By KRISTIN KNAUTH
Fifty years ago, on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill signaled the start of the Cold War with his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, given at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent," Churchill declared. The "iron curtain" was the barrier between East and West established by Soviets forces in Eastern Europe, to impose communism on those war-weary countries and isolate their peoples from the rest of the world.
A new exhibition at the Library presents sharp political commentary about the early years of the Cold War, from 1946 to 1962, by 15 noted American editorial cartoonists. More than half of the artists featured in "Drawing the Iron Curtain: Cartoons of the Cold War" have won Pulitzer Prizes for their work. Herblock, Bill Mauldin, Jules Feiffer, Charles Werner, C.D. Batchelor and Walt Kelly are here, along with Edmund Duffy and Reginald Manning.
The communist threat and the arms race were the principal dramas of the Cold War years, but by 1960 associated subplots had also emerged upon the Cold War stage. These themes are displayed in the show in seven sections: The Korean War; "Uncle Joe" Stalin; Sen. Joseph McCarthy; Communist China; We Liked Ike; Seeing Red (the threat to civil liberties from anticommunist crusaders); The Bomb; and Soviet Justice (Soviet oppression in Eastern Europe).
Cartoon art is richly represented in the Library's graphic collections, and "Drawing the Iron Curtain" illustrates the variety of opinions found there. The Library's traditional commitment to preserving the diversity of opinions of creative Americans in all fields has inspired hundreds of leading artists to give their works to the collections.
"We've been able to put together a great range of both established cartoonists and ones who were just starting out, as well as a range of political positions," said Harry Katz, curator of popular and applied graphic arts in the Prints and Photographs Division.
Jules Feiffer, for example, was a young liberal when he penned a four-panel series about the making of the atomic bomb, titled BOOM!, in 1959; that same year, Clarence D. Batchelor was an old hand who had won his Pulitzer back in the 1930s but was still offering conservative commentary on the Alger Hiss trial.
Nevertheless, most of the pieces share a decidedly critical stance toward notables of the day. "Incisive caricature usually requires oppositional themes," Mr. Katz Pointed out.
Incisive these drawings are. In 1950 the confrontation between East and West escalated into open warfare with the communist invasion of South Korea. The United States responded, beginning its first armed conflict of the Cold War. Armistice discussions began in 1951, but Americans and their United Nations allies continued to die on Korea's battlefields as the talks dragged on for two more years.
Two cartoons from this period reveal Americans' frustration over the inconclusive struggle and the mounting death toll - bearing an uncanny resemblance to popular sentiment over Vietnam. Silent Night-1951, by Edmund Duffy, shows a melancholy soldier on Christmas Eve, watching the night sky as a fighter plane cruises past the Christmas star.
Reg Manning's 1952 The Korean Story is still more pointed: in a vast soldiers' graveyard, crosses double as "t's" in endless rows of "talks."
Meanwhile, communist China was aggressively bullying its neighbors in Southeast Asia. In 1951 conservative Charles Werner lambasted the Maoists in his Pulitzer Prize-winning treatment of Gen. Douglas Mac-Arthur's impassioned anticommunist address to Congress. Gen. MacArthur delivered the speech after he was recalled from his command in Korea by President Truman, for publicly insisting that the United States should bomb targets inside communist China.
"Old soldiers never die; they just fade away," Gen. MacArthur warned the special joint session, quoting lines from a popular song which, to this day, are often attributed to him.
Mr. Werner sympathetically portrayed Gen. MacArthur orating against a backdrop of Asian devastation and flames, in a sketch labeled A real fireside chat! - a sarcastic reference to the homey "fireside chat" radio broadcasts Franklin D. Roosevelt made during the 1940s.
Meanwhile, Western hostility toward Soviet communism continued to grow. Herblock's 1953 obituary of Stalin, which won him the second of three Pulitzers, is a standout: a hooded, scythe-wielding Death welcomes Stalin with the words "You were always a great friend of mine, Joseph." Herblock loaned reproductions of this and four other works, which are not in the Library's collections, for this exhibition.
Almost all American cartoonists attacked Soviet communism. But "I find it interesting that they were very divided when it came to the anticommunism campaign in America - about how far basic liberties should be compromised in the pursuit of quelling communism," commented Mr. Katz.
As scathing as Herblock could be toward the Soviets, for example, he was equally quick to lampoon Sen. McCarthy's claims to root out Red Menace at home. He coined the term "McCarthyism" in a 1950 cartoon captioned "You mean I'm supposed to stand on that?," which depicts the GOP elephant balking as a group of Republican senators tries to push it up a ladder of stacked tar-buckets, labeled "McCarthyism."
However, most artists treated Sen. McCarthy, who had a strong popular following, fairly mildly. Mr. Manning's 1953 sketch McCarthy! Come now, Joe - let's be reasonable! shows an exasperated Allen Dulles, then secretary of state, opening his desk drawer to find a grinning Sen. McCarthy investigating it from inside.
"The cartoonists were showing some courage to openly attack McCarthy," Mr. Katz observed. "That said, most took a middle ground and treated the issue with humor."
A panel on "The Bomb" includes the 1962 Robert Osborn piece Civilization, depicting mankind's progress from prehistorical cave-dwelling to modern cave-dwelling - in the nuclear fallout shelters of the 1950s and '60s. Darkness at Noon, another work by Duffy, blames the Soviet Union for the persistence of the Cold War; the title is taken from Arthur Koestler's famous novel of the same name, about the purge of a Communist Party leader.
Bill Mauldin was a popular cartoonist who made his name during World War II with a strip called "Willie and Joe," in the U.S. Army's Stars and Stripes newspaper. The Prints and Photographs Division is preparing a computerized inventory of about 1,500 unprocessed, original Mauldin cartoon drawings that were given to the Library by the artist, said Mr. Katz. "Willie and Joe" won Mr. Mauldin his first Pulitzer, in wartime 1944. "But few people know he won a second Pulitzer, in 1959, for his editorial work," said Mr. Katz. That award was for a drawing - displayed in the show's "Soviet Justice" section - of two prisoners in a Soviet gulag, splitting a log in the snow; one asks the other: "I won the Nobel Prize for Literature. What was your crime?"
Fifty years after Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, the great East-West divide has dissolved and the Soviet empire has broken up. But nuclear weapons are proliferating, and tension persists between communist and noncommunist countries, especially in Asia. The works in "Drawing the Iron Curtain" remind us that, while the Cold War may have ended, some of its central issues remain today.
The exhibition and accompanying illustrated booklet were supported by the Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund for Caricature and Cartoon, established at the Library in 1974 by the estate of New York advertising executive Erwin Swann (1906-1973). Over many years, Mr. Swann assembled a fine collection of more than 2,000 political prints and drawings, caricatures and cartoons and magazine illustrations, which was also given to the Library in the 1970s. The Swann Fund was created to support this collection and related Library holdings through preservation, acquisition, exhibition and publication. The collection continues to expand, with support from the fund.
Lucia D. Rather, retired head of cataloging at the Library and a historian whose specialty is the Cold War, collaborated with Mr. Katz to produce the exhibition.
The exhibition is on view in the Oval Gallery on the sixth floor of the Madison Building, through Aug. 16. An accompanying booklet includes biographies of the cartoonists and a bibliography for the show.
Kristin Knauth is a freelance writer/editor working in the Public Affairs Office.