Information, Education & Media
The mobilization undertaken by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration that began after the fall of France in June 1940 was without precedent. Traditionally, the United States maintained a small army and waited until a formal declaration of war to call citizen-soldiers to arms. Not only did the United States dramatically increase spending on armaments, provide military aid to Great Britain and eventually the Soviet Union, and federalize the National Guard, but Congress for the first time authorized peacetime conscription. The draftee army that emerged was beset by problems ranging from a lack of adequate equipment, a shortage of non-commissioned and junior officers, and poor morale—especially after 1941, when Congress extended by six months what had originally been a one-year commitment to serve.
Concerned about low morale of the citizen-soldier force, Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall established what ultimately became known as the Information and Education Division, and he named as its chief Frederick Osborn, one of Roosevelt’s “dollar a year” men, who eventually rose to the rank of major general. To maintain high morale, Marshall, Osborn, and many key policymakers in the War Department thought it essential that the citizen-soldier had better access to news of current events, outlets for recreation and entertainment, and opportunities to further their education.
“Members of the Special Services Conference Pose for a Photograph. Members attending the Special Services Conference in the Fourth Service Command in Atlanta, Georgia pose on the stairs of the Piedmont Hotel for a photograph. Westray Battle Boyce is third from the left, front row Brigadier General Frederick H. Osborn is fourth from the left. All others are unidentified, c. 1942." US Army Signal Corps. Courtesy of Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, ID 2014-3462.
The initiatives stressed the idea that if soldiers knew the truth about the enemy and the Allies, they would see both the justness of the struggle and the need to make sacrifices. Roosevelt and other national leaders feared repeating past mistakes of the Committee of Public Information during the World War I era. Under George Creel, the Committee relied on hyperbole and overwrought appeals to emotion that sparked vigilantism directed against loyal German Americans and legitimate dissent. During the interwar years, many public intellectuals argued these propaganda efforts often perpetuated falsehoods, especially in overstating the nature of German culture. In the WWII era, army indoctrination programs sought to avoid unflattering comparisons to Nazi propaganda in the eyes of soldiers and the wider public.
Osborn, in building the I&E Division, recruited social scientists, educators, business executives, and Hollywood directors to key positions and also partnered with civilian organizations Osborn developed an innovative use of pictures to improve training along with an elaborate network of publications to better inform GIs about current events and the war’s progress. The I&E educational programs offered continuing education opportunities through correspondence classes, including those in the liberal arts, business, and most prized by GIs, vocational courses. Although Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and his generals insisted that the armed forces should not be used as a social laboratory, Osborn, through several programs, sought to do just that. A eugenicist, he embraced social engineering and saw army service as a way to provide GIs with opportunities to improve their education and status within American society after victory and demobilization.
"Library in Service Club D at Camp Patrick Henry. Official Photograph U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, Newport News Virginia," 22 October 1943. Courtesy of NARA, 336-H-8-H4915, NAID 138926082.
Born into a well-connected New York family and a friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Osborn proved adept at maneuvering within the complicated and constantly evolving army command structure during the war, and he prevailed in clashes with civilian agencies over structuring recreational and media programs under his jurisdiction. What evolved into the I&E Division was initially part of the Morale Branch that Marshall appointed Osborn to command in 1941. Under Osborn’s leadership, this Branch oversaw the development of an elaborate retail system—the PX—which provided consumer goods to soldiers on a non-profit basis. He fostered the establishment of a formal athletic program, systematized funding and staffing of camp libraries and the production of special “V Disc” records to provide access to popular music, and coordinated the provision of recreational and entertainment services provided by the Red Cross and the USO.
Frank Capra, director, aboard the Rex, 24 June 1937. Courtesy of Lib. of Congress, digital ID ds.04081.
