BRIDGEPORT, Pa — Although water polo is a relatively new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sport, the history of the game goes back nearly 100 years with players abounding from the founding days of the sport who went onto achieve success both in and out of the water.
Among the early notable players of the game was Hanson Weightman Baldwin, a 1924 graduate of the United States Naval Academy who went on to make his name in news as the long-time military editor for the New York Times and a military historian.
Born to The Baltimore Sun managing editor Oliver Perry and Caroline (Sutton) Baldwin in Baltimore, Maryland on March 22, 1903, he attended the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland in Baltimore and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1924 following a career as a water polo player for the Midshipmen.
After three years of naval service, most of it aboard a destroyer and a battleship, he resigned his commission and began his newspaper career in 1927 as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He joined the New York Times in 1928 and wrote for them for the next forty years. In 1937 he became the paper’s military analyst. That year, he spent four months in Europe reporting on the military preparedness for what was viewed as the coming war. One of his first major stories in 1938 was of the interception of the ocean liner Rex by U.S. B-17 Flying Fortresses, in which he personally participated.
During World War II he wrote from the South Pacific, North Africa and Europe. His dispatches from Guadalcanal and the Western Pacific won him the Pullitzer Prize in 1943. In 1959 he broke the news of high-altitude atomic bomb test by the United States, known as Project Argus. In August 1962, his report on the Soviet Union fortifying its nuclear sites inside concrete bunkers brought about a wire-tapping of his phone and office by the Central Intelligence Agency on the orders of President John F. Kennedy, marking the first time on the record that a president used the CIA to spy on the press.
Besides working for The Times, he lectured and wrote regularly for magazines, scholarly quarterlies and for professional military publications. His papers were given as “The Hanson W. Baldwin Collection” to the George C. Marshall Research Foundation.
He was one of the nation’s leading authorities on military and naval affairs during the postwar transition from conventional warfare to the nuclear age. A tall, slender, courtly man, Mr. Baldwin had a quiet manner that belied his forceful opinions.
In addition to the European and Pacific battles of World War II, Mr. Baldwin covered the strategy, tactics and weapons of war in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and other theaters before retiring from The Times in 1968.
His articles, many marked “military analysis,” were often more than reportorial, blending his own opinions and those of the nation’s military chiefs into the news of specific military situations, so that what emerged was a broader view of strategic considerations and their national and international political implications. Advocate of Nuclear Superiority
Mr. Baldwin was often aligned with Pentagon military chiefs on major strategic issues and budgetary matters. He frequently opposed the “gradualism” of political leaders whose restraints, he felt, stood in the way of battlefield victories or military superiority for the United States.
He contended that the United States was engaged in a “struggle for the world” with an aggressively expansionist Communism, and he was an outspoken advocate of nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union.
At various times, he also advocated the intensification of the Vietnam War to achieve a military victory, and friendship with Spain under Franco and with white-dominated Governments in South Africa and in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, because of what he regarded as their strategic positions.
Generals, admirals, Presidents and members of Congress read his articles, sometimes with respect and sometimes with exasperation. His views occasionally became the focus of news, as they did in 1966 when Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara called a news conference to dispute his contention that the Vietnam War had overextended the armed forces.
The Times itself occasionally disagreed with his opinions. In 1965, for example, he argued in an article in The New York Times Magazine for a stepped-up American military commitment in Vietnam, including one million soldiers and saturation bombing of North Vietnam, to stop the “Communist strategy of creeping aggression” before it swallowed up all of Asia.
In an editorial, The Times said such a policy would be “a surer road to global holocaust than to a ‘victory’ arms can never win for either side.”
Mr. Baldwin’s opinions sometimes drew the wrath of the Soviet Union. Pravda once referred to him as a “cannibal in an American tunic,” and Krokodil, a Soviet satirical magazine, published a cartoon depicting him as a fat little man in an admiral’s hat seated in a puddle of ink and surveying the world through the wrong end of a telescope.
After his retirement, Mr. Baldwin continued to write articles on military affairs for the news columns of The Times and its Op-Ed page. He also continued to write books and many magazine articles on strategic issues and intelligence matters, and served as president of the Naval Academy Alumni Association.
After his retirement from the New York Times in 1968, Hanson Baldwin became an editor at Reader’s Digest and continued to write Op-Ed pieces in the Times. He retired from the Digest in 1976.
He authored scores of books on military and defense topics. His books published are: Men and Ships of Steel (1935), We Saw It Happen (1938), The Caissons Roll (1938), Admiral Dealth (1939), What the Citizen Should Know About the Navy (1941), United We Stand (1941), Strategy for Victory (1942), The Navy at War (1943), The Price of Power (1947), Great Mistakes of the War (1949), Sea Fights and Shipwrecks (1955), The Great Arms Race (1958), World War I: An Outline History (1962), The New Navy (1964), Battles Lost and Won: Great Campaigns of World War II (1966), Strategy for Tomorrow (1970), The Crucial Years, 1939-1941 (1976), and Tiger Jack (1979).
Besides the Pulitzer Prize, he received many awards and prizes, including the Distinguished Service Medal from Syracuse University in 1944. He also received honorary degrees from Drake University and the Clarkson Institute of Technology.
In 1972, he was one of the first individuals honored with the NCAA Prominent National Media Salute, an award honoring outstanding former athletes who achieved success and reknown in the field of journalism. Joining Baldwin on the list of honorees were Frank Gifford, Curt Gowdy, Howard K. Smith, Chet Forte and Arthur “Bud” Collins, among others.
Away from the pool and the typewriter, he married Helen Bruce Baldwin (1907-1994) of Urbana, Ohio in 1931 who made a name for herself as a poet and author of articles on culinary subjects for various magazines. They had two children; Barbara Potter and Elizabeth Crabtree. The Baldwins lived in Chappaqua, New York. In 1947, Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl bought the Brewster estate in nearby Mount Kisco and moved the Nitra Yeshiva there to create a self-sustaining agricultural community known as the “Yeshiva Farm Settlement”. At first this settlement wasn’t welcomed by its neighbors, but in a town hall meeting, Mrs. Baldwin, impressed by Rabbi Weissmandl, defended its establishment and wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times regarding it. She eventually was instrumental in even getting its neighbors to donate to the Yeshiva. In this settlement which is now called the Nitra Community, she is fondly remembered for her valor and kindheartedness.
Baldwin died in Roxbury, Connecticut on November 13, 1991.
Originally published in 2009