When the US entered World War II, Steinbeck had been involved in writing anti-fascist propaganda for some time. He was keen to secure a commission as an intelligence officer in the armed forces, but this didn't eventuate. Steinbeck then spent time trying to get himself appointed as a war correspondent. In April 1943, the New York Herald Tribune offered to hire him if he could obtain the necessary security clearances. Doing so was not as easy as it should have been, as some people interviewed by Army Counterintelligence described Steinbeck as a dangerous radical. According to Steinbeck's biographer, Jay Parini, a right wing group known as the American Legion Radical Research Bureau had compiled what it considered to be damaging information about Steinbeck, specifically that he had contributed articles to several "red" publications. If Steinbeck was aware of what was being said about him at the time, it must have been particularly galling, given his commitment to supporting the US government and given the fact that his personal politics had never been further to the left than New Deal Democrat.
In any event, Steinbeck obtained clearance to work as a war correspondent and travelled to England on a troop ship in June 1943. He spent almost five months in England and then in Europe, reporting from England, North Africa and Italy. This is a collection of Steinbeck's dispatches from that period, first published in 1958. In the introduction, Steinbeck describes the attitude of experienced war correspondents to his arrival on the scene:
To this hard-bitten bunch of professionals I arrived as a Johnny-come-lately, a sacred cow, a kind of tourist. I think they felt I was muscling in on their hard-gained territory. When, however, they found that I was not duplicating their work, was not reporting straight news, they were very kind to me and went out of their way to help me and to instruct me in the things I didn't know.
Some of Steinbeck's dispatches are quirky observations, some are very funny, some are intensely moving. There is a certain uneveness in the quality of the writing, with some pieces much better written and more interesting than others. Among the best of the pieces is a tribute to Bob Hope in his role as an entertainer of troops and a very funny story about American soldiers collecting souvenirs. However, the most poignant and powerful pieces are those which deal with the allied invasion of Italy. It is in writing about this event that Steinbeck's unsentimental but poetic writing really shines.
In an interview with Jay Parini, Gore Vidal said this about Steinbeck:
The truth is that Steinbeck was really a journalist at heart. All of his best work was journalism in that it was inspired by daily events, by current circumstances. He didn't "invent" things. He "found" them. (See [b:John Steinbeck: A Biography|1993824|John Steinbeck A Biography|Jay Parini|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347771579s/1993824.jpg|1997548] page 331)..
This work provides sound evidence of the correctness of Vidal's opinion.