Men pushing and pulling on an elephantSenator Joseph McCarthy and other American elected officials responded to the Cold War and the threat of Soviet expansionism by attacking citizens who they perceived had ties to the Communist Party. Herb Block invented the term “McCarthyism,” but, as his cartoons show, he inherently understood that the evils inflicted in the name of combating communism were not the work of McCarthy alone. He also castigated other congressmen for using their political power to ruin private lives based on little concrete evidence. Among those Herblock challenged were House Un-American Activities Committee members Richard Nixon, J. Parnell Thomas, Harold Velde, and Karl Mundt, as well as McCarthy ally Senator William E. Jenner. Block perceived the dangers of an unchecked smear campaign by elected officials pretending to defend America, and wrote, “They had been more interested in prosecutions—or persecutions—than they were in justice.” Block realized that human lives and reputations were at stake and stood up to defend them.

New Broom

Herblock likened the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee to a witch hunt, voicing skepticism about those who “set themselves up to decide what was un-American.” Texas Democrat Martin Dies led the group’s probes into alleged communist activities until resigning his seat in 1945. New Jersey Senator J. Parnell Thomas then spearheaded the committee’s investigations of celebrities and artists. Critics charged that the group’s work, which damaged reputations, also violated First Amendment rights.

New Broom, 1946. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, December 7, 1946. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (26.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-01563

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Wrong Number

Herblock was among the leading cartoonists who equated wiretapping prompted by Red Scare paranoia during the Cold War with harm to innocent citizens in the name of stopping the growth of communism. He wrote, “They bellow that they’re protecting us from subversion while at the same time actually subverting just about everything this country stands for.”

Wrong Number, 1950. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, January 20, 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (27.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19979

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“Is Joe Stalin Running in All These Elections?”

When Herblock’s man in the street queries a fellow citizen about Joseph Stalin and the 1950 election campaigns, he alludes to the likely influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade on the mid-term elections. McCarthy had won national attention with his speech on February 9, 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he repeatedly mentioned Stalin in the “war between two diametrically opposed ideologies” and charged that 205 communists had infiltrated the State Department.

“Is Joe Stalin Running in All These Elections?” 1950. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, May 28, 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (28.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19980

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“You Mean I’m Supposed to Stand on That?”

Herblock, in the cartoon that coined the term “McCarthyism,” depicts Republican Senators Kenneth S. Wherry, Robert A. Taft, and Styles Bridges and Republican National Chairman Guy Gabrielson pushing the Republican elephant toward an election platform of a tar and smear campaign. Within six weeks of Joseph McCarthy’s announcement that he had a list of 205 known communists, Herblock decried the smear campaign that would occupy the country for more than four years.

“You Mean I’m Supposed to Stand on That?” 1950. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, March 29, 1950. Loan courtesy of The Washington Post Company (29.00.00)

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Official State Department

Herblock’s 1953 April Fool’s Day cartoon boldly lampoons Senator Joseph McCarthy’s character and career to date. Casting him as a disreputable-looking huckster who has set up shop between the U.S. Capitol and government buildings, Herblock details the senator’s credentials—McCarthy’s placard reminds the viewer of his speech in 1950 insinuating the State Department harbored communists. His list of unsavory specialties includes faked documents, private investigations, and smear jobs. Some fellow Republicans challenged McCarthy, but years passed before his damaging crusade ended.

Official State Department, 1953. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, April 1, 1953. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (30.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19982

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“Naughty, Naughty”

As Dwight Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952, Herblock took him to task for not standing up to the smear campaign of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. On October 27, 1952, McCarthy denounced Stevenson on the radio, accusing him of aiding the communist cause. McCarthy, who had positioned himself as a national politician with an opinion worthy of interest, discredited Stevenson days before the presidential election on Tuesday, November 4.

“Naughty, Naughty,” 1952. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, October 29, 1952. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (31.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19984

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This Program Has Been Discontinued Temporarily . . .

Among Senator Joseph McCarthy’s moments in the spotlight during his anti-communist campaign, the nationally televised thirty-six-day hearing in 1954 stands out. This cartoon was published during the hearings. As McCarthy charged U.S. Army and civilian officials with subversion, television exposed his hectoring and brutal interrogation techniques, which helped turn public opinion against him. Mortified by his increasingly reckless attacks on officials that included President Dwight D. Eisenhower and political leaders of both parties, on December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy.

This Program Has Been Discontinued Temporarily While the Committee Tries to Find a Way to Discontinue It Permanently, 1954. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, May 20, 1954. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (32.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19985

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“Carry On, Lads”

This cartoon indicates the declining influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the months after the televised Army-McCarthy hearings, which exposed his aggressive, bullying interrogations of people suspected of anti-communism to a broad audience and helped undermine his public support. In Herblock’s cartoon, McCarthy, having stumbled on the ground, hands his brush of dark, tar-colored McCarthyism to Senator William E. Jenner and Vice President Richard Nixon, who are depicted as like-minded supporters, ready to continue the fight.

“Carry On, Lads,” 1954. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. October 7, 1954. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (33.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19986

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