Two soldiers, one holding a gun.In the years following World War II, growing tensions between world powers and the chilling threat of nuclear warfare gave rise to what is commonly called the “Cold War Era.” Between 1948 and 1953 these tendencies intensified. As the leading democracy in the postwar world, the United States found its influence and authority challenged by dictators of totalitarian states as they consolidated their positions in the global hierarchy. Herb Block’s cartoons during this time critique the nature of totalitarian states and their sometimes violent imposition of authority on their own societies and others. He also voiced the urgent need for international agreement on nuclear arms control. Block won his second Pulitzer Prize for his 1953 cartoon on the death of Joseph Stalin. As relations worsened between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, internal debates flared within the U.S. over varied forms of communist infiltration. Communist China took aggressive action in Korea, which eventually led to American involvement in the Korean War.

Mr. Atom

Just four years after the U.S. detonated its nuclear bombs over Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear bomb at a remote test site in Kazakhstan on August 29, 1949. Like Daniel Defoe’s marooned hero Robinson Crusoe, Herblock’s Mr. Atom discovers that the island is no longer his exclusive domain and registers the dismay experienced by the U.S. at the major shift in the balance of military power in the world.

[Mr. Atom—island footprint], 1949. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, September 24, 1949. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (18.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19970

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Wings over Berlin

The Berlin Airlift proved that Americans and Britons could overcome the Cold War and reach out to those who recently had been enemies. The World War II Allies—Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union—had divided Germany and Berlin. East and West Berlin were located entirely within the Soviet sector. On June 24, 1948, the Soviets blocked land access to the city. In response, pilots flew more than 270,000 flights bringing humanitarian aid to the city. In the face of Western resistance, the Soviets withdrew the blockade on May 12, 1949.

Wings over Berlin, 1949. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, April 27, 1949. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (19.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19971

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Workers, Arise, 1953

In mid June of 1953, shortly after Joseph Stalin’s death, some 50,000 workers in East Berlin rebelled against potential pay cuts tied to increased production quotas. East German police and Soviet army troops mobilized to quell the uprising, which spread quickly throughout the communist nation of East Germany. Combined forces killed an undetermined number of workers and injured many more in a brutal clampdown strongly condemned by non-Soviet nations. Herblock depicts the shocking sight of workers who had been slain during the events. 

Workers, Arise, 1953. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 19, 1953. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (20.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19972

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“You’re New Here, Aren’t You?”

As the Soviets built the wall that divided East Berlin from West Berlin in August 1961, they posted a member of the communist People’s Police every few feet. Herblock depicts the armed guards stemming the tide of East Germans fleeing to the West, with the exception of one policeman, who looks west. On August 13, 1961, Berliners woke up to a divided city. The wall came down on November 9, 1989.

“You’re New Here, Aren’t You?” 1961. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, August 30, 1961. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (21.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19973

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“White is Black, Black is White, Night is Day—”

Herblock depicts a massive fortress topped with onion domes blaring senseless slogans  as a metaphor for the totalitarian authority of the Soviet Union, whose flag flies above the tallest dome. Herblock skillfully unites the visual symbol of state power with the act of broadcasting the cartoon’s title—contradictory phrases that recall the “newspeak,” which is the kind of speech pattern practiced with numbing effect by jailers of the dystopian police state in George Orwell’s landmark 1949 novel 1984. The bastion of power rests ominously upon a global grid.

“White is Black, Black is White, Night is Day—,” 1950. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, July 6, 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (22.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19974

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“You Know, That Cold War Wasn’t So Bad”

Herblock depicts two communist soldiers dodging mortar shells and bullets as one states his preference for the détente of the Cold War over the Korean War. Herblock called the start of the war “the Communist aggression of June 24, 1950,” and approved of the war. The “Drive to Seoul” in 1950 forced North Korean troops to retreat toward the 38th parallel that divided North and South Korea after World War II.

“You Know, That Cold War Wasn’t So Bad,” 1950. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, September 23, 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (23.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19975

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Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong

Herblock portrays Communist China’s Mao Zedong and the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev seemingly united by the Soviet symbol of the hammer and sickle. However, by 1960, China and Russia were denouncing each other because of differences in ideology. Each leader, clenches his fist and glares at the other with a grim expression, enhanced by body language that indicates a face off between the two communist leaders. Herblock captures the tensions arising from Zedong’s anger at Khrushchev’s policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West and his withdrawal of Soviet assistance for construction projects in China in 1960.

[Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong with hammer and sickle], 1960. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 24, 1960. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (24.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19977

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“Let’s Get a Lock for This Thing”

Herblock uses Pandora’s Box as a metaphor for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which Nikita Khrushchev, Secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, confronted United States President John F. Kennedy. Both leaders worked to prevent the use of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States. The Soviet Union ended the crisis on October 28, 1962, although negotiations over withdrawal of weapons from Cuba and Turkey continued.

“Let’s Get a Lock for This Thing,” 1962. Graphite, ink, opaque white, and porous point pen over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, November 1, 1962. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (25.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19978

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