Saturday, August 13, 2011

Books Into Battle: John Hench Wins Distinguished Award for Study of Propaganda and Publishing During World War II

With all the attention paid to the Civil War these days, it's easy for the topic of World War II to get pushed into the background. Military history of the conflict will always find an audience (and a publisher), but it's a delight to come across a book that actually breaks new ground by attempting to tell us what the war meant to governments, soldiers, and civilians--moreover, by studying the role of culture rather than killing.

World War II is still seen by most of us as "the good war" (to cite the title of Studs Terkels's oral history), especially in comparison with the wars in which the United States has since become involved. It was seen as a contest between good and evil, a war of ideas or worldviews. The old "Why We Fight" indoctrination films, for example, made this clear in the opening shots, depicting opposing "slave" and "free" worlds. The Allies of course eventually went to war reluctantly, and not out of abstract opposition to fascism, as such, but once the war was underway, it became a fight for ideas as well as survival.

John B. Hench, former Vice President for Collections and Programs at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, tells a little-known part of that campaign in Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II, (Cornell University Press, 2010). He shows how the United States sought to use the printed word to win both the war and the peace—and a piece of the big postwar global economic pie.

Last month, at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) in Washington, DC, we honored him with the George A. and Jean S. DeLong Book History Book Prize for the best publication of the past year. It was a real delight to see such richly deserved recognition for a great scholar and generous colleague.

This is a fascinating book that draws upon new sources to tell an important story. He had me hooked at the outset:
Only weeks after the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, a surprising cargo—crates of books—joined the flood of troop reinforcements, weapons and ammunition, food, and medicine onto Normandy beaches. The books were destined for French bookshops, to be followed by millions more American books (in translation but also in English) ultimately distributed throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The British were doing similar work, which was uneasily coordinated with that of the Americans within the Psychological Warfare Division of General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, under General Eisenhower's command.
Here, the table of contents:

Introduction : Books on the Normandy Beaches

Cultivating New Markets
1. Modernizing U.S. Book Publishing
2. War Changes Everything--Even Books

Books as "Weapons in the War of Ideas
3. Publishers Organize for War and Plan for Peace
4. "Books Are The Most Enduring Propaganda of All

5. Seeking "an Inside Track to the World’s Bookshelves"
6. "Everyone but the Janitor" Selected the Books
7. Books to Pacify and Reeducate the Enemy
8. Making the "Nice Little Books"

U.S. Cultural Power Abroad
9. Liberating Europe with Books
10. The Rise and Fall of the United States International Book Association
11. The Empire Strikes Back
12. Books for Occupied Germany and Japan

Epilogue : American Books Abroad After 1948

Read the rest of the story on the book blog.

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