Could the reporters who covered World War II have been truly independent even though they shared the dangers and discomforts experienced by combatants and even though their lives depended on operational secrecy? Moseley, himself a former war correspondent, tackles that question in a largely descriptive survey, reliant on memoirs, that still manages to cover all of the war’s theaters and relate the experiences of reporters from all the Allied countries. The book is full of striking vignettes: a reporter yelling “Traitors!” at his carrier pigeons as the birds fly toward German lines in France rather than back to London, as they were supposed to; the American journalist Martha Gellhorn observing that many of the people she had met in Germany denied being Nazis and claimed to have helped Jews. Toward the end of the book, Moseley considers whether journalists might have held back some information out of a desire to not undermine the war effort by demoralizing the public.
Casey touches on that issue, as well, and points out that the relationship between the media and the authorities was complex and that military officials would not necessarily have appreciated sanitized reporting: General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander in Europe, for instance, wanted people to understand that the fighting could be grim and difficult. Casey’s book benefits from a sharp focus on U.S. correspondents in the European theater, many of whom became dedicated anti-Nazis after experiencing the Blitz in 1940–41. He reveals the stress under which they worked and also highlights the quality of their writing. One standout was Ernie Pyle of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, who was ultimately killed by a Japanese machine gunner. Arriving late to the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944, he described the scene on the beach: “Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever.”
Ball’s book on the Second Battle of El Alamein, which took place in Egypt in 1942, adds a further layer of complexity to the question of how the war was presented. In this entry into Oxford University Press’ Great Battles series, Ball looks at how a range of sources, including media reports but also the testimony of German prisoners of war, have shaped understandings of this battle. To add luster to a victory for the forces of the British Empire that owed in large part to a German fuel shortage and to the United Kingdom’s superior airpower, it suited British officers and journalists to exaggerate the prowess of the German commander, Erwin Rommel, thereby positioning his British counterpart, Bernard Montgomery, as his equal in generalship. This was too much for supporters of the man Montgomery had replaced, Claude Auchinleck, who felt that he had been given insufficient credit for his efforts during an earlier, more defensive battle at El Alamein. Rommel, for his part, was happy to stress his material disadvantages. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force wished it to be known that airpower had played a decisive role. And everyone, it seems, preferred to minimize the contribution made by Germany’s Italian allies.