Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II
ISBN: 9780801448911

In WWII, in addition to operation Overlord, there were also plans to have books distributed into Europe after D-Day. It was part of counter nazi-propaganda tactics, to “show democracy in action and as an example of American though and writing” (P79). However, it’s propaganda by making ‘ordinary’ books available (p156).

P93. The goal by the U.S. govt and book industry was for American books ‘to help “disintoxicate” the victims of Axis hegemony, win friends for the United States, and put some of the best products of American writers and publishing houses on a track to the bookshelves of the world’.

Programme was aimed at “people in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia” (p95).

Very readable, and according to a review (on the back book jacket), a well-researched work.

I found this a fascinating and insightful story of the development of the US book publishing trade, in the years before and after WWII. The driving forces were both commercial (post-war expansion of markets) and nationalistic (propaganda/ counter-propaganda, spread of culture).

Implied was that Non-fiction works would be the right ones for this programme (P88. There was consideration whether fiction other Non-fiction would be selected).

Interestingly the book also touched on the effectiveness of the publishing and distribution efforts. There was positive anecdotal instances (p157), and also deferring from the sales and take-up rate of what has been published. Though in the final analysis, hard data on its impact was not available. The sales of books was more than the outright monetary costs for production of the books (p157), excluding all other costs involved in the planning etc. However

Not surprisingly, committees determined the choice of titles and the approvals for translated works.

P12. The National Association of Book Publishers commissioned, in 1930, a study on the economics of the U.S. book trade. The report was scathing in its assessment, one of which was the lack of retail stores and lack of access to books. The association shelved the report.

P16. The U.S. literary and publishing scene received a boost when refugees (among which were writers, intellects, publishers) from Nazi Germany emigrated to the U.S. to escape persecution.

P20. “Scarcity made it a fine time to be a book publisher in the United States”. Demand grew while supply dwindled (less paper available, and publishers were more prudent in quantity and titles produced).

P21. Soldiers had more time to read. Survey by Random House revealed 15% of soldiers read an average of one book every two weeks (mentioned a “hurry-up-and-wait” culture in the army), reading short stories and escapist literature.

P24. The Great Depression was “surprisingly gentle” on the domestic British publishing business, “in part because books were more affordable and available than other pastimes” though international business suffered.

P33. On th U.S. publishers’ factfinding trip to China in 1943. “The chief impediment was without question the lack of an effective copyright treaty between the two countries, which was principally blamed for the extensive piracy of U.S. works”.

P34. How the U.S. delegation (led by Sloane) acknowledged that the Russians were using books to spread their culture, as with the British, and so the U.S. cannot afford to be left behind in this aspect even if there is no cash income at this point.

P45 – 48. ‘Council of Books in Wartime’ formed in the U.S., early 1942. It’s mission was to see how to support the war effort and also (profitable) activities after the war. One strategy they adopted was to start “reading communities”, though there was some contention over that approach, as it encroached into use of public funds for potential commercial activities. Their tagline was the council being an organisation comprising of “publishers of general (trade) books, librarians and book sellers”.

P65. WWII brought the US book publishing trade fully out of the Great Depression. And book reading became more popular than ever during the war years (American society also introduced to “a culture of planning”).

P70. From the Office of War Information: “Books do not have their impact upon the mass mind but upon the minds of those mould the mass mind–upon leaders of thought and formulators of public opinion. The impact of a book may last six months or several decades. Books are the most enduring propaganda of all.”

P70. There was a hunger for books “free of taint from facist propaganda”. Reports ready demand of books, by the oppressed, published by the Allies. Intellectual hunger likened to physical hunger (people willing to pay for books, even in those times of scarcity).

P78/79. Creation of “instant reading communities”. Some members of the U.S. Psychological Warfare Department in Bari, Italy, experimented with parachuting a number of Armed Forces Edition books (unofficially pinched from stock, it seems) on an island off the coast of Yugoslavia. The books were found and taken to someone who could read English, and that soon people gathered to hear the book “translated on the spot”.

P79. “The creation of this instant reading community was credited in part with the warm feelings those islanders had toward the liberating GIs.”

P81. How the Nazi Germany book programme won the “begrudging envy” from U.S. propagandists; the German books (including translations) were available from neutral to occupied countries, and systematically put in the hands of professionals, doctors, engineers — all to reinforce the “invincible superiority of the Germans”.

P88. There was opposition to the book programme within the U.S. Senate, particularly a Senator McKellar. Even after being explained the books would only be distributed after the war (not during) and sold (not given away free), the senator remained unconvinced that such a programme had any effect on changing hostile perceptions of the U.S. and one had to physically win.

P94. Final list were books printed in French, Italian, English, and German. Others were considered but not taken up: Balkan languages, Polish, Chinese, and Japanese.

P96. The box-office success of the U.S. motion picture industry in overseas markets ironically contributed to “an epic propaganda problem” for the country.

P96. Selection criteria were for books that would create a positive image of U.S. international policies (including the positive potential of U.S. in areas of science and the ability to plan as a democracy) in the immediate post-war period. Many committees involved in the selection of books.

P130. On selling books to German POWs; how some die-hard Nazis blocked its distribution.

P131; Chapt 8. Interesting insights to the challenges involved in the translation work, production process (choice of typefaces, compromises involved) etc.

p157/8. Mentions two instances of qualitative feedback on the effectiveness of the book campaign. Further mentions that while documentation of the impact of propaganda was not available (nor carried out), there was clear evidence of the opening of the European market to U.S. works; translation rights heating up (many of the Nazi-occupied countries experienced an absence of external writings and were hungry for them).

P161. On the John Day Company, publisher of Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth”; on their strategy to focus on Asian market. Founding member of the company, Richard Walsh, eventually married Buck.
(further sections of Chpt 9 talks about the origins and post-war activities of various other US, UK and other european publishers).

Chpt 11 – on the UK situation.
P215. Of tensions between UK and US publishers (encroachment on UK market).

P216. The US had yet to sign the Berne convention by 1945; “what had long stood in the way of joining Britain and much of the rest of the world was opposition from the more powerful music industry and from the printers and book manufacturers, who held fast to the manufacturing clause in the existing copyright law.” (rather than the publishers)

P265. Conclusion that the wartime book programme contributed to the expansion of American books abroad, even if wasn’t the sole cause of it.

P268. Concludes that the war of ideas is still not over, and ends with an open question: “Shouldn’t books be part of the nation’s tool kit and become, once again, weapons in the water of ideas?”

Appendix lists items (by author, title, language, series, number, copyright, original publisher’s name) of overseas and transatlantic editions.

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