The bombs of Hertz
After the Spanish Civil War, European totalitarian regimes get stronger. Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. Internationally, Portugal claims to be neutral, but, internally, it favors Nazi Germany. BBC takes the voice of freedom by creating the Portuguese section, in 1940. The battlefield beyond the trenches is felt in the waves of Hertz.
The announcement came on the 3rd of September, 1939, through the voice of the Prime-Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain.
"This country is at war with Germany."
Poland’s invasion, two days prior, propelled Great Britain and France’s war declaration, following the increasing atmosphere of tension among the nations. Eleven years after the end of World War 1, Europe was the stage of a conflict again.
In September, 1939, a few days after the announcement, José Guerra Maio writes in O Comércio do Porto: “Paris offers, at midday, the sad appearance of an abandoned city or of a rustic village in the first hours of dawn”.
As it happened in World War 1, international news agencies were essential for the Portuguese coverage of European topics. Other than the economic difficulties, Portuguese neutrality in World War Two made sending special envoys impossible. The papers could only count on the letters sent by the correspondents, most of who were installed in Paris. However, the attention devoted to dictatorships increasing in Europe wasn’t recent.
“Lively and sensational interview with Adolf Hitler, leader of the national-socialists”, could be read on the front page.
As Hitler’s army marched through Europe, Media tried to prove their worth. In the German front, the Media were under the control of the State and official information was released only by members of the national Propaganda section.
Using their section of foreign press, Germans invited journalists from other countries to report on the war from the German front, with guarantees of exemption and freedom that didn’t prove true. Goebbels, Propaganda minister, sent journalists and photographers to the Propaganda section of the army, creating the category of reporters-soldiers. They were expected to, simultaneously, fight and cover the conflict from the frontline.
We all know that Nazi is the abbreviation of National Socialist German Workers' Party but most of us didn’t know that the term was coined by a journalism, a German Jewish journalist. Before “Nazi”, the abbreviation used to mention Adolf Hitler’s party was Nasos. Konrad Heiden, who often signed by alias Klaus Bredow, was one of the first voices to criticize the politics of the regime. He worked for the newspapers Frankfurter Zeitung and Vossischen Zeitung. In 1932, he became a freelancer and then he left for exile.
On the Allies side, the work of reporters was subject of military restrictions which were similar to those of World War 1. Special envoys had better work conditions, but their texts were still reviewed and censored, being used as Propaganda. The incentive to war effort was conveyed to the houses of millions of English people, with politicians as the main protagonists.
Charles de Gaulle broadcast through BBC one of the greatest speeches of incentive to the French resistance. The speech happened after France’s defeat in the battle which allowed the Nazi invasion and occupation, in May 1940.
The speeches of the newly-elected prime-minister, Winston Churchill, were broadcast to the entire country and became symbols of the British resistance.
"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
English Ministry of Information established that BBC should be seen as a Government department when it came to the coverage of war activities. In Germany, Hamburg Radio promoted broadcasts in English, read by Lord Haw-Haw, which were a success among one third of the British people. The reason why? BBC broadcasts were considered uninteresting and the news not credible.
English Ministry of Information reacted, authorising BBC to broadcast war news quicker, with the exception of information that could be useful to the German. A strategy that helped increase public trust in BBC’s information, allowing for the Propaganda message underlined in the broadcasts to be conveyed to the English people.
Across the pond, in the United States, radio was also a growing medium of communication. With over 45 million of sets spread around the country, American people listened to an average of four and a half hours of broadcasts every day. Newspapers offered a deeper coverage, but radio’s speed turned it into a central medium, followed by the American people throughout the war. American reporter Edward R. Murrow was one of the protagonists, with his reports from England, being considered the pioneer of radio coverage.
THE CONFIRMATION OF A WORLD WAR
War was about to directly hit the United Stated. At 2.20 pm of the 7th of December, 1941, Associated Press would send a bulletin to the Media: Pearl Harbor had been attacked. After confirming the truthfulness of the information with the Government, radios interrupted their broadcasts with the news of the attack.
