Stephen Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary.
Jay Garner: We were willing to put ourselves on the line. It was the killing that we objected to.
World War II has been called "The Good War." But not everyone at the time agreed. Rather than carry guns, a group of conscientious objectors volunteered for a groundbreaking government experiment. They signed up to starve.
Todd Tucker: These men were deeply idealistic
Max Kampelman: I felt I was doing service. And task is to fight evil, resist evil.
Starving for science in World War II. Plus, how radio became a weapon of war. Both stories in Battles of Belief, from American RadioWorks. First, this news.
Radio Archive: This radio program comes to you thanks to millions of young men in uniform. Americans fighting overseas.
Smith: World War II. Sixteen million Americans served in uniform. On the home front, millions more worked in American defense factories or volunteered to help the war effort. President Franklin Roosevelt mobilized the nation.
FDR: Never in the memory of man has there been a war in which the courage, the endurance, and the loyalty of civilians played so vital a part.
Film Archive: The battlefields of America are the production lines. The sweat, and muscle, and brains of men and women pounding out the tools of victory. Slugging out more and more and more. Twisting the axis into a trembling question mark. Men and women...
Archive: If we don't stop that there guy Hitler, there won't be no White Houses for you and me, or education for any of us.
Archive: All you women between 20 and 50, the Army needs you. Speed the attack, join the WAC.
From American Public Media, this is Battles of Belief in World War II, an American RadioWorks documentary. I'm Stephen Smith. Looking back at World War II, it's easy to believe that Americans all felt the same - that fascism was evil and had to be defeated. After all, we call it "the Good War," and the people who fought it "the Greatest Generation." But the story is more complicated than that. From its earliest days, World War II was a struggle for minds and hearts, around the world and in the United States.
Over the coming hour, we'll consider two little-known stories from World War II. The first, about a select group of American men who refused to fight, but still risked their lives for the people of Europe - by starving. The second, how a powerful device called radio became a modern weapon of war. Both stories reflect the battles of belief that were fought by the Allies and the Axis in World War II.
Announcer: Number day in America's first peacetime compulsory military service program.
October 1940. As the war spreads in Europe, the United States prepares for the day it may have to enter the fight. Lottery numbers for the peacetime draft are pulled from a fishbowl.
Announcer: Number 158 in Oakland, California, laundry worker Kwang Kwan Fu.
Among the 800,000 men called up, a future U.S. President.
Announcer: At Palo Alto, John Kennedy, the ambassador's son, got the 18th number drawn.
It was the first peacetime draft in the nation's history. It was also the first time the government made special provisions for people who refused to fight - conscientious objectors (CO) whose religious or philosophical beliefs forbade them to kill. In World War II, about 44,000 men were granted CO status.
Bob Willoughby: I would just rather be killed myself than kill someone else.
20 year old Bob Willoughby was a CO from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Willoughby: Well, I was raised in the Church of the Brethren, which is of course a historic peace church, and I just knew I couldn't bring myself to aim a rifle or anything else at a person with the intent to kill.
The historic peace churches - the Brethren, Mennonites and Quakers - follow the non-violent teachings of Jesus to the letter. Same with Sam Legg, though he was an Episcopalian from New Jersey.
Sam Legg: I just could not visualize Jesus in the uniform of a U.S. soldier or any kind of a soldier. I just didn't follow. I said, well, if he couldn't do it, I couldn't do it. No, I cannot participate in war. It is wrong. It creates more hardship than it solves, more poverty, destruction, and surely sows the seeds of further conflict.
Max Kampelman: My name is Max Kampelman and I'm now a retired lawyer and a retired diplomat. I was a pacifist in college. I registered as a conscientious objector rather than follow the course that many other pacifists took which was refusing to register and going to jail. I felt citizens have a responsibility to their government. You serve where you can and where the government tells you to serve.
In the first World War, there were basically two options for conscientious objectors: fight or go to jail. In World War II, the draft law allowed COs to opt for non-combat service in uniform. Many became medics. Or, they could work for a new outfit called the Civilian Public Service. That's what Bob Willoughby, Sam Legg and Max Kampelman chose. CPS men cleared forest trails, they worked on farms, and tended patients in mental hospitals.
Todd Tucker: These men were deeply idealistic.
Author Todd Tucker has written about COs in World War II.
Tucker: It's hard to understand now how deep your commitment to pacifism would have to be to take this stance during World War Two, which was, you know, almost universally regarded as a just cause. For you to be one of these 12,000 men who would take this incredibly unpopular stance, I mean, you had to be almost painfully idealistic.
Jay Garner: We were willing to put ourselves on the line to protect other humans. It was the killing that we objected to.
Jay Garner of Ohio was in the Civilian Public Service. The son of Brethren missionaries, he'd grown up in India and been deeply influenced by the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Garner had hoped to serve as a combat ambulance driver, but that option was blocked to men in the Civilian Public Service.
