Cold War Comics. An insight into American anti-Soviet propaganda.
Comic books are not a uniquely American form of entertainment. But no other nation has used them so adroitly and to better effect in influencing the thinking of impressionable young adults than the USA. Those published during the 1950s “Red Menace” scare deserve particular study. Cold War comics reveal how effective this seemingly simple Art form could be when used for outright propaganda.
The events of the late 1940s and early 1950s – the trial of spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1953), the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union’s first nuclear weapon test (1949) surprised and alarmed the American public. By the early1950’s a nationwide paranoia had taken hold. This “Red Scare” profoundly altered the temper of American society. No generation was immune from being bombarded with anti-Soviet propaganda. The American Government was particularly concerned about teenagers becoming indoctrinated with Communist ideas. They recruited most forms of popular media like films and TV to combat it. But Comics lent themselves particularly well to propaganda, and were especially exploited by government agencies to convey “healthy and wholesome” American ideologies:
A simple message beautifully illustrated.
The text found in these Cold War comics was colourful, straightforward and easy to understand. They appealed to young children who knew how to read, being able to grasp the message with no significant difficulty. In addition, the Action-packed cartoons hooked teenagers, dazzling them with tales of rocket-powered jets tearing through Soviet defences and brave GIs thwarting cowardly surprise attacks.
Though they are now invariably read ironically, at the time their message was deadly serious. Cold War comics were defending and promoting an American point of view that was jingoistic, often highly belligerent, but always meant to be taken seriously. The strips were extraordinarily realistic and beautifully drawn, no matter how far-fetched the plots. Though each issue would differ in narrative detail, they would always push the moral that “only a Strong America can prevent an Atomic War.”
Cold war comics invariably followed the set structural formula illustrated below.
1 The Soviets always launch a surprise attack on an unwary, unprepared and complacent America.
2 American cities are devastated in alarming and graphic detail.
3 There is always a shocking portrayal of innocent noncombatants dying in the Soviet attack.
4 American cowards and traitors who want to surrender the “hopeless” war are always given their comeuppance.
5 In contrast, any Russian with a moral conscience is dealt with summarily, whether military or civilian.
6 Despite overwhelming odds, the Americans fight back – even to the last man, with the last piece of wood!
7 There is at least one heroic but futile sacrifice in every feature.
8 Despite being militarily devastated, America always hits back against an uncomprehending Asiatic horde.
9 The President of the USA will deliver a final sermon on victory. Cold War comics always end by warning Americans against the dangers of Atomic complacency.