The Forty-Two-Centimeter Blue Pencil:
Confessions of a Censor-Fighter
By William G. Shepherd
[Everybody's Magazine, April 1917]
How much does censorship warp the news? Mr. Shepherd has had wide experience on which to base an answer. He has reported the war from every important battle-front in Europe. He has had to submit copy to the censors of almost every warring nation. As correspondent of the United Press, he covered the destruction of Belgium; he was the only newspaper man who saw the second battle of Ypres; he was the first American reporter permitted at the British front in France. He has, been at the German front; with the Austrians at Przemysl; with the Italians in the Trieste district. He reported four of the greatest retreats of the war, including the retreat of the Austrians, and later that of the Servians, from Servia. This article, which tells of the "sawdust trail" in war-reporting, answers the questions we have all asked about the censorship in reading our war news.—THE EDITOR.
I started my war reporting as a censor-fighter.
Censorship distorts the news, and any inexperienced and conscientious war reporter considers himself justified in censor-baiting. He starts out in his career of war reporting as a "bad man," belligerent for truth, feeling that there is a certain holiness in his attitude.
But there is a "sawdust trail" that, after a time, he will hit. Like sin (which a certain evangelist named after a certain legal holiday declares "you can't beat") the censor's big blue pencil will, in time, bring every war reporter to repentance. If it doesn't, then his career as a war reporter is irrevocably ended and he'll probably go back home.
You can't be a war reporter in these days and not be "good."
My first experience with war was with little Francisco Madero in Mexico, in 1910; and the first censor that ever put blue pencil to my copy was Madero's agent in Mexico City. The Orozco revolution gave me further experience of censors, and prepared me for the iron-clad censorship which Huerta installed in Mexico City during the days when he sat in the unsteady hammock of the Mexican presidency and watched "the old cat die."
Then, at Vera Cruz, I spent several months under the censorship of the American army and navy. And from Uncle Sam's kind guidance of my copy I passed to the censorships in Europe. During the past three years I have been continuously under censorship, even as to my personal correspondence; and when I returned to the United States, recently, I greatly missed having some one to whom I could show the letters I wrote to my mother and friends, before dropping them in the mail-box. I felt inclined to ask the nearest policeman or hallboy—somebody in uniform—to put his O. K. on them.
I started out, as I have said, a censor-fighter; and it's on the books that I've had my share of luck at the game. But fourteen censorships through which I have passed (and I have written copy that has been censored by three European nations at a time) have taught me a better way, of which I shall write later.
I had had good luck with the Mexicans, and, though I had not tried to beat the American censors at Vera Cruz, for patriotic reasons, I felt my duty to my editors demanded that I outwit all the European censors who came my way.
After a short experience of a few rather newsless days on the Ally side, I went into Germany, and there my first experience confirmed my belief that censors were my enemies, and put me on the offensive against the whole tribe of them. The experience was this:
In the city of Munich I wrote a harmless but colorful story about war conditions in the town and took it to the office of the censor. He was an elderly German colonel, highly decorated, who spoke English excellently. He greeted me effusively, as I laid the copy on the high desk where he stood at work.
"An American!" he exclaimed. "I'm very glad to meet you. America to-day is the conscience of the world; all the rest of us have gone mad. It will please me greatly to help you get the truth back to your country. The truth is all that we Germans ask."
He read over my story, folded it up without changing a word, and handed it to me with the envelope.
"You may mail it yourself," he said. "I'm sure I can trust you."
I opened the folded manuscript and started to write the word "Censored" on it. In a flash his kindness fell away.
"Please do not say that your article has been censored," he said. "Let it go, just as it is."
I was forced, of course, to yield to his demand. But there was a lie in that piece of manuscript; the absence of the word "censored" was a lie that warped the news value of my story. The object of omitting that one word was to carry to the outside world the impression that Germany was not hindering newspaper men in their expression of opinion.
Censorship, as I understood it at the time, was intended to cover military and political contingencies; here it was covering a lie which I was being forced to send to a neutral country.
