Robert B. Davies. Baldwin of the "Times": Hanson W. Baldwin, a Military Journalist's Life, 1903-1991. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011. x + 399 pp. $32.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61251-048-4.
Reviewed by Donald Shaw (UNC Chapel Hill, School of Journalism and Mass Communication)
Published on H-War (July, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Shaw on Davies
I once knew a Georgia member of the National Guard who knew Jimmy Carter when Carter was governor of Georgia and I asked him if the public Carter--moral and upright--was different from the private Carter. No, he said, and the same could be said about Hansen W. Baldwin, the first and long-time military editor of the New York Times. As a journalist, Baldwin, who began his journalism career in Baltimore, where his father was a prominent journalist, soon shifted to the Times. Like Carter, Baldwin, a graduate from Annapolis, gave up a Navy career. By the end of the 1930s, Baldwin had become the military editor and covered military conflicts from World War II through the Vietnam War. Born in 1903, Baldwin died in 1991. That was millions of words later.
Robert Davies has written a marvelous book about Baldwin from the point of view of historical method. Davies consulted the correspondence of Baldwin, such as it was, with editors, publishers, and reporters at the Times, as well as reading Baldwin’s Times articles and many articles published in a variety of magazines. Baldwin corresponded with military and political leaders and he knew many of them personally. Many became major sources. Davies considered all of these sources, sifted through them, and then put together a flowing narrative. Davies is an impressive historian.
The narrative captures Baldwin in his early days as a reporter, his hard work and desire to tell the truth, a lesson Baldwin learned from his father, even if it took careful weighing of multiple sources. Even if it meant delaying publication to make sure everything was right. Baldwin’s conception of journalism reminds one of Joseph Pulitzer’s assertions earlier in the century that journalism, like law and medicine, is a public trust. Those interested in military history especially will enjoy this trek through the reporting about the threatened, then suddenly explosive World War II, with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Readers will remember that we asked, could we have seen it coming?
And readers will revisit the reporting on the Allied landings in North Africa--where Rommel was waiting--and on Italy, and finally on the landings on D-Day in 1944. Of course we also will follow the struggles of the U.S. Marines and Army and Navy in the island-hopping strategy of the South Pacific. We also will learn how Baldwin, the journalist, had to deal with censors and with concerns, now and then, from his own editors and publisher. Baldwin could be hard-headed. Baldwin was not an angel.
Then there was Korea and Vietnam. By then his publisher had changed and Hansen was older and, as he aged and times evolved, not quite in position to have his work published without younger editors reviewing and sometimes changing copy. Many of us remember the Vietnam War. Baldwin favored the effort to expand the war, views that surfaced in internal newspaper memos perhaps more than in his copy, and generally thought, as most reporters do, of himself as a citizen first, journalist second. Baldwin was particularly offended by what he regarded as over-control of information by the Kennedy administration, and Baldwin, like many others at the time, regarded Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and his helpers, as arrogant. You did not have to be in the military to draw that conclusion but Baldwin was a journalist with deep military sympathies, sympathies reinforced in him at Annapolis, not that he wasn't critical of military leadership at times. At any rate, in the chapters that cover the recent wars, author Davies particular allows readers to peek at the onstage and backstage forces that shape daily journalism.
There can be no doubt that Baldwin was--what shall we say?--socially conservative. In later magazine pieces, he deplored a decline in public morality (with the growing use of drugs) and military discipline, as Admiral Elmo Zumwalt relaxed dress and hair styles in the Navy. As for women in the Naval Academy, “Ye Gods!” he wrote to a retired Marine general. There is a dignified, formal quality to his stories, from beginning to end. Baldwin valued journalism deeply. Davies captures all this, but it is difficult to obtain a really personal picture of Baldwin until the final pages It turns out that Baldwin is a devoted family man, loves his children and grandchildren, and they him. He remains interested in life and vital to the end, with his wife, Helen, dying just a few years after him. One suspects a romantic somewhere beneath the formality. Baldwin quoted a Swinburne poem to a friend who had just lost her father: “That even the weariest river / Winds somewhere safe to sea.” Davies concludes that Baldwin “believed that a journalist must be a loyal citizen first and a reporter second” (p. 318). For Baldwin, Davies observes, the love his family provided was “a safe harbor from the cold winds of change” (p. 319). That is not far from Swinburne.
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Donald Shaw. Review of Davies, Robert B., Baldwin of the "Times": Hanson W. Baldwin, a Military Journalist's Life, 1903-1991.
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