The Army Motion Picture Service, another of his initiatives, offered access to Hollywood motion pictures on a cost basis. Although officially part of the Signal Corps, Osborn shepherded the production and distribution of the six-part Why We Fight documentary series, undertaken by the Hollywood director turned army officer, Frank Capra. Drawing heavily on captured enemy newsreels, Capra developed six films that examined the causes of the war, the role of British, Soviet, and Chinese allies in the conflict, and the impact of the war on America. Several million GIs viewed at least one of these films while in the army, often while undergoing basic training and as a substitute to standard lectures. Osborn outmaneuvered Elmer Davis of the Office of War Information, and the series was one of the few official army training films released to the general public for screening in commercial movie theaters.
The surveys and reports of the research branch of the I&E Division underscored the limits of propaganda films in changing opinions of men or imparting factual knowledge. Even after viewing Prelude to War, most GIs surveyed could not name the four freedoms or the key parts of the Atlantic Charter. In writing about GIs’ motivation, scholars underscore the research branch’s conclusion that comradeship and small unit cohesion played a central role in motivating soldiers to fight. But ideological factors were not completely absent. Even before viewing Prelude to War, a substantial majority of GIs echoed the sentiments of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that a Nazi victory would lead to the destruction of religion in American. An even greater number believed that if the Nazis conquered the United States, it would not bode well for American Jewry.
Empowering the GI to Speak
In addition to relying on motion pictures as a means of indoctrination, the Orientation Branch also developed an elaborate program to foster discussion groups throughout the army, which centered on crucial issues regarding the conduct of the war and the impending peace. As designed by the I&E Division, these discussion groups provided soldiers with readings on a given topic and a weekly opportunity to discuss them freely. The American Historical Association produced a series of pamphlets on a range of topics—from individual allied countries and the fate of war criminals, to universal military training and issues surrounding demobilization and readjustment to civilian life.
Although I&E’s Orientation Branch could distribute the pamphlets and other curricular material to the different army commands, it remained up to individual commanders to oversee the implementation of the program. Some commanders did establish discussion groups that met once a week. Others held the discussion groups but used them for other purposes, such as delivering sexual hygiene lectures. Given the limited implementation of the discussion program, the Research Branch reported only modest success in imparting the desired knowledge upon GIs. In The American Soldier, Stouffer posits that one of the program’s benefits was offering GIs a rare opportunity to let their voice and opinion be heard. Except for the right to speak with the Inspector General or a chaplain, and the opportunity to fill out an I&E survey, these orientation sessions were for most soldiers one of the few times the army formally solicited their opinions.
American Forces Radio
Osborn and the Research Branch often had to convince military commanders and civilian leaders of the efficacy of their work. But in developing and structuring new initiatives, the I&E Division often drew heavily on research studies. For instance, research studies shaped the development and programming of the Armed Forces Radio. Thomas H. A. Lewis, who headed the Armed Forces Radio and eventually rose to the rank of Major General, had a background in advertising, and prior to joining the army, had been a pioneer in using market research to structure civilian programming. Based on surveys from 1942, the Research Branch reported that GIs favored popular music, news, and comedy by large margins over classical music and radio dramas. Lewis used this data to help shape the programming of the Armed Forces Radio.
"Armed Forces Radio Service," Newsmap 4, no. 20, 3 September 1945. Courtesy of NARA, 26-NM-4-20b, 66395359.
Under Lewis, the Armed Forces Radio created a global network of stations that numbered over 206 individual stations by December 1943, including mobile stations placed in army trucks that transmitted to soldiers close to the front. In an era before satellites and with shortwave radio transmissions between continents costly and frequently unreliable, the Armed Forces Radio generally used these stations to broadcast news and sports programming overseas. For other programs, the Armed Forces Radio transcribed programs and music to discs for distribution overseas—initially by sea, but eventually by air. By October 1946, the network had produced over 117,695 transcriptions and the Basic Music Library had sent radio stations 1,030 discs of musical performances derived from radio programs and phonographic records.
“Men of the 443rd Signal Construction Battalion stationed on Okinawa, Ryukyu Retto, listen to reports of the end of the hostilities in Europe over a Broadcast of the Armed Forces Radio Service on 8 May 1945. (U.S. Air Force Number 64977AC).” Courtesy of NARA, 342-FH-3A04607-64977AC, NAID 204839581.