Let me say, incidentally, that, while I have never known a censor to add words or phrases to a newspaper story that would change its meaning, nevertheless they have often changed the whole intent of a piece of news by clever cutting.
After that experience the entire German system of censorship challenged me. Its great policies of military and political safety I could understand; its petty policy of trying to mold public opinion in small matters only spurred me on to beat it, if possible. I found many other American reporters and correspondents in Germany at that time who felt as I did about the German system. No one resented actions by the censors which prevented reporters from sending news, but the efforts of the censorship system to use the reporters as tools in influencing neutral opinion was highly offensive.
There was another rule of the German censorship which was provoking. I was not allowed to know what had been deleted from my dispatches. On page 474 appears a photographic illustration of a page from one of my letters sent to my New York office from Przemysl, in Galicia, in November, 1914. I do not remember exactly what I wrote in the part that has been scissored out; but my subject was the efforts which the Austrians were making, with the use of slaked lime, to stamp out Asiatic cholera. I told how the railroad routes were great "white ways,"' and how the whiteness of lime covered everything, even the box-cars.
This was the first story I had submitted to an Austrian censor, and I expected, of course, that I should be informed as to whether it would be changed or not. It was not until many months later that I knew how my stuff was being cut. Instead of being taken into the confidence of the censor, all of the writers in our party were looked upon with deep suspicion. Indeed, the whole attitude of the censor was one of distrust and challenge.
There came suddenly one day the retreat from Przemysl, when we were put on trains and bundled off toward Budapest. We were informed that any stories which pictured our departure from Przemysl as a hasty retreat would be held up; and there was no way of getting anything out without submitting it to the censor. Here was a story to beat a censor with. In a hotel at Budapest I sat me down to a typewriter and drew forth all my stock of slang, I tried to think of the fastest thing that runs, and my mind settled on Kolehmainen, the great Finnish Marathoner, I began my story thus: "Beating it from Przemysl was one grand Kolehmainen." I wrote thirty paragraphs of the sheerest slang, covering the retreat like a star baseball writer covering a world's series game.
Our language-loving censor, who was inordinately proud of his ability to speak seven tongues, never batted an eye over that copy; the chances were that he did not understand one-third of it; but no man with a head shaped like his ever admitted that there was anything in the world he didn't know. The story went.
I had fully expected that the office in New York would decode, or deslang, the story; but it didn't. Out over the wires to every corner of the United States went the story of that gruesome retreat, written in baseball slang; and several editors wrote to the New York office suggesting that I turn out "some more of that snappy stuff, like the Przemysl retreat."
The Austrian disliked me when the echoes of that slangy Przemysl retreat story began to come back to Vienna.
It did not require many weeks' experience in Europe to indicate to me that a reporter is measured by the tact which he displays in the presentation of his stories to the censor. He is expected to know, to a certain extent, what he shall not notice in his dispatches and what it is proper to write about; and my war experience had not continued long before I discovered that censor-fighting was the least productive pastime in which a war reporter could engage.
Many another correspondent was going through the same change of mind. There came a time in the war when I stood with a man at Naples who was shortly to board a boat that would take him directly to the foot of Twenty-third Street in New York. In my pocket I had a story which I had secured and written with considerable labor, and I had only to give him the manuscript and ask him to drop it in a mail-box in New York. But I did not yield to the temptation. Beating the censor is a crime that will out; the first turn of the printing-press that is running off the story is evidence against you. A strict watch is kept on the newspapers here in the United States by all the belligerent governments. Before the break Germany kept especially sharp eyes on the work of American correspondents in Berlin. Every word that is written about the war by correspondents in the warring countries is carefully analyzed by both sides, and woe to the war reporter in Europe who goes wrong. The censor-fighting spirit will be taken out of him, very quickly. The foreign office will hear of any delinquency on his part in short order, and he will be put on the carpet, if not sent home.
