Daily Iowan Republishes 1943 ‘War is Atrocity’ Column 70 Years After It First Ran

This just in: 1,800 American soldiers have been killed overseas in an attack on their aircraft carrier during a major war. Simultaneously, closer to home, the bodies of two prominent students have been discovered in a motel room near campus, circumstances as yet unknown and certainly mysterious. You’re on deadline. What’s your lead story?

It is one of the many decisions Jim Zabel faced during his stint as editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa during the 1942-1943 academic year.***

In an appreciation column run yesterday to mark Zabel’s recent passing, current DI sports editor Cody Goodwin praises Zabel’s journalism acumen in the face of such predicaments, his wit, and his writing prowess. The latter has earned Zabel (also a famed Iowa radio and television broadcaster) a rare feat within collegemediatopia: the republication of one of his columns.


First run in late 1943, “War is Atrocity” argues there is no true honor in warfare, regardless of which side of the fight you support. As he writes, “The trouble is that we like to think the enemy is throwing all the foul blows, while we ourselves are throwing none, but battlefield tactics in any war (especially in individual fighting) are made up almost entirely of foul blows. They are the ones that win battles. . . . There are really no atrocities in war. War itself is atrocity.”

As Goodwin tells it, it is actually the second time Zabel’s “Atrocity” has been re-run in the DI.  Goodwin: “On May 24, 1971, Zabel received a letter from Clarence G. Strub of the UI Department of Anatomy. In it, Strub wrote that Zabel’s [‘War is Atrocity’] column from Dec. 9, 1943, was ‘one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever read.’ Strub sent the piece to the DI a few days earlier, suggesting that the current staff learn to write that well. The editorial ran, in its entirety and originality, in the paper on May 22, 1971. And here he is, again, back in the DI after nearly 70 years.”

*** Zabel went with the local news. In Goodwin’s words, “It was a decision that sparked plenty of reaction– his publisher, Fred Pownall, wasn’t too thrilled with Zabel’s decision. But Zabel knew that a big local story took precedence over a national story. He knew it was the right thing to do.”


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