The Subliminal Nation
The Second World War caused major changes in the world’s dynamics in terms of alliances, government, and ideas. Countries devoted all their materials to the war effort, promoting large-scale total war. Every major nation and their people were involved in the war on both the battlefield and the home front. Propaganda was crucial to both the Allied and Axis powers to motivate both soldiers and citizens to devote themselves to the war effort. With the start of the Second World War, the war of ideas was also incepted, causing all forms of media to promote censorship and propagation to citizens. The war of ideas was the struggle between the ideologies and beliefs of the Allied and Axis powers. Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II is John B. Hench’s take on the effects of war on books as well as their effect on the belligerent nations. Books have a profound effect on their audiences as they have the power to influence many to follow an idea or belief. The effect that books had on their audiences caused them to become a tool of propaganda for the war effort. Books were “something more than mere commodities, like automobiles, radios, and laundry soap,”1 and served a much greater purpose in American society and the belligerent nations abroad than most other products. The books in the U.S. served as weapons to combat enemy propaganda (ironically, as propaganda). John B. Hench’s Books As Weapons explains the position of publishers and the role of books in the war of ideas during the Second World War.
In the introduction of Books As Weapons, Hench states that the D-Day Invasion of June 6th, 1944 was the turning point in the liberation of Europe. This invasion affected the war of ideas when books arrived on the recently liberated beaches to be distributed to the citizens of France and other soon-to-be liberated countries. D-Day’s successful invasion by books and troops alike was the vanguard for “a campaign that put millions of American books in the hands of civilians throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and the Pacific,”2 and also served as a major turning point in the war itself. What caused American books to reach the shores of Normandy and other nations abroad? The shipping of weapons for the war of ideas was possible with the collaboration between the U.S. publishing industry and government. The government counterpart was the Office of War Information (OWI), the flagship agency for U.S. propaganda on the home front while the Council on Books in Wartime (CBW) was the committee that wanted to “do their bit” for the war effort through the distribution of books abroad. Many industries were required to contribute all means of production to the war and the CBW decided to take part in this contribution by helping the OWI in distributing propaganda. The two groups collaborated to help each other achieve their goals. The CBW aimed to gain markets in liberated countries while the OWI hoped to build morale and publicity through propaganda. This partnership would give the U.S. the upper hand in the war for ideas as well as the expansion of U.S. publishing to markets abroad.
In “Cultivating New Markets”, Hench assessed the issues of modernizing U.S. book publishing, the problems of the distribution of books, and the book industry’s shift into the war. During the interwar period in America, the book trade “became distinctly American-‘more rough-and-tumble’ and with ‘a more pronounced gambling mentality’”.3 This shift was the seed that contributed to the modernization of the book industry and the cultivation of new markets. With the start of the war, publishing firms that were created during the interwar period merged with wartime propaganda to help with the war effort. Propaganda was a driving force of motivation on the American home front but the goals of the OWI and CBW required expansion to nations abroad. The success of Pocket Books and Penguin Books, publishers of inexpensive paperbacks, played a huge role in the encouragement of the CBW and OWI to believe problems of distribution in terms of manufacture costs and difficulties of shipping could be combated with use of paperback series. Hench mentioned that book hunger occurred as a result of the destruction and censorship of books by fascist regimes and/or war damage in Europe and Asia. This hunger was the finest opportunity given to the OWI and CBW to take action and achieve their goals of winning the war of ideas and expanding markets for the book industry.
