News Blackout of the Fifth Army
FIXED TOUR OF DUTY FOR INFANTRY
By CLARE BOOTHE LUCE, Congresswoman from Connecticut,
Broadcast, February 9, 1945
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 305-307.
JANUARY 18, after my return from the European combat zones, I made a report on the floor of the House, on our Fifth Army in Italy, as I had seen it. I tried to outline the history of that heroic army, since the time when it was formed by Gen. Mark Clark in Africa, shortly after the landings there in 1942, down to today, when it is attacking again South of Bologna. Since then, many requests have come to my office on the Hill to repeat that story. Now, in the 12 or so minutes allowed tonight, I cannot cover all the points made in that hour-long recital.
Moreover, even that report was necessarily inadequate. Although I talked with literally hundreds of G. I.'s in Italy, it was impossible, during the few weeks I visited them, to get any complete picture of that vital front.
For example, it is impossible comprehensively to report on the Italian front, without understanding the job that our British allies are doing there. For the American Fifth Army, under Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott, is holding only one-half of the line. The other half is being held by the British Eighth under Lt. Gen. Sir Robert McCreary. Both armies are grouped under the command of America's Clark. And he, in turn, is under the command of British Field Marshal Harold Alexander, who guides Allied military destinies in the whole Mediterranean theater. Time necessarily limited the scope of our committee's activities. I particularly regretted this circumstance in Italy because, since my return to America, I have been asked many questions concerning British efforts in Italy; I have heard a number of sharp criticisms of it, and I have been unable to answer them. Worse, I have discovered that there are many people in America who hardly know that a large British Army is today fighting beside our own, in the sleet-lashed mountains above the Po Valley, and are jointly with us forming policy in the liberated areas. I am particularly sorry that I have not been able to report to those who are interested in the character and efforts, aims and objectives of the British in Italy, for the part that our allied armies play there today, and the diplomacy they practice there today and tomorrow, will largely determine the shape of things to come, politically, in central Europe. As Italy goes, you might say, so will go the whole Mediterranean. There, above all other places except Germany, it is of the utmost importance that American and British diplomatic and military efforts be well synchronized, if peace is to be harmonious and fruitful. Indeed, the troubles in Greece are only a forerunner of what may yet face American and British armies in Italy, if we can't get our joint war efforts and peace aims straight.
But now let me come to the main points that I tried to cover in the House about the American military effort in Italy. First, that effort has, unhappily, not received the popular appreciation on the homefront that the long and bloody battles of the Fifth from Salerno to Bologna have deserved. There has been a comparative blackout of news since the fall of Rome on June 4, 1944. This was natural enough since the Cross Channel Invasion began two days later, and the subsequent gigantic battles of Eisenhower's armies were vastly more decisive in character. But the fact remains that the scant news coverage the Italian theater has received since June 4 has not had an exhilarating effect on the Fifth Army's magnificent veterans, who are just as human as you and I are in liking their best efforts noted.
I pled in the House, I plead again tonight, with everybody who has a son or husband or relative in the Fifth Army, not to underestimate how terribly difficult their job still is, and how great the hardships they still endure. I urge them in their V-mail—the mail from home which is the backbone of the army's morale—to tell our men out there that they have not been forgotten, nor the importance of their front underestimated, simply because the newspapers are finding it difficult to give this front much coverage.
But why, you ask, doesn't it get more coverage, since there are plainly hundreds of thousands of our men there?
Well, let me give you the reasons as they have been given to me by professional newsmen themselves.
Said Lloyd Stratton, of the Associated Press: "We have a large staff assigned to Italy; coverage has been as constant as new developments have justified."
Harrison Salisbury, foreign-news editor of the United Press, said: "The Italian front hasn't gotten a play because the action is slow. . . . There's more action elsewhere, andaction makes the news."
Now, I certainly don't want to argue what news should be published with these two well-known and able newsmen, who have played so great a part in informing Americans about the tremendous and rapid series of catastrophic events which have transpired around the globe since Pearl Harbor. But I must take issue with the definition that "action makes the news."
The truth is, and always has been, that "news makes the action." Let me make a very solemn reflection for a single minute on the subject of what is and what is not news. All news begins, of course, with words. Two thousand years ago a quiet sermon was preached on a mount. We know that it was not considered news by anyone in Rome at the time. But those words, and the effect they had up people and the subsequent actions they took as a result of those words, including an incident on Golgotha, also unreported in Rome at the time, were the real news that finally overthrew the whole Roman Empire. Those words are still news today, which is making action. The men who believe the words, that is, the news, out of Jerusalem, will never be able to compose their differences with nazi-ism and communism, and this is still going to make plenty of world action. Again, a series of speeches in a Munich beer hall, delivered 20 years ago, although badly reported at the time, have resulted in all the military action on the western front today. Today the greatest piece of real political news in the world is what Mr. Stalin is saying to Mr. Roosevelt about Poland, Germany, and, of course, air bases in Siberia. These words—this news, if we ever get it straight, is going to generate most of the political and military action in the world for the next quarter of a century. In short, the real news—what men are saying, thinking, feeling, contemplating, as well as what they are enduring and suffering will inevitably result in a series of actions tomorrow. News makes the action.