In terms of content, the Armed Forces Radio rebroadcasted a number of popular programs on commercial networks, omitting all advertising. Popular music presented in a variety show format featuring well-known entertainers remained the mainstay of the network, along with news and sports programming. But the network also aired classical music, radio dramas, and religious music, as well as special features developed by the Orientation Branch. With studios based in Hollywood, the network produced a significant amount of its content, including several variety shows that featured popular music and cameo appearances by leading Hollywood and stage actors. To cater to the needs of Black GIs, the network developed a variety show, Jubilee that featured Black musicians and performers. Although Jubilee did not overtly challenge the existing racial order, many performers often subtly critiqued the racism that permeated the military and the wider society.
Stars and Stripes and other Publications
The Information Branch developed an extensive range of publications that sought to educate and entertain soldiers. It created pocket guides offering an overview of the history and culture of individual countries and colonies where GIs were stationed around the globe. The branch sponsored an army-wide monthly magazine, Yank, which in style and format mimicked such weeklies as Life and the Saturday Evening Post. Through the weekly publication Newsmap, GIs could follow the course of the war through maps and brief news stories. Oversized and in color, this publication of no more than two pages (back and front) proved ideal for posting in barracks, work areas, and offices. The Information Branch encouraged the establishment of camp, divisional, and regional publications by maintaining the Camp News Service, which provided articles for these publications.
Newsmap 1, no. 37 (4 January 1943). Courtesy of NARA, 26-NM-1-37, NAID 66395081.
The most significant publication shepherded by Osborn would be Stars and Stripes. Soldiers’ newspapers can be traced back to the American Civil War, and during World War I the American Expeditionary Forces sponsored the creation of Stars and Stripes, which targeted doughboys serving in Europe. In 1942, Osborn also oversaw the reestablishment of Stars and Stripes. While the World War I counterpart relied heavily on advertising and subscriptions, during World War II the army fully funded the newspaper, with editorial control resting with non-commissioned officers. This GI newspaper remained a decentralized operation with independently edited and printed editions established in London, North Africa, continental Europe, and Hawaii.
Commanding officers of the different editions of Stars and Stripes provided logistical support to the enlisted personnel correspondents and editors of the paper. The opposition of General Douglas MacArthur prevented the establishment of a Southwest Pacific edition. In contrast, General Dwight D. Eisenhower remained supportive, even when General George Patton complained that the irreverent cartoons of Bill Mauldin were bad for morale. Eisenhower’s aide, former radio broadcaster and executive Naval Captain Harry Butcher, diffused the controversy by setting up a meeting between the two. Eisenhower issued explicit orders that, so long as military secrets were not divulged, commanders must not interfere with the publication’s editorial independence.
“What Soldiers the World over Like Best about YANK,” What the Soldier Thinks, no. 14 (June 1945).
Studies conducted by the research branch regarding the value of Stars and Stripes affirmed that GIs enjoyed two of the most controversial features in this newspaper: Bill Mauldin’s irreverent cartoons and the “B” Bag column. Mauldin focused on the plight of two infantrymen, “Willie and Jo,” who endured miserable conditions and received little respect from their officers or from those with comfortable, rear-echelon positions. Patton and many old-line officers were particularly irritated by the unkempt depiction of soldiers and their irreverent attitude toward officers. The “Bag” allowed GIs to complain about a range of problems and gripes about army life, which typically—but not always—centered on the conduct of officers.
Access to Education
Osborn wanted the I&E Division not only to improve the quality of training, but also to offer educational opportunities to expand soldiers’ horizons and serve them well in peacetime. Samuel Stouffer’s team of social scientists asserted that granting soldiers access to educational opportunities would aid their adjustment to army life. The Education Branch offered GIs an unprecedented range of opportunities to continue to learn while in the service. Responding to the high number of illiterates drafted, Army Special Training Units provided instruction to three hundred thousand soldiers, to ensure they could read at a fourth-grade level.
