Cold War Political Cartoons: Explanation & Analysis

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  • 0:02 The Value of Political…
  • 1:16 Nature of Cold War Cartoons
  • 2:14 Examples: Cold War
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about American and Soviet political cartoons during the Cold War. We will examine the need for and motivation behind these political cartoons and identify some of their characteristics.

The Value of Political Cartoons

In many high school and college history courses, special attention is given to what we call political cartoons. You are probably familiar with them. Political cartoons are typically simple drawings or illustrations that convey a political sentiment. Political cartoons are nothing new. They were used during the American Revolution to influence popular opinion. Early American presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, were frequently the subject of political cartoons. Many people consider political cartoons a form of propaganda, and they are often used for that purpose. Propaganda is any form of media used to influence opinion on a political or social issue.

Special attention is often given to political cartoons in history courses because these cartoons are an excellent way to ''see'' into the past. As primary sources, political cartoons reveal the culture and political context of the era in which they were created. This makes them especially useful.

If we wanted to learn about the Cold War, for example, examining Cold War political cartoons would give us tremendous insight into the culture and political climate of that time. And that is exactly what we will be doing in this lesson.

Nature of Cold War Cartoons

The Cold War was an intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union between the end of World War II in 1945 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. As the world's two superpowers, the US and the USSR considered one another enemies during this time and competed for power and influence.

Each superpower used political cartoons to demonize one another and promote themselves. Soviet political cartoons often portrayed the US as a country full of greedy ''fat-cat'' capitalists, while American political cartoons pointed out the atheistic nature of the Soviet government, as well as its tendency to export communism. In American political cartoons, the Soviet Union was often depicted as an angry bear. Each superpower used political cartoons to portray themselves in a positive light and make the claim that they were the most just and virtuous nation. Self-promotion was a major theme in Cold War political cartoons.

Examples: Cold War

Because most Cold War political cartoons are not in public domain, please consider taking a few minutes to research some online. For our purposes, we'll have to use our imagination.

One famous political cartoon depicts American President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sitting on the top of their respective nuclear missiles engaged in arm wrestling. The message here is clear: the US and the Soviet Union are locked in an intense battle (even a stalemate), and the potential for nuclear war abounds.

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