America’s Mount Everest

This black-and-white cartoon from 1936 depicts Franklin Roosevelt, two American youths, and an old man staring off at a mountain labeled 'Unemployment Problem.' Roosevelt and the two youths look hopeful and strong while the old man is sitting down and saying 'It can't be done.'
America’s Mount Everest

America’s Mount Everest

John Francis Knott – April 15, 1936

The cartoon, published in April of 1936, is a poignant commentary on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal Domestic Program and the way it was received by critics and the general public (Knott). In 1936 FDR was receiving harsh criticism for his New Deal. Roosevelt explained to the American people that his New Deal program would seek to deliver relief, recovery, and reform—what he called the “3 R’s.” Opponents called it socialistic, overly idealistic, and bound to fail. Some even ventured to say it would ruin the economy and worsen unemployment (Baughman). On the other end of the spectrum, supporters of the New Deal thought it could profoundly improve the economic situation in the United States. The article, ‘Roosevelt at the Baltimore,’ illustrates the polarized reaction to the New Deal. The New Deal caused fear and distrust of the government for some, yet hope for many others as well (Baughman). The political cartoon, ‘America’s Mount Everest,’ compares the as yet unclimbed Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, to America’s unemployment problem.

The article, ‘Roosevelt at the Baltimore,’ that accompanies this cartoon is a sharp-tongued criticism of contemporaneous speech Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave in Baltimore in 1936 discussing the unemployment problem and his New Deal. The article rather harshly states, “The President’s Baltimore speech is typical of the good intentions of the new deal and of its unreasoning qualities.” The article calls the New Deal idealistic, a “terrific drain on national resource,” “impossible,” and even compares it to “ultimate socialism” (“Roosevelt at Baltimore”). In Judith S. Baughman’s ‘The New Deal and its Critics,’ she points out that, “Critics feared at times that the New Deal was the authoritarian mechanism whereby the American voters traded their freedom for economic security” (Baughman). The author continued with a discussion of the vast public fear and distrust of such a game-changing government regulation as the New Deal would later prove to be.

The humor in this cartoon comes from this critical disapproval of the New Deal by the Republicans, industry, and the wealthy.

Knott’s cartoon compares Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth, to the enormous unemployment problem in the U.S. during the Great Depression. President Roosevelt is climbing to the peak with a young man and woman who represent the ‘American Youth.’ ‘Old Man Apathy’ is the old man sitting on a rock and not climbing. A speech bubble above him quotes him stating, “It can’t be done.” He referring to the fact that FDR and the two youth have climbing gear and are attempting to begin their climb to the summit of the U.S. unemployment problem. This is a poignant cartoon because, at the time, Mount Everest had still not been climbed and like the unemployment problem, had not been overcome (Topham). The weight of the cartoon is depicted in the hopefulness of FDR and the American Youth. Unlike FDR, the old man depicts the negativity of the critics to FDR’s New Deal, especially the Republicans, industry, and those with wealth.

The article, ‘Roosevelt at Baltimore’, situated on the same page as the cartoon, is a harsh criticism of both FDR and his New Deal. It lampoons FDR’s speech, saying it “is typical of the good intentions of the new deal and of its unreasoning qualities” (“Roosevelt at Baltimore”). The article goes on to explain the author’s opinions and reactions to the programs of the New Deal. The author is not only critical but also highly skeptical for the success of the programs including the minimum working age, the retirement age, and job creation through shared work schedules. The article uses cursory calculations in its attempt to prove that FDR’s plan to increase employment could not succeed. The calculations the author employs are biased. The author purposely leaves out many factors and facts that would be necessary to fairly describe how the plan would work and to make a prediction as to the outcome.

President Roosevelt’s optimism for the New Deal programs eventually resulted in the establishment of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages amongst other things (Baughman). Optimism is reflected in Knott’s political cartoon illustrating the force of will that ultimately held the country together through the Great Depression.

Works Cited

Author Not Listed. “Roosevelt at Baltimore.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Aug. 1936: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Address to the Young Democratic Club, Baltimore, Md.,” April 13, 1936. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.             <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15280>.

Judith S. Baughman. “The New Deal and its Critics.” American Decades. Ed. et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.

Knott, John F. “America’s Mount Everest.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Apr. 1936: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.

Topham, Andrew. “Sir Edmund Hillary: First Ascent of Mount Everest.” Time.com. Time Magazine, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1702756,00.html>.

