BOOKS

Bad war, good food

GEORGE BAIN December 6 1993
BOOKS

Bad war, good food

GEORGE BAIN December 6 1993

Bad war, good food

BOOKS

THE SOUND OF WAR By Peter Stursberg

(University of Toronto Press, 313 pages, $35)

It was only with the Second World War that radio became a serious news medium. Before then, radio—public and private—took its news mainly from The

Canadian Press wire service, a creation of the country’s newspapers, if it did not steal from the papers directly. Peter Stursberg’s

The Sound of War is the memoir of an actual CBC radio reporter, a rare thing at the time, who went to war carrying a microphone not much smaller than the head of a badminton racket.

After a spell in Britain, where most of the action came from the German side, Stursberg began work as a certified war correspondent with the Allied invasion of Sicily, in July, 1943. The landing was uneventful, but the bugs by night were bad. The bug details are indicative of the personal quality of the The Sound of War. It is a memoir more about the war correspondent than the war, although there are bits of tran-

scripts of broadcasts, which clearly would have been effective on air. He says in his preface that radio was “a new kind of journalism, much more personal and involving, taking one by means of invisible airwaves over vast distances to the very scene of the action, the battleground itself.”

Perhaps. Radio undoubtedly created a bond between reporter and listener that print could not equal. But radio did not convey the sight and smell and feel of war any more graphically than print. Except for the crash of big guns firing on more or less distant targets—the offstage sound effects of war—the listener was still dependent on a narrator to relate what went on. In fact, the print reporter, less encumbered by heavy equipment, may have been able to go where the radio reporter could not.

In the Persian Gulf War, there was much griping by correspondents that the military kept them too far from the fighting. That overlooked the fact that, not a’ ways by restriction but often b_ choice, most correspondents cov ered most wars from headquar-

ters briefings, where the big picture was to be obtained. Stursberg does not pretend that a war correspondent lived a life of undiluted hardship, or that he himself had

no eye for life’s amenities. Soon after the Allied landing in the south of France, he and a colleague found their way to Cannes

where “we made for one of the great hotels, the Martinez.” There, he writes, the manager “insisted on my having what looked like the bridal suite.” The next morning, they departed early—very early—because the manager expected to be paid. “We were not used to paying; we had not paid . . . when Rome was liberated, and we were not going to pay here. In any case, we had no francs.”

And in Rome, he blissfully recalls picnics

A memoir more about the reporter than about the fighting

“on the banks of th Tiber, to which the girls brought basket lunches and bottles of wine; and dances in various villas.” And of the complaisant husbands: “I wrote in my diary that they were a pathetic sight, the Italian

husbands at these parties . . . the victims of conquest while their wives were enjoying being the prizes.” All that, and dish-by-dish accounts in his diary of the great meals he ate along the way. The Sound of War is a good read—but then I have always thought that, too, of the Michelin travel guides.

GEORGE BAIN