Garner: Soon after drafted, I was transferred to the Oregon coast where I was firefighting. Then from there, I transferred to the Augusta state mental hospital taking care of a 20-bed dormitory of old men. When a brochure came out and said, "Would you starve that others might be better fed?"
So Jay Garner volunteered to starve. He was among some 200 conscientious objectors across the country who signed up for a yearlong starvation experiment. The year was 1944, and the U.S. military wanted to know how best to feed the hungry people that would be liberated from Nazi-controlled Europe. Of the 200 volunteers, 36 men were chosen. Half a century later, we interviewed them about the experiment and why they volunteered. Here's Henry Scholberg of Minnesota.
Henry Scholberg: American boys were dying on the battlefields, suffering imprisonment, getting wounded. And I felt it was unfair for me to be able to sleep in a comfortable bed at night and always have three meals. I felt I should be prepared to sacrifice.
Many of the men wanted to demonstrate physical bravery as well as the courage of their convictions. All around them, the picture shows and the radio waves were filled with patriotic messages.
Archive: He was an American. He loved and fought for some patch of earth in his native land. He died in a distant field to keep war and the slave makers from them who are dear to him.
Archive: Because we know there is only one way to win a war and that's by fighting.
Conscientious objectors didn't get a lot of public attention during the war. But they got a little coverage in newsreels and on radio - some flattering, some not.
Newsreel: These young men are Seventh-day Adventists who would serve their country, but not by manipulating a weapon to kill. A medical corps has been established by students of the Washington Missionary College. It is patriotism, say these young men, who maintain they strive to obey the Commandment thou shalt not kill.
Radio Archive: Today we bring you strange tale of Johnny Castle, hat salesman and conscientious objector.
Here's a radio drama produced in 1943 by the federal government featuring Hollywood star John Garfield in the role of a pacifist.
John Garfield (Castle): What's wrong with brotherly love? That's what I want to know. And why not make an effort to understand people, instead of murdering 'em. And that goes for your enemies, too.
Woman: Even Hitler and the Japs?
Garfield: Even Hitler and the Japs.
Woman: Oh you, you jellyfish!
Garfield: So I'm a jellyfish.
Garfield: So I'm a slacker.
Woman: Oh, Johnny. Are you a man or a worm? Tell me now because, because…Oh, to think I've loved a worm.
Garfield: Look, baby. Don't drag our love into this.
Of course, by the end of this program Johnny Castle realizes the war is justified, and naturally, he signs up to fight.
Millions of American soldiers were fighting in Europe and the Pacific in 1944 when the starvation experiment began. It was conducted in a physiology lab at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Todd Tucker is author of The Great Starvation Experiment.
Tucker: The experiment was a year long and it started in November of 1944, so many people could see that the war was winding to a close, at least in Europe.
Radio Archive: The gigantic job of feeding Europe is already underway. None of us know yet how the plans will work or how long the burden will be borne. But already, great convoys of food have moved into the city of Paris.
Radio Archive: We're bringing in flour, dried beans, vitamized chocolate.
Tucker: The concentration camps in Europe still largely unknown at this point. But starvation among refugees was clearly starting to come up as a concern.
Newsreel: Food, warm and nourishing food for stomachs gnawed with hunger and ruined by a diet of grass, roots, and leaves, and bread mixed with sawdust. For years these people starved so that the Germans could eat better than any other nation in Europe.
Newsreel: And they, too, must be fed if you are to have their friendship and cooperation. Your military leaders want no starving people behind their battle lines. For a hungry man is a dangerous man.
In the 1940s, there was scant scientific knowledge about hunger. The Minnesota experiment had two aims: to study the effect of starvation on the body and mind, and to discover the best way to feed the survivors of famine. So in the fall of 1944, 36 conscientious objectors reported to the University of Minnesota Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene. The experiment began.
Tucker: The standardization phase was the first phase of the experiment. It was 12 weeks long. And the first goal was to just kind of determine normalized data for all the test subjects in their quote - unquote - normal state.
Willoughby: We were fed a normal American diet. That's what standardization is. Everyone had the same diet.
Sutton: So the first three months, we were very fine. We ate in the dining room after the football team left. We had very good food. We were enjoying the university life.
Scholberg: They had us on 3,200 calories. They tested us to see how we behaved under normal circumstances so they'd be able to compare that when we'd be on half that ration.
Legg: We spent a good deal of time being tested. The people who made the experiment were absolute geniuses at making up tests. Physical tests, psychological tests. They examined our bodies minutely - they really probed.
Tucker: It's kind of mind-boggling the number of things that were analyzed.
Again, author Todd Tucker.
Tucker: Everything from their hearing to their vision to their sperm count to the quality of their skin. And just a battery of psychological tests, as well. So that all began during the control phase. In addition, they had to start maintaining the activity level that would be required of them for whole experiment, which, in addition to all the physical tests on treadmills, they had to walk in and around campus 22 miles a week. And they were also all given jobs that were expected to take about 15 hours a week.