Not long ago in Berlin an American correspondent was haled before an outraged censor, who showed him a clipping of one of his stories, taken from an American country newspaper. The headline of the story—which had been stolen by the country newspaper from a metropolitan daily—was highly pro-enemy, and the country editor, in sarcastic vein, had black-typed certain sentences in such a way as to make it appear that he considered them preposterous and unworthy of belief. The correspondent had to explain, at great length, that he had not sent the story to the little country newspaper, and that he was not responsible for the headlines and the blackened type. Fully six weeks passed before this correspondent was finally assured that the German War Office did not hold him responsible for the story, six weeks being the time required for an agent in the United States to look up the little newspaper in question and verify the correspondent's explanation.
In the early days of the war, when everything was new and every word was news, the censor was the correspondent's open enemy. The censors made no bones about it. They were afraid of correspondents and—well, the correspondents were afraid of the censors.
A certain New York newspaper manager, who felt that he was not getting a sufficient news return for the money he was spending, got on a boat, a month or so after the war had started, determined to go to London and have it out with the censors. He felt that a little New York vim was needed in his London bureau. "I'm going to pull a little fast New York stuff," he said. With his London manager, he went to the censor's bureau. It was only by a persistent clamor that they reached a bureau censor.
"Now look here," said the New York man, "my newspapers are not trying to harm the British Government. We want to work with the censor, not against him. Won't you tell us how we can cooperate with the censor?"
"My dear man," said the Britisher, "we don't need any cooperation. This is purely a one-sided affair. Good day."
Every word of war news which comes from Europe to the eyes of the American public has been weighed by censors as carefully as precious stones are weighed by diamond merchants. One tiny word, or arrangement of words may send to the bottom of the sea a great ship or may cost the lives of thousands of men in the field. It's all up to the censor. As he sits at his table with telegrams, letters, and the stories of newspaper correspondents passing under his gaze, and with the weight of his country's welfare resting, to no small extent, on his shoulders, every little nervous fear of treachery, every whim of his mind, is expressed by his use of scissors or blue pencil.
"Father is dead," ran a cablegram from Sweden to New York which passed through the British censorship.
For some inexplicable reason the censor didn't like the word "dead." He changed it to "deceased."
Within a short time this question, sent from New York to Sweden, passed through the hands of the same censor: "Is father dead or deceased?"
What did that word "dead" mean? It might have covered a whole volume of enemy news; it might have provoked a disaster on land or sea. And yet the censor had no better reason for cutting it out than a certain "hunch" which came over him that the word ought to be changed.
The more I see of the censor's job, the more I sympathize with the censor, and the more I prefer to be the man who writes the stuff rather than the one who censors it. The mistakes of a writing man in war time can hardly be fatal, but the error of a censor may flame out in a catastrophe at any time. With unlimited power, he has the right to give himself the benefit of the doubt every time a doubt rises.
An excellent illustration of how the censors are always on the alert comes to my mind in connection with an interview that I had with Winston Churchill when he was first Lord of the British Admiralty in the early war days. During the many visits I paid to the dusty and historic old Admiralty Building and the several conferences I had with Churchill in his private office, I began to feel at home in Admiralty surroundings. I became acquainted with a number of secretaries. I chatted with them in the hallways. I was introduced to some important officials who knew that I was preparing an important article for American newspapers. Usually it was an extremely difficult matter even to enter the doors of the Admiralty Building; but the doormen and the policemen in the hallways, knowing my important mission, always greeted me pleasantly and permitted me to pass without question.
I proudly felt that I had been taken into the confidence of all the Admiralty folk about me, and I'd undergo shooting to-day rather than tell, even at this late time, some of the matters which came to my knowledge during that pleasant two weeks.
At last the interview was finished and written exactly as it was to go. Mr. Churchill, one evening at five o'clock, put his signature to it, called his secretary and said: "Please take Mr. Shepherd to the censor's office and introduce him. Tell the censor that the interview with me is all right."
I was led through a maze of gloomy hallways, lighted in part by gas, to a doorway which bore the legend "Naval Censor."
