An adventurous correspondent’s World War II dispatches reanimate the great cataclysm of the 20th century.
Journalist/novelist Anthony Weller discovered a cache of his father George’s dispatches, which had been presumed lost, following the latter’s death in 2002. First Into Nagasaki (2006) collected George’s revealing stories from defeated Japan, censored by order of General MacArthur. Here, Anthony has compiled and edited a much larger selection consisting primarily of pieces written for the Chicago Daily News, supplemented by a half-dozen longer magazine articles and abridged versions of his father’s three wartime books: Singapore Is Silent, “Luck to the Fighters” and Bases Overseas. The material details events beginning in 1940 and ranging from Greece and the Balkans to Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In all those locales, the reporter often struggled to get his dispatches through not only enemy lines but also “friendly” censors. Readers will be immediately struck by the profound difference between Weller’s coverage of armed conflict and the sort typically seen on television today. The cultured, cosmopolitan, multilingual journalist strove to present not just the images and events of a world war but the political machinations behind its gruesome twists and turns. He reveled in the irony, for example, of entire Nazi battalions on their way to invade Greece strolling through Bulgaria, whose government was supposedly neutral, as “tourists” in civilian attire. In Africa, he sensed the heroic significance of Belgian officers marching their Congolese troops 2,500 miles across jungle and desert to participate in the eventual defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia, the first retaliatory blow of a victim nation against the Axis powers. Also included here is the famous story gleaned from a U.S. submarine crew of an emergency appendectomy performed by a pharmacists’ mate while submerged in enemy waters. It earned Weller a 1943 Pulitzer, and was cribbed twice without credit by Hollywood.
Adds scope, analysis and emotional immediacy to a critical body of history.