The starvation experiment was headed by physiologist Ancel Keys. In 1944, his work - but not his name - was already known to millions of American soldiers. Keys was the guy who developed the fighting man's banquet - the K ration.
Film Archive: The completely streamlined meal. Originally designed for paratroops, K proved ideal for tankbusters, commandos and all isolated units. Each package contains a balanced vitamin-rich meal. A day's ration weighs about two pounds.
By all accounts, Ancel Keys was a skilled and meticulous scientist. The 36 conscientious objectors who volunteered for Ancel Keys' experiment would come to know well how scientifically rigorous their new leader could be. Their ordeal also became something of a race against time. Would the war end before the painstaking study was complete?
Newsreel Archive: Hoping to solve intricate problems of war and peace, President Roosevelt reaches the Yalta Meeting.
February 1945: the newsreels tell about FDR's big meeting with British leader Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at Yalta to decide how to deal with postwar Germany if the Nazis lose. In Minnesota, the conscientious objectors begin the hard part of their experiment. Author Todd Tucker.
Tucker: The starvation phase was the second phase and longest phase of the experiment. It was 24 weeks long. They ate twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, and that was about 1,570 calories a day per man.
The scientists called it semi-starvation, because the men did get food. But each test subject was supposed to lose 25 percent of his weight. If a man didn't lose weight fast enough, his meals were cut back.
Tucker: They were trying to in some ways mimic the situation of these starving European refugees. So the diet was heavy on cabbage and wheat bread, and rutabagas were a prominent item. There was occasional small amounts of meat and dairy, although most of the men I talked to would swear in later years there was no meat at all in the starvation phase.
Garner: We not only cleaned our plates, we licked them.
Test subject Jay Garner says many of the volunteers became completely obsessed with food.
Garner: Thought about food. Talked about it. Some of the people collected as many as 25 or 30 cookbooks.
Legg: There was the opportunity to read recipes and I took the opportunity and was glad to do it. I know I had a recipe for leg of lamb and mashed potatoes and peas and mint jelly, I remember that. [laughs]
Sam Legg and the other men discovered that sex drive was an early casualty of the starvation phase. A number of the guys were dating local girls, but lost interest as they lost weight. One fellow got bored watching love scenes at the movies, but perked right up when there was food on screen. Henry Scholberg was dating a young woman.
Scholberg: I remember one time we were walking back from the movies and I suddenly said to her, if we're suddenly attacked by a bunch of ruffians, run like hell because I'm too weak to do anything to help you.[laughs]
Garner: One time, I was going to the library on the Minnesota campus. They had large brass doors and I found I could not pull the doors open. So I had to wait 'til a little cutie came along pulled the doors open.
A few years ago, public health researcher Leah Kalm interviewed the surviving volunteers for an article on the starvation experiment. Kalm says many of the men found the starvation phase more psychologically difficult than they'd expected.
Kalm: A lot of them talked about how, you know, they had been pretty gregarious and outgoing individuals and how that just was sort of gone. And that sort of goes to one of the overall messages or legacies of the experiment is this understanding that starvation directly impacts the mind and the emotions, as well as just the body.
Willoughby: We became more introverted, more concerned about our own problems.
That's Bob Willoughby.
Willoughby: We were no longer concerned about the problems of the world. We weren't as concerned about helping others. Our thoughts were dominated by food.
One of the conscientious objectors - a New Yorker - stood out from his colleagues in the experiment. This guy stayed interested in world events and used his mind to avoid thinking about food. He focused on textbooks - not cookbooks. Author Todd Tucker.
Tucker: Max Kampelman was kind of an extraordinary overachiever all his life. Kampelman distinguished himself by completing law school during the starvation experiment.
Kampelman: And when I finished the law school, I decided I better continue and I took courses toward a master's in political science. And I have no doubt in my mind that helped me get over the stresses of the starvation.
Tucker: Max Kampelman was the sole Jewish member of the test subject cadre. His pacifism was definitively religious but he was also a political radical in many ways. Which, being a Jewish pacifist in World War II was a very ideologically lonely position to be in.
Kampelman: I felt I was doing service. And the task is to fight evil, resist evil. While I was in college, I was exposed to Quakers. I spent a summer in Quaker work camp. I had good friends who were Quakers. And to this day, I believe that the power of love is an immense power, and obviously it would be so much better if we could defeat evil with the power of love. And those were my thoughts at that time.
Newsreel Archive: [cheers] Throughout the world, throngs of people hail the end of the war in Europe. It is five years and more since Hitler marked into Poland. Years full of suffering and death and sacrifice. Now the war against Germany is won.
May 8th, 1945, was V-E Day - Victory in Europe. But the brutal fighting against Japan continued. In Minnesota, Max Kampelman and the 35 other conscientious objectors were halfway through the starvation phase of their experiment. At the lab they took dexterity and concentrations tests, they ran on a treadmill, sometimes to the point of collapse. The men also walked their weekly 22 miles around campus and along the Mississippi River. And, as Jay Garner remembers, the hungry volunteers found what comforts they could.