A journalist witnessed the explosions from the roof of a building, reporting live. "It is no joke, it is a real war".
The American audience received the news with suspicion. After all, only three years prior, in 1938, Orson Welles had spread panic with his broadcast of War of the Worlds.
This time around, the attack was very real. The bombings happened on a Sunday morning, which meant most of the newspapers had already been printed. Some managed to publish the news still on the same day, using special editions.
The following morning, more information arrived. Since it was hard for the journalists to reach the site, data was mostly released by the Press Cabinet of the White House.
“The Japanese aggression yesterday did more than start a Pacific war. It broadened the conflicts already raging into a world-wide struggle whose end no man can know”, wrote The New York Times.
The predictions would be confirmed on that very same day. Roosevelt calls the Congress and the radio takes the decision to millions of listeners: the United States were at war.
"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
Bob Landry was one of the only professional photographers to capture the tragedy. His pictures were censured, in order to protect military information and weapons details. The photographs would only see the light of day two months after the attack, in magazines TIMEand LIFE.
Footage of the attack was seen by the Americans through newsreels, shown in the country’s movie theatres during the following months.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese Media saw their freedom even more restricted. In 1940, information departments had been centralised in the Ministry of the Interior, with full control over the news that was published. Media were invaded by an anti-American feeling, appealing to patriotism and national pride. Cartoonists also gave their Propaganda contribution.
FOR PORTUGAL, NEUTRALITY
In Portugal, Salazar tried to balance neutrality as best as he could. On the one hand, the proximity with Franco who, in spite of Spain’s official neutrality, showed sympathy for Hitler and Franco’s regime. On the other hand, the former Luso-British alliance, an essential part of the Portuguese international strategy.
“English Government asked facilities in the Azores which were granted by the Portuguese Government”, announced Diário de Notícias, on the 13th of October, 1943.
From the beginning of the war, Salazar showed his apprehension about communism, a concern that supported a great deal of the leader’s political moves. The press, restricted by censorship, reflected the same tendency. The neutrality obligation regarding the conflict between the Allies and Germany wasn’t seen with regards to the Soviet Union. In 1940, Amadeu de Freitas was the only Portuguese person to cover the Soviet attack in Finland, resulting of a secret deal between Germany and the Soviet Union.
At the time of his departure, O Século wrote that his mission was to cover the “journey of that small nation whose heroism has in the entire world an echo of emotional admiration”. Other than the chronicles for the newspaper, the reporter also described the atmosphere experienced in Finland on Emissora Nacional: “The bombs start to drop, the planes start to spread death. […] Everyone runs for the shelters! The holes open and swallow men. The Russians keep on dropping grenades and dropping bombs. The ice starts to get tainted with red”.
In the rest of the world, there was a constant concern with the press for the countries involved in the conflict.
The leader of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would become the American president a decade after, would recognise the importance of the Media, believing that "public opinion wins wars".
THE DECISIVE BATTLE OF NORMANDY
In the months leading up to the Normandy Battle, Eisenhower’s strategy included controlling the number of correspondents on the field through accreditation. The journalists complained about the strictness of the rules, of the limits and censorship imposed, as well as favoring certain outlets when it came to the accreditation of reporters, but Eisenhower was focused on his mission: “to discover the best means of keeping the press securely in the dark, while at the same time not appearing to treat them as complete outsiders."
“Chanson d'automne” [Autumn Song], a poem by Paul Verlaine was the secret signal for the beginning of the offensive in Normandy. The poem broadcast on BBC, used as a secret signal, was distributed between the 3 days prior to the landing.
On the 6th of June, 1944, Day-D, the Allies would enter France through Normandy, with an army of five thousand ships. The American reporter George Hicks was on board of USS Ancon.
"You see the ships lying in all directions, just like black shadows on the grey sky".
John Snagge’s broadcast on BBC, in London, decoded what was happening.“The next time our feet touch dry land it will be on the soil of Europe. A new phase of the Allied Air Initiative has begun.”
