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Munitions of the Mind: The British Press and the Second World War

Matthew Grant MA Twentieth Century History University of Liverpool (September 2004)

Abstract: In Munitions of the Mind: The British Press and the Second World War, Matthew Grant, drawing on theories from previous studies in the social sciences and original historical research focusing on press coverage, investigates the nature of British media-state relations during World War Two. The author begins his investigation by providing a detailed overview of the demands placed on the British government in its efforts to gain widespread consensus over the reasons for war, maintain public support for the government in how the war was prosecuted and maintain morale amongst the population in the face of prolonged suffering. The author makes the case that the government responded to these pressures by establishing a system of propaganda which was made up of two main subsystems; The first of these he defines as the System of Censorship established formally by government policy in the decade preceding war. The second of these is defined as the System of Voluntarism and Dependency which, drawing primarily on the mirror theory espoused by Daniel C. Hallin, is based on an analysis that contends the press and government are intimately linked elite organisations that this close relationship allowed for state control of the media to move from censorship to the threshold of lies. Evidence of this propaganda system in action is provided through a framework of research and analysis based on previous work by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. The author applies this framework to the British press coverage of the London Blitz, evacuation of Dunkirk, bombing of Dresden and the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to support his arguments regarding the 2

nature and role of the propaganda system. He then concludes by looking at how this area of both historical and social science research can be furthered to develop understanding of media-state relations.


1. Introduction

2. The Need for State Control of the Media

3. The Propaganda System

3.1. An Introduction 3.2. System of Censorship 3.3. System of Voluntarism and Dependency

15 16 24

4. Proving Propaganda 4.1. The Work of Herman and Chomsky 4.2. The British as Victims 4.3. Enemy Victims 34 39 51

5. Conclusions






1. Introduction

It would appear from the number of historical texts available on World War Two that studies of the media and the British war effort have largely focused on the roles of new forms of media such as cinema and the BBC. American historians have produced significantly more historical texts with regards to their own medias role in World War Two but this again has mainly focused on new media, especially cinema, and to a lesser extent the personal stories of individual reporters such as Ernie Pyle. The academic analysis of the role of the media in twentieth century conflicts has in fact been primarily taken up by social scientists working in the fields of communication studies, political science and sociology. These social scientists have focused their attentions on the limited conflicts of the Cold War era. Again, the eye of academia has had a tendency to focus analysis on the roles of new media forms, in this case the issue taking centre stage being the role of television and the US defeat in Vietnam. Perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of focus on the role of the media in World War Two, particularly that of the press, has been that there is a tendency to think that this area of history is already written, if not in print. World War Two was a total war; a war that engaged the energies of the whole nation.1 The entire society was mobilized and affected directly by the war unlike those that have followed.2 The totality of the Second World War resulted in the British state having to bring the political

Mackay, R., Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 18 2 Hayes, N., and J. Hill, eds, 'Millions like us'? : British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), pp. 3 - 4

system, the economy and the media under its direct control. It was a move that defined the whole nature of media reporting and coverage of the war. And perhaps this is the crucial point in relation to the academic study of the media and war; where as propaganda and state manipulation of the media is largely accepted as a necessary and proven feature of nations engaged in such a clear cut total war in which the good of democracy was pitted against the evil of totalitarianism; the proceeding conflicts of the Cold War were not viewed by many as morally just conflicts and were limited wars not requiring the entire energies of the nation, and so the issue of media state relations and the use of propaganda is a more contentious one thus resulting in academic research of greater breadth and depth. The role of the press in World War Two, as one of the oldest media institutions operating in a conflict where the use of propaganda is widely accepted by all, is perhaps to some historians and social scientists largely seen as old news in the field of research; there is perhaps a belief it doesnt need analysing or researching in great because the answers are already there. Perhaps the view is that there are more important areas of media research to be undertaken given the recent increase in direct Western involvement in conflicts and the continuing debate over Vietnam, the Falklands War and the first Gulf War? Certainly research by academics such as Daniel C. Hallin, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky has primarily focused on Cold War conflicts such as Vietnam but as I will demonstrate in this paper; the theories these academics have developed to show how the media of democratic countries operate in limited conflicts can also provide historians with new analytical tools to examine the total

wars of the twentieth century, bring forth new understanding of how countries such as Britain brought their media under control during these times and to certain extent highlight the similarities and differences in media practise during total and limited wars. An assessment of the British press during the Second World War drawing on theories developed by social scientists who have researched and analysed the role of the US media during the Cold War has proved particularly useful when looking at to what extent democracy was suspended during 1939-1945; to what extent a historically independent British media institution became directly manipulated by the government; and to what extent did the press willingly cooperate in the dissemination of propaganda. Historical research into this area has highlighted that mediastate relations during the Second World War was not entirely one in which the government simply dictated to the media what events it should report and how it should frame them. Rather it has underlined that during World War Two, the dissemination of propaganda through newspapers was in fact a collaborative effort between state and media. The state retained its position as the senior institution in this partnership through a system of censorship that allowed them to act as the main gatekeepers preventing stories deemed to be harmful from being published and keeping media staff firmly under their control through laws that allowed them to sanction anyone viewed to be harming the countrys interests. The media, as the junior partner, shared the same interests as government in winning the war and drew its staff from the same social grouping that the British states political, economic and military elites drew from. This, in conjunction

with a high dependency on political and military news sources, resulted in supportive coverage of the nations leadership and consistent approval of the war effort.

2. The Need for State Control of the Media

The official line of most films, TV documentaries, ceremonies and general public remembrance of Britain during the Second World War is that only through unity, through public sacrifice, through the bravery of the military and through the steely determination and defiance of the entire population, including the leadership, did Britain eventually become victorious against German might. Whilst the accuracy of this remembrance of Britain is still a hotly contested issue amongst academics and generally too controversial to question amongst the rest of the nation, it is true that the entire country would have been radically affected by defeat and so victory against Nazi Germany and its allies was a collective goal.3 Without the cooperation of the entire population it was, and generally still is, believed that a total war could not be fought.4 From the research conducted it is clear that the role of the press was primarily to maintain high public morale in the face of prolonged attacks, gain consensus over the reasons for war and elicit support for the ruling elites. The defining feature of press reporting was to maintain the willingness of the mass of the people to share the leaderships

S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 107 4 R. Mackay, Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 18

commitment to winning the war and to bear the burdens that this entailed over a period as long as or perhaps longer than the First World War.5 The First World War, having only taken place approximately twenty years before, was still etched on the memories of a high proportion of the population. The First World War changed notions of what conflict entailed. The romanticism of war and serving ones country that had motivated so many young men to take up arms and fight on faraway lands, with the support and encouragement of there fellow citizens, had become replaced by a bloody reality of war.6 As Mackay observes in Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (2002): There can be no doubt that in 1939 the people, in contrast to their predecessors in 1914, had a fairly clear idea of what a major war would be like.7 Naturally there was a concern amongst the elites over whether the British public would be able to endure another prolonged war and whether the patriotism, self-sacrifice and determination demonstrated by the masses during the First World War would be repeated.8 The First World War had proved to be a trigger for political upheaval in several major European countries including the rise of fascism in Germany, the collapse of Austria-Hungary, genocide in Turkey and a communist revolution in Russia.9 This fear over public aversion to future conflicts due to the horrors of the First World War was compounded by the rightly held belief that the nature of war had changed. The events of the thirties had
5 6

Ibid., p. 18 Ibid., p. 23 7 Ibid., p. 39 8 Ibid., p. 19 9 Ibid., p. 19

demonstrated that aircraft was increasingly becoming a weapon of mass destruction. There was a view amongst military planners and the political elites that the Spanish Civil War had marked a change in warfare with aircraft being used as a tool for military combat and crucially, for destabilizing and spreading terror amongst the enemy population. It was widely believed that Germanys vast fleet of aircraft would bring genocide from the sky.10 The fears over civilian bombing were viewed as an additional factor in making the public who remembered the First World War even more hostile to further bloodshed; the public would not only have to endure the death of their loved ones on foreign lands but face death on their doorsteps.11 A 1924 Home Office report observed that: It has been borne in on us that in the next war it may well be that the nation whose people can endure serial bombardment the longer and with greater stoicism will ultimately prove victorious.12 There were predictions that bombing of the capital would result in a crisis with four million people fleeing London as refugees and the army, rather than fighting on the frontlines, having to be deployed to prevent the possibility of widespread civilian unrest.13 Other reports similarly suggested that mass bombing of civilians would damage the war effort not just through death and destruction but more importantly, in terms of psychological damage to the populace. There were reports presented to the Ministry of Health in 1938 that predicted the bombing of civilians would cause large scale hysteria and mental breakdown.14

10 11

Ibid., p. 21 Ibid., p. 21 12 Ibid., p. 21 13 Ibid., p. 21 14 Ibid., p. 22


The government, aside from reports predicting civil unrest and opposition to the war, could also point to the growth of organised pacifism as evidence of the potential for a situation whereby they would be forced to pursue peace at any costs so as to calm a population opposed to the war15. It was widely believed that the First World War would be the war to end all wars and after the weapons had been laid down there were concerted efforts by sections of the public and even the government itself to act on the belief that the mass slaughter of humankind could not take place again. Several pacifist movements were created including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Canon Dick Shephards Peace Pledge Union which gained 100,000 pledges to not fight another war and the League of Nations Union which had over a million members by 1931.16 As the prospect of war increased this pacifist movement grew substantially with the League of Nations Union in 1935 launching a Peace Ballot which called on nations to engage in multilateral disarmament and seek to resolve matters peacefully through the League of Nations. The ballot gained the support of 11.5million people with nine out of ten who took part in the vote supporting such a move.17 In addition to this there was the emergence of the Labour Party as a major political party electing the staunch pacifist George Lansbury to lead it.18 Twenty two of the partys members also released a manifesto in the early stages of the war calling for an early armistice.19 Even amongst the young elites who would be called upon to lead the military in a future war there was significant dissent with the
15 16

Ibid., p. 22 Ibid., p. 24 17 Ibid., p. 24 18 Ibid., p. 24 19 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 237


Oxford University Union, a traditional area for officer recruitment, voting in 1933 that this House will in no circumstances fight for its king and country.20 One must also not forget that the growth of pacifism was not limited simply to the public; successive British governments had adopted policies designed to prevent conflict almost at all costs with strong support for the League of Nations and the policy of appeasement in its relations with the German leadership. The pacifist movement was not the only threat to public morale and consensus over the war that the government so desperately needed. During the twenties and thirties there had grown a number of political movements that challenged the very existence of Britain as a unified, liberal democratic, capitalist state. The most obvious rival political ideology to the government was the British Union of Fascists. Given that Britain faced invasion from a fascist government in Germany the existence of the BUF was naturally viewed as potentially damaging to the prospects of the nation uniting against the Nazis. One should also note that both the Daily Mail and some Tory politicians were sympathetic to Nazi Germany and had an admiration for Hitler as a strong leader.21 In addition there was also the existence of the Communist Party of Great Britain which could potentially provide the seeds for greater dissent particularly if the public came to believe the forthcoming conflict was yet another war between imperialist powers.22 Fears over extremist groups would have been tempered by the fact the BUF could never claim more than 20,000