Garner: We could have up to 9 cups of tea or coffee a day. And what we enjoyed doing was to see other people eat. We would go into a restaurant and order just a cup of coffee and sit and watch other people eat. And it bothered us to see people come in and only maybe only eat half of their food and the other, just leave it.
Scholberg: The temptation to eat, well, you could sort of get around it. They allowed us to drink coffee. And at first they allowed us to chew gum.
Garner: The most I ever chewed in one day, I believe, was 18 packs. And my mouth got raw on the inside. One of the fellows, as I remember the number, he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 packs a day. May have explained one of the reasons why he had problems losing weight.
Ancel Keys and the other scientists running the experiment realized that each stick of gum had a few calories of sugar, which would add up if a desperate man chewed a couple hundred sticks. So gum was rationed - two packs a day. Then it turned out some volunteers actually cheated. Here's Sam Legg.
Legg: One man completely lost control of himself. He went into a grocery shop, I think. He didn't buy anything - he shoplifted. And what did he take? He took potatoes, and carrots, and onions, and root vegetables which were the basis of our diet. And he stuffed himself with all this. And he, of course, was removed from the experiment.
In all, four men were either dropped from the experiment or the final results because they cheated or failed to lose weight as expected. On July 28th, 1945, the starvation phase of the experiment ended. Two days later, Life Magazine published a photo spread on the Minnesota experiment. With their shirts off, the men's rib cages pressed through their skin like washboards, their bony shoulders and elbows jutted out at alarming angles. The men had been longing for the end of the starvation phase. Next came the three-month rehabilitation phase. But the suffering continued.
Tucker: What was unexpected about the rehab phase was that it ended up being psychologically hardest phase for most of the men. That was because for the starvation phase, they counted the minutes until it would be over. It was an incredibly arduous time, the 24 weeks of the starvation phase. And then when these men entered the rehab phase, many of them assumed that kinda just overnight everything would get better. But what they found out was that they actually were put on a very limited increase in calories. And so for many of these men, it was an excruciatingly disappointing time.
It was the time when Sam Legg was so hungry, he mutilated himself. He and fellow CO Marshall Sutton were visiting friends for dinner at a home in Minneapolis. As always, the test subjects brought their own bag of pre-measured food from the lab. Even though it was late summer, they enjoyed a glowing fireplace. It was always so hard for the skinny men to stay warm.
Marshall Sutton: The fire was getting low and Sam jumped up and he knew where the woodpile was, and there was a hatchet out there, and he needed to, in order to get the fire started, split up a little wood there.
Sam Legg weighed about 113 pounds. He could hardly hold the axe in the air. But he brought it down on his left hand - chopping away three middle fingers.
Legg: I admit to being crazy mixed up at the time. I still, 50 years later, am not ready to say I did it on purpose. I am not ready to say I didn't.
It was the third week of rehabilitation. It seemed like the hunger would never end. The experiment's staff psychologist noted that Legg's mental state was in a sharp decline. Sam Legg was rushed to the hospital to get his mangled hand stitched up.
Legg: And a high school girl was in there seeing this hand all bandaged and I was a skeleton, so everybody knew what I was doing there. And the girl saw this and said, "Oh dear, how awful! What happened?" And I said, "Well, I just got hungry." And the poor kid [laughs], she says, "But, but, but you didn't have to do it that way." She thought I had eaten them [laughs]. I was hungry. I didn't actually. They are now buried in a backyard in Minneapolis.
The scientists called it a severe degree of "semi-starvation neurosis." The experiment's final report said Legg was desperate to end the ordeal, but despondent about the prospect of failing. With his sewn-up hand, Sam Legg went back to the lab and finished the experiment. He says the other guys didn't ask him much about "the accident."
Legg: No, I don't think there was any conversation about it. They just accepted it. I think they were all as crazy as I was.
Radio Archive: Japan has surrendered unconditionally. President Truman announced that a note from the Japanese government has been received by the Allies and agrees to unconditional surrender terms as outlined.
Japan's surrender ended World War II. It was early September of 1945. Jay Garner remembers hardly noticing.
Garner: Yeah, we were eating when the announcement came that peace had been signed and that the war was over. This went through the group and we kept on eating. The food was the important thing. We didn't care about whether the war was over or not as long as we got our food.
Jay Garner started the experiment weighing 165 pounds. At the end he weighed 119.
Garner: And in next 10 days I gained 20 pounds, and ultimately, I went up to 192 and it was because you kept eating. We would eat until our stomachs hurt but still we did not feel full.
When the men finally got to eat whatever they wanted, Harold Blickenstaff and some of the others binged so heavily they got sick.
Harold Blickenstaff: They warned us, you better not eat apples because your body has stopped producing the juices necessary to digest apples, but one guy went and ate a whole apple pie and they had to take him into the hospital and pump his stomach and they said it could have killed him. This kind of thing did happen when guys got out of concentration camps and so forth. You have a hunger that's insatiable.
Some men say it took a year or more to recover their strength and to get back to a normal weight. Half a century later, none of the test subjects believes that starving for more than six months did any major, long-term damage to their minds or bodies. Over the years, many of the conscientious objectors stayed active in some kind of public service or church work. Most of them left Minnesota, becoming teachers and biologists and businessmen. When researcher Leah Kalm interviewed 18 of the surviving volunteers, to a man they said the starvation experiment had been a defining moment in their lives.
Kalm: All of them really had this lovely combination of pride and humbleness in the way that they spoke about their participation in the experiment. And they stood by their convictions, and that was an accomplishment. But they really all stressed that, you know, they didn't have it as hard as some people did, or as the people who were really starving, or as the people who were out in the field being shot at.
Scholberg: I don't think any of us felt like heroes.
That's Henry Scholberg. After the war, he worked on relief ships transporting cattle from the U.S. to hungry people in Poland. Then he settled down to raise a family and run a university library. Scholberg says volunteering to starve in World War II was the most honorable thing he's done in life.
Scholberg: I don't think I'll ever do anything to compare with it. Unless I run into a burning building and save 10 people or something. Or a little baby. That would top it. But until that happens that'll be the noblest thing I ever did.
Because the test subjects were conscientious objectors - and not soldiers - the U.S. government never paid them. And they didn't qualify for veterans benefits.
Radio Archive: The mutual network has cancelled the program usually heard at this time to bring you a special broadcast in reference to the world food crisis. We are speaking to you from the Oval Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
At the end of World War II, millions of people around the world lived on the edge of starvation. In 1946, President Harry Truman asked Americans who'd already lived through years of rationing and shortages to sacrifice awhile longer so food could be shipped to famine-stricken countries.
Harry Truman: Millions will surely die unless we eat less. Again, I strongly urge all Americans to save bread and to conserve oils and fats. These are the most essential weapons at our disposal to fight famine abroad.
But the battle against postwar hunger would largely be fought without the findings of the Minnesota starvation experiment. The main study would not be published until 1950, five years after the war ended. Todd Tucker, author of the Great Starvation Experiment, says many of the scientists working on the project were bitterly disappointed about the timing.
Tucker: The war ended sooner than they thought it would. And the starvation crisis was over sooner than they thought it would be and it took longer than they thought to publish the experiment. So, they published some interim studies in the meantime to put out some of their early results. But most of the lasting value of the study came out later.
The study became a research classic because of the deep level of scientific detail in the heavy, two-volume report. Research today on subjects like eating disorders still cite the Ancel Keys study. That's partly because after the world learned of the horrific experiments that Nazi doctors had conducted on prisoners, the ethics of human experimentation went through a revolution.
Tucker: Keys did this study because nothing like it has been done before. And because of ethical restrictions after World War II, nothing like it has been done after and probably never will be done. So for scientific data about starvation, there's really only one place to go and that's the Biology of Human Starvation by Ancel Keys.
Ancel Keys would go on making important discoveries in human nutrition. Two of the biggest: Keys revealed the connection between saturated fat and heart disease. And, he and his wife Margaret popularized the now famous Mediterranean diet - low in fat, high in vegetables, olive oil, fish and red wine. Ancel Keys died in 2004 at the age of 100.
Here's a post-script. Perhaps none of the 36 men was changed more by the yearlong starvation experiment more than Max Kampelman.
Kampelman: If I were drafted, I would no longer be a conscientious objector today. I no longer think that it will deal with evil.
Kampelman started the experiment believing in the power of love to overcome evil. That changed on August 6th, 1945. The U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Kampelman: What the atom bomb illustrated was that the perpetrator never sees the victim. So the victim can have all kinds of love but it will have absolutely no impact. There is such a thing as evil in the world. The power of love is inadequate to defeat it.
Max Kampelman eventually joined the Marine Corps Reserves and had a long, distinguished career in public service. He was a diplomat in the Carter and Reagan administrations and served as the nation's top arms control negotiator with the Soviet Union. More than half a century later, Kampelman can't really explain why the Nazi persecution of fellow Jews did not shake his faith in pacifism during the war. But asked why he was willing to suffer a half year of starvation, Kampelman says the answer is easy.
Kampelman: Why do people who were drafted go to fight wars, without escaping? Because there's a duty. It's the same kind of a thing, just a different battlefield. And from our point of view at the time it was a battlefield consistent with what we considered our conscience to tell us. But it was a battlefield. And battlefields are not supposed to be easy.
This is Stephen Smith. You're listening to an American RadioWorks documentary, Battles of Belief. Coming up: the radio war.
Gordon Auchincloss: The key to black propaganda is to do as much truth as possible, and just bend it a little at the end. Just put a little hook on it.
