During the second year of his presidency in 1962, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) pushed his national and international agenda. At home, he attempted to implement new policies that met with partisan opposition: assisting the unemployed, passing a jobs bill, and creating Medicare. Abroad, he increased military presence in Vietnam and he faced the Soviet Union’s premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) in a nuclear showdown known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis” in October 1962. The disarmament talks in Geneva did not go well and the doomsday clock ticked closer to midnight, signaling the increased likelihood of nuclear war.

Herblock developed his character “Mr. Atom” in 1946 to visualize the threat of nuclear annihilation omnipresent during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1945 to 1990. He used Mr. Atom repeatedly in 1962 when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev challenged American president John F. Kennedy. The Cold War confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States played out over nuclear missile placement in Cuba and Turkey at the same time diplomats in Geneva, Switzerland struggled with disarmament.

“You Really Think You Can Charm Those Birds?”

Among the measures President John F. Kennedy sought in his 1962 legislative agenda were aid to the unemployed and the creation of a jobs bill. Seeking bipartisan support, Kennedy played the moderate, asking Congress to “move America ahead.” As Herblock suggests, he met with stiff resistance in Congress even though the Democratic Party dominated both the House and Senate, here represented by two vultures. Herblock portrays Kennedy as a guitarist, suggesting that he needs stronger action in the shotgun held by the president’s cowboy sidekick.

You Really Think You Can Charm Those Birds? 1962. Published in the Washington Post, January 9, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (001.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-5518] © Herb Block Foundation

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“After All, It Doesn’t Have to Be a One-Way Street”

President Kennedy sent General Paul D. Harkins to Vietnam on February 13, 1962, to head American forces in the war against the communist Viet Cong, which immediately led the Chinese to criticize the United States for expanding aggression. Although Americans arrived to assist the South Vietnamese with military training, they were given permission to return enemy fire. Herblock uses the soldier here to sound a warning that the United States appeared to be on a path toward full-scale war and to offer the promise that backing out remained an option.

After All, It Doesn’t Have to Be a One-Way Street,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, February 15, 1962. Ink brush, graphite and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (002.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-5537] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Hello—ORwell 1984?”

Under the Communications Act of 1934, evidence obtained by the federal government via wiretapping, even under warrant, could not be used in federal court. Frustrated, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925–1968) backed legislation introduced by Republican senator Kenneth Keating (1900–1975) of New York to limit federal wiretaps, and to continue the system of various existing state laws. Herblock shares a voice with the law’s critics, which included the American Civil Liberties Union, and uses the reference to George Orwell’s 1984 to express his belief in the importance of the right to freedom as expressed in the Bill of Rights.

Hello—ORwell 1984? 1962. Published in the Washington Post, April 1, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (003.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-5570] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Son, Let’s Not Be Too Dogmatic About This”

President Kennedy’s policies, including what came to be known as “Medicare,” went under the umbrella term “New Frontier.” In 1962, most insurers did not cover people older than sixty-five, many of whom were too poor to pay for private care. Initially Republicans resisted Medicare, but by May 1962, when the off-year election campaign began to heat up, some began to compromise. Medicare did not become law until 1965. Herblock portrays the Republican Party elephant as sick and elderly, intimating that aging congressmen had accepted the need for the law.

Son, Let’s Not Be Too Dogmatic About This,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, May 2, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (004.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05592] © Herb Block Foundation

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“It Doesn’t Hold Him Down, But It Annoys Hell Out of Him”

On June 15, 1962, after two days of debate, Congress approved President Kennedy’s request to increase the American debt ceiling by $8 billion to $308 billion. Congress began to enact limits on debt in 1917, when the United States needed to finance World War I. In 1962, when Republicans balked at voting for the increase and told the Kennedy administration to prune its budget, the Democrats threatened to take half of the reduction from the Department of Defense, compelling a Republican compromise. Here, Herblock portrays a congressman bemused by the attempt to put a lid on the growing debt.

It Doesn’t Hold Him Down, But It Annoys Hell Out of Him,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, June 14, 1962. Ink brush, graphite and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (005.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-5620] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Once More Unto the Brink, Once More”

Soviet-American relations, tense during the Cold War, came to a head in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Aware that the Soviets had installed nuclear missiles aimed at the United States in Cuba, President Kennedy ordered reconnaissance flights on October 9, 1962, to assess his response. Herblock, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Henry V, depicts Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev endangering world peace.

Once More Unto the Brink, Once More,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, October 9, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (006.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05703] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Just a Few More Shots and Then We Can Go On the Wagon Again”

In this cartoon, Herblock alludes to the Geneva disarmament negotiations, which stalled in March 1962. As the United States resumed atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in response to the Soviet’s nuclear testing in the fall of 1961, the Soviet Union declared that they would test yet more weapons. Here, Herblock likens nuclear testing to alcoholism, with a drunken Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, offering another round to President John F. Kennedy, who also appears to have over imbibed.

Just a Few More Shots and Then We Can Go On the Wagon Again,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, April 4, 1962. Ink brush, graphite and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (007.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05571] © Herb Block Foundation

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“I May Still Have to Rely on Reckless Inaction”

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy instituted a shipping quarantine around Cuba in response to the Soviet build-up of nuclear missiles on that island. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as it came to be known, was a moment in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States when d├ętente almost reached the breaking point. Rather than depict missiles pointed at the United States, Herblock shows his famous character, Mr. Atom, blaming the failure of the Geneva disarmament negotiations for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I May Still Have to Rely on Reckless Inaction,” 1962. Published in the Washington Post, October 25, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (008.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05715] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Clock, Anyone?”

The Geneva Disarmament Conference—a series of diplomatic talks that led to the formulation of the Geneva Convention—opened on March 14, 1962, the day before this cartoon appeared. Herblock depicts his recurring character, Mr. Atom, holding a “cuckoo” clock that features a vulture and nuclear missiles as weights. Mr. Atom greets international diplomats as they enter a Swiss chalet to remind them that the clock is ticking on disarmament.

Clock, Anyone? 1962. Published in the Washington Post, March 15, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05558] © Herb Block Foundation

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Tick—Tock—Tick—

Herblock uses the doomsday clock to symbolize the urgency of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The Soviet Union aimed nuclear missiles at the United States from Cuba. In retaliation, the United States aimed nuclear missiles in Turkey at the Soviet Union. Using the political strategy known as brinkmanship, both sides stockpiled weapons while pushing each other toward the brink of war. The doomsday clock, created by atomic scientists in 1941, symbolizes the tension between countries that could lead to nuclear annihilation—the closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the perceived possibility of nuclear disaster.

Tick—Tock—Tick—, 1962. Published in the Washington Post, October 28, 1962. Ink brush, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.02.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-hlb-05717] © Herb Block Foundation

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