R. Mackay, Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 25 21 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p.237 22 Ibid., p. 237


members and the belief that the noise generated by the fascists in the politics of the 1930s was out of all proportion to their numbers.23 Similarly, the Communist Partys membership never exceeded 17,000 and the party only ever managed to secure just one seat in Parliament in 1935 with them too being dismissed as outside Britains political mainstream; a noisy, vociferous presence, but in truth little consequence.24 It is clear that despite the fears, neither of these parties alone posed a serious threat to existence of the British state; there was no chance that Britains involvement in a war against Germany would result in the BUF or the Communist Party having their leader stood on the doorsteps of Downing Street as the nations new premier. However, the existence of these parties and the small but significant support they had does point to the fact Britain was a nation in which there was division and discontent. Britain did not enter the war as a unified nation, marching as one to fight the evil enemy. Many of the British lower classes who sacrificed so much in the First World War had not seen immediate reward for their efforts. Britain during the twenties and thirties had slipped from one economic crisis to another. The country entered the war on the back of years of unemployment and there was particularly a feeling amongst the populations of Northern England, Wales and Scotland that they had suffered most under the depression and were neglected by the government.25 Support for the Communist Party was greatest within Wales and Scotland with the Welsh having a large population of 135,000 miners


R. Mackay, Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 27 24 Ibid., p. 27 25 Ibid., pp. 27 - 28


represented through The Miners Federation under the leadership of the communist Arthur Horner.26 In addition to this the only Communist Party MP elected to parliament was voted in by the Scottish constituency of West Fife in 1935.27 This feeling manifested itself not only in the support for the Communist Party, but also in support for separatist movements who advocated the break-up of the union and adopted pacifist policies with regards to the prospect of war. The Scottish National Party came into existence in 1934 calling for home rule and promoting a pacifist foreign policy.28 They gained 16% of the vote but failed to take a seat in parliament in the 1935 elections.29 Membership also never exceeded 10,000 people.30 Similarly, Wales also saw the emergence of a separatist and pacifist political group in the form of Plaid Cymru. Members of the group were involved in a number of incidents of militancy with the leader Saunders Lewis being amongst three charged for an arsonist attack against a RAF bombing school at Pen-y-Berth and subsequently being feted as Welsh martyrs throughout Wales.31 Plaid Cymru also attempted to win seats in Parliament but polled just 5.7% in the 1935 elections and recruited no more than 2000 regular members.32 A further concern for the government was the ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland where an antiBritish Catholic population resided and manifested itself in the IRA terrorist organisation.33 All these groups offered challenges to the

26 27

Ibid., p. 28 Ibid., p. 28 28 Ibid., p. 29 29 Ibid., p. 29 30 Ibid., p. 29 31 Ibid., p. 28 32 Ibid., p. 28 33 Ibid., p. 30


governments ability to unify and mobilize the nation for war with Germany. However, perhaps what concerned the government most was the general discontent and low morale found throughout Britains poorest areas. Towards the end of the thirties the depression had begun to lift but this merely exacerbated the problems as gaps grew between the rich who were getting back on their feet and the 1.25million people who continued to suffer the hardships of unemployment.34 This is summarised by Mackay in Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (2002) where he observes that: Britain in the 1930s was a divided society. The faultlines lay between those who were victims of Depression and those who were spared its ravages; those whose living standards fell and lay behind figures showing a rise in average real incomes and a rise in average living standards Mass unemployment meant that millions suffered from poverty, bad housing, ill health and poor nutrition. These were the losers in British society, people who had little cause to feel they had a stake in it. Would they fight for it?35

3.1. The Propaganda System: An Introduction

It is clear there was a need for close media-state relations during the Second World War; the British government could not simply assume that the nation would willingly go along with their policies. The establishment of the propaganda system was an essential part of broader efforts to maintain morale, consensus over the war and support for government.36 If we look at the propaganda system in relation to the print media we can see that within it there are two sub-systems that when working in
34 35

Ibid., p. 30 Ibid., p. 30 36 Ibid., p. 35


conjunction provided an effective system for media management. The first of these sub-systems can be described as A System of Censorship and describes official government action to manage the media where as the second of the sub-systems A System of Voluntarism and Dependency describe how the existing close relationship between the media and state as interdependent and elitist institutions aided management of media output; what we could term as unofficial propaganda.

3.2. The Propaganda System: A System of Censorship

The limits on time and space confine this paper to a focus solely on the press. However, one should also note that whilst this institution had one of the highest audiences in the country it was the BBC that had the largest audiences and therefore would naturally have been the main priority in the management of the media.37 As such there are limits as to how representative this study of relations between press and state is of mediastate relations in general. The BBC had an estimated audience of 34million to 40million by 1944 and its evening news bulletin was reaching 43-50% of the total population every day.38 The press role as the main communicator of the news was taken over by the BBC who previous to the war had been banned from reporting before 6pm so as to protect the position of the print media.39 As a result of this, breaking news was delivered by BBC radio and the press role altered from news announcer to the provision of detailed follow-up news reporting that elaborated on radio

S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 81 38 Ibid., p. 81 39 Ibid., p. 81 16

reports and provided analytical commentary.40 A further point to consider is made by Hayes and Hill in 'Millions like us?: British Culture in the Second World War (1999) where it is argued that. The press entered the war in many respect discredited.41 The writers note that over the decade previous to war it has been argued on several occasions by a range of highprofile media personnel including a former editor of The Times, the editor of the New Statesman and a former president of the National Union of Journalists that the press had lost its democratic role as a political voice that could question government, had become sensationalist and trivial in its content and had a cosy relationship with the Establishment.42 Despite the criticisms made of the press, its increasingly changed (some would say diminished) role and the rise of the BBC as the main news provider; the importance of the press as a major media institution and mode of communication between government and the people should not be underestimated. The new media forms of radio and cinema did not end the importance of the press; in fact circulations rose by a third during the war with the tabloids gaining particular importance accounting for 70% of all newspaper sales.43 The management of the press came under the broader heading of managing civilian morale. The press was naturally but one facet of this broader campaign to maintain public consensus and support the war effort. The debate over how morale would be managed took place at least five years before the first British guns began to fire; in 1936 the Ministry of
40 41

Ibid., p. 81 N. Hayes, and J. Hill, eds, 'Millions like us'? : British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), p. 99 42 Ibid., p. 99 43 Ibid., p. 98


Information was organised with a staff of twelve members which increased to just under a thousand in the first month of the war. 44 A year before the 1935 Committee for Imperial Defence had made several decisions with regards to managing the media which included the the release of official news; security censorship of the press, films and the BBC; maintenance of morale; the conduct of publicity campaigns for other government departments; and the dissemination of propaganda to enemy, neutral, allied and empire countries.45 The establishment of the MOI was born out of the belief in the success of British propaganda used during the First World War.46 The prospect of total defeat or unconditional surrender, as was the case in the First World War, meant Britains very right to selfdetermination was threatened, this was not just a war based on limited goals, but the very survival of nations as independent entities and so a banning of press freedom, a managed propaganda system befitting that of the very totalitarian regimes they were fighting against was necessary for the so called liberal democracies to remain just that. The 1938 Emergency Powers (Defence) Act was passed through parliament so as to provide the government with the predominance felt necessary to direct Britain to a total war victory. The new powers allowed the government to do what it saw fit for the war effort without a constant reference to Parliament; it could effectively rule by decree. The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act bestowed the government with the power to bring the entire media apparatus under its direct control.

44 45

P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003) S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 75 46 Ibid., p. 75


The BBC as the publicly funded broadcaster was already heavily regulated by government but the institutions of press and cinema lost their previous freedom as relatively independent organisations. However, this is not to say the government exerted the potential for control it had been bestowed by the act; the government believing that there would be a public backlash if they engaged in the telling of complete lies and instead opted for a system of censorship that would filter out any broadcasts or publications it considered harmful to the war effort.47 The very naming of the main organisation responsible for management of the media as the Ministry of Information is telling of the governments reluctance to acknowledge press freedom was being restricted. This was in part because the government had sold the war to the people as a struggle for the very survival of their liberal democracy against a totalitarian menace, which indeed it was. Nazi Germany was unashamed of its use of propaganda and named its equivalent organisation the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda (RMVP). The British government wanting to maintain its position as the antithesis of the enemy opted to set itself apart as having a Strategy of Truth rather than that of a Big Lie.48 Carruthers, writing in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000) notes that: The MOIs modus operandi thus contained a judicious mixture of pragmatism and principle. It has often been repeated that the MOIs News Division aspired, in the words of Ivone Kirkpatrick, to tell the truth., nothing but the truth and, as near as possible, the whole truth. This was a suitably ambiguous aphorism, for in the nature of total war (not least as prosecuted by a military which would have preferred a policy of complete secrecy) the disclosure
47 48

Ibid., p. 87 Ibid., p. 56


of information was perhaps more often as near as possible than nothing but the truth.49 This policy was translated practically with the MOI becoming both conduit of news and suppressor of information50, acting as gatekeeper between media institutions such as the press and the main sources of news such as the military, politicians and the public in general. All press articles on the home front were able to be filtered firstly through the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act which stated everyone, including newspaper editors, was to be prohibited from obtaining, recording, communicating to any other person or publishing information which might be useful to the enemy with the threat of prison for those who disobeyed. 51 In addition to this the MOI secretly wired the communication cables for the Press Association and Reuters offices into the same London Building and intercepted all information removing that which it deemed damaging; the MOI thereby prevented certain information from even arriving at the desks of the press and left the rest to be published in their own styles thus maintaining a faade of diversity.52 The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act also gave the MOI power to censor every press, commercial, or private message entering and leaving Britain, whether by mail, cable, wireless, or telephone.53 This was part of a wider policy to maintain government control over events taking place on the frontlines of the conflict. Information from the front lines was also subject to rigorous gatekeeping first by the military and then by the MOI.
49 50

Ibid., p. 88 Ibid., p. 87 51 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 238 52 S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 88 - 90 53 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 238


The military withheld a great deal of information and restricted access to the frontlines.54 The MOI in turn established a pool of filtered information with which the print media based its new stories from and also set up a system of accredited observers who could gain access to the frontline under the supervision of the military.55 With regards to the army, all newspapers were asked by the War Office to nominate journalists who would accompany the BEF.56 These correspondents would then be vetted, receive army training, be given uniforms and be absorbed as smoothly as possible into the army machine.57 The British journalists going to the frontline did so almost as soldiers under the direct supervision of the army and therefore would naturally only be allowed to report on matters not deemed as harmful to their fellow soldiers. Those who were viewed to be acting independently were sent back to Britain.58 For example, O. D. Gallagher was returned to London for complaining over the arrangements made for correspondents and reporting on the incompetence of the officers in charge of them. Gallaghers editor was said to have believed him on the reports but felt it could not be published on the grounds. We cant fight the army in war time.59 Another correspondent, Bernard Gray of the Mirror, in the early stages of war commented on the lack of action by reporting that. An occasional shell removes the washing from the line.60 He was accused of writing a mischievous lie and returned home. 61 It is

S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 87 55 Ibid., p. 83 56 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 239 57 Ibid., p. 239 58 Ibid., p. 253 59 Ibid., p. 253 60 Ibid., p. 253 61 Ibid., p. 253


reported that the British army was suspicious of the media entourage and that the officers charged with supervising correspondents hated them.62 The Royal Navy took an even stricter approach imposing a total ban on correspondents working on their ships. There was a relaxing of rules towards the later stages of the war but the Royal Navys approach to the media still remained the strictest out of all the state institutions.63 Stories sent over to Britain by correspondents on other allied ships were also put on file until the end of the war effectively resulting in a news blackout over the Royal Navys war effort.

