CSotD: The Art of War

My blogging partner, DD Degg, forwarded an article from the Spectator on war and cartooning, in which the above WWII David Low cartoon is referenced though not shown.

The article is a quick read and nicely done, but doesn’t show any of the cartoons it discusses. Which is why you should read it there and then come here to see what he’s talking about.

I particularly like the above WWII piece, because you could simply replace the defiant Tommy with Volodymyr Zelensky and run it again.


There was also room for mockery, as Frank Reynolds offered with this WWI send-up of a patriotic German poem, “A Chant of Hate Against England,” which the Prussians took seriously but nobody in England did. This substantial study of the piece and its reception offers a few more examples of British ridicule.

By the way, if Frank Reynolds sounds familiar, it may be because he also penned this classic, which ought to hang over the drawing table of every cartoonist except that it would probably be depressing.


Here’s another WWI classic, this one by “Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather,” which job title sets him aside as one of the cartoonists who served rather than those who watched from a distance. Bairnsfather was from a military family, which certainly gave him standing.


The suffering of Belgium was a recurring theme during WWI, but Bernard Partridge took a defiant tone in this cartoon imagining a defeated but not beaten monarch.


Not everything was grim, as Partridge showed in this illustration of Germany’s response to the Entente Cordiale, signed between England and France in 1904, a decade before the war.

To which I would add that, while this collection of WWI cartoons from Punch is entertaining, that certainly wasn’t the start of cartoonists commenting on war.


The Spectator article also cites “General Fevrier turned traitor,” a John Leech cartoon from the Crimean War, in the midst of which Czar Nicholas died, and, if you want to go even farther back in the history of the form, here’s an illustrated “History of the Nineteenth Century in Caricature” on Project Gutenberg that will take you back to Hogarth and Gillray and scratch any itch you have to explore the matter.


Moving on to WWII, here’s another David Low classic that has been referenced and satirized so many times in the decades since that the original should be familiar even to casual fans of the art form.


Carl Giles was another cartooning giant of that war, and this bit of self-mockery is based on the fact that, although not a soldier, he traveled with the army much like Ernie Pyle, but with a pen instead of a typewriter.


It goes without saying that the most celebrated cartoonist at the front was Bill Mauldin, who was a GI and drew the war from their point of view. When I lectured on political cartoonists, I noted that, in a Mauldin cartoon, any soldier who was clean-shaven and wearing a well-pressed uniform was either new to the war or some officer who stayed well away from the bang-bang portion.


This being an example of “new to the war.”


However, not every cartoonist with first-hand experience was famous at the time. Ronald Searle would become one of the most respected cartoonists, artists and illustrators in the post-war world, but, at the time he sketched this line-up of men getting their daily ration of rice, he was being held in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

His work there is impressive, though what I find even more impressive is that he not only scrounged the materials he needed but, when the war ended and the prison camp was liberated, managed to bring his artwork out with him.

Korea may have been something of a part-time war, as suggested by Jack Knox of the Nashville Banner, and other cartoons, including his, seem more focused on the “domino theory” than on the fighting of the war itself. Veterans of that war have a legitimate gripe about having been forgotten.


Vietnam seemed to reawaken cartoonists, perhaps because of the demonstrations on the home front, but this Paul Conrad piece came before the antiwar movement had gained a lot of traction.

I don’t recall anyone raising the question then that Conrad’s soldier seems to be pondering, but it’s a good flashback to the famous letter from Cpl. Rupert Trimmingham to Yank Magazine during WWII, in which he questioned why Black soldiers were expected to defend a country that kept them under Jim Crow laws.

Truman integrated the military after that war, but, a generation later, the question of racial fairness remained unresolved, as Bloody Sunday showed the world.


The most famous cartoon from that war was David Levine’s parody of the president’s having shown off the scar from gall bladder surgery.


Which Jeff Danziger satirized during the Iraq War …


… after Tom Toles mocked Rumsfeld’s indifferent attitude towards wounded American GIs, a cartoon that drew criticism from the Joint Chiefs but cheers from those who felt we had hurried into an unnecessary war without sufficient resources to protect our troops.



And, as Ann Telnaes accused, far less critical analysis by the post-9/11 media, who not only allowed the Pentagon to blow up and embroider the story of Jessica Lynch but then — a year after this cartoon ran — create an equally false mythology around the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman.

The nature of war has not changed. Three thousand years ago, Homer created an immortal epic about a warrior whose sole motivation was to get home to his wife and son, despite all the barriers and disappointments.

Over the years, cartoonists have approached wars sometimes as journalists, sometimes as cheerleaders, sometimes as cynics.

Soldiers tend to approach it as they have for the past 30 centuries.