Our web site has essays, photos and films about the Minnesota starvation experiment. Visit us at AmericanRadioWorks.org. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.
From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, Battles of Belief. I'm Stephen Smith.
During World War II, military scientists drew up a thick catalog of new war machines. The jet fighter, the missile, the attack helicopter, the nuclear bomb. World War II also marked the first widespread use of electronics in battle. For the first time, two-way radios directed tank and troop movements. Radar and sonar swept the skies and sea. And there was one simple, innocent-looking device capable of infiltrating enemy barracks, homes, and naval ships: radio.
Radio Archives: This is war. Tonight the four great networks again join to present the tenth of their series of broadcasts. Speaking to you, as we are being intercepted and jammed, we ask you to move the dial. This is Radio Debunk...that's D-E-B-U-N-K.
World War II marked the first time radio became a widely used psychological weapon. Both the Allied and Axis powers transformed the wireless into an anti-personnel device. They shot disinformation and psychological shrapnel at each other.
Radio Archive: Hello boys, American boys. I've got your favorite jazz recordings. Remember this Glenn Miller, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to"? Who are you thinking of boys? Irene? Jane? Sylvia? Where are they tonight?
More than a hundred propaganda stations took the air. Axis Sally was one of the famous voices. She was an American who collaborated with the Nazis in Berlin. Sally broadcast what was called "white" propaganda, meaning she never concealed her Nazi affiliations. At the same time, there were radio stations that specialized in "black" propaganda. That was a shadowy world of top-secret transmitters and elaborate deceptions.
America's adventures into clandestine radio propaganda were directed by the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA. The OSS built more than a dozen stations which pretended to broadcast from dissident groups on the enemy's home soil.
Betty Macintosh: My name is Elizabeth Macintosh and I did morale operations work, which is black propaganda. We were trying to develop a feeling with the enemy that the war was going to be lost. There was no use fighting. We did a lot of special things like telling soldiers their wives were unfaithful and just that sort of demoralizing work.
The OSS recruited journalists and radio experts for job of fabricating lies. Betty Macintosh was newspaper reporter who had covered Pearl Harbor. There was Gordon Auchincloss, a New York variety show producer. Sy Nadler, a radio scriptwriter. John Creedy, a newspaperman in North Carolina. All signed on with the OSS
Gordon Auchincloss: The key to black propaganda is to do as much truth as possible. And just bend it a little at the end, just put a little hook on it.
Sy Nadler: You're directing your message toward people who are a little bit receptive. Just a little bit. If they're not receptive at all, they're not going to pay any attention to it.
John Creedy: It would sound so much like a German station because the program was mostly German. And that would be the cover. And in between they would have what they called the dirt. So you had cover and dirt, and then cover and dirt.
Macintosh: It was like sort of spreading land mines, these lies in the verbiage of truth.
Radio Archive: [English over German] We are throwing away Germany's future, whatever future we have left, if we have to sacrifice our children for the sake of Hitler. There is only one solution. Out with Hitler! Out with the Nazi regime!
Creedy: There were rumors, there were stories that made the Nazi party people sound irresponsible compared to the German army people. They had better food, they didn't risk themselves at the front. That kind of divisiveness was basic to the program.
In late 1944 the German Reich lurched towards collapse. At the same time, a mysterious new radio station called out to the Germany's Rhineland. Listeners knew it as "Zwölf Hundert Zwölf" - Radio 12-12.
Radio 12-12 was an American creation, code named "Radio Annie." The station's theme song was a heart-stirring traditional tune. Compared to heavy murk of official Nazi propaganda, this voice sounded fresh and honest.
Lawrence Soley: It included news of what was happening on the western front, providing very realistic and accurate news, which was something the German stations themselves were not providing.
Professor Lawrence Soley of Marquette University wrote two books about black radio. He says 12-12 was successful, in part, because its air raid reports were so grimly accurate.
Soley: Areas were being bombed by the Allies. There would be photo reconnaissance. And OSS would attempt to determine what blocks had been knocked out or what houses had been knocked out, and then broadcast over their black radio stations about this destruction. And this made the stations sound quite authentic.
Radio Archive: [English over German] Throughout our broadcast we bring you the names of the towns and villages evacuated in the last 24 hours. We tell you where the fighting is and which towns are under immediate threat. At the top and bottom of every hour, we have an overview of the military situation.
12-12 announcers were either fluent German-speaking Americans or Germans who collaborated with the Allies. Broadcasts came from a powerful transmitter in Luxembourg.
Radio Archive: [English over German] Attention! Attention! 12-12 has a special report. There has been a grave terrorist attack. A battalion of about 500 trench diggers were caught out in the open by enemy dive-bombers. The planes opened fire before the workers could take cover. After a few minutes, the planes returned and repeated their inhuman deed. Two-hundred lay dead, and uncounted injured.