“Soldiers Want Education: Business and mechanical subjects are top favorites with enlisted men in an overseas theater,” What the Soldier Thinks, no. 9 (September 1944).
The US Armed Forces Institute was established in partnership with the University of Wisconsin at Madison in April 1942, under the leadership of Francis Spaulding. The institute served to provide advanced educational opportunities to GIs. Through the Institute, GIs could choose from over seven hundred courses listed in the What Would You Like to Learn catalogue, and an elaborate range of high school and college correspondence courses were also developed as part of the same initiative. Over one million GIs took correspondence courses, in subjects ranging from basic mathematics, automotive repair, and shorthand, to American history and the sciences.
For GIs in the continental United States, where regular mail service existed, the program operated as a traditional correspondence course with frequent contact between the GI student and the teacher. For many soldiers stationed overseas, courses were by necessity converted to a self-study format; many diligent infantrymen struggled to complete their academic work, lacking paper and working by candlelight under a blanket crouching in a foxhole. As the war came to an end, the I&E Division established a network of Post Hostilities Schools, where GIs could take a range of courses to prepare for their transition to civilian life. It also created and maintained, for one year, a network of four GI universities in Europe and Honolulu, permitting over thirty thousand soldiers to take college-level classes while they waited for demobilization.
The Armed Forces Institute aggressively encouraged GIs to complete their high school education. If they had lacked only a few classes to graduate, they were encouraged to complete them through the Armed Forces Institute. But this branch also encouraged school districts to allow soldiers to receive academic credit for completing basic training and any advanced school they attended. It also publicized that it administered the Graduate Educational Development (GED) Test as an alternate route for those seeking a high school diploma.
“USAFI offers you the opportunity to do something today about the job you want later.” Courtesy of NARA, 44-PA-2184 515893.
The I&E Division devoted substantial resources to educate and prepare soldiers for demobilization. The multifaceted campaign sought to educate soldiers through stories in Stars and Stripes, programming on Armed Forces Radio, and an array of pamphlets and print literature. Although many associated with the I&E Division returned to civilian life shortly after the war ended, several of the programs continued. The Armed Forces Radio evolved into the Armed Forces Television and Radio Network and still serves the armed forces. Yank ceased publication after the war, but Stars and Stripes continues to provide news to servicemen and servicewomen around the world.
G. Kurt Piehler
Florida State University
Benjamin L. Alpers, “This Is the Army: Imagining a Democratic Military in World War II,” Journal of American History 85, no. 1 (June 1988): 129–63.
Samuel Brylawksi, “Armed Forces Radio Service: the Invisible Highway Abroad,” The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 37, no. 3/4 (Summer/Fall 1980): 441-57.
George B. Costigan, “Accrediting the Service Man,” Journal of Education 128, no. 3 (March 1945): 92–94.
David Culbert, ed., Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History. Volume II: World War II (Greenwood, 1990).
Christopher P. Loss, Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education (Princeton University Press, 2001).
Jack Edward Pulwers, “The Information and Education Programs of the American Forces: An Administrative and Social History,” PhD diss., Catholic University of America, 1983.
Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, “Variety for the Servicemen: The ‘Jubilee’ Show and the Paradox of Racializing Radio during World War II,” American Quarterly 56, no. 4 (December 2004): 945–73.
Dennis M. Spragg, “The Armed Forces Radio Service,” Glen Miller Archives, University of Colorado, Boulder, September 2013.
Robert B. Townsend, ed. “The GI Roundtable Series,” American Historical Association Website.
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SUGGESTED CITATION: Piehler, G. Kurt. “Information, Education & Media.” The American Soldier in World War II. Edited by Edward J.K. Gitre. Virginia Tech, 2021. https://americansoldierww2.org/topics/information-education-and-media. Accessed [date].
COVER IMAGE: "Armed Forces Radio Service," Newsmap 4, no. 20 (3 September 1945). Information & Education Division, Army Service Forces, War Department. Courtesy of NARA, 26-NM-4-20b, 66395359.