Reporting the War on Campus
Wars are often a point of political contention and interpersonal anxiety, specifically for the fighting age population of warring states. When the second World War broke out with the German and Russian joint invasion of Poland in 1939, the world was forever changed. Violence covered the continent and Europe was plunged into another conflict, but the United States remained neutral despite political ties to the Allied powers.
From the perspective of the fighting-aged student body of Ursinus College, very little changed. There were indeed reports of what the Axis was doing, but daily reports of the European conflict were not something The Ursinus Weekly concerned itself with. In fact, in the January 15, 1940 issue, the only mention of “war” came in an advertisement for “Brad’s Sandwich Shop”. Clearly, the community was well aware of what was going on in Europe, but they ultimately were not directly affected by the war and thus the reporting was kept to a minimum. This sense of minimal reporting and general apathy persisted through late 1941 when the United States became intrinsically tied to the conflict.
The United States was taken by complete surprise with the attack on Peral Harbor by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The attack, as we all know, is what drew the United States into the international conflict that they had remained isolated from, and the intentions of retaliation were made clear with President Roosevelt’s address to Congress on December 8th. As seen above, The Ursinus Weekly had been paying noticeably loose attention to the war in Europe, but this all changed following the attack at Pearl Harbor. The “Weekly War Extra” shows a very precise shift in the way that news reporting would shift in the Ursinus Community – the United States now had a vested interest in the conflict, and thus the reporting began to reflect this.
From the onset of the United States’ involvement in 1941 until well after the conclusion of the war in 1945, most of The Ursinus Weekly newspapers would go on to feature information about the conflict in a dedicated column. These columns were written and published by members of the Ursinus International Relations Committee (I.R.C.) and would feature topics ranging from philosophical ways to understand the conflict to commentaries of wartime events. In these commentaries, it is important to note that the news is indeed being distributed, but it is being done in such a way that the overall mood is positive. One week after the surprise attack in Pearl Harbor, the commentators of the I.R.C. were already mentioning how to look forward for the peace negotiations that would eventually end the war. Of course, nobody at this point knew exactly how long the conflict would rage, but the optimism is incredibly important to note here.
These optimistic and thought-provoking reports in the newspaper did well to properly share the news with the youth of Ursinus’ student body, while also keeping morale high. These continued through the entirety of the wartime period. One poignant example in the latter portion of the war regarding how to report the violence was seen through the Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled France on D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious land invasion in history was conducted by the Allied forces in Normandy, France in an effort to regain a foothold on the European mainland. As we know, the invasion, though costly in lives, was a great success and marked the beginning of the end for the Nazi war machine. What is interesting to note is that The Ursinus Weekly reported this event without any kind of mention about the astounding casualty rates experienced by the Allies. Instead, the commentary focused primarily on the great and overarching success of the invasion.
While this is obviously not a bad thing and could not be described as falsified information, it is interesting to note the tone the report is striking. When the readers are individuals who know friends and family that are fighting in the war, reports of loss and devastation leads only to anxiety. By focusing on the positives and the interpretations of the event, the foreboding reports of death gives way to a promise of peace.
Following the Allied victory in Europe and the later Victory in the Pacific, the world was left in a fundamentally different place. Specifically, for Ursinus, the I.R.C. had made itself a name during the war years through its reporting of commentaries and news concerning the fighting. The I.R.C. made such an impact that they appeared weekly in the same column they had been since December 8, 1941 well after the war had drawn to a close. With no active war to report on, the column instead looked to keep the student body informed on the newly formed United Nations Organization and the unfolding events of the USSR.
The Second World War changed the way that news was reported at Ursinus College on a fundamental level. Prior to the conflict, the I.R.C. was nowhere to be seen in the newspapers and the only mention of war was in short articles or in advertisements. Following the beginning of United States’ involvement, reports of the war became weekly tradition and would feature interpretations and commentaries as the fighting continued. This change lasted through the conclusion of the war with the same news column existing for several years after the end of the war, focusing instead on international political dynamics.