Books as Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II

I choose “Books as Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II” written by John B. Hench as the publication to do my book review on doing some research on Contemporary Authors Online I found that John B. Hench had earned a PHD in history from Clark University in 1979. Hench was involved in many historical clubs and societies throughout the years ranging in all topics mostly that of historical significance. Hench also served as vice president for the American Antiquarian Society for multiple years.

Although Hench was involved in many societies and clubs he had time to help edit and improvise books from 1980 to the early 1990’s. A lot of these books had to do with literature and its historic values in America. A few examples were titled “Printing and Society in Early America”, “Need and Opportunities in the History of the Book: America”, and “The Press and the American Revolution”. In 2010 Hench published his first book which I am doing my review on that dealt with mainly the World War II era and the importance of books. I believe that John B. Hench’s educational and professional background make him a source of reliance. His book covers a vast array of topics and history but the main point it talks about pertains to the circulation of books during WWII and the use of propaganda from both sides. Seeing as Hench has a PHD in history and an outstanding number of fellow historians and authors specializing to this era backing him; I have no choice but to believe that he has put a legitimate source of knowledge into his book. Would one so question the validity of an orthodontist or brain surgeon with years of experience and college degrees?

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Propaganda and War: Using books in the war of ideas I had a choice as a student to choose from four books to do a report on. The one that stuck out to me was John Hench’s book. Not only did the title catch my eye but after a quick review of the first few chapters I knew that I was in for an educational joy ride. This book would uncover a vast array of things that the majority public did not have much knowledge of. Most of these things uncovered had to do with the publishing companies aiding with war efforts and some underlying WWII factoids.

The most obvious things that I caught from the book were how much propaganda affected the war and its outcome, and also how the American book publishing companies took over the world. Having noticed these monocle ideas I decided to choose to write my book report with the themes of ‘Propaganda and war’ and ‘How the war allowed America to become the new world publisher’. I will explain my choices with detail and what made me choose them. Hench’s book will follow nearly the same themes but also throw molecular information so detailed and knowledgeable that one could only begin to relish its significance.

Starting with the most obvious theme of the usage of propaganda during the war I will explain how and why it was so important to have this propaganda. During the first parts of the war there were tons of censorship programs and propaganda machines on the part of the German powers. “ In comparison with the United States and Britain…. the publishing business in countries occupied by German troops and under the sway of Nazi propaganda and censorship was bleak”(29). The Nazi party wanted to spread the idea of German soldiers being invincible and everybody else was inferior.

The Nazi party would be able to accomplish most of their censorship goals by many factors. One main factor would be described by Stephen Vincent Benet as “Nazi thugs in Berlin, Munich, and elsewhere burned hundreds of thousands of books written by Jews and other ‘subversive’ writers” (49). The Nazi powers were burning and destroying all the things that could inspire hope or ideas and fill them with propaganda lathed material. This was to start persuading the taking over countries to fear and obey their new occupiers and leaders; the Nazis.

Although the Nazi party was evil most of its military and scientific breakthroughs were brilliant and still used to this day. The United States realized that propaganda was a strong weapon in war and abroad. “By adopting the slogan suggested by… W. W. Norton and later given wide circulation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘Books are weapons in the war of ideas,’ the group ensured that propaganda in some form or other was ever present in its activities”(5). After some thought and deliberation the president would form a group to focus on morale building, publicity, and propaganda. After some fumbling, President Roosevelt established the uninspiring named Office of Facts and Figures…Roosevelt replaced it with the Office of War Information in June 1942”(5). This organization would be remembered by most of the work Chester Kerr accomplished with them. “At Yale, Kerr majored in history and international government, perhaps with an eye toward diplomatic service… ” (60), he was also a publisher and very well and highly respectable man which is why he was perfect for the job in this organization. The formation of the organization would be vital in the spreading of propaganda during the war.

With help from the CBW (Council on Books in Wartime) the OWI (Office of War Information) would make and spread books all across Europe. The two organizations would come together to make OE’s or overseas editions and Transatlantic editions. “The OEs were vertically oriented paperbacks” (143), these books were also filled with propaganda. “Books laid the ground work in people’s minds of what this war would mean” (66). Although these organizations produced propaganda they also made sure that the home front and soldiers were taken care of by producing Armed Forces Editions (AFEs) which were aimed to bolster morale of troops.

OWI would join forces with Britain in the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme HQ of allied expeditionary force) in 1944. “Like the Americans, the British mobilized books for both domestic and overseas propaganda objectives during the war” (71). The PWD would distribute books after the allied forces would invade a country and liberate them. So everywhere the allies took over the purpose of the books was to start reeducating the people distressed and brain washed by the war. These books would also belittle the Nazi powers by making them seem not invincible.

Most of the readers would send praise the United States because of the stories in the books. Although the Allies knew these books were propaganda the general public would not. “Nearly all of the books approved for OEs were taken-quite deliberately- straight from publishers current lists or backlists”(98). OWI and PWD did this to ensure that it was propaganda in disguise that way the Europeans and other countries would think that they are actually reading for the benefit of their pleasure. While the books were used on war fields they were also used in prisons. Once it got underway, the effort to reeducate German prisoners in the United States took several forms…” (117). One main goal was to try and break the allegiance and debt that most German soldiers felt they owed the Nazi party. The same tactics were also used with the Japanese and other countries. Overall the idea of using books as weapons in the war of ideas panned out well for the allied forces because this propaganda would be worth its weight in gold as well. America Taking Over The Publishing Industry:

The planting of a seed. Between WWI and WWII there was a great depression in the United States. Most of the industries would flutter and hit rock bottom but would rise from the ashes towards the beginning of WWII. Nearly every industry and company in the United States was “eager to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort” (45). The U. S. Publishers banded together to form the CBW (Council on Books in Wartime) in early 1942, and their thoughts were described by John Hench as “could perform important public service and harvest financial benefits at the same time” (45). The U. S. ublishers during this time after WWI and the great depression were selling material but at a low rate and their global sales were near irrelevant as Britain’s publishing was a king amongst pawns. On D-day June 6, 1944 Hundreds of thousands of allied troops rushed the shores of the Normandy Coast to fight against the Nazi Germany army (1). Along with the troops it was the joint mission of the CBW and OWI to supply not only troops but European countries and liberated people with books that were filled with propaganda. More than one million books were supplied by July 1 and another 1. 85 million by the end of the summer (2).

The American publishers thought that this could be their big opportunity to sell on a global market abroad. Doing this could put the foot in the door for after the war sales and projections. There were four main chief aims that the U. S. States Department set to achieve. The main one that the OWI and CBW were focused on was the fourth which was “to make the purchase of United States books and periodicals easier in foreign countries” (66). Even though Great Britain was bombed heavily during the war they did not want the United States to alone only distribute propaganda and books because they had their own goals and agenda. Like the Americans, the British mobilized books for both domestic and overseas propaganda objectives during the war” (71). Britain wanted to make sure that the U. S. was not the only one in these books as weapons agenda. With War time started and the first books being sold many ex – occupied countries were starting to rejoice. “A Danish publisher wrote…’ I dare say that as an American you can hardly appreciate the pleasure it means to an inhabitant of an ex-occupied country to be able to communicate with friends abroad… the feeling of gratitude to all Americans is strong everywhere’” (158).

The goal of the allies to spread propaganda during the war through books was working. Many countries started flocking to these book stores and booths that the allied forces set up to buy books. “British publishers grew ever more fretful that their American cousins would succeed in gaining world market share at their expense by taking advantage of the weakened state of trade caused by the war” (198). Feeling as though the United States was going to take over the global market, the British started mudslinging allegations of encroachment to show their discomfort.

The two giant publishing companies would meet up and start talking about terms and numbers. “’The British publishers asked their U. S. colleagues to think not only of best sellers but of the whole business they do with Great Britain’ and to be content, if needs be, to sacrifice these occasional plums for the good of the sale of the majority of American books” (219). The British were asking the U. S. to let them publish these books to help them boost their sells and allow them to recover. This happened but after a few years the United States wanted its freedom back.

The Two sides came to yet another agreement but this one was to be final. “The agreement divided world markets into two categories- home markets…and other markets” (223). This would give certain rights and set regulations that both sides would have to follow. Other than what was mostly surrounded by the countries everywhere else was considered ‘other markets’ or open markets in the rest of the world (223). After the war all of the government appointed organizations and even the CBW were disbanded. Nearly all of the major American publishers still produced overseas editions and were seeing record breaking margins.

Harpers publishing companies total income from foreign rights sales increased by more than 800 percent after the war (260). So by capitalizing off of wartime the United States was now a big entity in the world market of publishing. Now every country wanted to learn English and read these fascinating books. SHAEF made over $2,061,188 from book sales only in the parts of Europe it liberated, although it did sell films they made a mere $400,000 which was nothing compared to the accolades of the books (157).

Student Critique. In 2010 Hench published the book “Books as Weapons…” it mainly dealt with World War II era and how books were used to help the process by spreading ideas/propaganda, and to help US publishers get a better grasp on the global market. The book was described as “Inspires nostalgia for a time when books seemed to be winning cultural weapon” (Koppes). This was written by Clayton R. Koppes a very well respected college professor with a PHD in history and a fellow author. I believe the message he was trying to say is that his book brings back good times of when books used to be the first thing to read rather than a fashion magazine or internet blog.

Another review of this book by a well respected history professor named Fredric Krome was blatantly summed up as “Hench nicely balances the publishing history of the war years with an analysis of the propaganda goals of the Anglophone world” (Krome). Keep in mind that most of these reviews were by peers of Hench and were fellow historians. But another review that stood out was by Valerie Holman. Holman said that “John Hench has shown how book history can shine a revealing light in many dark corners of the now solidly-constructed edifice of Second World War History”.

She eloquently said that he showed a part of history that was not written in most history books. Valerie’s professional review carries high significance because she has written many books pertaining to this era and most of the 20th century as well as being a highly respected college professor. I believe that Hench’s book was very educational and had many key points in its delivery. Although I personally would have written the book in a much different and interesting manner I believe that he did a good job. The book was written in such a way as though I thought that Hench was actually speaking to me.

As a historian Hench would be dubious not to have numerous fast facts and knowledge to speak of while giving a story. So in his book he would speak about a subject and then jump back into time and in the next chapter or segment leap back into the future. I found this very confusing at times and was exhausted from plain knowledge being spewed into my brain. I would have personally preferred if he would have given the whole book in chronological order instead of using his method of separating the book up. John B. Hench’s book did not really pertain to my taste of reading.

Even though I was not in my comfort zone I got the idea Hench wanted to pass which was to “use books as weapons in the war of ideas”. There was sufficient background information and he had enough main points to support his views and give the reader a better understanding of how books helped shape the outcome of WWII and help the United States become one of the biggest publisher’s worldwide. Overall I would recommend this book not to my close friends but my fellow scholars that are interested in becoming a historian or fall into something relating to it.

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