Female voice: [sound of typewriter] Report of the 12th Army Group, classified information. There were Germans who thought Radio 12-12 came from bunkers because at times it was technically imperfect. Many Wermacht officers and soldiers followed the station night after night, keeping score by its front news. Annie was building up her audience.
Initially, the broadcasts avoided anti-Nazi rhetoric. 12-12 was simply pro-German. Operation Annie's team worked from trailers on the grounds of a well-guarded mansion in Luxembourg. Patricia Swain was stationed there. She now lives in London.
Patricia Swain: Annie used to pretend to be a free German station inside Germany. It was all a lot of nonsense, but it worked.
Swain recalls that to keep its cover intact, 12-12 claimed to originate from different locations each night.
Swain: They said, "We have to pack up now, we have to go because the Allies are nearly here." Then there would be a lot of banging and shifting of radio equipment and everything. Then, "We'll open up tomorrow night, we'll open up tomorrow night from another location." You believed it because people are pretty gullible on the whole. And they'd been lied to for so many years, they were used to believing what they heard.
In early 1945, as the Allies pressed deeper into Germany, General Dwight Eisenhower ordered the station to begin faking news. It was time for Operation Annie to cash in on her credibility. Lawrence Soley.
Soley: Eisenhower wanted the station to make the Germans think that the Allies were moving more quickly than they actually were, making them retreat and take action like that, thereby undermining support for Hitler.
Eisenhower's scheme apparently worked. Panicked Germans clogged the roads.
Soley: Civilians actually moved into the streets when they were told that there was going to be large scale bombing of their areas. And in so doing, they were able to slow down the retreat of the German army.
Radio Annie broadcast for 127 nights. It finally signed off by pretending that Allied troops had caught up with the rebel broadcasters. Listeners suddenly heard shouting in English, sounds of a scuffle. The German announcer cried out for someone to play a record. Then Annie's theme song rolled, and abruptly fell silent. [sound of dead air]
Radio 12-12 was just one of America's covert programs. There were other stations and other formats. An OSS training record bragged about one black operation broadcast from a secret studio in the English countryside.
Archive: We had a girl named Vicki, we and the British. Only Vicki was a little different. She spoke in German and if you were a German soldier you might have thought she was coming from a station in Germany, an anti-Nazi station. She had American music because the German soldier liked American music. She had American music with special German lyrics. And then she talked to the German soldiers.
Vicki: [English over German] Good night to Eva Nagel and her family. Good night to Fraueline Oberhaser. All the best to my friends. And to all of you, a good night kiss from Vicki.
Vicki, "the girl with the pin-up voice." One night she blew a kiss to a German U-boat captain, saying his fiancée had married another man. The story was a lie, but the captain was so upset he surrendered.
Abraham Polonsky: One of the basic things they used in these broadcasts was American jazz, which the Germans would die to hear. In the course of which, they also gave them some bad information.
Hollywood filmmaker Abraham Polonsky wrote scripts and directed programs for the OSS clandestine stations.
Polonsky: When a German submarine went down the Germans never admitted it. But we knew who was on the submarine, who went down on it, his name, address, and all the rest. We broadcast that to their families while they listened to the jazz. A lot of people listened.
Clandestine outfits were like any other radio station - they had to compete for listeners. Especially when their signals were weak, or they were marooned on some obscure frequency. To boost the audience, OSS producers arranged for Marlene Dietrich and other stars to record popular American tunes in German. Though Dietrich was anti-Nazi, many Germans still adored her.
Near the end of World War II, the OSS prepared to cast its electronic net at the Japanese. But the Japanese islands were too far from Allied controlled territory. A conventional radio signal couldn't reach. So in the meantime, OSS propaganda teams targeted Japanese troops and their collaborators in occupied China. But only rich or official people owned radios there. For one operation, scriptwriter Gordon Auchincloss cast his Chinese actors as Yangtse riverboat captains chattering on their ship-to-shore sets.
Auchincloss: We were really corny. [laughs] We used to start the riverboat business with a sound that simulated the sound of the whistles on the riverboats, which was achieved by blowing on canteens that were partially filled with water. A sort of wooooo sound. Two different tones...a wooo and a woooo. [laughs]
The station was set up in an American-occupied villa near Kunming, in southern China. Programs were pre-recorded and beamed from a mobile transmitter to elude Japanese bombers. Another deception created by the same outfit had a cover story about as far-fetched as the river captains. Sy Nadler wrote the scripts. Gordon Auchincloss and Betty Macintosh contributed ideas. The codename was "Hermit".
Nadler: The speaker purported to be someone known as the hermit, who based various predictions on a combination of the Chinese calendar, the Japanese calendar, the Zodiac, you name it.
Macintosh: Operation Hermit was beamed towards Nanking on a daily basis.
Auchincloss: The hermit, I should explain, would predict things that had already happened, and then tap himself on the back. It was a Walter Winchell technique.
Macintosh: Seymore Nadler was stalking up and down screaming, "We gotta do something to get to Japan." I said, "why don't you just tell them they're gonna have a big earthquake or something?" "Nah, that won't do."
