Weller’s War: A Legendary Foreign Correspondent’s Saga of World War II on Five Continents
By George Weller. 633 pp. Crown Publishers, 2009 $29.95
Though he won a Pulitzer Prize for his World War II reporting, George Weller of the Chicago Daily News is not well remembered today. Reading this book reminds us that fame is so very dependent on place and moment, sometimes more than quality. For whatever reasons, Weller was not in Normandy at D-Day or on Okinawa, and that made a difference to fame, though his writing is every bit as good as Ernie Pyle’s in Brave Men, for which Pyle is renowned even today. Weller’s War, a collection of George Weller’s wartime dispatches edited by his son Anthony Weller, demonstrates the same vivacity, concern for the common men and women of the war, and sense of importance that made Pyle’s reputation.
Whether due to the assignments desk or the accreditation bureaus, George Weller’s wartime itinerary went from the Balkans at the time when Germany extended its Axis to Romania, to the 1941 fall of Greece, to Africa, then Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the South Pacific. He was back in Greece for its 1944 liberation, and then on to the China-Burma-India action. Weller finished the war in Japan where he supplied some of the earliest reporting on Hiroshima (and radiation sickness).
Weller’s reporting not only made events come alive but conveyed a sense of strategy, politics, and higher level interests—characteristic of writers like Hanson Baldwin—that is lacking in much of the frontline journalism of that era, Pyle’s included.
Anthony Weller has collected a significant portion of his father’s daily reporting, some of the longer magazine pieces, and excerpts from George’s wartime books to convey a fine sense of events as they were unfolding across five continents. The son’s commentaries and introductions also supply good context for the selections that he has included.
George Weller’s contributions illuminate some interesting events, including some of historical significance on a grand scale and others that may be more obscure but have also been largely ignored. In some of these places, Weller was the only correspondent. In most, he numbered one of a few. Dispatches from Greece during the German invasion of that country are moving. His articles on the German airborne invasion of Crete, particularly Weller’s retrospective a year later, are an insightful combination of eyewitness reporting and quasi-historical observation. Weller returned to Greece for its liberation by the British in 1944, completing that circle nicely.
There is no other account I am aware of on the Belgian invasion of Italian-occupied Ethiopia. And there is coverage of French Africa and Gen. Charles de Gaulle that is important to French colonial policy. Weller’s reporting on the fall of Singapore is exceptionally good.
On the desperate defense of the Dutch East Indies, where Weller was among very few observers to have reported for the public, he is indispensable. Some of the dispatches reflect what commanders wanted the public to think—which is illuminating—and some the reflections of participants, which is even more valuable. Priceless is Weller’s article on the Dutch effort to demolish the naval base at Surabaya before retreating. The collection includes substantial swaths of George Weller’s articles from Australia, then on to the New Guinea campaign during 1943, with interesting comments on Gen. Douglas MacArthur. An article on the battle of Savo Island, which must reflect what South Pacific commanders wanted to be known, is interesting for that very reason. At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is Weller’s writing on Hiroshima. All in all, Weller’s War recovers a lost perspective on some important facets of World War II.
Originally published in the Summer 2009 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.