The RAF was perceived to be much

friendlier towards the war correspondents and even offered a flight for those travelling to France in the initial stages of the conflict. The army threatened to not accredit any correspondents accepting the offer. However, the Daily Express, Allied Newspapers, Reuters, and the BBC took up the offer along with a number of American media companies.65 This demonstrates that not only was there inter-service rivalry but clear tension between reporters and elements of the armed services.66 This tension came to a head on a number of occasions with the government having to send police to occupy press offices so as to stop reporting on the British Expeditionary Forces mission to France in 1939 and the British press in turn berating the MOI for its heavy-handed tactics.67 Journalists with the allied forces from France were subject to even stricter regulations than the British with the military officers developing a
62 63

Ibid., p. 242 Ibid., p. 244 64 Ibid., p. 244 65 Ibid., p. 244 66 Ibid., p. 244 67 S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 81


formal system of handling correspondents whereby correspondents dispatched to work with the French Army has to produce four copies of every article and then had them dispatched first to army headquarters, then to French general headquarters, then to a representative of the British MOI in France and then to the British officer in charge of communications to London; a process that took at least 48hours affecting the ability of the newspapers to gain up to date newsworthy stories from the frontline.

This was a general pattern of the war as the primary research will show, all news whether from the Home Front or the field of battle was released slowly and took a minimum two days to go to print. As Carruthers notes in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000). The worst was never told openly nor without delay.69 A further aspect of the propaganda system applied to the British press came not from Britain or its allies but from Germany. Germany had seen its press subdued to will of the Nazi Government by 1939. German correspondents had no freedom whatsoever and were very much agents of the state; they were even required to fight on the front lines and approximately 30% of them were killed a figure similar to regular German army personnel fatalities.70 The Nazi government also put in place a strict system of censorship for neutral journalists working in the country. Germany attempted to compete with the allies in its broadcasting of stories from the frontlines of the war by providing photographs, reports

68 69

P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 239 S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 89 70 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 243


and newsreels back to the neutral correspondents in Berlin. 71 The Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda gave friendly correspondents various special privileges including favourable exchange rates on currency, extra rations, travel expenses and a country retreat fitted out as the foreign medias headquarters.72 The German government openly talked of freie Berichterstattung; that is the freedom of reporting but this freedom was restricted through a similar system of censorship used by the British government.73 Censorship of foreign correspondents in Germany was carried out primarily through the privileges system. Correspondents could in fact send off what they wished for publication. However, the German government monitored every single article and those

correspondents that printed articles deemed unfavourable had their privileges removed, were denied access to the telephone so as to prevent any further communications and in extreme cases, they could be arrested on charges of espionage.74 An example of the fine line between being seen to report the war and act as a spy for the enemy can be found in the arrest and imprisonment of Richard C. Hottelet who was jailed for one month for espionage before charges were dropped.75

3.3. The Propaganda System: A System of Voluntarism and Dependency

Clearly there was a need to enact a system of propaganda to maintain public morale, support and consensus over the war. And as we have seen,

71 72

Ibid., p. 240 Ibid., p. 240 73 Ibid., p. 240 74 Ibid., p. 240 75 Ibid., p. 240


the government responded to this need with a whole range of measures including a propaganda system centred primarily on filtering news stories from the press that could be damaging to the countrys war effort. It is argued that this censorship policy was framed in the context of not jeopardising the nations security or aiding the enemys military campaign whilst comment and opinion should be free.76 However, as I will prove through the primary research, the broader propaganda system actually went beyond this. As Carruthers argues in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000): The whole truth was sometimes lacking, but on occasion sins of omission and of approximation (as near as possible the truth) were surpassed by stretching of the truth to the threshold of lying77 The author argues that in particular this was the case in the portrayal of bombing of civilians as strategic rather than in human terms.78 Without doubt a key feature of the Second World War was that boundaries became blurred over who was a legitimate target and who was not. If a society was fully engaged in total war then the entire society became a target in the war effort and so there was an end to previous distinctions between combatants who were legitimate targets and non combatants who had traditionally been seen as morally and technically beyond the reach of the weapon.79 Britain and its allies engaged in the same bombing of civilian targets that the Nazis and its allies engaged in. However, as the good of democracy it was difficult for the British to


S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 88 77 Ibid., p. 89 78 Ibid., p. 55 79 Ibid., p. 55


admit this to its population particularly as it had spent great efforts in condemning the attacks on its civilians as the true mark of the evil of totalitarianism and using this to further mobilize its own people. As such, the bombing of enemy civilians was portrayed as a strategic military action in that it was said to target the infrastructure that were directly supporting the enemys war effort. The term strategic bombing suggests a technical, impersonal military procedure but in fact it often acted as a euphemism for the deliberate targeting of enemy citizens. As Carruthers notes in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000): In total war, achieving total victory was held to consist of both demonstrating ones military supremacy and effecting the enemys mental surrender. Consequently, to marshal and maintain morale on ones own side, and attack the opponents, munitions of the mind were an integral part of total war. Mass media received their call-up along with other vital wartime industries.80 The primary research I have conducted and will detail later in this paper highlights that the press never referred to civilian bombing as just that and followed the government line that it was strategic. Clearly a reason for this was the system of censorship put in place by the British government and the limited access journalists reporting from enemy territories would have had to areas that had suffered from civilian bombing. However, it is my belief that this move from censorship to the threshold of lying was in fact part of a wider system of propaganda that social scientists studying the media, and in particular the academics studying Vietnam, will assist us in highlighting. First if we look to work on the Second World War by social scientists such as Carruthers we see

Ibid., p. 55


that she too in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000) has argued there was, in addition to the system of censorship, the existence of an integrated system of voluntarism.81 With the system of censorship dealing with any anti-war, anti-government elements of the media through censorship, we can assume that the remaining majority of press would have been no different than the majority of the public in feeling that it was their patriotic duty to ensure the survival of the British state which in turn raises the question of whether there was self-censorship and even co-operation in stretching of the truth to the threshold of lying by newspaper editors.82 Furthermore, if we look to the work of Daniel Hallin in We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (1994) we can find a convincing theory, established from his studies of the US media and its coverage of the US governments involvement in the Vietnam War that can partly answer this question. There is a belief that the Vietnam War was the first conflict to endure the full impact of televised coverage and that the visual nature of this media supported by correspondents operating freely on the ground had a damaging effect on public support for the war. This in turn lead to the US having to making an early retreat from Vietnam and resulted in accusations that coverage of the Vietnam War by the media (particularly that of television) was the key factor in the USAs defeat. The proponents of this argument accuse the media of betraying their country but one should view it more as a need to shift blame from politicians,
81 82

Ibid., p. 88 Ibid., p. 56


senior figures in the United States army and other elite figures onto a scapegoat. The view that it was the journalists who lost the war is explained by Carruthers in The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (2000) where she notes that: The journalists who covered the war from the ground in Vietnam have been copiously criticised: by politicians, the military, and certain of their colleagues. Sometimes older versions of the young men who toured Vietnam with notebook in hand have passed highly critical retrospective verdicts on their younger selves. Indeed, orthodox critics often regard youthfulness as one root of media irresponsibility in Vietnam, for cub journalists had something to prove a name to make and the easiest way to do so was by being critical of authority.83 This blame of the Western media was also voiced by powerful political figures such as Ronald Reagan who attacked the liberal press for its alleged role in eroding away public support for Vietnam and by senior US army figures such as General Westmoreland who argued that the media was to blame for the defeat due to its no holds barred, misleading, and defeatist reporting.84 However, there is also a persuasive counterargument to the above beliefs put forward by academics such as Daniel C. Hallin who argue there is an intimate institutional connection between the media and government and that this resulted first in uncritical coverage of the conflict but later resulted in much more critical reporting.85 Hallin contends that the US media were heavily dependent upon official sources during the Vietnam War and that this in combination with a journalistic profession that values neutrality highly lead to a situation where the news
83 84

Ibid., p. 109 J. P. Kimball, The Stab-in-the-Back Legend and the Vietnam War, Armed Forces and Society, 14 (1988), p. 440 85 D. C. Hallin, We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 43


simply mirrored the views of the US elite.86 Hallin highlights the behaviour of journalists by stating in We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (1994), that. What is most striking about the modern American news media, if one compares them with the media of other historical periods or countries, is their commitment to a model of journalism which requires disengagement from active political involvement and assigns to the journalist the relatively passive role of transmitting information to the public. Studies of the socialization and professional ideology of the modern American journalist have consistently confirmed the centrality of the ideal of a politically neutral press.87 The writer argues that the media only began to present more critical viewpoints of the war to the public when events on the frontlines lead to certain members of the elite taking critical viewpoints themselves. It is his belief that whilst there was an increasingly oppositional media after the Tet Offensive which could be linked to the stab-in-the-back theory; it was in fact a combination of journalists aiming to be objective and a high level of dependency on elite sources, of which many had become oppositional, that led to more critical media coverage.88 Hallin contends that the events of the Tet offensive created a domino effect which first caused dissent amongst the political elites over US intervention in Vietnam, this dissent was then mirrored in the media and that in turn the critical coverage permitted existing public opposition to government policy to be moved into the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy.89 This theory is explained in detail by Hallin in The

86 87

Ibid., pp. 43 - 44 Ibid., p. 47 88 Ibid., p. 43 89 D. C. Hallin, The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam (Berkeley CA; London: University of California Press, 1989), p. 110


