Political cartoons relating to the end of World War II, 1945
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“A cartoon must be direct and hard-hitting with no quarter asked and none given. It should embody humor, good draftsmanship and fact. If one word exists that is worth a thousand pictures, then that word must be ‘truth’.” -- Charles G. Werner
The first political cartoon ever printed is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Titled “the divided snake,” it first appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 and provided striking imagery for the ongoing conflicts of the “disunited” British colonies. In the decades that followed, similar illustrations were utilized to comment on political elections, and illustrations became common features in publications such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated by the mid nineteenth century. These illustrations became profound ways of expressing political thought and, in some cases, publicizing corruption and scandal.
By 1945, political cartoons were a well-established part of most popular American newspapers and generally consisted of “a self-contained drawing with a caption” that expressed a clear message to the public. Through a single powerful image, the cartoonist told readers why an event happened and commented on its impact and importance. The following images appeared in South Carolina newspapers in 1945. They told the story of political struggles among the Allied Powers at the close of WWII, and in today can provide readers with visual insight into the foundations of the Cold War.
The following paragraphs describe the events provide a summary of the major events of peace and power negotiations during July, August, and September of 1945. These are the events that form the historical context of the political cartoons displayed. Further, each of the four cartoons is accompanied by a caption that seeks to identify the major components of each image.
Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency following the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt in April of 1945. Just weeks later, on May 7th, General Dwight Eisenhower accepted the German surrender, bringing war in the European theater to a close and turning the attention of the Allied Powers toward the defeat of Japan.With the end of the war looming, the relationship between the United States and Russia grew tense as both countries sought to secure claims on the future of Eastern Europe. The Soviets had sustained heavy casualties in battling the Germans, and Stalin was determined to retain political control over Poland and the Balkan countries that had historically served as the pathway for Western invasion into Russia. Americans, meanwhile, were eager to gain Russian cooperation in the establishment of a worldwide peace keeping organization, but upheld the idea of national self-determination for Eastern Europe. On July 17, 1945 these conflicting agendas came face to face as Truman and Stalin, as well as Winston Churchill and his replacement Clement Attlee, arrived at the Potsdam conference to discuss the future of the war and the realities of the peace.
While still at Potsdam, Truman received word of the first successful testing of the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project, begun in 1939, was an effort to achieve the development of a nuclear weapon before Nazi Germany. Although the project was a joint effort between the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, the U.S. shouldered the largest portion of the financial burden, in total devoting $2 billion dollars to the endeavor.
Upon the recommendation of his advisors and a special committee headed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Truman concluded that the bomb should be used as a means to end the war with Japan. Anticipating that a full-scale invasion of Japan would result in the further loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives, the administration deemed use of the bomb to be a legitimate wartime measure. On August 6, 1945, three days before the agreed entrance of the Soviets into the conflict in the Pacific, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Sixty thousand people were killed instantly. When the Japanese failed to offer an unconditional surrender, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th. On August 14th Japan offered its unconditional surrender.
The use of the atomic bomb elicited a variety of responses from the American public. Some newspaper editorials offered that the use of such a weapon should be reserved for an enemy like the Japanese, those who “violate the rules of humanity and refuse to accept honorable peace.” Other Americans were less certain of the “good” accomplished by the bomb, and questioned what would happen if this new power fell into the wrong hands. The ethical questions, possibilities and, ultimately, fears brought about by this use of the atomic bomb haunted Americans for years to come.
In post war negotiations, the United States and Russia came into continual conflict on issues of reparations, the division of Germany, the fate of Eastern Europe and the future of atomic power. The ultimate result of these conflicts was the onset of a long and bitter relationship between the two powers, and the emergence of “containment” as the dominant feature of American foreign policy.
The Lend-Lease program approved by the United States Congress in March of 1941, through which the U.S. loaned goods, weapons, and eventually large appropriations of cash to other Allied Powers, ended shortly after the declaration of V-J Day on September 2, 1945. As other countries emerged from WWII amid destruction and debt, American soldiers returned home to a booming economy full of opportunities. The United States spent the next several decades engaged in a Cold War, battling all perceived threats to American prosperity and freedom, including those threatened by its most formidable former ally—the Soviet Union.
“We Have Come to Stay.” The Anderson Independent (Anderson, South Carolina). 8 August 1945: A4. Newspapers on Microfilm. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
“Into Whose Hands?” The Anderson Independent (Anderson, South Carolina). 13 August 1945: A4. Newspapers on Microfilm. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
“Three Tough Ones.” The State (Columbia, South Carolina). 29 July 1945: A4. Newspapers on Microfilm. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
“Turned Off.” The State (Columbia, South Carolina). 2 September 1945: A4. Newspapers on Microfilm. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
Standard 5-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the economic boom-and-bust in America in the 1920s and 1930s, its resultant political instability, and the subsequent worldwide response.
Indicator 5-4.4: Explain the principal events related to the United States’ involvement in World War II—including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion in Normandy, Pacific island hopping, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the role of key figures in this involvement such as Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler.
Indicator 5-4.5: Summarize the political and social impact of World War II, including changes in women’s roles, in attitudes toward Japanese Americans, and in nation-state boundaries and governments.
Indicator 5-4.6: Summarize key developments in technology, aviation, weaponry, and communication and explain their effect on World War II and the economy of the United States.
Indicator 5-4.7: Explain the effects of increasing worldwide economic interdependence following World War II, including how interdependence between and among nations and regions affected economic productivity, politics, and world trade.