Baldwin of the Times: Hanson W. Baldwin, A Military Journalist’s Life, 1903-1991 by Robert Davies. Published by Naval Institute Press, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland. 416 pages, 2011.
Hanson Baldwin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1924, and became a naval reserve officer after serving several years on active duty. He would leverage his understanding of the U.S. Navy and the military generally to become a pioneering journalist in military affairs. Robert Davies is an academic and historian who taught Minnesota State University-Morehead for three decades has published a fine biography of this fascinating American. While Ernie Pyle reported on the soldiers in the field, Baldwin gave us strategic analysis for the New York Times. Today we would call him a national security correspondent.
Baldwin’s biography is a lesson into the difficulty senior naval officers had with the concept of public affairs and the importance of telling the Navy’s story, readers will learn the regrettable incident where Baldwin had to choose between being a naval reserve officer and his profession as a journalist. In a December 1930 edition of U.S. Naval Institute, Proceedings, Baldwin published an article on ways to remedy the hostile feelings between journalists and the U.S. Navy, he recommended a public relations officer be appointed to the Navy’s thirteen districts to provide press releases on a consistent basis, and that port calls for warships be transformed into media events.
Baldwin would be posted to Europe, Russia, North Africa and the Pacific during World War II, his articles and assessments were not always right but they followed a strategic logic. For instance he overestimated the abilities of France. Poland, Belgium and Holland to delay a German invasion, however he correctly reported that England and the British Army specifically was not prepared for war.
The New York Times would criticize Baldwin for adding his analytic assessments to reporting, not sure if this was news or what would be in an op-ed section. In Asia, he reported to Americans that we are losing the Philippines, and disagreed such candid reporting would be demoralizing to his fellow Americans.
What is extraordinary about Baldwin is that he provided strategic insight and military analysis through the Cold War to include the Korean War, Vietnam, and towards the end of his life was advocate for a balance of national defense but not to the point of bankrupting the nation. This is an excellent biography of a journalist who shaped our nation’s defense. He would win the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the lead up to World War II.
Editor’s Note: Commander Aboul-Enein is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” and a new book “Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr. Ali al-Wardi from the Ottomans to King Feisal,” both published by Naval Institute Press. He maintains a regular book review column in NDW Waterline.