ARMED WITH CAMERAS by Peter Maslowski


The American Military Photographers of World War II
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 Maslowski (History/University of Nebraska at Lincoln) breaks fresh ground with a comprehensive history of WW II's anonymous heroes: its combat photographers. It may be that neither the brilliant general nor the loyal foot soldier was more crucial to America's WW II effort than the lowly combat photographer, who allowed civilians to witness what no one but soldiers had ever seen, and whose work proved invaluable to both generals and military analysts. The obstacles faced by these soldier/photographers were daunting: the weight of a motion-picture camera and film supply could stagger a man or a mule, and the official still camera was a Speed Graphic, so big and shiny that to pop it up from a foxhole invariably drew a hail of enemy bullets. The superior, lightweight German Leica camera was reverse- engineered by American labs but reached the front only in 1945; by then, however, American combat photographers had their own Leicas- -bought from looters. To assure the credibility of their film documentaries, the armed services had a strict policy of no ``reenactments''--but the trouble was, as one Omaha Beach veteran who later became a Hollywood director pointed out, the real thing didn't look as good as the movies: ``To do it right you'd have to blind the audience with smoke, deafen them with noise, then shoot one of them in the shoulder to scare the rest to death.'' The first great combat-movie breakthrough was John Huston's San Pietro, which documented the liberation of an Italian town. It was released to great acclaim (Time magazine declared that Huston's handiwork was ``as good a war film as any that has been made...remarkable in its honesty and excellence''), but in a fascinating display of historical sleuthing, Maslowski shows that many scenes in San Pietro were staged--including reenacted dialogue and ``dead Germans'' that were actually live GIs dressed in enemy uniforms. Virtuoso scholarship, formidably researched and exciting to read.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-920265-5
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993