It is essential to look at objects from alternative angles, especially in science, in order to determine the correctness, or fitness, of a finding, or opinion. Even when consolidating data or evidence regarding the confirmation of an established bit, you may very well find other strands of loose data that could help illuminate even a well established or iconic societal “given”.
That the war was not going well for the Allies in September 1940 is an understatement—and the chief allies at this point excluded the United States, happily now recovering from the Depression, and still a full 14 months away from entering the war.
What is very weird to me is that after having looked at every issue of LIFE magazine at least three times from the start to the end of World War II, that there are more advertisements using war images than there are images of the war itself. This actually continues into the spring of 1942, when LIFE got really busy, the war got really messy, and people started really dying. And frankly even the coverage of Pearl Harbor in no way lived up to what I thought the coverage of a photo-magazine like LIFE would be. This is not a scientific study. It just strikes me as odd, or propagandizing, that there should be such relatively scant, or undervalued, coverage of the fighting when sanitized images of that same fighting were being used to sell socks and shaving cream and cigarettes and such. I understand the power of hearts-and-minds campaigns, but this seemed so amateurish, boorish even, that it just didn’t approach the level of a psychological ploy to pacify an American public that had virtually no interest in attending the European Theatre.
This was not the case with the British equivalent of LIFE—the Illustrated London News. Actually, I should say that LIFE is a dumbed-down version of the ILN, which was the world’s first illustrated magazine, and which began almost 100 years before LIFE was born. The ILN covered the war like it was a war being fought in their front yards—and it was.
This was also not true of one of the principle German equivalents of these two weekly photo-imags, the Illustriete Zeitung (Leipzig). There was a lot of war coverage, though much more sanitized than even the very sanitary (pre-1943) versions of reality issued by LIFE and the ILN. The Germans by and large did not use war or military images to sell common-sue, every-day consumables; it rather concentrated on the glories of battle, real and imagined, as well as using a very grandly flatulent palette to paint the image of Adolf Hitler.
What caught my eye was a map in the 5 September 1940 issue of the Zeitung. (The cover woodcut illustration, by the way, is a sharpened point of the Roman standard bearer being used by the Fascist Mussolini government about to impale a running cat-thing that represented Somalia. The Italians attrociously bombed innocent civilians in Somalia and Ethiopia with abandon and disdain.) On page 165 is a two part map, the upper part being a velum-like overlay, showing the German bombardment of England. (“Bombenregen ueber England. England muss jetzt allein um seine insel Kaempfen…” ) The template map is in stark black and white, showing locations of “war” industries, chemical plants, rubber works, textile plants, metal industries and gas works . The overlay shows the outline of the island with 150 or so bombs, imprinted with a color code to show what sort of industry it was intended for. As you can see there was quite a cluster around London—I looked closely, and no one bomb was actually placed directly upon the outlined city of London. Suffice to say that no fool editor at the Zeitung was going to show their readers that German bombs were falling on a city.
What this map shows me, outside of the propaganda aspect for its intended readers, is that the basic bits of the bombing campaign was actually true—that there was a whole crap-load of bombing going on, and going on quite well country-wide. Certainly people in England knew this but knew it in chunks. The Battle of England was being fought at this point, and the outcome was still undetermined—even though the Brits had the “ultra” and basically knew when the attacks were coming, and where. But looking at this image of the bombing from a completely different, contemporary, and ENEMYsource hammered home the fact that England was being bombed, and bombed heavily, and that its future was in real doubt.
[This issue of the Illustriete Zeitung is is available for purchase from our blog bookstore.]