For a war to be supported in any country, its citizens have to be involved and motivated. In most countries that enjoy a high standard of living, mass death and destruction of its civilians and soldiers is a rare occurrence, as is regular military skirmishes. A country’s enthusiasm for war can be quickly dampened by depressing photos of their dead soldiers, and articles detailing failed missions. In the current 24/7 news cycle, and with the state of technology today, censoring during war is quite difficult. However, during past wars, the government was able to control what the public saw depicting a military conflict.
As the tensions in the world escalated during the late 1930’s, the United States passed legislation that helped further classify military information and details, such as base locations or photographs deemed important. Executive Order 8381 was issued by President Roosevelt in 1940, to further control the dissemination of important material related to the rising probability of war. The Office of Censorship was created shortly after the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base, and censored media during World War II as a matter of safety for the war effort. During World War II in the United States, many journalists and others covering the war were willing to censor their reporting due to the patriotic atmosphere in the country.
The Office of Censorship sought to work with journalists and others in the media, whether they were local media, attached to the thousands of newspapers, and radio programs, or war correspondents, who were actually on the battlefield. Realizing the need to strike a balance between the freedoms of the press, a fundamental part of American society, and protecting the many soldiers and civilians involved with the war, the Office of Censorship helped reporters release correct information, which did not negatively affect the war effort by helping the Axis powers. (Hanyok 2008)
In actuality, censorship was voluntary during this period. Byron Price, the man who ran the censorship office, had worked in the newspaper industry for many years, and realized the need to make journalists part of the war effort. He was convinced that instead of forcing reporters to comply, or jailing them, as in World War I, persuading the journalists would be more effective, and less controversial, and his strategy worked. In the end, no print journalist broke the voluntary censor code after being made aware of it. This is testament to the cooperation that Byron Price sought with the media during this period, and the effectiveness of the propaganda used to make all Americans feel as if they were directly responsible for the outcome of the war. Even though many journalists could rightfully claim that the code of censorship could violate free speech and free press, they realized that the millions of Americans fighting overseas were fighting against regimes, which wholly controlled the press and only disseminated propaganda that was contrary to the American way of life. (Sweeney 2001)
Hanyok, Robert J. “Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and The American Press and Radio in World War II: Intelligence in Recent Public Literature.” http://www.cia.gov. June 27, 2008. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no3/article10.html (accessed September 20, 2010).
Sweeney, Michael S. Secrets of Victory: the Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.