Uncensored War (1986) where on discussing television coverage he argues that. Television coverage was highly dependent both on official sources in Washington and, probably even more importantly in the early years of the war, on military sources in Vietnam. As for ideology, television contained little of the articulated geopolitical world view that the Times had invoked to explain American intervention in its early phases. Ideology appeared instead in a complex set of conventions for talking about the war, conventions which, like the more articulate level of ideology employed by the Times, had the effect of putting the war beyond what I shall refer to as the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy. In the early years of the war, roughly up to the Tet offensive, these forces were powerful enough that television coverage was lopsidedly favourable to American policy in Vietnam.90 Hallin goes on to highlight the difference in post-Tet offensive coverage and its impact on public opinion noting that. Later televisions portrayal of the war changed dramatically, and there seems little doubt that it must have contributed to the growing feeling of war-weariness in the later years of the war. But televisions turnaround on the war was part of a larger change, a response to as well as a cause of unhappiness with the war that was developing at many levels, from the halls of the Pentagon, to Main Street, U.S.A and the fire bases of Quang Tri Province.91 It could be argued that it was not the practise of journalists that had the greatest impact on the outcome of the war but the lack of consensus amongst elites and their subsequent influence upon the media and the public. This theory expressed by Hallin over US media-state relations in Vietnam War can provide a reader of British media-state relations in the Second World War with some important insights when trying to decipher the propaganda system put in place. First of all, we can state that the British elites had to unified over the need to win the war, the lack of
90 91

Ibid., p. 110 Ibid., p. 110


consensus over Britains role in the 2003 Iraq War that could be seen amongst society from top to bottom would have been devastating to the war effort had it occurred during the Second World War. As I have already stated, given the fact the entire nation was involved in a total war and that more specifically, that total defeat would most likely remove the elites of their power, status and material wealth, it is understandable that media elites would have naturally supported the political elites in the war effort. One can then also highlight that the British press is an industry based on profit and has to consider relations with other industries, with the people who buy their newspapers and with the states they operate in order to survive and thrive.92 The owners and senior figures within the press were drawn from the same upper classes that other industrial elites and the political elites are drawn from which in turn leads to the ideas and beliefs expressed in the press being consonant with the ideas of the controlling groups in an industrial-capitalist society, because news is an industry with its own commercial self-interest.93 In addition, there was a noted regular interchange of personnel between government and the media organisations preceding and throughout the war94 with 43 journalists being employed directly by the MOI.95 This is a factor in news reporting highlighted by linguist Roger Fowler who argues in Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (1991) that: Because the institutions of news, reporting and presentation are socially, economically and politically situated, all news is always

R. Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 20 93 Ibid., p. 2 94 S. L. Carruthers, The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 106 95 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 242


reported from some particular angle. The structure of the medium encodes significances which derive from the respective positions within society of the publishing or broadcasting organizations.96 In relation to the Second World War we can argue that the majority of the elites were unified in their aim to fight a prolonged total war against Nazi Germany and its allies. The primary research has highlighted that despite the belief new reports were government managed whilst comment and opinion was left free; the comment and opinion expressed in the paper was consistently in support of the political elites. Whilst censorship removed anti-war and anti-government elements and acted as a big stick to safeguard the government from damaging reports; the fact the press was owned and managed by the people from the same elites and were equally as threatened by a Nazi invasion as the rest of the elite acted as a carrot in that all had a shared interest in Britain being victorious in war and avoiding a total defeat. Furthermore, without any major dissent within the elites over the need for war and how the war was to be fought there was no room within the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy for anti-war or antigovernment beliefs. This is evident in the absolute silence of the press over a highly critical speech on government bombing policy made by Bishop Bell on 10 May 1941 to the House of Lords. In keeping with Hallins mirror theory it is also clear that the dependency of the press on official sources acted as a further element in maintaining the wider system of propaganda. The sources with which the press bases its stories naturally affects the content which goes to print. There are a number of regularly used sources which journalists are

R. Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 10


dependent upon for their articles. These include parliament, councils, emergency services, courts, royalty, regular events such as conferences, government departments, public services, the military, political parties, prominent people such as bishops and companies.97 There is obviously a need to interview the public and include them in stories so as to provide personalization but in general it is official authority, social status or commercial success to which the press refers to.98 As I have explained, the correspondents on the frontlines were very much under control of the military who in turn were under the control of the government. The very nature of a total war resulted in the existing dependency on official sources (that even exists within the media today) becoming exaggerated. The effects of this reliance on elites sources are detailed by Fowler in Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (1991) where he notes that: The political effect of this division between the accessed and the unaccessed hardly needs stating: an imbalance between the representation of the already privileged, on the one hand, and the already unprivileged, on the other, with the views of the official, the powerful and the rich being constantly invoked to legitimate the status quo.99 Whilst the primary research will go into more detail, a classic example of the reliance on official sources and its effects can be viewed in the Bethnal Green tube disaster. The disaster, which claimed 178 lives, took place on the 3 March 1943 and was the result of a panicked rush to gain shelter from predicted bombings. The news reports, published two days later on 5 March 1943, were framed as newspaper articles but based entirely on an

R. Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 21 98 Ibid., p. 22 99 Ibid., p. 22


official statement which claimed there was no panic before the accident on the stairs taking an alternative view that the disaster started when a middle-aged woman burdened with a bundle and a baby, tripped near the foot of the flight of nineteen steps which leads down from the street.100 In addition to the shared interests of the elites who ran both the political and media institutions we can conclude our discussion on the propaganda system established in the Second World War by stating that the reliance on official sources by the press, which was exaggerated by the very fact Britain was fighting a total war, heightened further the representation of the political elites views in the press. The system of censorship provided safeguards against damaging reports and the systems of voluntarism and dependency ensured reporting would be favourable and mirror the views of the government; at times to the threshold of lying.

4.1. Proving Propaganda: The Work of Herman and Chomsky

Having explained in great deal the exact nature of the propaganda system established in Britain during the Second World War; the next step is to offer real evidence of this in practise. First however, one must define what it means to look at the propaganda system in practise. The reader should be aware that this paper does not address the effects of the propaganda system on the audience but rather looks at how the propaganda system manifested itself in media output; namely that of the press. The challenge for the political elites was to mobilize an entire nation to fight a total war; a nation of which many had already experienced bloodshed first hand in conflicts


Government Statement on Shelter Accident, Daily Mirror, 5 March 1943, p. 1


and of which many felt they had no stake in due to the hardships of over a decade of economic depression. The elites who ran the press shared the same desires and to a certain extent took it upon themselves to co-opt and mobilize the masses who would take up the arms, fly the planes, work in the factories and generally form the backbone of the war effort; without them defeat was certain. As a result, whilst the press would want to continue to legitimate the status quo with a heightened deference for those perceived to be the leaders of society; there also had to be a shift in news reporting to incorporate new ideas of oneness and of an almost classless inclusive society in which each member played an important role and would reap the rewards from in the future. This as we shall see, was one of the most distinctive features of the primary research along with the efforts to maintain morale and consensus. The media personnel not just complied with the system of censorship but in fact contributed to the entire system of propaganda by actively selecting news stories, editorial commentary, language and even photographs that embodied the new collectivist spirit. The newspapers aided the government in constructing a new social reality that was beneficial to the elite who required the entire nation to fight a prolonged total war. This constructed consensual model of society, of a nation pulling together and of one nation, has been recognised by linguists as the language typical of nations in crisis with politicians and the media joining together to express such desires.101 Fowler in Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (1991) contends that the consensual model of society is expressed

R. Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 16


by the press through the pronouns we and is used to express collective qualities such as patriotism and fortitude.102 The writer then goes further to argue that the counter-product of this is that in practise it breeds divisive and alienating attitudes, a dichotomous vision of us and them.103 The portrayal of the us and them by the media is an issue covered by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1994). Edward S. Herman, Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Noam Chomsky, Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have conducted a radical study of the US media and its portrayal of Cold War events including the US Wars in Indochina, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other world events that involved the US government. Their research entitled Worthy and Unworthy Victims provides a useful framework with which to assess the medias participation in war. Clearly, there are other areas of the war that one could look at for propaganda but this study provides a suitable framework for this paper, which due to limits on time and space, requires a very specific and focused approach. The authors begin their research by stating that an effective propaganda system will systematically portray the victims of states defined as enemies as worthy victims; that is worthy of the readers grief, anger and opposition to the perpetrating state.104 In contrast to this, those people

102 103

Ibid., p. 16 Ibid., p. 16 104 E. S. Herman, and N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (London: Vintage, 1994), p. 37


who become victims as a result of their own government or its allies actions will be treat as unworthy victims in that they are reported in an amount of detail and a style that does not provoke grief, anger and opposition towards the perpetrators or simply denies the perpetrators are responsible.105 The writers demonstrate this theory by comparing the murder of the Polish priest Popieluszko in October 1984 with the murder of priests and other religious workers in Latin American states at that time. The first comparisons made are based on a quantitative study of press articles in which coverage of the Popieluszko murder is compared numerically to the murders of priests and nuns by US-backed military juntas in Latin America. The authors conclude from the study that: The coverage of the Popieluszko murder not only dwarfs that of the unworthy victims, it constitutes a major episode of news management and propaganda. Nothing comparable can be found for victims within the free world.106 This is an interesting and effective method of providing evidence of a propaganda system in action. However, it is one that is both costly on time and space; something that as mentioned previously, the limits of this paper prevent. An equally effective and more viable tool that the researchers offer for proving propaganda is found in the second part of this study. After conducting the quantitative analysis the writers move onto a qualitative analysis of their sources focusing on a number of aspects of press coverage to draw comparisons. Using the same case studies, the writers apply methods known to historians as discourse analysis and note that the reporting of worthy victims consists of the following features:

105 106

Ibid., p. 37 Ibid., p. 38


1) Fullness and reiteration of the details of the murder and damage inflicted on the victim: The repetition of the gruesome details of the murder and the emphasis on the human story involving the emotions of victims. i.e. The fact Popieluszko was said to have pleaded in fear for his life.107 2) Stress on indignation, shock and demands for justice: Extensive use of quotations and assertions of outrage from non-official sources such as the population continues to mourn and public outrage mounted. Focus of attention on angry protestors, people in mourning and memorials.108 3) The search for responsibility at the top: The constant questioning of how high up was the act known and approved.109 4) Terminology used to demonize the enemy: A focus on editorials and their use of terminology to express those deemed as responsible. i.e. use of terminology such as thuggery, shameless, and Murderous Poland in condemning the

communist government of Poland.110 Herman and Chomsky then go onto look at unworthy victims and argue that the reporting of these was the complete opposite of worthy victims noting that. The drama is there for the asking only the press concern is missing.111 The writers use the 1977 murders of Father Rutillio Grande and Archbishop Oscar Romero by the El Salvadoran military junta as examples of this. They argue that in contrast to the Popieluszko there was
107 108

Ibid., p. 42 Ibid., p. 43 109 Ibid., p. 44 110 Ibid., p. 44 111 Ibid., p. 45


clinical reporting with very few quotations from their supporters, no editorials, no questioning of government involvement (despite clear evidence showing this) and very few details on the precise details of their deaths.112 The writers conclude that: The coverage of the worthy victims was generous with gory details and quote expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.113 To demonstrate the British propaganda system established in World War Two, I have followed the same line of inquiry that Herman and Chomsky use by collating a range of sources that focus on the British as victims and then comparing it to a range of sources that focus on the German, Italian and Japanese victims caused by Britain and its allies. The sources used are taken from the main national newspapers published in Britain during World War Two and focus primarily on the defining events of the conflict; these include the London Blitz, Dunkirk, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These sources have been analysed using discourse analysis techniques, taking the work of Herman and Chomsky as an example and expanding upon it.

4.2. Proving Propaganda: The British as Victims

The London Blitz is etched on the national memory as a time of bravery, defiance, self-sacrifice and gritty resistance against the ruthless actions of the enemy. This remembrance of the event is a continuation of how the

112 113

Ibid., pp. 46 - 55 Ibid., p. 39


event was portrayed at the time by the media. As with each case study; my studies are not focused on entering the historical debates over these events but rather an attempt to look at how certain truths were prioritised, selected and refined for press attention and how others truths were ignored. As historian Angus Calder notes in his text The Myth of the Blitz (1992), the aforementioned bravery, defiance, self-sacrifice and gritty resistance is not a fable but rather a selected view of a broader picture on which an ancient traditional story of Gods or heroes has grown.114 The author notes that: My case for applying the word (myth) to the Blitz is that the account of that event, or series of events, which was current by the end of the war has assumed a traditional character, involves heroes, suggests the victory of a good God over satanic evil, and has been used to explain a fact: the defeat of Nazism115 This myth or legend has been covered by other writers who also argue that the London Blitz was misrepresented both then and now. Knightley in The First Casualty (2003) is one such writer; he argues that the traditional legend of the Blitz centres on the idea that. Cockneys wisecracked as their streets disappeared in a shower of rubble, while the old and the children marched off to air-raid shelters singing Bless Em All.116 This portrayal of the London Blitz denies the victimhood of those involved and misrepresents the whole truth; that this was a traumatic human event and as such displays all the complexities of humanity. In addition to stories of bravery, self-sacrifice, people pulling together there was another story; one that points to panic, to horrified revulsion, to post-

114 115

A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 2 Ibid., p. 2 116 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 256


raid depression, to anti-social behaviour.117 Mass observation reported at the time that there were people panicking, people in despair118 and even instances of looting.119 Furthermore there was a class divide with regards to victimhood, a point Knightley highlights in his work: The Blitz was not the great social leveller. The protection a Londoner got from German bombs depended on how much money he had. When the sirens sounded, residents of the Dorchester went down into the basement, where a neat row of cots, some labelled with their owners names, offered a safe refuge and even the possibility of sleep. All-night shelter was offered as part of the service at most expensive West End restaurants. In the East End, however, thousands crowded into stifling, insanitary shelters. Yielding to public pressure, the authorities allowed Underground stations to be used, but many of these became terrible slums, foul with the smell of urine, excrement, sweat, carbolic, and unwashed bodies. The pressing issue is whether this reported by the press at the time of the London Blitz. If we look at articles from the main newspapers at the time we see that there was no reporting of such negative aspects of the human experience of the Blitz. First, there was a strong focus of framing the event as a universal experience. This was carried out to reinforce the idea the nation was standing as one against the enemy and to create a classless sense of solidarity amongst the population. Editorials and commentary, the elements of newspapers that were claimed to be free of government intervention, were at the heart of this portrayal. The working-class readership of the Mirror on 14 September 1940 would have read an editorial that addressed directly rumours that the enemy bombs were

117 118

A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 120 Ibid., p. 119 - 120 119 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 261


mostly affecting the lower classes. The editorial contends under the heading of All Alike that: In certain quarters, noted for abject meanness, forcible-feeble attempts have been made to suggest bombs have been allowed to fall upon the poor; and obligingly diverted from the prosperous. It is true that the rich can escape from the danger zone, while often the poor cannot. But the damage done to rich quarters of London, and typically, symbolically, to the Kings Palace, shows that, as rain falls upon the just and unjust, so the Hitlerian louts scatter their explosives upon the rich as well as upon the poor. In this battle, danger and suffering ought, for the time at least, to unite us all.120 Whilst acknowledging some difference in experience of bombing across the classes, the article clearly puts forward the message of a nation at one. This viewpoint was echoed by the middle-class Daily Express which on 9 September 1940 published an editorial entitled We are all one in which it talks of the nation and the same race of people making every effort to deal with the effects of German bombing.121 The news reporting also followed a similar line of thought with the working-class Daily Herald reporting the bombing on 11 September 1940 with the headlines The Blitzkrieg Spreads: Raids on London And on Tiny Villages: Another Hospital Hit122 The Daily Herald by framing the attacks in this context suggests that there is unity between countryside and town in its suffering. This message is emphasized with an adjacent picture shown in fig.1 above which the caption reads. Downhearted? was Mr Churchills question to a crowd in a bombed area. This was their answer -. The picture shows a crowd of smiling faces with their thumbs up to show high spirits, unity and defiance. In these reports we see the press not just ignoring the negative
120 121

All Alike, Daily Mirror, 14 September 1940, p. 5 We are all one, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 4 122 Downhearted?, Daily Herald, 11 September 1940 p. 1


aspects of the Blitz experience but actively seeking to emphasize the positive aspects. Where as the victims of enemy states in Herman and Chomskys study were described in full details so as to provoke anger, indignation and mourning amongst the reader, the emphasis in British press reporting of victims of the Nazi state focused on positive aspects of the Blitz experience. To maintain morale the newspapers did not go into great detail of how victims died and instead focused on positive human stories of hope. For example, the Daily Mirror printed a feature on 12 September 1940 entitled Bombs fell as a baby was born which details the work of nurses Sister I. Beere and Sister M. Allfrey who risked their lives to help mothers give birth during the bombing raids. The stories rely entirely upon quotes from what is termed as a casual conversation with those involved and as such are framed as the humble heroics of those working on the ground. This is demonstrated by the opening paragraph: A nursing sister tending to a woman giving birth to a baby, with bombs dropping all around the tall block of a tenement flats. Another racing to safety through the night in an ambulance with a mother and two-hour-old baby while the explosions almost shook the wheel from the drivers hands That is how maternity nurses are carrying on through the raids.123 Another story printed in the Daily Telegraph on 10 September 1940 details the deaths of an Australian nurse and other victims of the bombing. The article, despite its tragic subject matter, is framed positively with the headline 15-Hour fight for life and focuses on the struggle to rescue her and others under the collapsed building. Despite the nurse dieing apparently of shock from the air raid sirens after her rescue, the article

Bombs fell as a baby was born, Daily Mirror, 12 September 1940, p. 6


speaks of how other patients who had been seriously injured met their misfortune with magnificent spirit adding that as the medical staff, students and other helpers hurried in the darkness to their assistance the patients sang.124 What we see from these stories is an attempt to in fact divert the attention from the idea Britain is a victim through positive stories that speak of self-sacrifice of one citizen for another and a message of defiance and resilience against the enemy. This is a clear attempt by the press, on behalf of the government, to prevent a drop in morale amongst an under siege population and to emphasize the model of consensual society. If we look at some of the commentary of the time we see this in practise with the Manchester Guardian arguing in its editorial on the 13 September 1940 that: The British character has great and visible flaws, but it happens to be well suited to this kind of strain. The Germans cannot understand grim resolution which is not due either to fanaticism or to blind obedience.125 What we see in this extract is quite significant as a notably liberal and potentially oppositional newspaper, whilst tempering its views with comments on the great and visible flaws of the British, actively expresses that resilience is a key British trait. The press reinforced this message with commentary cartoons that focused on the defiant cockney. If we look at fig. 2 to fig. 6 we see some very clear examples of this both in the broadsheets and tabloids. What is noticeable is that the warrior-like resisters are depicted always as male. Another noticeable feature of the

124 125

15-Hour fight for life, Daily Telegraph, 10 September 1940, p. 1 The Spirit of London, Manchester Guardian, 3 September 1940, p. 4


Daily Mirror cartoons reproduced in fig. 4 and fig. 5 are that these two images, printed one day after the other, present two significant messages of defiance. The first, baring a striking resemblance to communist artwork involving the worker rising up in rebellion, depicts an angry working-class cockney male standing defiantly amongst the rubble again exemplifying what it means to be an ideal citizen; this is then reinforced the next day with a light-hearted, high-spirited Churchillian caricature bouncing back which implies that the countrys political leaders are also standing strong on behalf of Britain. The defiance portrayed by the press is an attempt to deny victimhood; where as the press reporting on the Popieluszko aimed to create Stress on indignation, shock and demands for justice by detailed, negative coverage of the Polish priests murder, the British press during the Second World War, fearful of damaging morale and legitimising opposition to the war effort, had to take a more complex approach to reporting. Whilst wanting to build the concept of one nation and mobilize the masses against the enemy, it did not want to exaggerate the great sense of loss many would have already felt. The approach they took to reporting was one of victory in defeat emphasizing defiance, selecting positive human stories of hope and framing civilian deaths as positively as possible. A key to the origins of this can be found when looking at the reporting of the Blitz by the Daily Express on the 9 September 1940 in which the headline, accompanied by a large photo shown in fig.7 of people working together, writes This was the East Ends Dunkirk.126 Another


This was the East Ends Dunkirk, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 6


example of this can be found in a Daily Express article entitled The Cockneys are in it which opens with the sentence. The civilian population is taking its Dunkirk.127 These reports were not on their own, regularly the press would invoke the Spirit of Dunkirk and use it as an example of how the British were having an indirect victory through their response to the German onslaught. The New York Times, writing on the events of Dunkirk, noted that: So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. For in that harbour, in such a hell as never blazed on earth before, at the end of a last battle, the rags and blemishes that have hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy.128 The events of Dunkirk certainly provided the government and press with an unprecedented challenge. The evacuation of 338,200 troops in the face of an advancing German army was described by Churchill as a colossal military disaster and lead Anthony Eden to remark that it signalled the end of the British Empire.129 Clearly in the early stages of war this military defeat and subsequent retreat was in many ways the ultimate bad news story for a nation that had only just entered the war. There was a real risk that this retreat could be so damaging to public morale that instead of the public showing gritty defiance and determination to fight on; a mood of defeatism and resignation could have set in resulting in the government having to sue for peace. Historians, whilst recognising the bravery of those involved with Dunkirk, have noted that as with the Blitz, this was a human event and as such to follow the traditional line of defiant

127 128

The Cockneys are in it, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 1 P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 252 129 Ibid., p. 252


