Thursday, June 06, 2024

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Bill Mauldin's World War Three Cartoons

I'm handing things over to Dick Buchanan who reminds us about this fascinating "What If" story about a possible World War Three from a 1951 issue of Collier's Magazine. We were in the beginning of the cold war, and there was always the threat that the cold war would go HOT. This is that imagined scenario, just six years after the end of World War 2. Thank you and take it away, Dick:


        (Collier’s  October 27, 1951)

By October, 1951 World War Two was in the rearview mirror, the Korean Conflict was underway and the idea that World War Three was on the horizon was a commonly held fear.  With that in mind, the editors of Collier’s put together a special issue "Preview of the War We Do Not Want – an Imaginary Account of Russia’s Defeat and Occupation, 1952-1960."  The project, code-named "Operation Eggnog," was put together by Associate Editor Cornelius Ryan under considerable secrecy over a period of nine months. The 131-page issue appeared October 27, 1951.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. In May, 1952, after the Russian invasion of Yugoslavia, the principal United Nations countries and the United States declare war.  The United States uses atomic bombs against Russian industrial complexes.  Soviet forces invade West Germany, the Middle East and Alaska.  US forces, in disarray, have retreated on all fronts.  Korea and Japan are evacuated. London is hit by nuclear weapons, followed by Detroit, New York and Hanford. It should be noted their assessment of the harm caused by nuclear weapons was seriously deficient. Yes, things were grim, but never fear, all is not lost.

The following year more American cities are struck by nuclear weapons, but now better prepared, there are fewer casualties. Slowly but surely, UN forces manage to contain invading Soviet forces in several theaters. On May 22nd, B-36s drop nuclear weapons on Moscow, retaliating on Russia’s nuclear attack on Washington, DC.  UN forces are victorious in conflicts highlighted by a suicide task force of 10,000 US paratroopers dropped into the Ural Mountains to destroy the last remaining hidden Soviet nuclear stockpiles. The War ends in 1955 with the occupation of UN forces in Soviet Union.  In true storybook fashion Good prevails.  A Christian Science Monitor editor reports the rebirth of religion, unions, a free press and democracy in Russia.

These imaginary events of the Third World War were the covered by 20 leading writers of the day. Author Robert E. Sherwood provided the chilling narrative, Edward R. Murrow, as an embedded journalist, described the nuclear bombing of Moscow and Philip Wylie helped wind things up with a love story about a US Major who falls in love with a Russian girl who has been rendered infertile by radiation.  Other distinguished contributors included Senator Margaret Chase Smith, labor leader Walter Reuther, sports columnist Red Smith and world traveler and author Lowell Thomas. Leaving no stone unturned, Collier’s commissioned famed cartoonist Bill Mauldin to provide all of the cartoons in the issue.

Bill Mauldin was the preeminent cartoonist of World War Two. As an 18-year-old training with the 45th Infantry he cartooned part-time for the camp newspaper, The 45th Division News, in 1940.  These cartoons depicted the viewpoint of the war from the infantryman’s perspective, as experienced by bedraggled soldiers, Willie and Joe, the unshaven, listless, dull-eyed, cynical dogfaces who spent the war fighting the Germans, trying to keep dry and warm and flirting with insubordination. In 1943 his cartoons began appearing in Stars and Stripes and were syndicated by United Features in 1944.

Although Mauldin’s cartoons were wildly popular with enlisted men and with American audiences as well, they were not well received by some officers, notably General George Patton.  Patton summoned Mauldin to a meeting in 1945 and complained about the scruffiness of the characters and blamed Mauldin for disrespecting the army and "trying to incite a mutiny." Subsequently, General Eisenhower put an quick end to the campaign to ban Mauldin’s work by when he wrote an official letter to Deputy Theater Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Lear that said, in part, “A great deal of pressure has been brought on me in the past to abolish such things as Mauldin’s cartoons. . . . You will make sure that the responsible officer knows he is not to interfere in matters of this kind. If he believes that any specific violation of good sense or good judgment has occurred, he may bring it to my personal attention.”
  Here are all the cartoons Bill Mauldin created for Collier’s incredible project.

1.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 48.

2.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 59.

3.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 69.

4.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 74.

5.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 96.


6.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 106.

7.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 112.

8.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 125.

9.  BILL MAULDIN.  Collier’s  October 27, 1951.  Page 128.

- Edited from a December 5, 2019 blog entry.

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