Nadler: for some reason we predicted to them that on a certain day, in August, Japan was going to suffer a catastrophic event and so on. Without saying what it was. Of course it turned out to be the day the atom bomb was dropped, but we knew nothing about it.
The Japanese surrendered nine days after Hiroshima.
Allied broadcasters boasted that they were the best at covert radio. But the Nazis actually pioneered the tactic. Germany used radio to create the illusion of an underground Fascist movement spreading across Europe - a so-called "fifth column." Much of the rhetoric was anti-Jewish. British intelligence agents took notice and started up their own clandestine stations. Later, the Americans copied the British. Former OSS agent John Creedy:
John Creedy: The basic thing that motivated everybody was the fifth column activities of the Nazis early in the war. They were credited with the collapse of the French resistance early on. Everybody said, "well, we'd better have something like that ourselves."
Some of the clandestine Nazi broadcasts were well-acted and believable. The bogus New British Broadcasting Station was probably the most credible.
Radio Archive: This is the new British broadcasting station. Have you ever given any thought to the fate of your children? You realize that the government's evacuation plan, or should one say, their complete collapse, may have a profound effect upon your boys and girls in years to come.
Historian Martin Dogherty says other Nazi stations were almost comically bad: terrible cockney accents, inappropriate language, dull tirades.
Dogherty: One of the problems for the Germans was they could not really find any half decent broadcasters to work for them. They were forced to rely on renegades, prisoners of war, former school teachers who happened to be living in Germany at the time who were more-or-less coerced into working for them. So they had great problems in finding anyone who could put a credible story together for them.
Radio Archive: This is Station Debunk, D-E-B-U-N-K, friend of the people of the United States.
The Third Reich apparently cooked up just one black propaganda station aimed at America's home front. Radio Debunk, as it called itself, broadcast from Berlin over short wave. It claimed to come from Iowa.
Radio Archive: Hello folks, hello girls and boys, hello everybody. This is Station Debunk, D-E-B-U-N-K, the station that debunks war propaganda, war criminals and the armament racket.
Soley: You usually find clandestine radio stations broadcasting in situations where you have a repressive regime that prohibits dissent.
Author Lawrence Soley says the Nazi broadcasts provoked scant interest.
Soley: That I think is one of the reasons why the German stations weren't particularly effective, the stations that were broadcasting from Germany to Great Britain or from Germany to the United States. They were broadcasting to free countries. Opponents could speak out against the war, both in Great Britain and in the United States.
The effectiveness of Allied stations that targeted Axis countries is also open to doubt. The OSS claimed that some Nazi troops did surrender and that German morale was weakened as a result of Allied broadcasts. But there's no independent evidence - no Nielsen ratings for disinformation. When former OSS scriptwriter Abraham Polonsky looks back on the effort, he sneers.
Polonsky: If you add up all that wartime radio intelligence then, and compare it to the effect of one armed soldier going into battle, cancel out.
After the war, Polonsky worked in Hollywood. Clandestine broadcaster Sy Nadler went on to a career in counter-intelligence. Gordon Auchincloss produced radio and television shows. Nadler and Auchincloss reflect on the work they did decades ago with some fondness and pride.
Auchincloss: We always said if we'd shortened the war by 30 seconds, we'd have paid for ourselves. We didn't have very high budgets, God knows, yes.
Nadler: Sometimes if you reach just one important person - important in the sense of having the authority and the ability to make decisions - and if you can affect that decision, what's the difference if you haven't reached five or ten-thousand others?
A few black propagandists worried about the morality of what they were doing, especially the journalists. Was it right for the government to do so much lying? Betty Macintosh went into World War II a reporter. She came out to a career in the CIA.
Macintosh: I cringe at some of the things I've written for MO (Morale Operations) that were just beautiful, they were so untrue.
Clandestine radio stations closed down after the World War II, but soon fired up again in other countries, with other voices. The CIA made extensive use of black radio propaganda during the Cold War. So did the Soviet KGB. U.S. government reports show that covert radio stations are still being used around the world. As one study put it, "Wherever authoritarian regimes, political conflict or civil wars exist, there is black radio."
Battles of Belief was produced by me, Stephen Smith, with help from Baris Gummus-Dawes, Professor Lawrence Soley at Marquette University, and Elizabeth Winter. The program was edited by Mary Beth Kirchner. Mixing help from Craig Thorsen. The ARW team includes Sasha Aslanian, Laurie Stern, Ellen Geuttler, Ochen Kaylan, Katherine Lewis and Courtney Stein. At American Public Media, John Ryan and Twyla Olson. Our program on the radio war was first broadcast in 1995.
There's great material on World War II at our web site, AmericanRadioWorks.org. You can hear propaganda broadcasts from the era, see photos and films about the starvation experiment, and a lot more. You can also sign up for our podcast and newsletter. That's all at AmericanRadioWorks.org.
Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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