In “Books As ‘Weapons In The War Of Ideas’”, Hench explained how America’s publishing industry evolved and integrated with propaganda during the war and how the OWI and CBW began to choose titles for the civilians of liberated nations as well as the reeducation of POWs (prisoners of war). Refugees, who mainly arrived from Germany and Austria, provided an important new context for the development of an international outlook within the U.S. publishing industry. They were mostly intellectuals in the fields of academics, sciences, writing, journalism, book-selling, and publishing, giving the U.S. the upper hand in the arts as well as sciences. The European refugees were assets to the OWI and CBW for their ability to translate books to their languages. This advantage along with the growing hunger for books made U.S. consolidation propaganda, the post-battle and postliberation phase of propaganda for citizens in the liberated nations abroad, simpler and easier to execute. The U.S. was not the only nation to fight in the war of ideas as Britain participated and cooperated in it. The Axis powers had their own propaganda in the regions they occupied and imposed censorship on many titles that were against fascist ideology. Allied propaganda “utilized many forms of media to secure a military victory over the Axis powers,”4 and was persistent in combating Axis propaganda abroad. The U.S. issued Overseas Editions while Great Britain issued Transatlantic Editions. Both of these book series were used to pacify civilian populations of the liberated regions of Europe and reeducate POWs. The Allied collaboration for propaganda ultimately defeated the Axis powers in the war for ideas.
The liberating D-Day Invasion proved to be the watershed of the war in terms of both propaganda and the battlefront. The Allied Offensive on the French beaches won the European front of the war and earned them the ability to spread propaganda from one liberated nation to the other. In “U.S. Cultural Power Abroad”, Hench assesses the issue of postwar arrangements for the markets of publishing industries, competition with Britain in the publishing industry, and the tensions that arose with Russia after the war, creating another war of ideas. With the spread of Overseas and Transatlantic Editions to all liberated and occupied countries, the U.S. publishing industry established temporary markets in these regions to help by giving them the opportunity to rejuvenate their own industries from war damages. American publishing companies, such as McGraw Hill and John Day, gained new markets in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. These advances provoked British markets and caused uproar in British competition against American markets. The uproar was advocated by Sir Stanley Unwin, the head of the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. and staunch advocate for the role of British books overseas. Hench stated that “Britain’s need to export books was even greater after the war,”5 and this was due to demand for a boost in exports to pay for the imports it needed. The provocation of British markets by U.S. “poachers” created a competition between the two nations in a fight for global markets. Market borders were set to settle the disputes between the two nations with unclaimed areas of the world as “open market” and claimed areas as “home markets”. The war’s end disintegrated the OWI and CBW, causing the U.S. to be unprepared for the propaganda that was arriving from Russia to occupied Germany. This invasion of propaganda from Russia caused the rebuilding of German printing to become increasingly important. The Soviet Blockade of Berlin in 1948 made the Russians the new competitor to America’s dominance in the world as a superpower. After 1948, the U.S. publishing industry continued to mature with the expansion of markets throughout the world.
The point Hench was trying to make in Books As Weapons was that books served as weapons in the war of ideas and ultimately spelled victory for the Allies. If the books did not ship to Europe, both the civilian populations and POWs would still believe in the ideologies that brought them into the war in the first place. Hench added that Roosevelt’s quote which stated that, “No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever.”6 Roosevelt promoted the shipment of the “weapons” in the war of ideas to liberated nations to secure a victory for the Allied cause against tyranny. Hench hoped to explain the point of the OWI and CBW’s actions abroad during the liberation phase of previously oppressed nations. He ended the book with the question, “Shouldn’t books be part of the nation’s tool kit and become, once again, weapons in the war of ideas?,”7 which addressed the issues of our current administration under Obama. This question was asked by Hench and revealed his standing on the industry as he agrees with the OWI’s belief that books are the most enduring propaganda to ever exist.
John B. Hench was born during the war and was intrigued by it as he grew older. The stories that came with the souvenirs his father brought back from the war, such as unit patches, medals, and wooden ship carvings, inspired him to be a collector of wartime items. The items that influenced his work on Books As Weapons were the many copies of Armed Service Editions given to soldiers to read by the OWI and CBW. Hench’s career became apparent as he stated, “My love of history led me to get a Ph.D in early American history at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts,”8 and he later went between the American Antiquarian Society(AAS) library for research and teaching at Minnesota State University. His hobby of collecting reached a revolution when he gained a copy of an Overseas Edition issued to civilians and POWs during the war. As Hench looked into the role of publishing in the war, he found that it was effective in winning the war of ideas for the Allies. The collection that Hench created later became a major research project and resulted in his book. Hench’s book is written in a realist and progressive point of view as he addresses the issues of his time while defending the American publishing industry’s actions in liberated nations abroad.