Advice From a Neighbor

DOC016
As his neighbor, the fascist party of Belgium, is covered in a landslide of anti-fascist votes, Adolf Hitler gives friendly advice on how his political party wins elections.

John Francis Knott April 13, 1937

This political cartoon comes in reaction to the results of Belgian elections held in April of 1937. The Rexist party was active in Belgium from the early 1930s until their ban in 1944. The main focus of the Rexist party, or “Rex” as it was called, was a “moral renewal” of Belgium through dominance of the Catholic Church, which Belgian Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Roey did not approve of. The party also advocated Belgian nationalism and Royalism, meaning they were for a monarch being the head of Belgium.

At the time of the election in 1937, Rex had 21 of the 202 deputies and twelve senators in the Belgian government as a result of the elections in 1936. Rex had just recently aligned itself with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany, adopting many of its characteristics. Rex was even able to force the Belgian government to resign in the spring of 1936, but the same government was restored shortly thereafter and Belgium was placed under martial law.

In the election of 1937, the Rexist party’s candidate Leon Degrelle competed with Paul van Zeeland, a member of the Catholic party, for the seat of prime minister. Upon winning his first election in 1935, van Zeeland was able to subside the economic crisis Belgium was going through at the time by devaluing the currency and implementing extensive budgetary policies. In 1937, van Zeeland won the seat of prime minister in a landslide with almost 80% of the vote, a crushing blow for the Rexist party and its momentum. One of the main reasons the Nazi party was able to maintain its dominance in Germany was because of laws that prevented many people apposed to fascism from voting in the national elections,  creating landslide victories for their own party.

The article accompanying this cartoon, “Non-Fascist Belgium”, made a statement about how difficult it is for fascism to spread, even when the non-fascist country is neighbors with a fascist country. The author is quick to point out that fascism has never had, “popular approval”, and cites Nazi Germany as an example. The author says that the Nazis, “never mustered more than 38 percent of the German electorate until they were able to master all forms of authority…”. Mussolini’s constitution is also cited, as well as Francisco Franco’s (at the time) on-going attempts to force fascism upon Spain. The article itself is aggressive at the end, with the author feeling a sense of pride in Belgium’s resistance. Calling Degrelle’s strategies “spell-binding”, the article concludes in conceding that Degrelle is a very good campaigner and speaker despite his loss.

This election proved to be the beginning of the end of the Rexist party and fascism in Belgium, and was a statement by the Belgian people of their opposition to a fascist government. When World War II started, Rex welcomed German occupation of Belgium, even though it had initially supported Belgian neutrality. When Belgium was liberated in 1944, the party was banned and many former Rexists were imprisoned or executed for their role in collaborating with the Nazi party.

The humor in this cartoon comes particularly from how it portrays Adolf Hitler. Most of the time  in history and in political cartoons, Hitler is shown as a ruthless, evil man who will stop at nothing to claim dominance of Europe. But, this cartoon shows Hitler as a friendly neighbor partaking in the neighbor cliche of peaking over the fence to say hello. He is even giving seemingly friendly advice and participating in friendly conversation. This contradiction creates the humor.

The cartoon also shows Hitler doing the Nazi salute, a common symbol of Hitler’s reign over Germany. In the context of the cartoon, this salute could be taken as Hitler waving to his neighbor, a much more friendly gesture than the Nazi salute. An exaggeration in the cartoon is the landslide of votes shown engulfing “Belgium’s fascist part”, or the Rexist party, is exaggerated to show how badly the Belgian fascist party lost in the election. Upon closer inspection of the cartoon, the man representing the Belgian fascist party has his own toothbrush mustache, just like Hitler’s mustache, showing that the Belgian fascist party is in part an extension of the Nazi party and its policies.

Citations:

John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Author Not Listed. “Non-Fascist Belgium” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 13 Apr. 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

“Crushing Defeat Handed Fascism In Belgian Vote.” Chicago Daily Tribune 12 Apr. 1937, Volume XCIV – No. 87 ed.: 6. Chicago Tribune. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“Rexist Movement.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 4. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2216-2217. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

De Grand, Alexander. “Fascism and Nazism.” Encyclopedia of European Social History. Ed. Peter N. Stearns. Vol. 2: Processes of Change/Population/Cities/Rural Life/State & Society. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. 509-517. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.