Cartoons have been an integral part of American political discussions for centuries.
In fact, one of the most impactful and powerful cartoons appeared in the May 9, 1754 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, more than 20 years prior to the Declaration of Independence. Addressing the raging battle between England and France over the Ohio Valley, the words “JOIN, or DIE” appeared beneath the image of a snake cut up into eight pieces. The creature’s detached head was marked “N.E.” for “New England,” and the seven other sections that followed were labeled with initials representing New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina — all of which were, of course, still colonies at the time.
A decade later, Franklin used a similar cartoon to pressure Great Britain to repeal the Stamp Act, warning “Britannica” that she stands to lose her “limbs” — each representing a colony or group of colonies — and, in the process, inflict terrible harm on the mother country as well.
The usage of cartoons allows for messages to be sent in extremely creative ways, and it is for good reason that newspapers across the country — including Hamodia — run a cartoon in their daily editions.
Each day, our editors sift through dozens of cartoons sent to us by a host of talented artists. Some are extraordinarily clever, others relatively bland. Many take aim at a particular politician or entity; others seek to come to the defense of the beleaguered and oppressed. Some illustrate broadly held truths; others simply allow its creator to express personal — and often very debatable — strongly held opinions.
Following the sorting process, some cartoons are used in our daily and weekly editions and scores of others are stored in our archives for use on a rainy day. Quite a few are considered unacceptable for our readers and are immediately dispatched to the nearest wastebasket. We have grown accustomed to seeing cartoons that are gruesome, cruel, and downright insensitive, yet it is extremely rare that we find a cartoon to be so disturbing that we feel it necessary to comment on it in these pages.
Webster’s dictionary defines “poetic license” as a “license or liberty taken by a poet, prose writer, or other artist in deviating from rule, conventional form, logic, or fact, in order to produce a desired effect.” Few individuals are given as much free reign in using this so-called license as cartoonists are. But everything has a limit, and in the course of this election campaign and the immediate aftermath, red lines were so flagrantly crossed that it is our obligation to speak up.
One cartoon that was released after the election consisted of what looked, at first glance, like an image of the American flag. Upon closer inspection, one sees that while all 13 of the familiar red and white stripes are present, instead of the 50 white stars, there are white swastikas arrayed on the blue field. A second cartoon, created by the same Slovakian-born artist, is even more outrageous. On the left there seems to be a replication of a famous picture of emaciated survivors lying on concentration camp barracks bunks, with one of those pitiful figures declaring, “If we journalists had called fascists fascists instead of populists, all this wouldn’t have happened.” The right side of the cartoon has a photo on a wall that looks like a composite of Trump and Hitler, and a gun-toting man wearing a red and white armband emblazoned with a “T” declaring, “For the two pen pushers, we have the shower today.”
These cartoons come on the heels of a host of others, all trying to, somehow, link Donald Trump to the Nazis.
The usage of such outrageous imagery isn’t merely deeply offensive to Mr. Trump and to the American electoral system that chose him as their next president. It is an unacceptable and unforgivable act of deep disrespect to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust as well as to survivors. For when the term “Nazi” is used to define anyone espousing policies with which one does not agree, and an image of Hitler to illustrate a political figure whom one really does not like, one is, for all practical purposes, engaging in Holocaust denial.
While the aforementioned cartoons are some of the most egregious examples, in recent years we have repeatedly seen the misuse of terms like “Nazis” used in the most inappropriate ways by writers, politicians and, sadly, even members of our community.
In an era when ignorance about what happened during the Holocaust is rampant, and an ever-dwindling number of survivors remain alive to tell their personal horror stories and to bear witness about the victims, it is more vital than ever that any action, whether intentional or inadvertent, that has the effect of minimizing the gravity of one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind is condemned in the strongest possible terms. We owe it to the memory of the victims, and we owe it to ourselves.