• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: War Sucks

This has not been a joyful week (as you might have discerned from most of my recent Daily Hellers). So, I decided to keep the ball rolling uphill and finish the cycle with one final (?) example of incredibly startling graphic protest.


A few months after the end of World War II, former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Robert Osborn, an expressive and satiric artist whose assignment was drawing witty cartoons for training and safety books and brochures, published a cautionary manual of a different kind. Rather than teach sailors and pilots survival techniques under battle conditions, his book War is No Damn Good sought to metaphorically save lives by condemning all armed conflict, and especially the nuclear kind.

While serving his country in the South Pacific, Osborn had seen many horrors and supported the ends. But after viewing photographs from Hiroshima and its atomic aftermath, he realized the means were not beyond reproach and as an artist he could not squelch his indignation. Thus emerged the first protest icon of the nuclear age. His drawing of a smirking skull imposed on a mushroom cloud transformed this atomic marvel into a symbol of death. Although it was a simple graphic statement, it was the most poignant of the precious few anti-nuclear images produced after World War II.


This was the most startling, but only one of countless icons, images and graphic commentaries that Osborn created over his lifetime. He was an artist of conscience, man of conviction, and antecedent of the great cartoonists and commentators who attacked injustice and lampooned folly. He was the American Daumier. He reported on the comedie humaine and was critical of affairs of state that were not very comic. His expressive pen and brush line was known to anyone who read The New Republic, Life Magazine and The New York Times, or his satiric books On Leisure and Paranoia, and the autobiographical Osborn on Osborn. His work defined the social satiric milieu of his era because he stripped bare the pretense of hypocrites and fools, of which there where many.
































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