National Geographic : 1942 Nov
Winged Words-New Weapon of War BY F. BARROWS COLTON W ILL a man risk his life to hear the words I'm writing?" This sign in a New York short-wave radio station stares as a constant reminder at writers of news broadcasts to be sent to German-occupied Europe (page 670). In the heat and dust of the battle of Libia, British officers hear, over their field radios, the voice of German Field Marshal Rommel himself, radioing orders in person across miles of desert to his speeding front-line tanks. Nothing could show better how radio has utterly revolutionized war. It has made words into weapons as vital as bullets and bombs. Modern war, it almost could be said, is fought at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per sec ond, for that is the terrific pace at which words travel on the lightning wings of radio waves. Words play a double role in today's war. They spread ideas, which can be more potent than bullets, and they rush commands or in formation, which may win or lose a tank bat tle, air fight, or naval clash within a few minutes in this high-speed conflict. Guns cease firing now and then, and soldiers take time to sleep, but the War of Words never stops. It shouts and chatters all around the globe, not only over the fighting fronts of Russia, Africa, and the Pacific, but over Tibet, South America, and the Far North, where physical battles are still remote. Voices of the War of Words Tune in on it at random, and you'll hear a babel of millions of words, in every lan guage; voices of men, women, and children, and the shrill, insistent "dit, dit, dah, dah, dit" of countless messages in code. Listen to the voices of the War of Words: "Command post to Third Tank Company. Attack machine guns 1,000 yards north." "Hello, China. This is An-lin Wang, speak ing from Boston, U. S. A., bringing the greet ings of Wellesley College to China and Mad ame Chiang Kai-shek . "SSS. A submarine is shelling us . . ." "How is Pufflow, Mummy? There's a dog here in America just like him .. ." A missionary in remote Tibet writes to a San Francisco short-wave station: "We can hear your broadcast very plainly each evening . . . We are almost directly on the other side of the Northern Hemisphere . . ." In Norway a girl crouches beside a hidden radio and thrills to a voice in Boston relaying a message from her sweetheart somewhere at sea. "Tell Laura in Oslo that Ola is well." Actual bombing of Manila is heard by arm chair listeners in the United States, 9,000 miles away. Crew of an American aircraft carrier,* 150 miles from where their planes are fighting Japs, hear plainly by radio the shouts of their dive bomber pilots in action: "Looks like the battle ship blew up. Put 'em all smack on the button! Good hit! Good hit! "t Not only through the air but along the ground and under the sea the War of Words rattles on. Visualize the vast spider web of wires and cables that covers the earth like a net around a pumpkin. You can fairly hear it hum with the word traffic of war. A man in Seattle telephones Washington: "We've got to have more aluminum to step up production of Flying Fortresses." In London an American reporter types: "Bulletin . . . One thousand British bombers last night flattened the industrial district of Bremen. .. ." In ten minutes it's through the censor and ticking out on the teletype in New York, 3,400 miles away. How different from the exhausted runner who brought the news of Marathon! On a lonely hilltop near the coast a chilly civilian watcher jumps suddenly to a tele phone. "Army flash!" "Army. Go ahead." "Flash! Many planes. Bimotor. Very high. Bound in. Overhead." The air-raid warning network is in action. Orders leap along more telephone wires. Anti aircraft gun crews race to stations. Fighter pilots dash to planes and take the air to meet the enemy bombers. Air-raid sirens howl in near-by cities. Lights go out. Thanks to the world's greatest telephone network, reach ing to America's remotest corners, we have a highly efficient air-raid warning system all along our shores (page 672). Deliberate Jamming Rare Short-wave radio is so important that na tions on both sides in the present war are usu ally careful to use only the wave lengths that were assigned to them by international agree ment years ago. Should two nations use the same wave length at the same time, they would "jam" each other. Deliberate jamming of an enemy station is done much less than is generally believed, radio people say. Much so-called "jamming" is mere static. * See "The New Queen of the Seas" (Aircraft Carrier), by Melville Bell Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEO GRAPIIC MAGAZINE. July, 1942. t By permission of United Press.