Macon native’s new book explores father’s war dispatches

pramati@macon.comSeptember 27, 2009 

When Anthony Weller was in the process of researching his second book about his father’s correspondences during World War II, he noted how much of a difference there was between the reporters of his father’s era and those covering wars today.

Weller, who grew up in Macon until he left for boarding school at age 13, edited hundreds of articles written by his father, George Weller, for a new book called “Weller’s War.” It was published by Crown Publishing Group this year.

It’s the second book the younger Weller has edited based on his father’s articles during World War II. The earlier book, “First Into Nagasaki,” came out in 2006 and detailed George Weller’s stint in that city as the first Westerner there after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

“He snuck in there pretending to be an American colonel,” Anthony Weller said. “He sent out a lot of dispatches from the bombed city and the POW camps. A lot of his stuff was censored by (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur, so it was a big deal to find this stuff out.”

George Weller was a much-respected reporter back in his day. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1943, and the late Walter Cronkite wrote that Weller was “not only one of our best correspondents, but he had that quality that imbued his copy with lasting importance.

He wrote in the present tense but always with the recognition that he was writing the history of his time.”

Much of his work during the war — he was the only American correspondent to send stories from the capital cities of all three Axis powers — was censored by Allied army personnel.

“It was a big revelation looking at all this,” said Anthony Weller, who worked as a magazine writer before becoming a full-time novelist. “People don’t realize the version of World War II they got was the version that got through the censors. What they crossed out was not because of military security — people like my father knew not to give away any big secrets like that — but because of politics.”

Most of the material in “Weller’s War” was written for The Chicago Daily News, said the younger Weller, who spent about a year putting the book together.

The book begins with George Weller’s life in Europe as a struggling novelist at the beginning of the war. At one point, he was captured by the Nazis and traded for a German journalist. It then follows Weller through Africa and Singapore before ending in Japan.

Though George Weller often talked about his experiences with his son before he died in 2002, the stories didn’t have a lot of detail. Anthony Weller discovered many of his father’s dispatches while going through his papers after he died.

“He certainly didn’t have his material organized in any way,” he said.

But he quickly grew fascinated by the writings he was sorting.

“You could see this guy was a very good writer,” he said. “You see his style change as his experience grew. It was very interesting to me as a writer. After five years of war, he was a very different man.”

Anthony Weller sees quite a few differences in how wars are covered today compared with how reporters like his father worked.

For one thing, rather than censoring dispatches, the military will simply limit access to sensitive areas in a war zone, Weller said.

He also doesn’t believe Americans today are as sophisticated as they were during World War II.

“Americans are a little more innocent,” he said. “They aren’t as political, they are not well-traveled. They don’t know what questions to ask. The media now, they’re now flattered at being invited to the show. The media today is pretty weak — the level of journalism back then was a lot higher. (Today’s reporters) are not very aggressive with the interrogation part.”

Weller also thinks the struggles of the newspaper industry have hurt war coverage. Where once newspapers across the country had foreign correspondents all over the world, few of them do now.

“It’s kind of a tragic time” for newspapers, he said. “The position of foreign correspondent has been lost. It’s just too bad.”

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