At midday, John Snagge, sure of the effectiveness of the Allies’ intervention, announced: “D-Day has come.”
The success of the operation was largely spread in the Media of the Allied countries.
Robert Capa was one of the only four American photojournalists allowed by the Army to cover the Normandy landing. Only less than ten of the over one hundred images captured survived and were published in LIFE.
The Normandy Battle marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire. The operation had a strong impact on Hitler’s troops, who lost control of France and could no longer strengthen the eastern front against the Soviet forces. The years prior, Hitler had also suffered a blow with Mussolini’s fall, in Italy.
The dismissal of Il Duce and Pietro Badoglio’s appointment to the job of Prime-Minister had been announced to the Italian people in July 1943. At the end of the news bulletin, the national anthem was played, rather than the anthem of the Fasci di Combattimento party, a sign that the new government intended to step aside from Mussolini’s path. German radio minimized the importance of the news, considered “Italian internal politics”. Times’ correspondent wrote: "the people know plainly that he has resigned because he is a failure – a failed criminal." Il Duce fell from grace and was arrested.
THE FALL OF THE DICTATORS
In September, German paratroopers organised a rescue mission. Back to freedom, Mussolini would create a fascist state in the north of Italy, but the authority and the power to decide belonged to the German. In April 1945, Mussolini and his lover were captured and executed while they tried to flee the country.
Their bodies were exposed "with ghastly promiscuity in the open square under the same fence against which one year ago 15 partisans had been shot by their own countrymen", wrote Times.
Benito Mussolini’s fall was followed closely by the Italian people. During the years he spent leading the country, the dictator’s image was mystified, becoming almost a divine entity. While Hitler received a thousand of letters from the population per month, Mussolini would get 1,500 every day. Many were asking for help, but a number were from female fans.
Now, the population wanted to see his fall. Tired of the war, Italy felt betrayed by the former leader. The demand for the photographs documenting Il Duce’s end was so high that the Mediterranean edition of the American Army’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, sold out, and the market value of the publication went up by 700%.
The news travelled to Berlin and arrived to the bunker where Hitler was hidden. Fearing a similar fate and facing an imminent defeat, Hitler commits suicide two days after, on the 30th of April, 1945. Karl Dönitz was confirmed as his successor.
German radio announced the Führer’s death, “fighting until his last breath against bolshevism and for Germany”.
With decreasing circulation, due to the lack of paper and ink, German newspapers were a symbol of a ruined country. But not even that stopped them from paying one last tribute to Hitler. “The man is dead. He fell fighting. He remained true to himself. He wanted what’s best for his people, that’s why they loved him so much”.
On the Allies side, BBC announced Hitler’s fall to the world. The news would spread, but the war was officially still taking place.
THE ALLIES’ VICTORY
A few days after, the Germans surrendered and the Allies’ victory was announced by Churchill.
17 journalists were authorized to watch the ceremony of Germany’s rendition, with the condition that they couldn’t report the news until they were authorized by the American Army. Edward Kennedy, Associated Press (AP) correspondent, noticed that the embargo had political and not military reasons.
Churchill and Truman had agreed on postponing the news so that Stalin could organize a rendition ceremony in Berlin. Kennedy decided to break the silence vow and report the news.
SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) and the other Media criticized the AP, which ended up apologizing and firing Kennedy for reporting the scoop of the decade. "It was not a desire to make a 'scoop' that pushed me inexorably to my decision — I had already scored plenty of those. It was a conviction that my duty was to report the news. […] I have never regretted my decision", Kennedy wrote, in August 1948.
If things were calmer in Europe, the Pacific and Asia were a different story. "A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy”, announced Truman in August 1945. Three days later, Nagasaki was also bombed.
The official announcement of the Hiroshima attack made the headlines in Japanese newspapers, which, by then, were limited to only two pages, due to the lack of paper. On the 11th of August, newspapers first published that the weapon used by the American people in the bombings was a nuclear weapon. The publications also mentioned the Japanese Government’s protests against the new bomb, considered cruel, inhuman and a violation of international laws.
