December 1942 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Having spent a lot of my
career working for defense electronics companies in classified programs, I am
somewhat torn between sympathizing with Hugo Gernsback from his perspective
as editor of Radio-Craft and what I know is a valid reason for guarding
certain technological information for the sake of military advantage. It is
often the case that people who have had no exposure to the 'black' side of industry
cannot appreciate the need for it. Their argument postulates that suppressing
knowledge does more harm than good because an opportunity for more people to
gain from breakthroughs will result in more rapid advancement in technology.
While that is true, the downside is that the enemy rarely feels obliged to reciprocate
in the same manner, and will exploit your generosity. This article was a year
after Japan's merciless attack on
Pearl Harbor, where hundreds of American sailors were brutally
killed on a lazy Sunday morning prior to war having been declared. If only the
Imperial Japanese Navy had felt compelled to share their unconventional
surprise attack tactic with us on December 6, 1941, maybe we would have felt
more inclined to reveal our secrets.
Censorship vs. Radio Progress
By the Editor - Hugo Gernsback
... "Let' s not have any more of this nonsense." ... Wendell Willkie
One of the greatest anomalies during modern war is the fact that technical
progress is both advanced and retarded. Strange as the statement may sound,
it is perfectly true and logical, as the following consideration readily shows.
During war time, any progress that has to do with the implements of war and
all that goes with it, advances sharply. Developments which normally take decades
to achieve, are often compressed into a few months. In war - and particularly
in modern, technical war - speed is the paramount factor. At the same time,
technical progress, by which war does not benefit, is slowed up and frequently
disappears altogether. As our esteemed contemporary, the London Wireless
World, puts it "War as a tendency to drive radio progress underground."
No one can find any fault whatsoever that technical progress for war purposes
is paramount and that all efforts of all technicians should be bent on concentrating
on it. Once the war is won, peace may well take care of itself; so what matters
it if a little time is lost in shifting back from the war to the peace effort?
We are, however, very much concerned with censorship which not only drives
future peace-time radio progress underground, but also makes it almost impossible
for students and others who are just getting started in their technical profession
to obtain necessary and often vital information through the press, whether it
is a newspaper, weekly or technical magazine.
We have viewed with growing concern for some time the wholly unintelligent
and often downright stupid censorship in our own country when it comes to dealing
with technical problems. Normally, the censor is not a technician, he knows
little or nothing about technical matters and cannot usually distinguish between
what is antique, and what is so new that it might be of benefit to the enemy.
The technical press is particularly irritated no end with the heavy restraint
put upon it; and it becomes most difficult to publish worthwhile technical magazines
at all in the United States today. A magazine of standing cannot forever rehash
old matter or print only such irrelevant material that no reader with any intelligence
wishes to read. Every editor knows that really new inventions, for the most
part, are taboo. The large manufacturing organizations and research laboratories
have little worthwhile news to give out today, because they themselves are under
a strict censorship. In consequence the technical magazines and the daily press
get only a pitifully small amount of worthwhile technical information.
The magazine editor when he is not sure about the status of certain information,
is required to submit such material to the censor who often holds it for days
and weeks before releasing it.
To be sure, the entire United States Press today is under voluntary censorship;
and as far as is known, the technical press to date has not violated the self-imposed
trust. Radio magazines, however. appear to be in the most difficult position
these days because there is hardly anything published that does not draw the
immediate. fire of the censors. Radio, admittedly, is one of the major implements
of war, which is one reason that the censor views everything published by the
radio press with suspicion and often alarm.
I doubt if there is a single technical editor or publisher in the United
States who does not know the difference between military radio and peace-time
radio. Admittedly, a radio receiver can be used for both peace and war, but
this is begging the question because, after all, we are concerned only with
what a potential enemy can use against us, if we made the invention first and,
he finding out about it, then turned it against us.
The important point is that technical editors know their business and know
exactly how far they can go. The reason is simple: no technical editor worth
his salt would long be an editor unless he was internationally minded. Year
in and year out, exchange magazine and technical papers in every language flow
over his desk. He therefore has a very accurate idea what the enemy already
knows and what he doesn't know. Technical progress in such things anyway is
usually pretty much an evolutionary and well-ordered process. Radio principles
are the same all over the world. Admittedly, there are refinements; admittedly
there are also sharp radio advances during war time for war purposes only. These,
every editor knows through grapevine channels and he is careful not to publish
such information; certainly when it does come to a supposedly revolutionary
radio invention, he would be the last one to print it.
But when different censors have different ideas of U. S. censorship and often
put publishers to great expense for no sensible reason, this then becomes vicious
censorship; and, using Wendell Willkie's words on the subject - and we fully
agree with him when he says - "Let's not have any more of this nonsense." For,
mind you, there is not just one censor to whom a radio editor, for instance,
can go; there is an Army censor, a Navy censor and an Air Corps censor. There
is also a general censor and, on top of this, we have an "export" censor.
If these various and assorted censors would concern themselves with new military
developments, we would be the last to take issue with them; but when such a
censor invokes his ban on ancient material, then such censorship becomes ridiculous.
An example. The November issue of Radio-Craft was two weeks late because
a censor in one of the departments of our armed forces insisted upon killing
a certain story and a cover picture, after the complete cover for the entire
issue of Radio-Craft had been printed, thus creating a great monetary loss to
the publisher. And what was the offensive picture and article? A radio device
well known to every country all over the world. A device several years old which
had been done to death, in the radio and technical press in practically every
radio and other technical magazine throughout the entire world. An article on
this subject numbering several pages ran in 1941 in the Saturday Evening Post,
which has a circulation of over three million copies a week. The offending picture,
incidentally, also ran in the New York Times in August of this year. All of
this, however, did not deter the censor from insisting that the story must be
killed, even after it had been pointed out that the Nazis and Japanese have
used and are using the identical device. The censor made the weak excuse that
the American device could perhaps be used in "a different manner" than similar
devices, now used by the enemy. This certainly again is underestimating the
technical intelligence of our two major enemies, who in the past have shown
that when it came to radio devices, they certainly could match anything that
Other censors act in this pattern because, as a rule, they do not have the
technical training required to distinguish between what is new and what is ancient.
Magazines of the type of Radio-Craft, as is well known, are read closely in
all foreign countries. Most first-class radio magazines have a good-sized foreign
subscription list. This brings us to the "export" censor, who knows all this
quite well; yet he has banned Radio-Craft back numbers, going back as far as
1940, despite the fact that such copies have been sent all over the world before
Pearl Harbor. So what happens ? We have a long list of items which we must tear
out of copies of old magazines before they are allowed to be shipped abroad!
For some reason, the same censor seems to have his face set dead against anything
whatsoever with the words "frequency modulation" in it. Yet, if there is one
radio subject on which there has peen published a veritable torrent; not only
here, but abroad, it is the subject of frequency modulation. Once Professor
Edwin H. Armstrong had explained the principles and technical data of frequency
modulation, there was little that anyone could add to it, except routine developments;
consequently, articles which Radio-Craft has been publishing on the subject
cannot in any way be considered revolutionary news. They are merely routine
observations by various writers, servicing information, etc.
The same is the case of television on which no major recent developments
have been made and certainly not much practical information has or can be published
because, for the time being, television, for all purposes, stands still. Nevertheless,
the export censor does not allow certain articles on television to leave the
country either, even if the information is well known in every country the world
Then there is the matter of U. S. patents which are under a particularly
powerful taboo by the censors. Now then, as every one knows, the United States
Patent Gazette publishes all new patents each and every week so anyone interested
in any patent whatsoever can see and read for himself. Wisely, the patent office
often refrains in war times from publishing certain inventions known to have
a war aspect. That leaves the other routine inventions open for the inspection
of all. The export censor may tell you that the Patent Gazette can probably
not be sent abroad, but that is not the point. If an Axis Intelligence operator
sees an invention which he thinks has merit to his country, he will find ways
and means to send it out of the U. S. - censorship or no censorship. The censor
himself knows this well but he will tell you that he must make it as tough as
possible for the enemy so that no information of this type shall leave the country.
All of this is indeed, beside the point, because we doubt that there is anything
printed in the Patent Gazette vital to the enemy; and, for this reason, patent
information printed by a magazine only copies such material from the Patent
Gazette; therefore it can do little harm elsewhere.
We appreciate the fact that perhaps we have not been at war long enough so
that the various censors can distinguish between military and non-military technical
information. The simple remedy seems to lie in a technical censorship board
who intelligently can deal quickly with a technical problem whenever it comes
up; and that is really all that the technical publishers of America desire.
Posted January 19, 2021
(updated from original post on 7/11/2014)