A couple of semesters ago I took a course that specifically dealt with War and Mass Communication. My professor, a veteran from the Vietnam War, based the entire class on films, documentaries, short readings and personal experiences on wartime censorship and propaganda. One class we watched a PBS special called “The Romance of War” which outlined the history of American war correspondents during the first half of the 20th century by highlighting the many challenges of war reporting. From this documentary, I learned that such censorship set the foundation to unethical journalistic practices and in turn the American people are deprived of the truth and realities of what is happening overseas.
Now for the history of wartime censorship… that I find fascinating and hopefully you will as well. The Civil War created the foundation to dishonest, unethical and deceptive war reporting. Causalities were grossly underestimated, generals listed as killed lived on to die of old age; battles were reported on days when there was no action at all. Of course at this time fact checking didn’t exist when soldiers were traveling by foot and the only way to spread news was by the creative processes of the reporter’s imagination. However, advancements in technology of course led to more truthful and honest reporting…. Or so we would assume…
Then in 1914 the German invasion of Brussels introduced the beginning of WWI. WWI introduced the military’s power of censorship in the media in order to prevent the discouragement of military volunteers. The media of WWI reflected the traditional mythology of war and journalists were restricted by the power of censorship in order to sustain high public morale. This censorship led to unethical practices of journalism and the censorship imposed by the government carried throughout WWII and every other battle that has been written in our history books.
Here are the questions that I would like to pose to you. Is it the responsibility of the journalist to get past the strict rules of censorship in order to report the truth? Is military and government censorship a violation of our rights as citizens? Can we actually handle the truth? There is so much we do not know. Covert operations. Classified information. If every military and government operation was exposed to the public would this threaten national security?