Britain pulling together in unison to save their brave soldiers is to neglect the complexities of the experience. As Knightley notes in The First Casualty (2003): It is worth looking at Dunkirk, because it became the first great myth of the Second World War, perhaps the greatest, the origin of the Dunkirk spirit that many believe was crucial to victory, and the way it was reported at the time was a major factor in establishing this myth.130 If we first look at research on Dunkirk we see that aside from the much remembered positive story of the event, there is a negative story that has largely gone unnoticed. First if we look at the use of little ships to aid the evacuation we see that there are now claims that these were largely ineffective. Calder in The Myth of the Blitz (1992) argues that whilst there is truth in the idea that civilians were integral to the evacuation, their contribution was to man large passenger ferries rather than small craft.131 The idea of the little ships aiding military vessels was much documented in the press at the time and is even now held as the true story of the event. The consensual model of society was embodied in the reporting of Dunkirk just as it was in the London Blitz. Perhaps the greatest story of Dunkirk is that of the little ships taken over the channel by private owners who wanted to help the British and French forces trying to escape the continent. It epitomizes the idea of the underdog nation pulling together for a collective goal; the idea that the contribution of one person can fuel great achievements when working in unison with others. The Times reporting on the 6 June 1940 provides a good example of this by first noting that;
130 131

Ibid., p. 252 A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 97


It was made possible by two things the action of the Admiralty a few weeks ago in taking a census of all small craft throughout the kingdom and the enthusiastic response from all yachtsmen and amateur seamen generally to the call for volunteers to man them.132 And then going further to note; Nobody made difficulties. The only complaints came from those boat-owners who could not themselves get on board in time to go in their boats. One of them, whose boat had been taken in his absence, telephoned to say that there was a good store of old brandy on board, which he hoped troops had discovered.133 In these reports we see the paper highlight both the efforts of the military elites and the lowers classes as vital for the success of the evacuation. We also see the use of a human story in the reporting of a boat owner who was left behind but rather than being concerned about the possibility he could be annihilated by the attacking Germans, rang those on the boat to let them know about his brandy. The political cartoons of the time echoed this opinion with the Daily Express on the 5 June 1940 printing a picture shown in fig. 8 entitled All in the days work in which a private sailor is first viewed helping a tourist on board his ship in a picture entitled Then and then in the second picture entitled Now we see the same private sailor helping a solider on board a ship whilst bombs reign down. The Daily Heralds political cartoon highlighted in fig.9 follows a similar line on the 3 June 1940 with it printing a picture titled Look Hitler! Dissension! in which six soldiers from various forces and nationalities are viewed pointing a circle to one another calling each other a hero to demonstrate unity amongst the Allied forces.

132 133

The small craft at Dunkirk, The Times, 6 June 1940, p. 4 Ibid., p. 4


As with the claims over the use of little ships there were also a claim that all the returning British soldiers wanted to do on returning home was to go back and fight. Again, historians have disputed this version of events by arguing there was drunkenness and violence amongst some of the troops, paralysing fear amongst some senior officers and even incidences of dispirited soldiers throwing away their rifles in protest at what they saw as the incompetence of senior military figures.134 Knightley argues in The First Casualty (2003) that: It would be wrong to suggest that in the face of the disaster of Dunkirk an organised campaign now began to change the evacuation into a victory. But the newspaper reader of the day would certainly be forgiven for thinking that something wonderful has happened to British fortunes in the war.135 Knightley is correct to a certain extent in that there wasnt an organised campaign of lies. However, we can be sure that had there been any critical coverage of the events of Dunkirk, the system of censorship would have prevented it from being published. Furthermore, we should also note that the correspondents reporting on Dunkirk had already been evacuated to Britain and so their perspective was from the south-east ports where the troops landed which again would limit their ability to report on the incidents of chaos and fear reported on the French coast as the troops waited for evacuation.136 However, this does not explain the blanket reporting of the event in such a positive context. The Daily Mail reporting on 31 May 1940 headlined its article on Dunkirk with a quotation from a soldier saying All We Want is Another Go and then went onto note:
134 135

P. Knightley, The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003), p. 253 Ibid., p. 252 136 Ibid., p. 253


I met and talked to many of the B.E.F men as they landed from their rescue ships. I spoke to more, with their comrades of the R.A.F and Navy as they reached London. Let me tell the story from the moment of the first shiploads of tattered, mud-stained men steamed into the shelter of England. Even the wounded and there were many were, like their fathers of the last war, still smiling and ready to joke. Most of the jokes I heard veiled a grim intention. The theme of them all was the B.E.Fs readiness even after days of gruelling fighting under the most heartbreaking circumstances, to have another go at Adolf.137 Other reports followed a similar vain with the Daily Herald going further and stating in its editorial on 3 June 1940 entitled Out of Defeat that. Thus by a strange trick of war, the surrounded British and French Armies have snatched a superb moral victory out of a great military defeat.138 As with the Blitz there was also the selection of positive human stories to boost morale and set an example to all of what was required of the average British citizen. The Daily Express on 5 June 1940 ran a feature entitled Unknown Dunkirk Hero Rescues 81 Shouts Goodbye139 The story, written entirely in quotation marks, is said to be taken from a letter written by soldiers returning from Dunkirk. The focus of the story depicts a hero who saved eighty-one men from almost certain death before being killed by an enemy bomb.140 The article is a moving one and we should not get into disputing such heroism without evidence. However, we should ask why this story was picked over others; clearly the answer is because it embodies the values of the time; the values the government required of its people in order for it to be victorious.


All We Want is Another Go, Daily Mail, 31 May 1940, p. 1 Out of Defeat, Daily Herald, 3 June 1940, p. 6 139 Unknown Dunkirk Hero Rescues 81 Shouts Goodbye, Daily Express, 5 June 1940, p. 5 140 Ibid., p. 5


As with the Blitz, the proof of propaganda comes from what didnt get reported; the sheer neglect of the complexities of this human event is evidence that a system of media management was in place. There is also proof of propaganda in the relentless framing of reports as positive through the use of human stories and editorial commentary. Fowler in Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (1991) on speaking of editorial comment argues that: They have an important symbolic function, seeming to partition off the opinion component of the paper, implicitly supporting the claim that other sections, by contrast, are pure fact or report.141 There was no such distinction between these in press coverage of the war. We see that through news reports and commentary, the press in both Dunkirk and the Blitz portrayed British victimhood as close to a victory as it could; there was glory an victory to be had in suffering and defeat.

4.3. Proving Propaganda: Enemy Victims The model of reporting on worthy victims as described by Herman and Chomsky was not adhered to with reporting of Dunkirk or the Blitz in that there was no fullness and reiteration of the details of the murder and damage inflicted on the victim. However, if we look at both events we can see that there were demands for justice and a search for responsibility at the top that are representative of the confusion over how to present the enemy to the people. The MOIs stated policy towards the enemy aimed by the dissemination of truth to attack the enemy in the


R. Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 208


minds of the public.142 McLaine in Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two (1979) contends that: In war it is almost axiomatic that the peoples of the combatant nations must be taught to hate each other. This applied to Britain no less than it did to Germany in the Second World War.143 Integral to the Ministry of Informations plans to maintain morale was the need to make the population feel that fighting a war against Germany was necessary and worth the suffering and struggle; the masses had to feel that pacifism would cause greater hardship than militarism. As such the portrayal of the enemies in the media came to be viewed as key to mobilizing the nation.144 This clearly was not such a hard task given the nature of the German, Japanese and Italian leadership. However, the assessment of the MOI in the run up to the conflict was that. The middle classes still not mentally at war had to be convinced that the Germans intended to rob them of their incomes and culture; the professional classes told of refugee professional men, of they having been hounded and put to menial tasks like washing dishes and cleaning lavatories; and shopkeepers, businessmen and industrial workers disabused of the idea that things might go much the same way under Hitler145 In addition to this, there is evidence that Britain saw itself as a defender of a Western Civilization based on justice, freedom and democracy with the Christian faith at its core.146 This can be viewed at its most prominent in The Times editorial for 14 September 1940 where it is noted that: At the present moment, when the stuff that our people are made of is tested to the uttermost, what is needed is those qualities which,

I. McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two (London: George Allen and Unwin 1979), p. 137 143 Ibid., p. 137 144 Ibid., p. 143 145 Ibid., p. 144 146 Ibid., pp. 150 - 151


while they could not fairly be claimed as exclusively Christian, are yet in their highest manifestation characteristic of the Christian spirit. The strength that belongs to a unified and noble directed personality; the courage that is able to face disaster and tragedy without loss of faith: the hope that can survive disappointment, and the shattering of ones life purpose, the love that can persist and never give way to bitterness or cynicism no matter what demands are made upon it these are the gifts of the divine spirit.147 This tensions between the just free Christian democratic nation against both the natural emotions of journalists caught up in the war experience and the aims of the MOI to mobilize the nation for a fight to the death was played out in press reports and as we shall see, resulted in a consistent confusion over two issues: 1) Whether the Nazi leadership was solely to blame or the entire German people. 2) The need to maintain Britains image as the just nation against the desire for revenge against the enemy. If we begin with the first point, we see that the MOI decided, after at first making distinction between leader and people, that there can be no distinction between a German and a Nazi.148 The evil of Nazism was to be portrayed as a manifestation of an evil people. However, this was not represented clearly in the press. For example, the Daily Mirror editorial entitled Retribution published on 1 February 1943 displays this tension clearly by firstly arguing that: Hitler is the satanic architect of that ghastly edifice; the Nazis are his skilled, ardent workers; and the German people, as a whole, have admired and applauded the structure as they saw it rise stage by stage. The war is the greatest crime in history, and there is no

147 148

The Christian Ideal Strength through Suffering, The Times, 14 September 1940, p.6 McLaine, I. Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two (London: George Allen and Unwin 1979), p. 146


other way to deal with the criminals than by subjecting them to a discipline sufficiently hard to render them harmless in future.149 Here we see at least ambiguity in relation to whom the newspaper regards as the criminals requiring discipline if not the implication that the whole of Germany is at fault and warrants British justice to be meted out to it. This confusion is continued in a political cartoon published at a later date by the Mirror on the 15 February 1945 and included in fig.10; the paper attempts to discuss retribution by placing a caricature of a German soldier labelled as German People and The Stupid Tool of Fascist Hate and Propaganda in front of a British judge who is captioned as saying. Better surrender weve condemned the murderers not their dupes!150 It would appear there is an attempt to draw a distinction between a leader and its people whilst implicitly blaming both by the very fact the German soldier is placed in front of the judge and therefore is viewed to be on trial. This debate over retribution and whether it should be delivered to the whole people or solely its leaders leads to the second point. If we return to immediately after the onslaught of the Blitz, we see that in the heat of victimhood there were clear demands by the press for vengeance to be wrought upon the enemy. On 9 September 1940 the Daily Express ended its editorial by stating quite simply that. This nation will live yet to show its power and its just vengeance.151 Other articles display less restraint with the Daily Herald, in its report on the bombing of Hamburg shortly after the London Blitz, running a headline stating Nazis squeal as

149 150

Retribution, Daily Mirror, 1 February 1945, p. 7 Better surrender weve condemned the murderers not their dupes!, Daily Mirror, 15 February 1945, p. 2 151 We are all one, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 4


RAF sets invasion coast ablaze152 The article then goes further to add that bombing was a dose of their own medicine.153 Here we observe the press not only make it clear that vengeance is being served but also imply that the Nazis are pigs and through their fearful squealing display the opposite reaction to the brave British lions. Another article featured in the Daily Express on 9 September 1940 continues in the same vein by arguing that the dirty brutality of Germany will be returned in kind with righteous hate.154 In this we see the tension on full display with the report

conforming to the worthy victims model in that it uses terminology to demonize those responsible and seeks to call for revenge; however, there is the significant inclusion of the term righteous to suggest the response will be just and deserving. This contradiction is also displayed in the Daily Mirror editorial on 10 September 1940 which first muses; What is the answer to Hitlers fierce assaults upon London? Assaults that are obviously indiscriminate; assaults that have for their main purpose the terrorisation of hundreds of thousands of helpless civilians? Is the answer to tell Hitler, in calm and stately tones, that never do we intend to be so low and so vile? Or is it to do one thing that the Nazis understand to carry an equivalent terror into their foul nests?155 In this part of the editorial the answer to the questions is found in the terminology with the use of terror bombing viewed to be low and vile in comparison to alternative methods which are described as calm and stately. The editorial goes further to state that. We tell our bombers to return with their bombs if they fail to find their appointed targets!156


Nazis squeal as RAF sets invasion coast ablaze, Daily Herald, 19 September 1940, p.

153 154

Ibid., p. 1 The Bully, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 4 155 Terror for Nazis, Daily Mirror, 10 September 1940, p. 5 156 Ibid., p. 5


Again we see the editorial take the view that terror bombing is unacceptable. However, what is most striking is that the very same editorial finishes with a discussion on how best to protect Londoners from the onslaught and concludes that. Better than all the very limited protection we can provide is the carrying of terror into the loathsome land which the wild beast Hitler has formed in his own image.157 What we see here is an astonishing turn around with the writer directly connecting Hitler to the land which he leads and furthermore, suggesting that terror bombing should be returned to Germany. It is understandable that having experienced the trauma of the Blitz, people across the country would have felt a strong desire for revenge; and those working on the newspapers would not have been immune from this. This is the reason that immediately after the London Blitz there were calls for vengeance and an openly expressed satisfaction that the British bombers are fighting back. Throughout the war, 900,000 German civilians died as a result of British bombing; this paper is not going to make a moral judgement on whether this was right but rather consider how the British government and press portrayed it to the people. Certainly, if we start with the remembrance of Bomber Command we see that they have in many ways become the forgotten warriors of World War Two. This is highlighted by Calder in The Myth of the Blitz (1992) where he observes that: Bomber Command had to be left out of the Myth of the Blitz, or mythology would have ceased to be efficacious. The heroism of the British under bombardment was quasi-Christian its great symbol, after all, was St.Pauls dome flourishing above the flames.

Ibid., p. 5


The Myth could not accommodate acts, even would-be acts, of killing of civilians and domestic destruction initiated by the British themselves.158 In the early stages of war as Britain faced relentless attack, it was viewed as important by the government that the public were made aware that British bombers were returning attacks on Germany. However, as the war progressed and the victory of the British and its allies became less of a faint, distant hope and more of a realistic goal, there appears to be a change in tact. With the myth of the crusading Christian nation159 against the satanic Hitler fully established it would have been hard, despite a deliberate campaign to bomb civilians in full place, to admit that one of the practises cited as reasons for hating Hitler were being mirrored by the British government. The bombing of Dresden is a classic example of this in practise. If we look to the reporting of the bombing campaign on this German city, a bombing campaign widely accepted by most historians to be indiscriminate and more destructive than the atomic bombings, it is clear that the tension over how to portray the bombing continued. Furthermore we see that the reliance on official sources resulted in a reinforcement of the official government line that Dresden was a strategic military target and a wilful ignorance of the reporting of German civilian casualties. The reporting across all newspapers of Dresden framed the city strictly as a strategic target. The following extracts exemplify this;

158 159

A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 43 I. McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two (London: George Allen and Unwin 1979), p. 152


Dresden had become the chief supply base for the German defences west of Silesia. Now, the Dresden artery is severed.160 (Daily Express) As the menace to Berlin grew last night, reports from both Allied and German sources told how Dresden, planned by the Germans as a substitute capital, is dying.161 (Daily Express) The great industrial town of Dresden is of immense value to the enemy as a base for the defence against Konievs armies.162 (Manchester Guardian) The town, one of the largest industrial cities in Saxony, is described by the Air Ministry as a very important base for the defence of Eastern Germany.163 (Manchester Guardian) It was to rob the Germans of two priceless centres of communications that Dresden and Chemnitz were heavily bombed last week by Bomber Command and the American Eighth Air Force. 164(Observer) British and American bombers have struck one of their most powerful blows at Dresden, now a vital centre for controlling the German defence against Marshal Konevs armies advancing from the east.165 (The Times) That damage is being done to her communications and her oil different aspects of the same thing. When she most needs mobility, we are most powerfully armed to deprive her of it. Dresden showed Allied strength applied to that end. It was the railway centre of operations against Konievs drive west of the Oder. British and American forces jointly reduced that centre.166 (Sunday Times)

In addition, fig. 11 depicts a Daily Mirror cartoon printed on 16 February 1945 entitled Combined Ops that further reinforces the bombing of Dresden as a precise strategic attack with the Terrific Allied Air Blitz being shown to work in combination with the Russian hammer blowing
160 161

Great Rhine Dresden Blitz, Daily Express, 15 February 1945, p. 1 Dresden bombed to atoms, Daily Express, 16 February 1945, p. 1 162 Triple Raid on Dresden, Manchester Guardian, 15 February 1945, p. 4 163 Allied bombers strike south-east of Berlin, Manchester Guardian, 16 February 1945, p. 5 164 Bombers rob Germany of HQ Cities, Observer, 18 February 1945, p. 7 165 Smashing blows at Dresden, The Times, 15 February 1945, p. 4 166 Allied bombing power has been trebled, Sunday Times, 18 February 1945, p. 7


two Nazi leaders into the air. What we can also observe from the short extracts above is that, in accordance with Herman and Chomskys unworthy victims model, we see a reliance on clinical, emotion-less reporting with the effects of bombing being described by the Sunday Times as having jointly reduced that centre167 and the Daily Express reporting that the artery is severed.168 This was a distinct feature of the reporting on the bombing of Dresden and as we shall see, of other devastating attacks on enemy civilians. The Daily Telegraph reporting on 15 February 1945 described the attacks on Dresden as one of the greatest assaults of the war.169 The article goes further to focus on the scale of the attack repeating official statements that include the number of air crews and planes used.170 The framing of the report focuses on the attacks as an achievement due to its sheer scale. Other reports follow a similar line with a Sunday Times report on 18 February 1945 focusing entirely on the technical aspects of bombing arguing that the use of better bombs has resulted in an improved combination of blast and fire-raising and the introduction of a technique of accurate bombing.171 Again the framing of the attacks is that of an achievement. The mention of a large civilian presence appeared in a very small number of articles but actual damage to the population was not mentioned at all except for just one small article entitled Bombing Policy Stated again appearing in the Sunday Times on 18 February 1945 which reported a denial by government officials that the

167 168

Ibid., p. 7 Great Rhine Dresden Blitz, Daily Express, 15 February 1945, p. 1 169 3,650 Allied Planes in Non-Stop Blows, Daily Telegraph, 15 February 1945, p. 2 170 Ibid., p. 2 171 Allied bombing power has been trebled, Sunday Times, 18 February 1945, p. 7


military were using terror bombing.172 These articles could be a result of a lack of access to Dresden and the system of censorship. However, the mention of the plight of civilians in Dresden in an article by the Observer on 18 February 1945 reports that: Units of the civil administration driven from many parts of eastern Germany also need the time and the places in which to reorganise. They are now struggling with the most desperate situation that has ever faced German government officials. They have a million or more refugees to shelter, feed and clothe.173 The article does not mention civilian casualties at the hands of the Allied air attacks but rather frames the plight of civilians as the making and responsibility of the German government. The atomic bombing provides further evidence of the British propaganda system in practise. With the reporting of this event there was an acknowledgement of civilians deaths but the framing of them as a consequence of poor Japanese leadership, a dependency on official sources, and the use of positive stories to divert attention from the negative aspects of the new technology. The reporting of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki focused very much on the advent of a weapon that the War Department, quoted in the Daily Express on 7 August 1945, described as a revolutionary weapon destined to change war, or which may even be the instrumentality to end all wars.174 In this statement we see the War Department place emphasis on the positive potential of the new weapon. This focus on the positive was reflected in the news reports which in turn viewed the weapon as a dangerous, but potentially beneficial, technology. The editorial cartoon entitled The Sinking Sun
172 173

Bombing Policy Stated, Sunday Times, 18 February 1945, p. 1 Bombers rob Germany of HQ Cities, Observer, 18 February 1945, p. 7 174 Blast felt 300 miles from bomb test, Daily Express, 7 August 1945, p. 1


featured in fig.12 highlights this opinion of the press. Here we see allies atomic energy sinking a stereotypical caricature of a Japanese man behind the rays of the Japanese flag which are drawn to imply they are the tentacles of a monstrous octopus. One should also note the use of energy rather than bomb.175 Other editorial cartoons take a similar view focusing on the positive development of technology with fig. 13, taken from the Daily Mail on 9 August 1945, depicting a scientist flicking away the same stereotypical caricature of a Japanese man with the caption Out of my way!. The framing of the atomic bomb as a positive technical development with great potential at times bordered on the ridiculous with the Daily Mirror publishing an article on the 8 August 1945 entitled Atom Scientists may turn Britain into a Land of Sunshine.176 The report lists the following possibilities of the new technology: Weather. Our climate could be made warm and sunny. Land. New warm continents may be opened up in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Labour.- There would be less toil for hundreds of thousands of miners, transport workers, dockers. Transport.- Quicker and cheaper. Coal and Petrol.- As obsolete as charcoal. Motor Cars.- The future motor car designer will not now have to take into account the weight of the engine. More comfortable and roomier cars can be built.177 Given the manner in which it was introduced to the general populace through the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the atomic bomb inevitably had to be recognised for its destructive capabilities. This recognition came naturally as soon as the reports filtered through over the bombing. However, any discussion on civilian casualties
175 176

Out of my way!, Daily Mail, 9 August 1945, p. 5 (fig. 13) Atom Scientists may turn Britain into a Land of Sunshine, Daily Mirror, 8 August 1945, pp. 4 - 5 177 Ibid., pp. 4 - 5


was muted through the fact the correspondents were not reporting at ground level and thereby reliant on official sources. As such the reports were based totally on quotes from the Allied military personnel involved in the attacks. For example, the Daily Telegraph reporting on 8 August 1945 headlined its article Eye-Witness Story of the Atomic Bomb and focused upon the pilots efforts to drop the bomb.178 Other newspapers such as the Daily Express reporting on 7 August 1945 headlined its front page with The bomb that has changed the world with the leading articles focusing first briefly on the destruction of Hiroshima before a focus on how the bomb was designed and a statement from Winston Churchill titled In Gods mercy we outran Germany.179 What we see from this headline and the proceeding article is that the suggestion the technology had been entrusted upon the allies by God. The political cartoon shown in fig. 14 demonstrates this view perfectly with the Daily Mail printing its editorial cartoon showing a female labelled science bearing resemblance to the Statue of Liberty holding up the trophy of atomic energy away from small gremlin-like men labelled with potential Hitler and militarisis.180 If we think of the political cartoons from the Blitz and Dunkirk we see the resister and warrior as a male and in this the character of peacemaker is a female; this issue requires more space than this paper can give it but it provides an interesting line of inquiry for future research. Other news reports, editorials and political cartoons published by the press mirror echo the view of the bomb being placed in humane hands, going further to even

178 179

Eye-Witness Story of the Atomic Bomb, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 1945, p. 1 In Gods mercy we outran Germany, Daily Express, 7 August 1945, p. 1 180 For adults only, Daily Mail, 8 August 1945, p. 5


suggest that the Japanese had in fact brought the disaster upon themselves and should be held responsible for the deaths of their civilians under the bomb. The Daily Express reporting on the 9 August 1945 noted that: Though Tokyo has broadcast to the whole outside world the horror of Hiroshima, obliterated by the worlds explosion, it has said not a word to the people at home. The Tommy bomb, as the American pilots have named it, has according to Tokyo seared to death every living thing, human and animal in a city of 244,000 people. Unofficially, the death toll is put at 150,000, but Tokyo says it is impossible to give any reliable estimate. Washington regards the horror broadcasts as an attempt to set off world-wide revulsion against such inhuman assaults. Japan is seen clutching the same straw as Germany futilely attempted to grasp the hope that public opinion would become so aroused that America would be forced to discontinue atomic and other types of bombing against innocent peoples.181 Editorials continued in a similar vain attempting to portray the bombing as a just attack and hold the Japanese leadership responsible for the death wrought upon them. The Daily Telegraph editorial published on 10 August 1945 writes: The Tokyo warlords virtuous indignation with the American people at the devastation wrought should impose upon no one: yet both in America and here there have been protests which deserve to be considered against the inhumanity of the atomic bombs great destructive power. No one, indeed, can reflect without horror on the consequences, but a like horror must be felt at the suffering inflicted by any form of warfare and by all weapons... Should the Americans have denied themselves the use of the atomic bomb and permitted the Japanese to prolong their massacres and struggle for ill-gotten gains at an immeasurable cost in American, British and Chinese lives? That would not have been humane. True humanity consists in the use of power for peace among men of good will.182 If we refer back to Herman and Chomskys unworthy victims model we see that just as the media shifted blames for the deaths of the Latin American priests and nuns from those directly connected to it; so did the

181 182

Japs open radio sympathy plea, Daily Express, 9 August 1945, p. 1 Will to war, Daily Telegraph, 10 August 1945, p. 4


press with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people living in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

5. Conclusions

At the beginning of this paper I set out at an agenda to provide an assessment of the British press during the Second World War and contribute to a larger debate over the nature of the propaganda system established by the government during 1939-1945 and to what extent democracy was suspended during this period. Whilst the evidence selected has been specific and to a certain extent restricts a definite answer to these issues; we can conclude that in its efforts to defeat totalitarianism, Britain had to embrace some features of totalitarianism itself. Clearly this admission is counter-balanced with the argument that for the good of democracy this was ultimately necessary. The press at the time conceded this and expressed this view to a public, who would not have been completely unaware as to the restrictions on press freedom and other aspects of the propaganda system in action. The Daily Express writing in its editorial No Hitlerism here on 7 June 1940 argues that: Now we have given absolute powers to our Government given them of our own free will, so that Hitlerism cannot happen here. We give Hitlers powers to Churchill because Churchill will not use them like Hitler. We know that Churchill will give us back our liberty, but that Hitler would not not for a thousand years.183 Since 1945 there has not been a total war fought but the myths of World War Two disseminated by the press largely have. Likewise there has been a re-invoking of the values of the Second World War both by politicians


No Hitlerism here, Daily Express, 7 June 1940, p. 4


and the press; values of self-sacrifice, one nation, freedom and democracy. In this we see that whilst the system of censorship was largely dismantled after World War Two, the system of voluntarism and dependency has arguably continued.


Appendix: fig.1: Downhearted?, Daily Herald, 11 September 1940 p. 1

fig.2: Yes, but wait until you see the other fellow!, Daily Herald, 16 September 1940, p. 2


fig.3: Impregnable Target, Manchester Guardian, 12 September 1940, p. 6

fig.4: And we can STILL take it!, Daily Mirror, 10 September 1940, p. 5


fig. 5: You cant keep a good man down!, Daily Mirror, 11 September 1940, p. 5

fig.6: Blind fury, Daily Express, 10 September 1940, p. 4


fig.7: This was the East Ends Dunkirk, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 6

fig.8: All in the days work, Daily Express, 5 June 1940, p. 4


fig.9: Look Hitler! Dissension!, Daily Herald, 3 June 1940, p. 6

fig.10: Better surrender weve condemned the murderers not their dupes!, Daily Mirror, 15 February 1945, p. 2


fig.11: Combined ops!, Daily Mirror, 16 February 1945, p. 2

fig.12: The Sinking Sun, Daily Express, 11 August 1945, p. 4


fig.13: Out of my way!, Daily Mail, 9 August 1945, p. 5

fig.14: For adults only, Daily Mail, 8 August 1945, p. 5



Primary Sources: 1. Government Statement on Shelter Accident, Daily Mirror, 5 March 1943, p. 1 2. All Alike, Daily Mirror, 14 September 1940, p. 5 3. We are all one, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 4 4. Downhearted?, Daily Herald, 11 September 1940 p. 1 5. Bombs fell as a baby was born, Daily Mirror, 12 September 1940, p. 6 6. 15-Hour fight for life, Daily Telegraph, 10 September 1940, p. 1 7. The Spirit of London, Manchester Guardian, 3 September 1940, p. 4 8. Yes, but wait until you see the other fellow!, Daily Herald, 16 September 1940, p. 2 9. Impregnable Target, Manchester Guardian, 12 September 1940, p. 6 10. And we can STILL take it!, Daily Mirror, 10 September 1940, p. 5 11. You cant keep a good man down!, Daily Mirror, 11 September 1940, p. 5 12. Blind fury, Daily Express, 10 September 1940, p. 4 13. This was the East Ends Dunkirk, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 6 14. The Cockneys are in it, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 1 15. The small craft at Dunkirk, The Times, 6 June 1940, p. 4 16. All in a days work, Daily Express, 5 June 1940, p. 4 17. Look Hitler! Dissension!, Daily Herald, 3 June 1940, p. 6 18. All We Want is Another Go, Daily Mail, 31 May 1940, p. 1 19. Out of Defeat, Daily Herald, 3 June 1940, p. 6


20. Unknown Dunkirk Hero Rescues 81 Shouts Goodbye, Daily Express, 5 June 1940, p. 5 21. The Christian Ideal Strength through Suffering, The Times, 14 September 1940, p.6 22. Retribution, Daily Mirror, 1 February 1945, p. 7 23. Better surrender weve condemned the murderers not their dupes!, Daily Mirror, 15 February 1945, p. 2 24. Nazis squeal as RAF sets invasion coast ablaze, Daily Herald, 19 September 1940, p. 1 25. The Bully, Daily Express, 9 September 1940, p. 4 26. Terror for Nazis, Daily Mirror, 10 September 1940, p. 5 27. Great Rhine Dresden Blitz, Daily Express, 15 February 1945, p. 1 28. Dresden bombed to atoms, Daily Express, 16 February 1945, p. 1 29. Triple Raid on Dresden, Manchester Guardian, 15 February 1945, p. 4 30. Allied bombers strike south-east of Berlin, Manchester Guardian, 16 February 1945, p. 5 31. Bombers rob Germany of HQ Cities, Observer, 18 February 1945, p. 7 32. Smashing blows at Dresden, The Times, 15 February 1945, p. 4 33. Allied bombing power has been trebled, Sunday Times, 18 February 1945, p. 7 34. Combined ops!, Daily Mirror, 16 February 1945, p. 2 35. 3,650 Allied Planes in Non-Stop Blows, Daily Telegraph, 15 February 1945, p. 2 36. Bombing Policy Stated, Sunday Times, 18 February 1945, p. 1 37. The Sinking Sun, Daily Express, 11 August 1945, p. 4 38. Out of my way!, Daily Mail, 9 August 1945, p. 5


39. Blast felt 300 miles from bomb test, Daily Express, 7 August 1945, p. 1 40. Atom Scientists may turn Britain into a Land of Sunshine, Daily Mirror, 8 August 1945, pp. 4 5 41. Eye-Witness Story of the Atomic Bomb, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 1945, p. 1 42. In Gods mercy we outran Germany, Daily Express, 7 August 1945, p. 1 43. For adults only, Daily Mail, 8 August 1945, p. 5 44. Japs open radio sympathy plea, Daily Express, 9 August 1945, p. 1 45. Will to war, Daily Telegraph, 10 August 1945, p. 4 46. No Hitlerism here, Daily Express, 7 June 1940, p. 4

Secondary Sources:

1. Balfour, M., Propaganda in the War 1939-45, Organisations, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany (London: Routledge, 1979) 2. Brown, J.A.C., Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing (Middlesex: Penguin, 1963) 3. Calder, A., The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992) 4. Carruthers, S. L., The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000) 5. Fowler, R., Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991) 6. Hallin, D. C., We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (London: Routledge, 1994) 7. Hallin, D. C., The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam (Berkeley CA; London: University of California Press, 1989) 8. Hayes, N., and J. Hill, eds, 'Millions like us'? : British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999)


9. Herman, E. S., and N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (London: Vintage, 1994) 10. Kimball, J. P., The Stab-in-the-Back Legend and the Vietnam War, Armed Forces and Society, 14 (1988), pp. 433-458 11. Knightley, P., The First Casualty (London: Andre Deutsch, 2003) 12. Koss, S., The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984) 13. Mackay, R., Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002) 14. McLaine, I. Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two (London: George Allen and Unwin 1979)