The Boston Book Bums reviewed Books As Weapons and looked at it as a serious historical work that “uses a researchers eye to create possibly the most complete work on the collision of book and martial culture.”9 The reviewers praised Hench’s vivid explanations and attention to detail in the facts he presented. Valerie Holman of History Today reviewed Hench’s work by summarizing it. She stressed that “The U.S. government needed an effective and lasting way to improve its image,”10 referring to the OWI’s issued books to pacify liberated populations. In the end, Holman’s interpretation was that “John Hench has shown how book history can shrine a revealing light in many dark corners of the now solidly-constructed edifice of Second World War history,”11 meaning Hench supported the book industry’s work in the Second World War and counter-propaganda. Reviews for Books As Weapons were generally positive as Hench did extensive research on the subject and had sufficient evidence to support his claims.
In Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II, Hench gives a back-story on the interwar period of America as a huge change in the publishing industry. As war approached, the new industry became more involved with the government and ended up binding with them until the end of the war. Hench assessed the problems of the time by stating the hindrances of distribution of books throughout the world and the opposition that America faced as a country. He also defended the American publishers’ actions in countries abroad by talking about the detriments of the Axis regimes, slandering them. As stated earlier, Hench’s book was written in the historiographies of realist and progressive viewpoints. Hench also praises the effectiveness of books on the enemies of the Allies in the war of ideas. Another element of Books As Weapons was the emphasis on the intensity of the war of ideas that gave the reader a feel of the gravity of the situation. Hench’s book was a solid writing that supported books as the most effective kind of American propaganda. Hench’s addition of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote, “Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die,”12 gave a clear presentation of his view on the effect of books during the war.
A common question about the 1940s regards the decade as a watershed era in American history. Hench believed the U.S. had a vast change between the world wars in industry, culture, and perspective on the world. His main emphasis was on the change of the publishing industry during the Second World War. The publishing industry’s greatest change occurred when the U.S. entered the war against fascist tyranny. The Council on Books in Wartime joined with the Office of War Information to meet each other’s goals and ultimately, defeat the Axis powers. This collaboration was one of uniqueness in American history and showed the effect of total war on industries, who wanted to do their part in contribution to the war effort. The U.S. publishing industry became more involved in the war and began publishing books for liberated regions and POWs. The D-Day Invasion was the breach in fascist occupation of Europe by the Allies and enabled the flow of American books into France, which would spread to soon-to-be liberated nations. This spread would remain constant from the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. The revival of book publishing in Europe was important as Soviet propaganda began to enter Germany, making the war of ideas perpetual. The CBW and OWI’s disintegration after the war created more government/industry collaborations and continued to spread American books abroad. The CBW/OWI collaboration not only served as a unique partnership during the war, but it also caused the internationalization of American publishing and gave the American publishing industry an objective to “pull their own weight in helping to spread the use of English, as British publishers had been doing for years.”13 The result of the involvement of American publishing industries in the Second World War made them have more “export-minded” motives in the book trade. The newfound motives created competition with British markets, which had not occurred since the era of “new” imperialism in the 19th century.
The change in the 1940s was, for the most part, caused by the war and its demand for contributions from everyone due to the status of total war. This status had brought all industries to support the war effort and, in the long run, end up with postwar effects. In the case of the U.S. publishing industry, their postwar effects were expanded markets abroad and an increase in exports. Hench stated that, “The people of the Council on Books in Wartime and the Office of War Information would likely not feel much at home in today’s publishing world.”14 due to the embracement of change in the industry during the postwar era. The country as a whole, however, had a postwar effect of becoming a major world power alongside the Soviet Union, which led to the competition that became known as the Cold War. These effects contributed to the formation of the modern world as well as the matured and modernized America we live in today.