"This is Sir So-and-So, the naval censor," said the secretary, presenting me to a strong-featured, iron-gray-haired man. "This is Mr. Shepherd, an American journalist, who is sending an interview with the First Lord to America to-night."
"Very well," said the man of title, "we'll take care of it."
"I want to write just a few words to lead the story," I said. I explained that my manuscript contained only the interview, and that it would be necessary to write a short introduction.
For the first time, in my two weeks around the Admiralty, I saw distrust in the eyes of an Admiralty man. The policemen at the door might have trusted me: that was their business. The secretaries might have done the same: that was their lookout. Winston Churchill might have placed confidence in my journalistic integrity: Churchill could do as he pleased. But as for himself, he was neither a policeman, a secretary, nor the First Lord: he was the censor, whose duty is to mistrust. He was the last sieve through which my work was to pass. If I were pro-German and mine a spy's work, now was the last chance to stop it. He read the manuscript carefully.
When he had finished he looked up into my face and said: "You want to write an introduction to this, huh?"
"Yes," I answered. "It starts out too abruptly for an American newspaper story."
He hesitated a minute. Then he said: "All right. Write it here. But, listen! No flubdub!" He looked me square in the eye.
I knew what he meant by that phrase "no flubdub." He meant: "These fellows around here may trust you, but I don't. I'm the censor and you're a newspaper man. Every reporter's a wrong 'un to me until he proves he's right. I know you've got an interview with the First Lord of the British Admiralty. I know it's what you call a big newspaper stunt, and that, by tomorrow morning, it will be read by millions and millions of human beings in many languages, and that it will be telling England's side of the war to the world. But none of that impresses me. Pica not going to give you the benefit of any doubt. If you are a wrong 'un, look out!"
"Write an introduction yourself," I suggested.
"Go ahead with yours," he said, grimly. I wrote, with a lead-pencil at the head of the article, these words: "Winston Churchill, First Lord of the British Admiralty, granted me an interview to-day," and pushed the copy over to him.
"Is that all?" he said, more gently.
"I can't think of any more to say," I answered.
"Very good," he said, smiling, as I rose to go. "I was afraid you were going to write something intricate."
He telephoned to the cable-office, ordered that the interview be given right-of-way, and within fifty-five minutes the story was in New York.
He had been protecting England and himself. As a censor he was a hundred-percenter. But he was not a friend of newspaper men. A good censor and a good war reporter can never be real friends—unless the war reporter is working with his own army and is moved by patriotism.
Considering the censor's responsibility, it is always a source of wonder to me that he ever lets anything go through. In my extensive dealings with censors I have been more surprised at what they have permitted me to send than at what they have cut out. Whatever success any of the American correspondents have had in getting "tough" war stories past the censor has grown out of the fact that they sympathized with him and tried to get his view-point.
In the office of a great news association recently the editor showed me a pile of typewritten copy which had been sent by mail from a certain capital in Europe. The signature of a censor was at the bottom of each page, but not one word of the several thousand had been touched with a blue pencil.
"The censors hardly ever touch our stuff, now," explained the editor. "Early in the war it used to be all chopped up, but it comes pretty clean these days."
This editor did not mean to say that the censorship had become lax. He knew as well as I did that the reason for the untouched pages was that the correspondents in Europe had learned to take the censor's view-point and to see the war through the censor's eyes. The American correspondent in any of the European countries these days knows very well that it does not pay to try to beat the censor. This is the one big fact that stands out just now in the war correspondent's life.
Not many months ago an American correspondent left New York for London carrying a code for the use of his London office. By means of this code the New York office hoped to receive more complete news of the sinking of ships than the censor had permitted to go out. At the risk of a severe penalty, the New York reporter had got the code past the port authorities, and he slammed it down triumphantly on the desk of the London manager.
"There's a code that'll beat 'em all," said the New Yorker.
The experienced London manager, with an expression of long-suffering patience on his face (for his New York office had been clamoring persistently for "more news"), took the precious papers, slowly tore them into bits, and tossed them into the glowing fireplace.
"Nothing like that around here," he said. "If our papers print more news about the sinking of ships than the other papers do, our crime'll stand out like a sore thumb. The better a code is, the more dangerous it is."
It is the personal equation in censorship that has made the institution so difficult to systematize and regulate. That single individual with his blue pencil, his fears and whims, and his personal outlook on life, can not always be analyzed.
In a little chateau at Goritzia, on the Austro-Italian front, not many months ago, the Austrian staff-officers gave an after-dinner concert for a few correspondents. The staff-officer who acted as censor was not a music-lover and he departed from the gathering before the program was ended. The finale was an "Ave Maria," exquisitely played by piano, cello, and several violins, and the effect was highly sentimental. The next day one of the correspondents, writing of the concert, told how thoughts of home and loved ones had come over the war-bound officers as they had listened to the strains of the beautiful old air. He wrote that "chins dropped to chests and heads were bowed, in contemplation and reverie, while the cannon boomed out above the sad music."
"No 'chins dropped to chests' in that crowd," said the non-music-loving censor, as he read the story. "I don't want the world to think that Austrian officers ever feel sad." And his blue pencil cut out every reference to the sweet spell which the music, amid the sound of guns, had thrown over the Austrian leaders.
Very often the personal pride of a censor in his ability to read and write a foreign language will appear in his work. A certain American correspondent, describing the spring flowers in the vicinity of the trenches, wrote of anemones, violets, and "john-quills." Evidently the misspelling hurt the French censor as much as it hurts an American reader, for, in a firm, aggressive script, he dashed out the offending word and wrote over it the letters, J-O-N-Q-U-I-L-S.
An Austrian censor, when I wrote the word "worshipper," cut out one "p." The dictionary discloses that we were both right, as the word is a variant.
Cub-censors will invariably thrust forward their personal opinion in their work.
"Go to Vienna and discover why the Austrians will not permit Emmy Destinn to come to the United States," was an assignment which an American correspondent in Berlin received some time ago from his New York office. The correspondent complied and secured a highly interesting story: the Austrians, he explained, felt that Destinn had not shown as much loyalty to the Austrian cause as might have been expected of her, and so the permission that had been granted her to come to the United States had been revoked. The reporter put the story through the Austrian censor and telegraphed it to Berlin, to be forwarded from there by wireless. When he returned to Berlin two days later he found that the story was being held up in the office of the German censor.
"What's the matter with that story?" he demanded of the censor who had held it. "The Austrian censors passed it all right."
"Well, they were wrong in doing it," said the censor. "You're painting this woman as a martyr."
"Give me the copy," said the reporter. He took it to the office of Count George Wedel, the chief censor, a patron of music in Germany, and related his troubles.
"Why, the ––––– fool," said Count Wedel. "Every person in the United States who loves music has a right to know why Destinn isn't singing to them this year." And he permitted the story to pass.
Later investigation disclosed that the man who had stopped the story was acting as a temporary censor and had been on the job only two days.
In the days of the enmity between correspondents and censors, when life was one long fight between them, Karl H. von Wiegand, the noted Berlin correspondent, achieved, perhaps, the biggest defeat of the censorship that will be recorded in the war. It is not generally known that von Wiegand's interview with the Crown Prince of Germany had to be smuggled out of the country. Von Wiegand reached the Crown Prince through unofficial channels and, after talking with him for several hours, returned to Berlin and wrote his story, in his office at 77 Zimmerstrasse. Before many hours had elapsed angry officialdom learned that von Wiegand had talked with the Crown Prince without its permission and was writing a story about the visit.
The censor of the Foreign Office sent to von Wiegand's office demanding that the story be turned over to the censor. Von Wiegand refused and said that he would not discuss the matter with any less person than the chief censor himself. As soon as the censor had left his office von Wiegand hired a courier and started him on his way to Holland with the story. The courier got through, and when von Wiegand learned that the story had safely reached London he took a copy of the interview to the Foreign Office and submitted it, saying, "You may cut this copy as you like. My story is on the way to the United States by this time."
Very often the censors themselves did not know their own aims. Great crises of the war, arising suddenly, sometimes upset them. The censorship jumble about the first raid on London is as good an illustration of the early-war irregularities of censorship as can be found.
The British, let me say, are inclined to put a correspondent on his honor; or, at least, they are inclined to let him go as far as he wants to and then expect him to suffer whatever punishment he brings to himself, if he goes too far. On the night of September 8, 1915, a Zeppelin, hovering over London, gave the city its first taste of death from the skies. The Zeppelin had hardly disappeared before the Press Bureau sent word to all the newspapers and to the American and other correspondents that they were not even to SUBMIT to the censor any stories of the raid, much less PUBLISH or CABLE them. The Press Bureau then sent out a short, formal statement, saying that a Zeppelin had visited the eastern counties.
Bursting with our stories, we American reporters found it impossible to contain ourselves. Several of us did SUBMIT stories, and I have heard that several correspondents were threatened with punishment for having done so. I was among those who gave a story to the censor. I wrote that story, weighing every word, just as the censor would weigh it. I did not give localities; I did not tell what the Zeppelin had done to London, but what it had done to the minds of London people. London had been braver—and I said so; London had got mad, instead of scared, and recruiting began to jump that very evening—and I said that, too. And, twenty-four hours later, to my great delight, I learned by cable from New York that my Zeppelin raid story had gone through and had been the only story to reach New York. I attribute my success with that story to the fact that I put myself in an Englishman's place and wrote the story as he would have written it.
I got over a second story about the raid the next day. I had an engagement to interview Marconi the morning after the raid; I had planned to ask him, questions about the use of wireless in the war. When I entered his office I found him, sleepy and fagged.
"I was up until an unearthly hour this morning," he said.
"Did you chase the Zeppelin?" I asked.
"Everywhere!" he exclaimed. "I got a taxicab, and I went to all the fires and I saw all the horrible sights."
"Mr. Marconi," I said, "you and Count Zeppelin are the two most picturesque, inventors of this century. Will, you tell me, for publication, what you think of the work of your fellow inventor, from what you saw last night?"
"Thank God," said Marconi, ardently, "they can't use my invention to kill women and children, as they used Zeppelin's last night. If I were Zeppelin I would demand of my emperor that he cease the use of my invention for such terrible purposes."
There was my Zeppelin-raid story. In Marconi's own words I cabled a description of the fires and deaths in the heart of London. And not a word was changed by the censor; it was the kind of a story, I think, that the censor would have liked to send out himself.
An interesting sidelight on censorship, as it affects the British newspapers, grew out of the Zeppelin raid. The Zeppelin passed almost directly over the office of the London Times, the most famous newspaper in Christendom. From the windows of the Times the reporters and editors saw, enacted all about them, the biggest newspaper story that ever broke in London. And yet they did not dare to publish a word of it!
Two weeks later the Zeppelin-raid story which I had sent to New York reached London, in the American newspapers, and was discovered by Fred Wile, of the London Daily Mail. Rushing to the Mail office in a taxicab, Wile sent the story out to the composing room, and it appeared the next morning; it was the first story, aside from official statements, that was printed in London about the raid. Later in the day the staid old Times, over whose very roof and about whose very walls the thing had actually happened, telephoned to Mr. E. L. Keen, manager of the United Press in London, saying:
"We're very sorry you didn't give us that London raid story from New York. When you get any stories like that, hereafter, please give us a chance at them."
The Times men could have written a story that would have excelled mine; they had witnessed the chief events of the raid, and I had not. But my story possessed the invaluable advantage of having been passed upon by the censor and thereby having been rendered "safe." Neither literary merit nor actual news was what the Times liked in the story: it was its "safeness" that appealed to them.
The hit-or-miss system of censorship was bound to be improved, as the war went on. Each nation of Europe was wining and, indeed, anxious, to keep the newspaper correspondents from neutral countries in a happy frame of mind. Field officers, Foreign Office officials, and men of other departments of government did their best to please the correspondents, and they soon discovered that one unreasonable censor could undo all their efforts to make correspondents feel at home.
