Drifting on the Airwaves; or, Getting Carried Away by The Pacific Story

There was no getting through it today, neither for the sun, nor for my eyes. A shroud of mist enveloped our cottage, obscuring the views of the hills and valleys beyond the hedge. With nothing in sight—and certainly no end—I just closed my eyes and drifted off again, sleeping the morning if not the mist away. On a day like this, when you just want to get away from it all, the Internet Archives are your best agency for escape. True, with our trip to Prague in the offing, and the sounds and sights of Budapest and New York still readily retrievable from the ever deepening recesses of my mind, I am not exactly pining for a virtual getaway. It is the thrill of taking in something new that keeps me turning and returning to those wonderful Archives, filled as they are with rare recordings waiting to be explored.

One such recent discovery is The Pacific Story, a series of broadcasts that was part of NBC’s Inter-American University of the Air and, according to On the Air, John Dunning’s still indispensable encyclopedia of old-time radio, was heard over NBC stations from 1943 to 1947. The program introducing American listeners at home to the theaters of war and the people of faraway countries and continents, from Luzon to Japan, from China to Australia.

Among the authorities on the Far East featured in the series was the aforementioned Pearl S. Buck. Unfortunately, Ms. Buck’s remarks the life of Sun Yat-Sen, heard on the 3 Mary 1944 broadcast, have not been preserved; but I am working myself through the recordings in hopes of coming across other such notable literary commentators.

On this day, 5 September, in 1943, The Pacific Story put India in a nutshell, wrapping up its history “from Clive to Ghandi.” The dramatic portion of the program, followed by an academic essay on the state and future of India, opens in medias res: a duel between Clive and a subaltern, fought over losses at a card game. Clive, those attending the duel remind each other, had tried to commit suicide more than once, but had proved a poor shot, as his pistol misfired. Once again, his gun goes off; once again, Clive misfires, missing his opponent. “This,” the narrator sums up, “was Robert Clive, the English clerk, destined to become Lord Robert Clive, founder of the British Indian Empire.”

Hardly the portrait of a hero, “India: From Clive to Ghandi” places the British in a long line of invaders, from Alexander the Great and the Muslims to the establishment of the Mughal Empire. The increasing power of the British over all of India, the story continues, led to the formation of the Indian Nationalist Movement in which Ghandi emerged as a leader.

“Today,” narrator Gayne Whitman reminded the listeners, “both Ghandi and Nehru are in jail because of their call for passive rebellion against Britain.” And yet, the broadcast concluded, only an independent, emancipated India, defending itself, could effectively combat the Japanese. This argument against imperialism is quite remarkable, considering that the US was closely allied with Britain in the war against Japan, with the designs and dangers of which The Pacific Story was then chiefly concerned.

All the while, as I made my tortuous passage to India in this overloaded vehicle of a public service broadcast, I kept returning to Wales, to a spot I had revisited earlier this year. There, in the former billiard room of Powis Castle (pictured above), the horded riches of Lord Clive—Indian treasures that brought on suspicion, public inquiry and, perhaps, the ultimate suicide of this man—have been on public display since 1987.

Getting your mind to drift on the airwaves sure can get you places, even if it makes it difficult at times to get through a single broadcast . . .

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