Three days after the Nagasaki, Japanese emperor, Hirohito, announced the country’s rendition through the radio. "Jewel Voice Broadcast" was the chosen programme. Hirohito never used the word rendition, preferring the term “cease-fire”. Japan would sign the rendition in September, putting an end to World War 2.
The Allies celebrated their victory and Fernando Pessa, journalist of the Portuguese section of BBC, witnessed the victory parade in London.
«Voz de Londres» [“Voice of London”] was considered a trust-worthy source of what really was going on in the war, unliked the censored informations on Emissora Nacional and Rádio Clube Português. The reason for the success was also Fernando Pessa’s voice, who became known by the expression: “BBC speaks and the world believes it”.
From London, the narrator told the last events in a unique style and never let the opportunity to ridicule Hitler slide, who he jokingly called “Mr. Hitler”.
On the other side of the “hertzian bombings”, there was Reichesrundfunk, known in Portugal as Radio Berlin. His speakers didn’t have Fernando Pessa’s sense of humour nor his popularity. News were too optimist and the lectures didn’t convince the Portuguese people that the III Reich was the victim of an Allied conspiracy. In the hallways of the III Reich’s ministry of Propaganda, it was crucial to find and opponent as good as Fernando Pessa. Someone who could captivate the masses and convey the Nazi message.
In 1944, a new voice arrived to Radio Berlin. A speaker who believed he was able to convey the Nazi message and compete with Fernando Pessa’s fame. His name was Alfredo de Freitas Branco and he was from Madeira and had a noble title: viscount of Porto da Cruz.
“MUNICH, THE CITY THAT SUFFERS AND CRIES”
A very different atmosphere was experienced in Germany. “London, city that laughs and sings… Munich, city that suffers and cries”, wrote Manuel Rodrigues in Diário de Notícias. The Portuguese correspondent covered a visit organized by the American forces for the international press, which led them through the rubble of the German city. On his way back to Portugal, Manuel Rodrigues visits the celebrations in London, being amazed at the “distance that goes from victory to defeat”.
The celebrations didn’t erase the horror that was being found in the ruins of the Nazi empire. As they travelled through Europe, the Allies were faced with the dreadful scenes of the concentration and extermination camps. The violence of the descriptions even surprised BBC. The channel, at first, decided not to broadcast the report, fearing a loss of credibility.
In early May, Diário de Notícias and Diário de Lisboa were contacted by the British Embassy in Lisbon to visit the camps of death.
“Thousands of prisoners filled the ample space. The ones who aren’t wearing their own clothes wear the stripped penal uniform”, described Norberto Lopes in his chronicle published on the 17th of May, in Diário de Lisboa.
Given the nature of the reports, many question whether they were a Propaganda weapon. “Is there exaggeration in the records that have been published regarding the German concentration camps? Regarding the Dachau, I can’t say that there isn’t”, wrote Manuel Rodrigues for Diário de Notícias, on the 15th of May.
This and other facets of the conflict were portrayed on the big and small screen, making World War 2 one of the conflicts with a larger presence in popular culture.
One of the most pungent witnesses of the war was Anne Frank. Her diary, published in 1947, after her death and the end of the war, offers a report on the war as seen by a 13-year-old girl.
Primo Levi also experienced the Holocaust first hand. His book If This Is a Man was inspired on the eleven months he spent in Auschwitz.
Author Patrick Modiano was born two months after the end of the way, but this is a common theme in a lot of his books. Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him in 2014, because he could, through his stories, evoke "the most ungraspable human destinies" and reveal the life behind the Nazi occupation in the French capital.
The world of music also took inspiration from the war. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters wrote When the Tigers Broke Free about his dad’s death in Shingle Operation, in Italy.
This conflict was also the war of Hertzian waves. In the trenches, both fronts expanded the broadcasts to territories of influence. In 1942, the United States of American started broadcasting nationally with the public radio station Voice of America. The expansion reached the citizens of Philippines.
World War 2 left deep marks in war Journalism and popular culture all over the world.