War, 1943-1945

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(72 Broadcasts, 36 hours of audio)

As one might well imagine, World War II generated thousands of books, periodical stories and novels spanning the entire spectrum of America and its allies' involvement in the War. Ranging from detailed human interest vignettes to macroscopic views of the strategies, tactics, politics and philosophy of War, these books provided many compelling, heart-rending, inspirational, and cautionary tales of the effect--and aftermath--of war.

In 1943, the United States Office of War Information (OWI), in cooperation with The Council on Books in Wartime, and the National Broadcasting Company combined to suggest a Radio program dramatizing some of the more important of these books.

The Council on Books in Wartime was a non-profit organization founded in the Spring of 1942 by booksellers, publishers, librarians, and authors, with the purpose of channeling the use of books as “weapons in the war of ideas,” the Council's motto. Its stated aims were "the promotion of books to influence the thinking of the American people regarding the war, to build and maintain the will to win, to expose the true nature of the enemy, to disseminate technical information, to provide relaxation and inspiration, and to clarify war aims and problems of peace."

The efforts of this combine resulted in the premiere on June 24, 1943 of the critically acclaimed Words At War series, the name a play on the motto of the Council on Books in Wartime. The eventual result was a series that ran for some ninety-seven-plus, 30-minute programs aired mostly sustained over National Broadcasting Company and covering over 120 books and publications addressing elements of war and its impact on society. The series spanned the works of an international collection of authors, ranging from Colonel Carlos P. Romulo of the Army of The Philippines to the Chinese, Harvard educated author Lin Taiyi to authors representing their perspectives on World War II from The Netherlands, Italy, The Balkans, Soviet Russian, Japan, and even Naz* Germany, providing a comprehensive, domestic and international series unmatched in Radio History.

National Broadcasting Company also aired Pacific Story (1943-1947) during the run of Words At War. Pacific Story was more documentary in nature, running for some 185 installments and tracing the evolution of the War in the Pacific Theatre. Columbia Broadcasting System for its part, aired the inspirational and moving personal retrospective of War with its Peabody award-winning The Man Behind The Gun (1942-1944). The three programs combined to provide North American radio audiences a fairly comprehensive, as well as philosophical, domestic account of the development of the War, its precedents, its personal side, and its aftermath. This was in stark contrast to the glut of uber-patriotic propaganda productions that flooded North American airwaves immediately following the United States' entry into World War II.

Both approaches to wartime information, and of course the daily, sometimes censored, accounts of the prosecution of the War in both major Theatres, were almost certainly necessary. The more jingoistic pieces were clearly necessary to capture the attention of the less aware elements of American society who remained oblivious to the effect of war on domestic consumption, the need for rationing, and the deleterious effects of black market micro-economies. And on a broader scale, American businessmen being what they've been since the Industrial Revolution, were less inclined to rein in their profligate excesses without the public pressures and government controls that inevitably ensued.

The Government, thankfully, was wise enough to target its more propagandistic efforts to radio listeners and newspaper readers who'd inevitably exert the power of their purses and bank accounts against the profiteers in the domestic wartime economy to act as a further curb against business community excesses.