I'm writing, first of all, to thank you for your too-generous review of my Bill Mauldin bio on your blog. The essay is brilliant, not because it's so complimentary, but because it deepens and adds so much to the analysis of Mauldin and his cartoons. Your critical perspective on the citizen-soldier myth is evocative and timely. It also provides a great lens through which to view Mauldin's wartime work.
For me, your essay immediately infused one cartoon in particular with new meaning [click on the thumbnail for a legible view]:
Let me give you the context. In the off-year elections of 1942, fewer than 30,000 of the five million overseas service men and women voted, mostly because northern Republicans and southern Democrats--both claiming "states' rights"--set up deliberately inefficient systems and cumbersome rules for polling overseas GIs. (During the Civil War in 1864, Lincoln had seen to it that Union soldiers were given leaves to vote, and polls were even set up in the field.) The Republicans saw the vote as a chance to curtail liberal-left turnout; the Democrats feared that black soldiers--liberated from the terror and intimidation that prevailed at southern polling stations--might actually exercise their right to vote. It worked, and New Dealers lost seats in the House and Senate.
To remedy the low soldier turnout for the 1944 election, liberals introduced the Green-Lucas Bill. This was intended to set up a federal commission that would send out overseas ballots to all military and civilian personnel. The same coalition of anti-New Dealers managed to amend Green-Lucas, preserve the state systems, and create barriers to the new federal ballot. Out of 11 million service men and women overseas, some 2.5 million voted, largely because the issue had raised awareness and soldiers petitioned their home states early to get ballots. Still, a fairly dismal turn-out. Soldiers disenfranchised as citizens.
No federal ballots for all servicemen, but at least they could make bets!
Thanks again for your wonderful article. Best wishes,
THANK YOU, Todd, not only for the kind words but also for casting light on a Mauldin cartoon that, at first, left me puzzled. Now I see it as yet more proof that Mauldin's wartime cartoons were political cartoons, in the truest sense of the word. It's clear from your book that, even as Mauldin rejected easy platitudes about "supporting the troops," he advocated fiercely for their genuine support, that is, their political enfranchisement.
Readers, the above is but a sample of the kind of historical contextualizing and insight that can be found in the soon-to-be-released Willie & Joe: The WWII Years -- as comprehensive an edition as is possible of Bill Mauldin's wartime cartoons -- edited by Todd and published by Fantagraphics. This two-volume edition is an indispensable trove of both cartooning and military history, and fully as significant as Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts or the various other comprehensive strip reprint projects that we are so lucky to have now. That the definitive edition of Mauldin's wartime work should come out within weeks of the first substantial biography of the artist is a sweet co-incidence, and cause for celebration.
I hope to post a fuller review of Willie & Joe: The WWII Years soon. For now, suffice to say that it's historically important and beautifully done.
(NOTE that Todd DePastino is also the author of the fascinating Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America, which, like his Mauldin bio, is an example of truly democratic American history-writing. Good companion reading for Frank Santoro's Storeyville!)