At the end of World War I, a large portion of the globe was in shambles. The United States as well as other victors of the war gained immense power and enjoyed economic growth, that was very short lived. In the late 1920’s, the stock market crashed causing the United States and the world to fall into the longest economic crisis, the Great Depression (“The Great Depression”). The cartoon by John Knott, “Sword is Needed,” was published in the Dallas Morning News on October 29, 1932 to raise awareness about the political and economic problems that arose as different nations strived for a compromise on the specific terms for world disarmament as well as the high price that taxpayers paid in order to maintain national arsenals. Accompanying the cartoon was an editorial, “Disarmament Again,” that discussed the obstacles to reaching a compromise on arms limitations at the upcoming Geneva Conference in November of 1932.
After World War I, “a general disarmament conference had first been proposed for 1925, but it did not actually meet until 1932 due to a lack of enthusiasm,” (“Disarmament”). The Geneva Conference of 1932 was about the limitation of arms, which ironically aroused diplomatic tensions across the globe. While non-attendance was one issue, once at the meeting many nations could not agree on the details requirements of arms limitations. No country would act, unless a different nation agreed to specific terms.
For example, the French Premier had prepared a plan that opposed the amount of drastic reductions on arms limitation that would be presented during the convention, while the United States and United Kingdom had held confidential negotiations on naval limitations (“Disarmament Again”). Although the United States and United Kingdom were the main superpowers to call for disarmament, the US threatened to build up the maximum amount of weaponry as a precaution because the UK was the strongest naval power. Italy had announced its willingness to cooperate on the limitations; Russia, on the other hand, had offered plans for complete disarmament (“Disarmament Again”). Meanwhile, Japan had declared itself to be compliant – but still demanded the necessity of naval defenses in order to protect its home waters against problems in the Far East. Germany, however, denounced limitations and demanded release from any limitations on arms. In short, so many different rivalries and points of friction, no one was willing to compromise, and there was no easy way to reach an agreement.
Understood against this historical backdrop, in Kott’s cartoon the large tank – labelled “World’s Armaments”—is a significant object—a point also emphasized in the editorial. The weight of the tank symbolizes the burden of armaments on each nation involved in the Geneva Conference. The utter size of the looming tank, even in the background, represents the scale and difficulties of reaching widely agreed terms for disarmament. Its massiveness represents the complex problems of national armaments and military budgets funded by the average taxpaying citizen.
In the foreground, a small man is tethered to the big tank. He is dragging the heavy burden of the “world’s armaments.” This beleaguered man represented taxpayers. As previously mentioned, this cartoon was drawn during the Great Depression. People in the United States, as well as abroad, were suffering from the stock market crash and barely had enough money to get by. The lone man representing exhausted taxpayers worldwide, slavishly drags the tank. He has no control over how his money will be spent, for arms rather than a prosperous economic future.
While dragging his burden, the taxpayer walks over an array of failed attempts at disarmament. The volume of scattered papers represents the many previous failures at compromise on numerous aspects of arms limitations (e.g., “Plan for Disarmament,” “Conference for Armament,” “Plan for Arms Limitation”). This complex issue had been long discussed with little or no result. In Knott’s cartoon, the difficulties of previous disarmament conferences are captured in the paper titled, “Plan for Untying the Gordian Knot.”
Disarmament deals are like a metaphorical knot with different ends being pulled in different directions. This metaphor is very important to the cartoon. In the middle of the illustration, there is a giant, complex knot—a Gordian Knot—that binds the taxpayers to the tank. “Gordian Knot,” a proverbial term used to describe a complex problem that is solved through bold action (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The origin of the term is traced back to Alexander the Great’s march through Anatolia to the city of Gordium (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). In order to conquer Asia, Alexander the Great had to untie the complicated knot. Unlike his predecessors who had failed, with a swift move of his sword, Alexander cut the knot. John Knott’s cartoon implies that similarly bold action was required to achieve disarmament at the Geneva Conference. The complicated puzzle, or knot, of trying to please every nation and honor their preferences for arms limitations could only be achieved if every country attending the conference had the “sincere desire to disarm.”
“Disarmament.” Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, edited by John Merriam and Jay Winter, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 854-863. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3447000280/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GRVL&xid=e4c44852. Accessed 27 Mar. 2018
“Disarmament Again.” Dallas Morning News, 29 Oct. 1932, p. 2. America’s Historical Newspaper, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=P75K5CDYMTUyMjA4ODk3NS4zNDQ0OTg6MToxMzoxMjguNjIuMjUuMTgy&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-10483DD48E0961E6@2427010-10483DD50169304E@17.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Gordian Knot.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2 Jan. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Gordian-knot
“The Great Depression.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/48.asp
Knott, John. “Sword Is Needed.” Dallas Morning News, 29th ed., 29 Oct.1932, p.2.
Patch, Buel W. “World Disarmament Conference of 1932.” Editorial Research Reports 1932, vol. I, CQ Press, 1932, pp.1-20. CQ Researcher, 28 Mar. 2018 library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1932010500.