DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, September 10, 2012

Herblock Looks at 1962

Herblock at his desk
It is a tense political September. There is that huge question of medical programs and costs. Americans are concerned that their Democratic president is affording too much aid to welfare freeloaders. The pesky debt ceiling is hanging around. And, perhaps most threatening of all, there is a small foreign country at the center of a nuclear controversy that would threaten the existence of all humankind.

No, although all those problems sound familiar, the above conditions aren't describing today. The Democratic President was John Kennedy, the small country was Cuba, and the year was 1962. And, as is often the case, few captured those turbulent times better than political cartoonists. And, at the head of those cartoonists stood Herbert Lawrence Block, better known as  Herblock, who during his 55 years at The Washington Post won 3 Pulitzer Prizes for his work.

His pointed commentary and art offer an opportunity to reflect on the history and culture of his times and our times - how much has changed and how much has remained the same.

After he died in 2001, Herblock's archives were turned over to the Library of Congress, which offers a constantly changing retrospective of his cartoons. The most recent exhibition featured drawings from 50 years ago.

As a cartoonist, Herblock preferred to let his drawings speak for themselves. "A cartoon does not tell everything about a story,"he once said. "It is not supposed to. No written piece tells everything either. As far as words are concerned, there is no safety in numbers. The test of written or drawn commentary is whether it gets an essential truth."

Here are 4 of Herblock's 1962 cartoons. You can judge for yourself how close he got to those important essential truths.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you don't believe editorial cartoonists have a lot of influence and power, you need only to check today's headlines. Here is a Washington Post article recounting the story of an Indian political cartoonist who has been jailed for criticizing political corruption. While chilling, the story also makes us appreciate that marvelous freedom of speech that we enjoy as Americans.

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