Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Steven Casey's "The War Beat, Europe"

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His books include Cautious Crusade (2001) Selling the Korean War (2008), which won the Harry S. Truman Book Award, and When Soldiers Fall (2014), which won the Neustadt Prize.

Casey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The War Beat, Europe: The American Media at War Against Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
On Monday, February 1, 1943, a group of correspondents including Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, Walter Cronkite of the United Press, and Bob Post of the New York Times, left London’s Paddington Station for Bovingdon airbase. This group, which would soon become known as the Writing Sixty-Ninth, were part of a bold new experiment in war reporting. The US Eighth Air Force intended to train them in the basics of high-altitude precision bombing, with the goal of sending them on a raid over Germany in the near future.

Page 99 of The War Beat, Europe shows how Bigart and Cronkite reacted to their training week. Cronkite, an airplane enthusiast, reveled in the experience, enthusing that he felt like a real aviator when kitted out in a heavy flying suit and oxygen mask. Bigart, a nervier customer, focused less on the buzz of flying and more on the perils associated with the whole enterprise. After days of listening to lectures, both men passed the course. For the next couple of weeks, they proudly paraded around London wearing the much-valued accouterments that identified them as members of the air force: a star with wings on their sleeves and a saggy hat with its wire stays remove. Then came the time for their one and only bombing mission, whose ultimate destination turned out to be the German submarine pens at Wilhelmshaven.

On their return, Bigart and Cronkite wrote dispatches that would help to establish their reputations, which would grow to legendary proportions in the years to come, as Bigart covered countless Cold War conflicts and Cronkite became America’s leading TV news anchor. In February 1943, however, both men were rookies compared to Bob Post of the New York Times. Before the Wilhelmshaven mission, Post had selflessly volunteered to fly on one of the Liberator bombers, allowing Bigart and Cronkite a space on the more glamorous Flying Fortresses. Tragically, Post was killed when his plane was shot down. Bigart never forgot this moment, and afterwards he would always view war as a hellish affair, run by officers whose wisdom needed to be challenged. Back in New York, America’s top editors were equally appalled, and within days they would send out firm instructions barring their correspondents from taking part in similar missions in the future.

The training week discussed on page 99 of The War Beat, Europe therefore turned out to be an eye-catching exception, rather than the start of something new. For the next two years, war correspondents would largely cover the unfolding air war from the safety of American air bases, counting how many planes had returned, before receiving official figures on how many bombs had been dropped and how much of the intended target had been destroyed. Such reporting was far from glamorous, and the correspondents with sufficiently big reputations soon headed off to cover other aspects of the war, Bigart and Cronkite among them. By the summer of 1943, Bigart was with George Patton’s Seventh Army as it conquered Sicily; he then reported on the grueling battles at San Pietro, Cassino, and Anzio, as Mark Clark’s Fifth Army tried to liberate Rome. In the summer of 1944, Cronkite did manage to report from the skies again, first when he went on a plane to look at the Allies’ Normandy beachhead on D-Day and then when he was allocated a place in a glider to cover the ill-fated Market-Garden operation.

The War Beat, Europe documents all of these events, as well as the equally intrepid exploits of reporters like Ernie Pyle and Don Whitehead, Drew Middleton and Bill Stoneman, Margaret Bourke-White and Helen Kirkpatrick. These men and women were part of American journalism’s golden generation, and this book is the first comprehensive account of both their exciting back stories and their vivid published stories.
Learn more about The War Beat, Europe at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: When Soldiers Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue