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  • Introduction: War and Periodicals
  • James Berkey (bio) and Mark Noonan (bio)

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Photojournalist Dickey Chapelle covering Operation Inland Seas, 1959.

Wisconsin Historical Society-1942.

The January 1905 issue of Harper’s Monthly featured William Dean Howells’s classic antiwar tale “Editha.” The short story begins at the onset of the Spanish-American War, with the male protagonist relaying the news to his fiancée. “It’s war,” he announces. “How glorious!” Editha responds. George’s own assessment is far more sober. “‘It’s war,’ he repeated, without consenting to her sense of it.”1 The ensuing debate between the couple serves as commentary on a war manufactured by the yellow press, whose hollow phrases and sentiments Editha “parrots.” Pressured to enlist, George ends up being one of the first to die in what was known at the time as the “Splendid Little War.” With “Editha,” Howells indicts those who view war in idealistic terms. The work may also provoke twenty-first-century readers to contemplate the frequency of America’s military incursions as well as the role the media plays in both reporting and manufacturing war. The Spanish-American War offers a useful lens through which to view this issue of American Periodicals dedicated to the topic of war and periodicals. It allows us to see how war often provides the subject matter of newspapers and magazines, helping readership to skyrocket or, as in the case of “Editha,” helping their readers to gain a critical perspective. War coverage of this era relied on the latest communications technology to allow for “breaking news” as well as the “breaking” of news, as Craig Carey writes in these pages, into “coordinated spectacle.” The Spanish-American War also inaugurated a new type of reporting, the “new journalism”—newspaper stories that merged fiction with fact, often accompanied by full-page illustrations of daring and mayhem. It was a war that relied on scores of correspondents and illustrators, who themselves often became “copy,” and was the first to employ photojournalists such as Jimmy Hare and even cameramen working for the Edison Company. It was also the first in which advertisers played an integral part in the war effort and the subsequent endeavor to spread American values to vanquished peoples. As we see in a famous 1899 magazine ad for Pears’ [End Page 123] Soap featuring Admiral Dewey, the hero of the Battle of Manila Bay (Figure 1), this process often entailed constructing the victor as both noble and courageous, and defeated others as barbarous, in need of the “virtues” of civilization.

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Figure 1.

Pears’ Soap advertisement, Harper’s Weekly, September 30, 1899 (Dewey Number), 968. Collection of Mark Noonan.

The intricate relationship between war and periodicals and their need for one another, in fact, goes back to the nation’s colonial origins. Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences, both Foreign and Domestick (1690), for example, contained several reports about atrocities committed against the English colonists by the French and their Native American allies. Not content with simply reporting the news, Harris also called attention to an English captain who “cut the bellies of two Indians, and threw a third Over board in the sight of [End Page 124] the French, who informing the other Indians of it, they have in revenge barbarously Butchered forty Captives of ours that were in their hands.”2 Needless to say, Harris’s newspaper, which was both unlicensed and critical of English authorities, was shut down after a single issue. From 1754–1763, the desire to keep abreast of events during the French and Indian War would lead to an increase in the number of newspapers in the colonies as well as one of America’s earliest and best known political cartoons, Ben Franklin’s famous “Join, or Die” woodcut (Figure 2). Aimed at the literate and illiterate alike, Franklin’s cartoon is powerful in its simplicity, using a familiar image to appeal to readers’ emotions and gain solidarity for the Albany Plan of Union. The Revolutionary War would again spur the rapid growth of print, leading Michael Warner to deem it a “paper war.”3 In a slew...


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pp. 123-129
Launched on MUSE
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