Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Archival Friday: Censorship Scandal

Alumnus Magazine interaction with the U.S. Board of censorship 1944

"Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press"
The Alumnus magazine has been a great resource for alumni to both keep in touch with each other, and to keep in the loop with major events at Washington College. This was true all the way back in 1944, although the editor at that time made a major error in the March issue. The editor at the time, whose name is still unknown, revealed critical information about two individuals. Sgt. Harold T. Stafford and CDR Harry J. Hicks, Jr., both graduates of the class of '39 had their locations solicited in the magazine, which was in direct conflict with rules of the U.S. Board of Censorship. Somehow the department managed to get word of the magazine and sent the editor a relatively friendly letter of warning to remove the information, and to refrain from giving any such information in a public magazine. Giving Hick's location on the USS Nebraska, and Stafford's position in the 9th signal company were considered secret information, which could have been used by Axis powers to track and attack both divisions. To make sure that the editor was clear on publishing rules during the war, the department of censorship sent an instructional pamphlet clearly detailing every mandatory rule for publishers to avoid giving crucial information. The editor in response sent a letter of apology and gave his word to never post incriminating information in the future. 

Memorandum from the Navy.
My thoughts on the matter are mixed.  First and foremost I am, and always will be a supporter of the first amendment; freedom of speech as well as freedom of the press.  From my understanding this should also cover war time news.  On the other hand the U.S. Government did have a strong reason to monitor press release and censor any information that might be pertinent to “The Enemy”.  I am also shocked how perceptive the U.S. Board of censorship was during the wartime era.  To pick up a quick anecdote in a college alumni magazine proves how careful and thorough the department was.  This is both impressive, and equally terrifying.  The fact that the Board of censorship back in 1943 could pick up just about any revealing information in every U.S. publication points to a likely absolute government control of all media currently.

Ultimately, the answer lies in a gray area of moral ambiguity.  The government should watch for press releases of information that definitely would endanger the lives of American citizens.  Whether the U.S. government can be trusted with that responsibility is still debatable.

Harry Hicks, one of the soldiers mentioned in the magazine.


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