Penn State Harrisburg

Kupfer book explores new aspects of World War II

"Indomitable Will: Turning Defeat into Victory from Pearl Harbor to Midway," by Charles Kupfer

"Indomitable Will: Turning Defeat into Victory from Pearl Harbor to Midway," by Charles Kupfer

When Charlie Kupfer , associate professor of American studies and history, began research for his second book, “Indomitable Will: Turning Defeat into Victory from Pearl Harbor to Midway,” he sometimes felt like a time traveler.

A former reporter, Kupfer, of Camp Hill, spent hundreds of hours over the course of years at the National Archives and the Library of Congress listening to full radio news broadcasts of World War II, from CBS, NBC, and the now defunct Mutual Broadcasting System.  

“I love the idea that news is the first draft of history,” he says, “but I did get lost in time. Because the format of radio news in the late 1930s and early 1940s was exactly as it is today, when I'd get in the car and drive along the D.C. beltway, listening to my car radio, I'd say to myself, ‘Who cares about this story? They should be talking about the Japanese landings at Lingayen Gulf!’"

Kupfer analyzed the broadcasts and also newspaper reports from the era, assessing themes from communications, historical, and cultural perspectives.  His goal with this approach – a new one in the study of World War II – was to try to determine why Americans viewed the war as a victorious march from beginning to end, when, in fact, the first six months after Pearl Harbor were ones of military defeat and bad news. 

“Indomitable Will” explains why Americans remained steadfast in their belief that the war would end in victory and lays out what Kupfer calls the “big ideas” that helped steel U. S. resolve.  Among these were the importance of a robust Navy and the deepening alliance between the U.S. and Great Britain.

"The so-called Special Relationship was real, and was indeed special, but worked because it rested on something stronger than strategic considerations,” said Kupfer. “The foundation was cultural -- Americans and British people were reading each other's literature, listening to each other's music, and getting to know each other as cultural cousins."

From his research, Kupfer gained new respect for war era news coverage and appreciation for the connectedness engendered by radio that made it the social media of its time.

“Media coverage was so open, despite some controls being in place,” he said. “I was astonished by the scope, depth and quality of the media analysis in the forties and amazed at how plugged in people were then thanks to radio, which was instantaneous,” he said. “It was like an action movie, with people listening live on their radios.

“We are flattering ourselves unduly when we think that we're the first 'connected generation.'  The people then felt themselves connected to events by coverage that was immediate, accurate, and frequently dazzling. A person in small-town Texas or New York City knew that the sounds they heard in the background when Edward R. Murrow broadcast from a London rooftop were the sounds of British and German aerial combat, happening at that very moment. And all Americans listened to the same broadcasters, so they had common listening experiences which they knew were shared, and which were discussed broadly in the culture.”

“Indomitable Will: Turning Defeat into Victory from Pearl Harbor to Midway” is published by Continuum International Publishing Group, now a part of Bloomsbury Publishing.