Sir Stanley Buckmaster, later the Lord Chief Justice, became, the chief censor in England, after the war had been going on for some months. It was all a new game to him, and he frankly confessed, in the presence of correspondents, that he didn't fully understand it.
"I think," he said, "this very minute, I know every secret of the British army, and the British navy. I suppose some of these secrets would be worth thousands of pounds to me, if I were a spy and if I were able to get them to the Germans within a short time. Just for fun, the other evening, one of the censors and I tried to figure out just how we could help the Germans with the information we had. There wasn't a way we could have made one penny, as spies, for owing to the censorship it would have been impossible for us to get a single fact to the Germans quickly enough to make the information of any value. I know the censorship is pretty hard on you newspaper men, now and then, and perhaps it is harder because we don't fully understand how to work it; but you have no idea how necessary an iron-clad, censorship really is in war time.''
It has been such straightforward talk as this from censors that has helped the successful American correspondent in Europe to get the censor's view-point.
The censorship which the twentieth-century war correspondent faces today is a new, twentieth-century sort. In all the warring countries, except Italy, which is ridden with suspicion, correspondents now have an opportunity to appeal against the censor's blue pencil.
In Germany the American correspondents were all under parole, having given their word of honor that they would not send one written word out of Germany that had not first been submitted to the censor, and that they themselves would not leave the country, at any time, without the permission of the Government.
In return for this promise they were granted the right to appeal from the censor who had cut their story to Baron von Radowitz, censor in-chief. And, further, they may appeal from him to the Foreign Office in extreme cases of disagreement.
One eminently fair rule of the German censorship in latter times was that a copy of the correspondent's story showing all the changes which had been made in it should be sent to him as soon as possible after the censoring is completed.
The Allies also have the same rule. The correspondents in London and Paris may go to the censor's office at any time and learn what changes, if any, have been made in their dispatches.
It ought to be a matter of pride to American army officials that the censorship rules of the American army are followed faithfully in Germany and Austria and, to some extent, in England and France. For this reason American correspondents in Europe these days are able to make little complaint against censorship regulations.
The campaign of the Allies in Macedonia, a year ago, saw the last of the unparoled, uncredentialed war correspondent. The correspondents who were in Salonica dodged credentials as long as they could. We learned that those highly-prized documents for which we begged in the early days of the war were, in reality, millstones about our necks.
When General Sarrail seized the consulates of the Central Powers in Salonica, after the first Austrian aeroplane raid on the town, there were a few of us uncredentialed correspondents who were able to dash to the telegraph-office and send out to the world the story of the latest sensational turn in Greece. But there was a large number of other correspondents—those who bore credentials and had the dignity of official assignment to the British-French expedition—who were forced to find an English censor and get him to put his O. K. on their stories before they could take them to the cable-office. Our stories often beat theirs by many hours. But we were all sifted out, at last. Those of us who remained in Greece were forced to accept credentials and give parole, that all stories would be submitted to the censor. And so in Greece passed the last of free-lance war corresponding in Europe.
The day of censor-fighting is over. We are all "good" now.
The censor tries to please us and we try to please him. As for the public, its children will perhaps be spanked in school, a hundred years from now, for not learning out of history books the facts which the European censors have not permitted American newspaper correspondents to send to America in this year of grace, 1917.
The situation does not please us any more than it pleases the newspaper and magazine reading public.
But there's nothing to be done about it.
War is war.
"You seem to have arrived at the point where you sympathize with the censor," said one of the editors of this magazine, after reading certain parts of what I have written above.
I don't exactly sympathize with the censor. But I have seen enough of war to know that the side which dropped censorship would be immediately defeated on land and sea.
I don't sympathize with the censor, but, with most other American correspondents in Europe, I have got his viewpoint. We agree with him that his blue pencil is mightier than the forty-two-centimeter gun.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald