During historical moments, global conflicts cause extreme and indelible impacts on even the most minute scales, which has certainly been true for the University community in times of war. Often, the rapid changes are encapsulated by the reporting of the era. A hunt through The Wesleyan Argus archives demonstrates some of the ways in which campus culture, and by extension, campus reporting, has been impacted by the rise of conflicts around the globe—most markedly in two moments within World War I and World War II.
Reporting in The Later Years of World War I
On Nov. 11, 1918, the Armistice (the agreement which brought World War I to an end) was signed in a small French village, marking the formal victory of the Allies and Germany’s official defeat. Most of America’s involvement in the war took place during 1917, and as such was fresh on the mind of students in 1918 and 1919. This is reflected in The Argus’ reporting from that time.
“Please Help,” reads the title of one short piece from the Jan. 13 issue of 1919, the first of that year. As is the case with many articles dating from the late 19th century, the article is short, and regularly refers to The Argus’s own reporting, speaking as a mouthpiece for editors and the way they aim to run the paper. The article makes a declaration that The Argus intends to increase the number of pieces about World War I—though then only known as “The War”—in upcoming issues. The article came at a time of light reporting for The Argus—the regular bi-weekly mode of publishing having been suspended due to lack of students and funds.
“For the remainder of the year,” the article reads, “partly because news is slack, but more especially for a matter of record, it will be the policy of the Argus to gather as many articles pertaining to Wesleyan and the war as it can gather in. It would be a mistake, in our effort to return to normal conditions, to forget the immeasurably greater things that have just gone by, and to neglect the broadening possibilities connected with any discussion of the war.”
On the adjacent page, an advertisement reads, “THE ARGUS is desirous of printing any interesting news of WESLEYAN AND THE WAR. If you have letters from men in service, or other information that you are willing to have published, please communicate with H. B. CHALLELL, Managing Editor, Eclectic House.”
In future issues, more articles related to the Great War begin to crop up. Front-page titles include “Another Wesleyan Man Decorated in France,” and “Dean Nicolson Held Important War Post.” Many ensuing pieces were profiles of members of the Wesleyan community who played roles in the war effort, demonstrating The Argus’ endeavor to highlight University involvement.
True to their word, The Argus also published letters from servicemen.
“The Argus is glad to print the following letter from Wesley O. Ash ’17, who is with the American army of the occupation. Ash won the Croix de Guerre for conspicuous bravery near St. Quentin in October,” The Argus reported in the Jan. 16 issue of 1919.
As time goes on, the articles began to wane. “Curriculum Clubs to Resume Pre-War Basis,” reads the title of one in the Jan. 27 issue of 1919—after this article, little mention was made of the war in major headlines. In addition to the student curriculum, reporting returned to its pre-war basis around this time, too.
Reporting After Pearl Harbor
Though World War II was already raging, America’s involvement in the war began officially on Dec. 8, 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the day before. America, as a result, went into a bit of a tailspin, which certainly did not exclude the University.
The front page of the Dec. 8 issue of The Argus contained several articles pertaining to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Each one, in its own way, tied the bombing back to the Wesleyan community. “Wesleyan Students to Go to Washington,” reads one article, noting that three University students, upon hearing news of an attack, immediately made plans to fly to the capital. Another, titled “Wesleyan Senior Lives in Area Being Bombed by Japanese,” reported on a student from Honolulu named Peter E. Russell, who gives a description of his understanding of the military situation within Honolulu.
“I just can’t understand it,” he was quoted as saying, in reference to the attack.
The most remarkable article from this date was titled “Brains and Bullets…” and commented on Wesleyan’s role in the war, encouraging students that it is their responsibility to get involved. No authors are mentioned.
“The normally well-ordered life of the average college man has in one day been thrown askew,” the article reads. “Their foremost problem now is to find the way each can best serve his country in her period of trial. College men with the advantage of education will be expected to fill positions of leadership in the present crisis. Brains as well as bullets are now at a premium in our all-out fight against aggression. Factors permitting, it is the responsibility of each college man to his country to continue and complete his college education that he may develop his capabilities to best serve his country.”
The following issues continued to report on this attack. The Dec. 11 issue of 1941 included an article that contained the “denouncements of Japan” from a multitude of colleges via their student newspapers—referencing the Amherst Student, the Yale Daily News, and the Daily Princetonian, among others.
The Argus also reported on the immediate effect this attack had on the administration’s attempts to protect against “sabotage” and “air attacks.” An article in the Dec. 15 issue of The Argus included the front-page article, “Physical Education Department to Sponsor Emergency Corps,” which described this phenomenon.
“The purpose of the Wesleyan Emergency Service will be to provide assistance by organized groups of men in enforcing black-outs, combatting fires, sabotage, floods, or acts inimical to national defense in Middletown, and to provide whatever service is required in the safety and welfare of Wesleyan University and the surrounding community,” the article reads.
As time went on, the following issues made less mention of the necessity of Wesleyan student participation in the war. WWII raged around the university, but Argus reporting begins to focus on sports and preparation for prom, allowing a sense of mundanity to return to a hectic time.