Now by this definition, the real news in Italy today is the way that hundreds of thousands of American boys—and probably British boys, too—are feeling and thinking about the war they are fighting, and the peace they are fighting it for. And those feelings and emotions, whether the press covers them today or not, are going to result in political action of a very determined sort when they get home.
Let me give you one example of what I mean. Many of our men in Italy and elsewhere, too, have been overseas years without a furlough. It is foolish to believe that their long exile in foreign lands and their experiences there, have not affected their thinking profoundly. This change in the thought processes of millions of Americans may not be action, but it is news. For what they think today, will have serious repercussions in American political life for a decade.
For example, if they return home with no sense of grievance and injustice against the Government and the way it has run the war, everything will be all right. If they don t, everything may be all wrong. Now men who have been overseas and often under fire for more than 2 years do begin to feel they have such a grievance. They call it the failure of the rotation plan.
When I came home, I pleaded, as many others have done, for some policy of fixed tours of combat duty for troops and units. Now these words were not action, either. And yet it seems they were news—because they produced actions. Hundreds of letters came into my office, and those of other Congressmen, pleading that some such policy be adopted if possible.
Let me read you one editorial (among many) which wasprinted as a result of that by no means original observation made in an "unworthy" theater. It is from the Army and Navy Journal of January 27. I quote:
"The present system of leaving ground combat units in the front lines indefinitely, replacing only those men who are battle casualties, must be revised to provide rest and relief for officers and enlisted men. . . . The conditions in the Fifth Army as described in the House of Representatives by Representative Clare Boothe Luce, will be paralleled on a larger scale in other theaters unless measures are taken to correct the system. In World War No. 1 entire divisions were withdrawn from the front lines and replaced by fresh divisions to keep the personnel from suffering too greatly from battle exhaustion. Now divisions are retained in their combat positions, their strength being maintained by replacement of individuals. The result is that the men who are not yet casualties feel that they have no hope, that the law of averages is against them. The War Department frankly states that it has no plan for limiting the frontline service of ground-force men similar to the limited missions set up for Air Force men. Such relief cannot be afforded, the War Department says, because of the 'lack of personnel for replacements.' This, then, adds another cogent reason for the adoption of a stronger manpower policy (on the home front). The present rotation system, which is limited in its application and cannot be counted upon by the men to provide them relief in any given period, is the only means now available for the relief of front-line men. The new regulations on rotation, published in last week's Army and Navy Journal, will not result in any increase in the actual numbers of men returned to the United States, and hence does not constitute any liberalization of policy. . . . If manpower is the stumbling block then there is even more reason for putting universal service into effect so that the utmost use may be made of men in production and at the war fronts."
On February 4 we read that certain selected troops of the Fifth Division serving with General Patron's Third Army in France, have received top priorities for 30-day furloughs in the United States. The Fifth Division landed in Iceland on September 5, 1941, moved to England in August 1943 and for 2 months, spent 8 months in Ireland, and landed in Normandy in July 1944. The overseas time of many men in that division probably ranks highest in our armies. But there are many men in Italy—and in France and in the Pacific—who have spent, perhaps, less time overseas, but more time exposed to shellfire and bombing, than many of the men of the Fifth Division. In any case, the First, Third, Fifth, Ninth, Thirty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-first, and First Armored are all divisions which have been held overseas more than 2 years.
I know that General Marshall is doing everything in his power to formulate such a priority furlough policy, based on length and character of service in divisions. I think I understand (having witnessed them)-the terrible difficulties of shipping shortages, and trained combat shortages that face him in this effort.
Still I do not agree with the Vice President, Mr. Truman, who said recently of me when I urged that haste be made in this direction, that the matter was "none of her business." It is the business of every legislator to point out danger spots in the war effort. Incidentally, the Vice President knew that very well himself when he was just a simple Senator, heading the Truman Committee Investigating War Production, an effort which often led him to criticize occasional Army policies, and most intelligently.
Now it may be a very .hard truth for all of us to bear; it may even be a problem to which there is no immediate and happy solution. But I shall stand on my private right as a citizen of this country and my public duty as one of its citizens to tell my listeners that our men in Italy whether they are "active" in a headline sense or not—have been fighting a very long, very hard war, that this is currently not appreciated, and that either appreciation or relief and preferably both, are certainly due them. And that the "news" from the Italian theater is that our men know it, too, and don't like it. And I don't blame them. But make no mistake, whether they like it or not, they're going to finish the job, as they began it in Italy—superbly.
In closing, let me return to his strange definition that "action makes the news." I think that the greatest piece of news that could possibly be printed would be the news that all action has stopped—and that the war was over victoriously.