World War II In America

The fighting in World War II was experienced first-hand by relatively few Americans; most Americans had to rely on the press (newspapers, magazines, radio) for information about the war.  Therefore, the press helped create an image of the war and helped define its meaning.  Your assignment is to analyze a specific episode, comparative issue, or theme in the wartime press.  We have available online through the library the historic New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, and Baltimore Afro-American (all on Pro-Quest in library database—check “subjects,” than “history” [twice], then “primary sources).  In the library, you can find Time, Newsweek, and more specialized journals like the Jesuit magazine America.  You have some freedom in this assignment, but I’d like to suggest four basic options: 1. Compare personal accounts of combat as presented in oral histories such as Studs Terkel’s Good War or personal memoirs such as Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed (with insights gained from O’Neill’s A Democracy at War, the documentary footage we viewed, and even a peek at Roeder’s The Censored War) with press descriptions of the fighting as it happened.  Did the reporting match or reflect the reality?  What did Americans at home learn about the war from the press?  How much of the reality of combat appeared (or should appear) in the press?2. Compare reporting at two different points in the war, for example in 1942 (perhaps during fighting in the Philippines or during the November North African campaign) and then in 1944 in Europe or the Pacific (or some other reasonable dates).  Check press reports for about two weeks or so (more time can be covered for magazines) in each year.  Did the reporting change over time, especially as the U.S. and its allies began to advance?  If it did, tell me how it changed, then try to conclude why it changed (different circumstances, goals, etc.)  Was the reporting realistic, idealistic, or something different?  Did it become more optimistic, grimmer over time, or remain the same?  What types of messages did Americans receive from press coverage of the fighting? 3. Focus intensively on one particular episode using a number of different press sources (newspapers and magazines, multiple viewpoints).  You could choose coverage of the Greer incident and FDR’s response, the sinking of the Reuben James, the brutal fighting on Iwo Jima, the early American defeat in the Philippines, the surprisingly high cost of taking Tarawa, or any well-covered event in the war.  Compare the various press reports.  How detailed were they?  Were they critical, overly optimistic, or even-handed?  What was left out?  What would Americans have learned from these sources? 4. Look more generally at how the war filtered into American culture.  You could look at wartime themes in advertisements, ads and reviews of war-related films, editorials about the war, and so on.  Or you could explore how specific groups reacted to the war by reading more specialized publications, for instance examining America to get the viewpoint of American Jesuits, checking out the Baltimore Afro-American to analyze black press reports, or reading Variety to get the show business angle.  Note:  there will be an opportunity in the second paper assignment to investigate wartime images of American women, racial images, reactions to the atomic bomb, and so on, so keep that in mind when choosing a topic. The paper should be from five to eight pages in length.  I expect you to make an argument and support it with primary source evidence, that is, the material was written during the war or first-hand accounts published later (not material from websites unless it is a wartime document).  Secondary material (course books, other works by historians) can be used as additional evidence establishing themes or supporting your interpretation of primary sources.  Provide citations for any information you take from a source (aside from basic facts—Pearl Harbor was on December 7, etc.)  Proper citations for your primary sources should be in the form of footnotes or endnotes.  Newspaper citations should give the source and the date (New York Times, September 28, 1943); magazine articles should include the author (if there is one named), the title of the article, magazine title, volume number, date, and page number (Ernie Pyle, “With the Troops,” Newsweek 23 (September 28, 1943), p. 87; books should include author, title, publisher, date of publication, and page number (Eugene Sledge, With the Old Breed:  At Peleliu and Okinawa (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 59.  Use a full citation for the first reference to a source.  Subsequent citations should use a short form (Sledge, Old Breed, 45).  You may use parenthetical citations for assigned course books (Terkel, p. 148).  Always use a citation when quoting and always use quotation marks when taking exact language from a source.

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