Valerie

Valerie isn’t a friend. Not that I don’t like her and I certainly got to know her — almost too well. It’s just that she’s not among those who suddenly bombard me with invitations for about two weeks at a clip so that I’m running from party to dinner to a day in the country until I contemplate hiring a social secretary only I don’t because I know things will settle down for months to come once the flurry is over. Life will go back to normal, which means I hardly see anyone except my best friend, Abby, and her husband, John, which is fine with me because, at that point, I’m peopled out. I suppose it would be nice to be less popular more regularly, but this has never happened to me. My social life is strictly a roller coaster, and Valerie has nothing to do with it.

Valerie is someone I worked with for six weeks on a temporary job. I was the temp. Otherwise, I’m a photographer but my career is just beginning to launch itself and, although the portfolio is filling up with professional work, there’s a lot of competition out there so I still find myself at some corporation or other more often than I’d like. This one was an insurance company where Valerie and I pumped out form letters eight hours a day to tell the clients their claims were for the one thing their policies didn’t cover. The reasons were so repetitive; I even programmed those into the computer. Valerie and I only had to press a couple of buttons to break the bad news, which left us with plenty of time to talk. Since production was up, nobody cared.

Valerie’s life is like a soap opera, and Valerie is less than shy. Following her saga was very addictive. To boot, she’s a case right out of the pop-psychology textbook. Generally speaking, I find pop psychology overrated, but occasionally, it turns out to have a point. It had several where Valerie was concerned. Her father, an honest laborer, got paid Friday afternoon, drunk Friday evening, violent and quick with his fists Friday night, slept if off Saturday, apologized Sunday, and turned back into an honest laborer Monday to start the cycle again. For those who have never read the textbook, I will tell you, this leads to low self-esteem. Valerie doesn’t seem like a classic victim. She views her life with a good dose of humor and even a little insight. But she has also had a string of abusive boyfriends to prove that this is a pattern that repeats itself anyway.

I suppose Valerie is simply too close to the problem to notice. After all, I bring my own problems to Abby because she is the queen of perspective, able to find something worse when you’re convinced your life has hit the pits. Since I’m generally optimistic, my life generally goes quite smoothly so I don’t know what to do when it snags, like a person who never gets sick is floored by a common cold. But if I’m no good with my own problems, I’m terrific with everyone else’s — a question of objectivity. If something’s broke, my impulse is to try to fix it, even if nobody asks me to. Valerie practically greeted me with “Hi, I’m Valerie. You’ll never guess what my boyfriend did last night.”

At least it seemed that way, and her life seemed to be the most in need of fixing I’d ever run across. My instant addiction wasn’t prurient interest; it was a knee-jerk reaction. Since she didn’t view herself as a hopeless case, neither did I. She was saved from a perpetual sermonette only because she could talk faster than I can and getting a word in was a challenge.

The very first morning, I learned about Valerie’s background and her then current live-in boyfriend. Like her father, this boyfriend was quicker with his hands than his mouth. The only difference was that Gary didn’t drink to get drunk on a regular basis like Valerie’s father. He was just a maniac as far as I could tell, taking out his evidently endless frustrations on Valerie. The fact he whacked her around didn’t bother her. The fact he was so unpredictable did.

“At least with my father, you knew when to duck” was how she cheerily put it.

Gary, the no-warning slugger, was the star of the soap opera for the next couple of weeks. His latest bout of frustration was served up with the morning coffee. It seemed crystal-clear to me that Valerie should move out, and I didn’t hesitate to tell her this. She didn’t give me much time to offer the reasons why, so I could only chant the suggestion like a mantra, but Valerie really didn’t see the need. She was looking for a way to be able to anticipate Gary’s moods, something I wasn’t about to help her with. It was when Gary did more than slap her around and she showed up with a black eye that she finally decided perhaps I had a point. She moved in with her sister that weekend.

“Tammy’s boyfriend isn’t much better,” Valerie told me with a laugh, “but he’s a trucker so he’s on the road a lot.” For Valerie, this was like a vacation. But not for long.

Valerie isn’t a raving beauty, but she is very pretty and she’s got a figure that’s hard to ignore. The insurance company was one of those dress-and-heels places. Valerie and I could have worn the exact same dress and I would have looked like a 12-year-old boy standing next to her. It isn’t as if she’s making an effort to be sexy, in fact, she dresses like an aspiring junior executive. It’s just that even a tailored suit becomes provocative apparel on her, which seems to have a certain effect on the male of the species. Three days after moving out on Gary she was contemplating moving in with Bruce.

“What’s he like?” I asked, though what I meant was what’s his problem since I’d begun to have my doubts about Valerie’s judgment by then.

“He seems really nice.” Valerie revealed a tiny tendency to leap before she’d bothered to look. I mentioned, since she could stay with Tammy, that maybe it would be a good idea to find out first and discovered how much influence I had with Valerie. She moved in with Bruce two days later.

As it turned out, Bruce was quicker with words than with his fists, which was something new for Valerie. Only Bruce’s words were just as vicious. Instead of coming in with the recap of the previous night’s fight, Valerie would arrive asking, “Do you think I’m stupid? My nose is too big? I’ve got fat thighs?”

There was a new question every day. Bruce was picking Valerie apart a feature at a time like a vulture in no particular hurry. Even when Valerie had been with Gary, I’d have had to describe her as downright perky. With Bruce, I watched her morale crumble slowly and painfully. Her smile became a rarity. She never laughed at all anymore. Circles grew larger and darker under her eyes with each of Bruce’s attacks. Stewing had replaced sleep. I did my best to rebuild her confidence before she faced the creep again, and, oh, did I suggest heading back to Tammy’s. My words didn’t fall on deaf ears. I knew Valerie was listening because we would discuss my suggestions. But what I said did register in a personality that was dedicated, as if it was as programmed as the computer, to making the wrong choice. As it turned out, I could have saved my breath. It was something Bruce said that finally did the trick, and the next morning, Valerie arrived, not asking a question, but making a statement,

“I am not cheap!”

Score one for Valerie. Give her two points, in fact, because she was back at her sister’s that very evening. She may be a victim, but she’s a survivor as well.

Before the assignment had wound down, she’d rebloomed, much to my relief because I’d gotten to like her. But, with only a few days left, I hadn’t even come close to hearing the end of the tale. No assignment could outlast “The Days of Valerie’s Life,” which I suspect will be the longest running series in soap opera history. At that point, however, I just began to listen, as it seemed pointless to give advice, even bound-to-be-ignored advice, if I’d never know the outcome.

I began to wonder if there isn’t a bar or something in town where Valerie finds her boyfriends because, even if I’m not the original party girl, I get out occasionally and I have never ever run across the kind of men she attracts so easily. Bruce hadn’t even had time to fade into memory before Valerie had two more possibilities on the string. My last few days were spent listening to her debate their lack of virtues.

One of them was a temporarily ex- con, a specialist in armed robbery who had spent more of his adult life in jail than out. The other was a guy who struck me, and would probably strike Valerie later, as another Gary since she’d noticed him only because he was in the middle of a brawl.

I sighed a lot as I listened. There wasn’t much else to do. I did have a teensy preference for bachelor number one. He sounded worse on the surface, and there was always the possibility that he’d talk her into being the Bonnie to his Clyde. But I was confident that Valerie, despite her proclivity for lousy choices, was really too smart for that, and this guy had one major advantage in my mind; I was convinced he’d be back behind bars soon and out of her life. Another Gary ran the risk of being a long-term trap for Valerie, since getting whacked around fell into her range of normal behavior. But I weighed the pros and cons, if you’ll forgive the expression, silently. I would probably have said something eventually, only the assignment ended before I was able to make up my mind which of these guys was actually worse. I knew Valerie would have no problem figuring this out, however, and if I really wanted to know, all I’d need to do would be to check back and see which one she’d chosen.

Everyday Life in 1939

The date is October 28, 1939, and the New York Times is reporting on America’s arms embargo and the neutrality bill. The Post is offering ex-President Hoover’s isolationist appeal, “We Must Keep Out.”

We Must Keep Out
Read the entire article “We Must Keep Out” by Herbert Hoover from the October 28, 1939 issue of the Post

But the big story in The Carlisle News is “Grass Fires Menace Farms.” In the previous week, five separate fires had burned over 200 acres in Sullivan County, Indiana. Other front-page stories concerned state conservation clubs, county electrification (“more than 50 miles of poles have been set since construction began Oct. 2”), and the Halloween carnival, which would be held in the “old gymnasium” next Tuesday.

When I read items like these in old small-town newspapers, I wonder just how accurately history captures the experience of previous generations. Histories of this era tend to focus on the major newspapers and national magazines. It’s easy to forget that life in these times wasn’t shaped just by war, economics, and politics. It was also birth and death announcements, corn-husking contests, and “Auto Crash at Busy Corner.”

A man named O.W. Collins stands at the mean population center of the United States, near Carlisle, Indiana.
A man named O.W. Collins stands at the mean population center of the United States, near Carlisle, Indiana.

I’ve been digging up these details of American life from the small-town papers published in Sullivan County, Indiana. I chose this area simply because the 1940 census declared that it held the mean population center of the United States. (The precise location was in a cornfield just southeast of Carlisle.)

A farm community far from the city may seem too removed from mainstream America to be representative today. But in 1940, nearly half of America lived in such rural areas, and they stayed well informed of their neighbors thanks to their local newspapers. For example, The Carlisle News ran the regular front-page feature, Movements of People During the Past Week. Sixty-five years before Facebook, readers could keep track of their friends’ and neighbors’ activities: “French Willis made a business trip to Vincennes Wednesday … Mr. and Mrs. John Gibbs, of Indianapolis, spent the weekend visiting Mrs. Gibbs’ aunt, Mrs. Laura Niewald … Mr. and Mrs. Joe Finch, of Boonville, visited relatives here Monday evening while enroute home from a trip to South Bend.”

The Sullivan Daily Times
The Sullivan Daily Times

Just up the road from Carlisle is the more substantial town of Sullivan, with 5,000 people and three newspapers in 1939. The largest was the Sullivan Daily Times, which offered both national and international news. On Saturday, October 28, its front page was reporting the senate’s passage of a bill to revise the Neutrality Act, the same story reported in the New York Times.

If the bill passed in the House, the U.S. would lift the embargo that had prevented all sales of arms to the warring nations. The bill wasn’t really intended to help all sides, though. President Roosevelt had asked for this change because it had become obvious that the Neutrality Act only penalized pro-democratic nations. Germany and Japan had been well armed even before they set out on their military campaigns. With every conquest, they added more ammunition and equipment to their arsenal. France, England, and China were desperately short of weapons, shipping, and airplanes.

Sullivan, Indiana, in 1939
Sullivan, Indiana, in 1939
Sullivan, Indiana, in 2014
Sullivan, Indiana, in 2014

The editors at the Sullivan papers opposed lifting the arms embargo. Part of their objection probably came from their solid Republican opposition to anything President Roosevelt proposed. But they might also have seen the impending sale of weapons to England and France as a sign America was taking sides and inching closer to war. The paper ran a weekly column by Indiana’s 2nd District congressman, Gerald W. Landis (R), who conducted an opinion poll on the proposed change to the Neutrality Act. By October 28, the poll stood at 914 for continuing the embargo and 403 for lifting it. It wouldn’t have calmed the isolationists’ fears to read on the Daily Times’ front page that “Britons Rejoice at U.S. Senate’s Passage of Neutrality Bill.”

Other war news included “German Place Forced Down,” “Nazis Say 3 Subs Lost,” and “Germany May Aim Immediate Knockout Blow.” But these were surrounded by stories with more of a local interest, like “Duck Hunting Season On; Fowls Scarce Locally.”

And for fans of lurid crime stories, there was “Dr. Judd May Aid in Hunt for Wife: Insane Killer Remains at Large.” In 1933, Winnie Ruth Judd was convicted of first-degree murder, after the remains of two women were found in her luggage. She regarded them as rivals for a man with whom she had been having an affair. In court, Judd said she shot the women in self-defense, then packed them into shipping trunks with the help of her lover. She was committed to the Arizona State Hospital. By October 1939, though, she had escaped, and now her husband was offering to help find Mrs. Judd. She was eventually recaptured. Curiously, between 1935 and her parole in 1971, she escaped six times.

After reading these stories, Sullivan county residents might have switched on their Zenith console in the living room, or their Philips kitchen radio set to catch the Saturday-night broadcast from the city stations.

WBOW in Terre Haute was carrying the swing music of Jimmy Dorsey’s Orchestra. The Louisville, Kentucky, station would carry the countdown of the nation’s top songs on Your Hit Parade. At 8 p.m., many farm radios would be tuned in to the country music and comedy on National Barn Dance or the Western drama of Death Valley Days. Younger listeners might have chosen the Camel Caravan with Benny Goodman, broadcast out of Chicago.


From the CBS Camel Caravan broadcast of October 28, 1939. Listeners in Sullivan County would have particularly enjoyed Benny Goodman’s first song that night:  “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

 


On the next evening, Clark Gable put in an appearance on theChase & Sanborn Hour, part of his promotional tour in the week preceding the December 15 premier of Gone With The Wind. In this clip, Charley McCarthy — Edgar Bergen’s alter ego—brags about his past girl friends, including Carole Lombard, apparently unaware that Gable and Lombard had recently married.

Clark Gable
Clark Gable, 1938
Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, 1949
Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, 1949

 

Others would head to the Sullivan movie theater. At the Sherman, they could watch Thunder Afloat with Wallace Beery (“Rebel! Rogue! Ruffian! Yet as gallant a fighting man as ever fired the last gun from a sinking ship!” hollered its newspaper advertisement). Down at the Lyric, they could see They Shall Have Music, whose newspaper ad promised, “Spellbound … that’s what you’ll be … just as the critics were.” At midnight, though, the Lyric was running an “adults only” feature titled Mad Youth. Its breathless ad copy spoke of “Home affairs forgotten — for love affairs. Thrill-seeking mothers spending alimony on hired love … Youthful innocence betrayed!” Yowza!

The Carlisle Star store in Indiana in 2014
The Carlisle Star store in Indiana in 2014
View of the same street in downtown Carlisle (Carlisle Star on left), circa 1920
View of the same street in downtown Carlisle (Carlisle Star on left), circa 1920

The prices in the newspaper ads seem shockingly low, but not when adjusted for inflation. The ad for Kling Brothers’ tailored-to-measure suits sold at Carlisle’s Star Store boasts prices starting at $21.50 (the equivalent to $350 today). Down the street at Sproatt Brothers, you could buy a pound of bacon or a pair of corn-husking gloves for 25 cents in 1939, which would be $4 in 2014.

Carlisle and Sullivan have not changed greatly since 1940. About a third of the buildings in downtown Carlisle are gone, but they haven’t been replaced by chain stores or fast-food franchises. The lots remain empty except for well-tended grass.

The storefronts that line the Sullivan courthouse square have had face-lifts, but the upper stories are virtually unchanged from when they were built decades before the 1940s.

But just as I’m thinking that life hasn’t changed much in 75 years, I come across this item:

Newlyweds Jailed; Buy Off Police

Mr. and Mrs. Garland Setzer, recent newlyweds, were given a noisy reception last night by 50 or 60 people from the Graysville community.

The newlyweds were loaded in a large truck which headed a parade into Sullivan. Several cars made up the caravan of merrymakers following the truck to this city.

In Sullivan, Chief of Police George Barrick and his officers immediately handcuffed Mr. and Mrs. Setzer and put them in jail under technical charges of disturbing the peace. Bail was eventually provided by the bride and groom themselves — they bought supper for the entire crowd, and the police officers, at Gray’s Inn.

If you want to know how long ago 1939 is, consider that people of that time thought the medieval custom of rousting newlyweds from bed and dragging them off for a noisy, public exhibition was great fun for everyone.

Step into 1939 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 75 years ago:

George Hughes

George Hughes
George Hughes

Born in New York City in 1907, George Hughes grew up in the epicenter of twentieth century art and advertising.  He stayed in the city until adulthood, skipping college to attend the National Academy of Design and the Art Students’ League in the city.

After having finished his education, he provided freelance illustrations to the fashion industry including works for Vanity Fair and House and Garden.  In 1936, the automotive industry drew him away from New York to Detroit.  He worked in a stable job, contracted as a special designer, a Mechanical Designer for car companies.  He disliked the industry, and shortly thereafter moved back to New York City.

Upon returning to the city, he had a short-lived first marriage and joined the Charles E. Cooper Studio.  He created art and copy for the firm, and was eventually picked up as a talent for representation by American Artists.  He quickly remarried.  This time, love lasted a lifetime.  He married a woman named Casey, and the two had a total of five daughters.

In 1942, Hughes caught the eye of Saturday Evening Post Art Director, Ken Stuart.  Hughes had created a simple illustration for an interior fiction piece in the magazine.  Stuart then commissioned Hughes for a series of WWII portraits of American generals titled “These Are the Generals.”  This collection brought Hughes early national fame, and the Post kept tabs on his developing work for later possible covers.

With a growing family, Hughes and his wife decided they needed more living space.  It was time to leave New York’s urban sprawl.  George knew that Arlington, Vermont was growing in popularity among American artists.  The Schaeffers, the Rockwells, and the Athertons were all family friends who lived there.  In 1946, George and Casey bought a small farm near the other artists.

Their apparent reasons for purchase included the scenery and good business. The Hughes’s wanted to cultivate an air of artistic sophistication, forcing themselves into the popular artist group.  Their plan paid off as Hughes soon became a recurring Post cover artist.

Hughes once remarked that he enjoyed sailing in summer, duck hunts in the fall, and skiing in winter.  Arlington, Vermont turned out to be the perfect place to build his life.  The Hughes’s developed lasting friendships as well.  George often ran into Norman Rockwell in downtown Arlington.  Rockwell would ask George’s opinion on his sketch ideas, but constantly painted the opposite of George’s advice in his final draft.  The situation became a running joke between the two artists.

More Clothes to Clean by George Hughes from April 17, 1948
More Clothes to Clean by George Hughes from April 17, 1948

George Hughes’s first Saturday Evening Post cover was on the April 17th, 1948 issue.  From that point on, Hughes had a successful career in the art world.  He completed a total of 115 Post covers, along with illustrations for McCall’s, Woman’s Day, American Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and many more.

Hughes, more than any other Post artist except Rockwell, survived the rise of photography.  His last Post cover was July 14th, 1962 until he completed one more for the magazine revival in 1971.  In the 1970s, he switched professions in the art world to become a successful portrait artist.  He lived a full life, and died in 1990.  During his lifetime, Hughes had seen his work on display in the Detroit Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Covers by George Hughes

View full gallery »

The Great War: October 24, 1914

In the October 24, 1914, issue: A former prime minister pleads his country’s case, a journalist shares his POW story, and American fashionistas cope with Parisian withdrawal.

The Cause of France

By Georges Clemenceau (French Prime Minister, 1906-1909; 1917-1920)

Georges Clemenceau Reviews Troops
Georges Clemenceau Reviews Troops

No one was a stronger advocate of the war or a better spokesman for French hatred of Imperial Germany than Georges Clemenceau. Like Arnold Bennett in the previous week’s Post[link], he hoped to build American support for or encourage its involvement in the war.

The Cause of France
Read the entire article “The Cause of France” by Georges Clemenceau from the pages of the Post

“The great American Republic is an upright judge, before whom it is an honor to plead. … I have promised myself not to utter here a single intemperate word. Truly the bare facts speak loudly enough. What are the armies of Germany doing in Belgium? Why are they there? In the name of what cause and for what motive? For the sole reason that the strategy of the General Staff at Berlin required Belgian territory in order to invade France. There was, to be sure, a treaty of neutrality — a treaty at the bottom of which appeared the signature of the King of Prussia, written with his own hand. That treaty Wilhelm II deliberately tore up.

“In France we believe that a treaty is something which has weight, and that a nation’s signature to a treaty has a moral value which statesmen must not ignore. We did not desire war. Our intention, in the interest of the peace of Europe, was simply to continue the upbuilding of France along the noble lines of her past, within such limits as were imposed on us by the Treaty of Frankfort.

“I have cited five war-provoking attempts instituted by Germany against France. It would be impossible to cite a single instance of such an attempt on the part of France against Germany. I defy anyone to cite a single hostile act on our part!

“And now villages in Northern France are in flames; the country is ravaged — held for ransom. The inhabitants, half-crazed, are fleeing. The innocent and the harmless fall without number under the sword of massacre! Are we in the right or are we in the wrong?  It passes my comprehension how the question could be asked after reading the simple statement of facts, which I have made as brief as possible.”

Crushing the People for Money

By Will Payne

Many Americans regarded the European war only for its business opportunities. But Payne suggested American businesses look for profits in a continent much closer.

Read the entire article "Crushing the People for War Money" by Albert W. Atwood from the pages of the Post
Read the entire article “Crushing the People for War Money” by Albert W. Atwood from the pages of the Post

“The idea that as a result of the European war a great amount of foreign trade would fall into our lap like ripe fruit from a shaken tree has no doubt been thoroughly exploded by this time. The first effect of the war will be loss. Whatever ultimate gains we make will be a matter of time, skill, and energy.

“Europe is the great market for our exports, both raw and manufactured. … So the first fact we have to face is loss of business in our best market.

“That makes it all the more incumbent upon us to push for business in other markets, particularly in South America.

“South America buys roughly a billion dollars of foreign goods yearly, and in spite of some geographical advantage only about one-eighth comes from this country. Certainly we ought to sell more. … There is no reason why we should not, within two or three years, double our sales to South America — or, in some further years, treble them.”

Being a Guest of the German Kaiser

By Irvin S. Cobb

Irvin S. Cobb
Irvin S. Cobb

Roving through Belgium to gather material for his series on the war, Cobb and his companions found themselves much farther behind German lines than they expected.

The journalists were held for several days, without food, in a large Belgian chateau. Finally, after some tense days, they were fed and told that transportation had been arranged, not to Brussels, but to the German town of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Being a Guest of the German Kaiser
Read the entire article “Being a Guest of the German Kaiser” by Irvin S. Cobb from the pages of the Post

“Just as we were filing out into the dark, Sergeant Rosenthal, who was also going along, halted us and reminded us all and severally that we were not prisoners, but still guests; and that, though we were to march with the prisoners to the station, we were to go in line with the guards; and if any prisoner sought to escape it was hoped that we would aid in recapturing the runaway.

“So we promised him, each on his word of honor, that we would do this; and he insisted that we should shake hands with him as a pledge and as a token of mutual confidence, which we accordingly did. Altogether it was quite an impressive little ceremonial — and rather dramatic, I imagine.

“As he left us, however, he was heard, speaking in German, to say sotto voce to one of the guards: ‘If one of those journalists tries to slip away don’t take any chances — shoot him at once!’  It is so easy to keep one’s honor intact when you have moral support in the shape of an earnest-minded German soldier, with a gun, stepping along six feet behind you. My honor was never more intact.”

Will America Dress Herself?

By Corrine Lowe

two Parisian women in furs and hats, winter 1914 fashion
Paris, Winter 1914 Fashion

You might recall Lowe’s article a few weeks back. She was making fun of America’s adulation of European culture. Well, she had an equal measure of scorn for American women who would wear whatever Paris told them was high fashion.

Will America Dress Herself?
Read the entire article “Will America Dress Herself?” by Corinne Lowe from the pages of the Post

“Paris, like a circus ringmaster, has sent us through hoops and back again. She has put more American women into more clothes absolutely unsuited to them than could be counted by the most gifted mathematician. And yet, enveloped in this dense fog of the Paris superstition, many of us still cling to the belief that nobody outside of Paris can design anything more dressy than a Mother Hubbard.

“Why is it we think everything that comes out of Paris is beautiful? Why does an advertisement about the ineffable line of Paris never fail to move us? …

“With the production of more costly and beautiful fabrics Made in America, and with the demand for clothes of American design now being voiced, the designer is now … bound to lift herself out of the old restricted sphere and to show her countrywomen what she really can do.”

The New Warfare

By Norman Draper

WWI poster by W.G. Thayer
Learn to adjust your respirator correct and quick. Don’t breathe while doing it, and this won’t happen to you.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has been trying to rid the world of antipersonnel mines, which destroy lives both during and long after wars, since 1992.

The buried explosives have been around for hundreds of years,  but World War I combatants were starting to develop new applications for the concealed weapon.

The New Warfare
Read the entire article “The New Warfare” by Norman Draper from the pages of the Post

“Two years ago this fall several army officers … gathered at a railroad siding outside the German city of Hannover and watched six hundred full-grown sheep driven from two cattle cars. The sheep were herded at the far end of a large field adjoining the tracks, where they were placed in an enclosure containing a little less than an acre of ground. …

“Not long after there was a puff of smoke at the center of the enclosure, and a two-foot cube of steel attached to a chain four feet long leaped out of the ground and exploded with a terrific roar. Three hundred and seventy of the sheep were dead before the army men reached the enclosure. Twenty-seven were so badly wounded they had to be shot immediately. Only nine were entirely uninjured.

“That experiment … showed the worth of its new earth bomb, which, next to the fire of the modern machine gun, is considered by many German ordnance experts to be the most effective method known of killing many men, and killing them quickly. Indeed, the earth bomb is more to be feared than the machine gun.”

“Another earth bomb known to the armies of Europe, and which is said to have been employed many times recently, is one used to destroy troop trains. This bomb, as it is generally used, is about three feet long, nine inches wide and one foot deep—just the size to allow it to be buried between railroad ties. It is filled with dynamite, and is also anchored with a chain, which usually is but eighteen inches long.  Experiments conducted in Russia have shown that the bomb is more effective if exploded just after the troop train’s locomotive has passed it. Then it will blow the first car to pieces and the rest of the train will be wrecked.”

Draper concluded his short article with the per capita costs of delivering death in war.

“It costs more than $20,000 to kill a man in modern warfare . Russia spent $20,400 for every Japanese slain, and France paid $21,000 for every victim of its operations during the Franco-Prussian War. General Percin, of the French army, compiled these figures … by the simple process of dividing the total cost of the war by the number of men killed on the opposite side.

“It is estimated that, with all the modern and expensive implements employed in this war, it will cost each nation, on an average, $30,000 for every hostile soldier its own troops kill [which translates to nearly $700,000 in 2014].”

Step into 1914 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 100 years ago.

Hard Lesson

“Of course, it’s different for underwear,” the professor said as she hobbled around the desk.

“If you happen to be confronted by your assailant while you are dressed only in your nightclothes — which happens more often than you would think …” and she paused a moment there, a wistful gleam in her eye.

“Anyway, in such circumstances, there are only three possible outcomes, which depend upon your choice of sleepwear:

“Girls wearing bras and panties are considered to be of weak moral character and therefore expendable. Expect the monster to attack you first. You will certainly be slaughtered, so remember your lessons and scream for all you’re worth.”

A shaft of light pierced the darkness of the auditorium. A pair of students strolled in, chatting with each other as they searched for seats. They squirmed and shoved their way across the room, distracting others in turn, their entrance perturbating through the class in a kind of Brownian motion made of people. The instructor paused, not bothering to look behind her, until the room was silent again.

“To continue,” she said, “those found wearing teddies, corsets, or other sundry items are likewise doomed.” There were more than a few nervous titters throughout the audience. “In this case, however, the actual killing is almost secondary to the torture. For reasons we have not yet discovered, these outfits tend to attract sadomasochistic monsters such as serial killers, nightmare incarnations, and their allied species. Expect to be stalked and kidnapped before suffering a horrific fate. Lotion is often involved.”

There was a crash as one of the newcomers knocked her bag to the floor. “Sorry,” she muttered as she rummaged through its contents. She nudged the girl sitting next to her.

“Can I borrow a pencil?” she asked between pops of gum.

“You really should have come more prepared, Esther,” the other said, proffering one.

“And you should really do something else with your makeup,” Esther replied. She ignored the pencil, rooted again in her bag, and produced a digital recorder. She set it on her desk, pressed a button, and crossed her arms. Throughout the exchange Mrs. Plum waited silently, her chalk tapping against the desk.

“If we are quite ready?” she asked. She cleared her throat. “Girls in nightgowns fall into the heroine category. They will be chased, of course. They should count on running through a stream or sprinkler, and their clothing will almost certainly be torn in a revealing manner, perhaps by the claw of the beast himself. In the end, however, they will find some way to triumph. The same rule applies to those wearing T-shirts. But pajamas are considered juvenile, and are not allowed.

“Are there any questions, class?”

“Mrs. Plum?”

“Yes, Jane?”

“What about full or partial nudity?”

Mrs. Plum smiled, then winked conspiratorially. “Well, then it depends on how fast you can dress.”

The class laughed dutifully. Outside, an October breeze rustled the dead leaves on the grounds of Karloff University, New England’s most prestigious college of horror. No one in the auditorium noticed, most of them being too busy scribbling furiously in their pink-and-black notebooks to pay attention to the weather. Others were absorbed in more personal matters.

“Well of course they want me back next season,” Esther said, a momentary silence allowing her voice to sing out across the class. Mrs. Plum gave one of her dreaded “harumphs,” and returned to the chalkboard to write out the night’s assignment.

“We will continue with the fundamentals, of course,” she said as she wrote. “Please read Chapter 3 of Lovecraft, and Chapters 5 and 6 from King’s Theory of Haunting. Also, for examples of today’s lesson …”

A tittering giggle broke her train of thought, and she whirled around, her glare sweeping like a searchlight across the classroom, until it settled inevitably on Esther and her friend.

Esther was oblivious to her, twirling her long blond hair as her bubblegum popped like rifle fire. “… never saw anyone with such natural body linguistics” she said to her companion, a petite brunette who dropped her gaze as she saw Mrs. Plum’s glare.

“If you are quite finished, Esther?” asked Mrs. Plum in glacial tones.

Esther took notice of Mrs. Plum for the first time. She waved her hand dismissively. “Sorry,” she muttered. She attempted to resume her conversation, but her friend ignored her, studiously copying down notes from the chalkboard. With a sigh, Esther settled back down in her seat. “Boring,” she muttered sotto voce, a smile curling the corners of her mouth as she recalled the term from her acting tutorials.

A student in the next row turned to her. “You don’t have to be here, you know. You could go study to be in a romance novel.”

She sniffed her pert nose. “Oh, I like being a horror character. But all this,” she waved her hand vaguely, taking in the classroom, the building, the entire university, “is so … obsolete. It’s the 21st century!” She paused, trying to remember bits of discussions she’d overheard from the upperclassmen. “The possibilities of CGI are so complex. Horror has become such a part of the mainstream artistic discourse, but we talk about underwear?”

Mrs. Plum drew her knitted sweater closer about her, as if in defense. “The basics never change, Ms. Campbell. A good screamer always has work, no matter what the setting.”

“And how are we to affect a change in the zeitgeist if we continue only to honor its outmoded traditions?” she asked.

Another student said, “That sounds like Professor Chambers —” until Esther waved her off.

“They didn’t ask me about screaming when I was doing my internship —”

Another girl sniggered. “No, they asked if you would do nude scenes.”

“Did that even make it to DVD?” someone asked.

“It’s still more work than any of you have ever done. Even her —” Esther pointed to Mrs. Plum.

Mrs. Plum broke in, “Without a proper theoretical grounding —”

“Theory,” Esther said in a singsong rhyme. “Theory doesn’t work in the real world. I should know!”

“Experience without the education to ground it is nothing more than a mechanical exercise,” Mrs. Plum said.

Jane giggled. “She got plenty of that on the casting —”

But Esther wasn’t listening. “My cousin was saying the other day —”

“Ms. Campbell!” Mrs. Plum said. “We are all very aware by now of your family connections. And how do you think your cousin achieved his success? By applying himself to the lessons you are learning here! Greatness does not grow in a vacuum.”

Esther rose. “What would you know? You’re old, like everything else here! Sitting there and trying to teach us this worthless —”

With a slap of her hand upon the desk, Mrs. Plum silenced Esther. She rose then, and a ferocity came upon her which made her seem much younger than her 60-odd years.

“What would I know? What would I know, you silly girl? In my day, Ms. Campbell, I worked with the greatest monsters ever known in the field. I have been chased by the Wolfman, by Frankenstein, by Dracula himself! And we didn’t fritter our time away with computers or androids, either; no, it was girl versus monster, as it should be. Why, Lon Chaney himself refused to work with any other victim …”

The bell rang then, breaking the spell. Mrs. Plum shrunk back into herself, becoming nothing more a tired teacher.

“Anyway,” she murmured, “that was all a long time ago. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”

Esther left the classroom with two of her comrades, chattering as they strolled down the hallway.

“Dracula?” she sneered to them. “That’s so 1950s. I’m a modern girl! I don’t want to get stuck in some hokey old horror novel about werewolves!”

“Tell us again about the zit-geist?” her friend asked.

“Just two more years,” Esther said, “and I’ll be out of this dump and doing some real work.”

“If Mrs. Plum doesn’t flunk you first.”

“I’m going to be the greatest ever. She wouldn’t dare. Only the great have the ability to rise against the pleban hors d’oeuvres …” That didn’t sound right. She tried to remember what her acting coach had told her, in those brief moments before he’d turned down the lights. Thebian? Something like that. She opened her mouth again, but her friend cut her off.

“Oh well, we can’t do anything about it. We gotta do what they say if we wanna graduate. Hey, you guys wanna go get something to eat?”

“You two go ahead,” said Esther. “I’ve got Theory of Mummies lab next.” Waving them off, she went into a bathroom to primp.

Visions of fame danced through her head as she touched up her makeup, at least until she noticed her face dissolving. Her hands flew to her cheeks, but found them still soft and firm with youthful vigor. She whirled around and saw that the walls of the room had become shrouded in blackness. She tried to run, but she was rooted to the spot.

She turned back to the mirror. Her reflection had warped and twisted until it became the face of Mrs. Plum, but unlike Esther had ever seen her. Leering and maniacal, her eyes were full of an evil that chilled the soul.

“Hello again, Ms. Campbell,” spoke the mirror.

“Mrs. Plum, How did you …”

She cackled. “One can’t remain a victim forever, you know. Once the looks go, you’ve had it in our business. So I took a few courses in Black Magic, and, shall we say … diversified my career portfolio?”

The reflection moved back until Esther could see all of Mrs. Plum standing in the mirror. She was holding a large and wicked looking knife.

Esther shrieked. “What?! How?!”

“Because in the end, Ms. Campbell, the monster is often the thing we least expect. And because I am very upset with you.”

And then Esther’s face was back in the mirror, and she could see Mrs. Plum standing behind her. The old woman took a small step forward, and Esther felt the professor’s cool, dry hand grasp her chin, heard Mrs. Plum whisper, “I don’t think you’re going to make it to Advanced Screaming,” and then the knife touched her throat and there was red everywhere for a while, and then only black.

Afterwards, Mrs. Plum smoothed her sweater and walked on to her office. The janitors would clean the mess; they were paid highly to deal with the occasional university accident.

She walked past the Intermediate Stalking seminar, a much smaller room than her own. The few chairs were occupied by a nightmare bestiary of furred, fanged, and clawed monstrosities, as well as ichor-dripping undead and what appeared to be one very crazed young man holding a gleaming axe. Formless shadows pooled and blinked in the corners, suggesting menaces more horrific than the eye could comprehend. In the first row, a scaly demonic creature loomed over the professor, who adjusted his bifocals and calmly continued his lecture.

“Of course,” Prof. Larry Talbot said, “it is very different if your victim is clad only in underwear …”

‘Never Give In’

Winston Churchill
The caption of this photo reads: Duchess or taxi driver, they all call him “Winston.” But the English have enormous
respect as well as affection for Churchill, as this camera study shows.

Britain’s best news of 1939 came just three days after the start of war. The news was so good, the British Admiralty ordered it to be sent to every ship in the fleet. It came as just three simple words that were filled with hope: “Winston is back.”

The news confirmed the rumors that Winston Churchill had been brought back into the government as the First Lord of the Admiralty, the post he’d held in World War I. His return to government marked a hopeful change of direction. Great Britain had steadily been losing ground before Hitler. Now, with war declared, the country needed a tough and relentless fighter. And that was Winston.

Old Man in a Hurry- Winston Churchill
Read the entire article “Old Man in a Hurry- Winston Churchill” by Vincent Sheean from the October 21, 1939 issue of the Post

It seems he had always been “Winston.” As journalist Vincent Sheehan wrote of the man, “Today, when he is 65, they still, duchesses and taxi drivers, call him ‘Winston,’ just as they did when he was 25.” (Read the entire article “Old Man in a Hurry- Winston Churchill” by Vincent Sheean from the October 21, 1939 issue of the Post.)

Winston’s name had been popping up for years in the Post, as well as its sister publication. As far back as November 23, 1899, The Country Gentleman ran a brief update on England’s war against the South Africans. A detachment of British soldiers. it said, had been sent to rescue the besieged garrison at Ladysmith:

“These troops unfortunately attempted to ride in an armored train, with disastrous consequences. Encountering a party of Boers north of Frère, they began to withdraw. While retiring, some of the trucks were derailed … a company of Dublin Fusiliers … turned out and advanced toward the enemy, while the rest of the train appears to have returned without them to Estcourt. It is believed that these men were taken prisoners, 100 in number, including Winston Churchill, son of Lord Randolph Churchill, who was acting as correspondent, but who assisted actively in the fighting.” (Of course he was in the fight; Churchill was forever looking for opportunities to distinguish himself.)

No one, including Winston himself, could have known that his capture was the beginning of a long, remarkable public career. After only a month in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria, he escaped and returned to British lines. At the time, the war had been going badly for Great Britain and Churchill’s escape made him a popular hero. It boosted his career as a correspondent and, shortly afterward, as a politician.

Take our quiz: Did Winston Churchill Really Say That?

By 1912, he was an experienced, successful, and highly confident politician. A Post editor described him as a man of “charming impudence,” though admitted his opponents viewed this quality as “insufferable insolence.”

Who's Who- and Why
Read the entire article “Who’s Who- and Why” from the December 7, 1912 issue of the Post

“In his early days in politics he took none of the stodgy political pretensions of the older statesmen seriously, but flouted them, laughed at them, was insolent, impudent, satirical, sarcastic, by turns. He would break a lance with any of them, and had no reverence for age, reputation, or awe of convention and precedent.” (Read the entire article “Who’s Who- and Why” from the December 7, 1912 issue of the Post)

According to the author, Churchill lived in his own special world. “His sunsets are always more beautiful, his sunrises more glorious, his dangers more vivid, his pleasures more pronounced, than those of any other. As he looks at it, the sunset is his personal perquisite, and the sun always rises for his especial benefit.

“The only American to whom he can be compared,” the author continued, “is Theodore Roosevelt; and that comparison isn’t especially apt, for Churchill writes far better than Roosevelt does, talks far better, and at thirty-eight has gone farther than Roosevelt had when he reached that age. Of course Churchill never can be king, and Roosevelt has been president; but Churchill will undoubtedly be a Prime Minister of England one of these days.”

The Post’s prediction came true, but not for another 28 years. And for much of that time, there were many—Churchill included—who believed he had lost any hope of ever becoming Prime Minister.

Early in the 1930s, he had argued with his party about granting self-government for the British colony of India. Then, in 1936, he urged King Edward VIII not to resign in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. When he publicly stated that the government was pressuring Edward to abdicate, his party turned against him. He was banished from the inner circles and soon lost much of his public support.

His political exile, which lasted for years, proved to be a challenge similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s polio; it increased the man’s resiliency and determination. And during his years on the outside, he continually spoke out against appeasing Germany. He repeated that Hitler couldn’t be trusted, and that abandoning Czechoslovakia to the Germans would only delay war, not buy peace.

And by 1939, Sheehan, among others, was writing about the hero’s return:
“He returns to power at the clear demand of the British public—a public whose favor he has wooed for 40 years, but whose disfavor he has never been afraid to risk. … It is a strange turn of the irony of circumstance that Winston, who was for so many years ‘too clever to be trusted,’ is now the man whom the whole Empire trusts to preserve it. …
“At first, I, like most others who have come near him, was frankly afraid. His personality is an army with banners; your first impulse is to get out of his way. His slightest sentence has weight because the words seem chosen from an altogether exceptional arsenal of words with altogether exceptional care. He has a huge vocabulary and no hesitation in using it according to the dictates of his own instinct and experience. This sometimes means a flood of words, sometimes the merest laconic, summing up, but there is never a word thrown away, meaningless.
“In all these respects, as well as in the more important ones, ‘Winston’ stands in the sharpest contrast to his protagonist in this war, the fanatical, teetotaler, vegetarian, neurotic Adolf Hitler. One is a rounded man—in more senses than one—who enjoys life to the full and wishes to preserve its freedom and variety for his people; the other is a haunted shell of a creature who would immolate the whole universe, if need be, to his adolescent dreams of revenge and fulfillment.”

By this time, Churchill was already pushing the British government to take action in Scandinavia. He realized that Great Britain needed to secure the mines and ports in Norway and Sweden that supplied its iron, but Prime Minister Chamberlain hesitated and took no action until April 1940, after Hitler invaded Norway.

The following month Chamberlain resigned. Churchill became prime minister just as Hitler began his sweep across Europe, conquering France, Britain’s chief ally. By the month’s end, nearly a half million British soldiers were clinging precariously to the Belgian coast, surrounded by the German army. They were alone, outnumbered, and outgunned. But they had Winston.

Step into 1939 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 75 years ago:

John Falter

John Falter
John Falter

“As for a painting, it has to be a love affair every time.  If you aren’t in love with what you are trying to put on your canvas, you better quit.” —John Falter

John Falter was a born and raised Midwestern illustrator, originally from Nebraska. Born in 1910 in Plattsmouth, Falter moved to Falls City in 1916 for his father’s job.  From an early age, Falter found art and illustration attractive.

Even as a young man, the artist marketed his skills, creating a comic strip called “Down Thru the Ages” for the Falls City Journal.  The Journal’s cartoonist, “Ding” Darling, happened to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist who encouraged Falter in his illustrative work.

Falter graduated high school in 1928, and chose to continue his artistic education at the Kansas City Art Institute. While studying in Kansas City, he eventually won a scholarship allowing him to continue his art education at the Art Students League in New York City at the height of the Great Depression.

Covers by John Falter

View full gallery »

Work was initially scarce, however, the artist survived creating cover illustrations for “pulp” magazines.  He, like so many other illustrators of his time, moved to the unofficially labeled “illustrator’s colony” in New Rochelle, NY.

Success arrived in a flurry once Falter opened his own illustration studio based out of New Rochelle, acquiring commissions from magazines and advertising firms in the city.  He drew inspiration from his idol, Norman Rockwell, who lived nearby.

By 1932, at the age of 22, John Falter met and married Margaret Huggins of Emporia, Kansas. In 1956, John Falter’s first marriage ended in divorce. His illustration career stabilized and he eventually picked up consistent work from Liberty Magazine in 1933, completing three illustrations a week.

Falter picked up more advertising work, accumulating a stable of clients ranging from Gulf Oil and Four Roses Whiskey, to Arrow Shirts and Pall Mall Cigarettes.  At the height of his illustration career, Falter was working for McCall’s, Life Magazine, Look, Good Housekeeping, and Cosmopolitan.   The consistency of this advertising work allowed Falter the free time to experiment in his art, picking up other media such as easel painting in oils and watercolors.

Ben Franklin by John Falter
Ben Franklin
By John Falter
January 16, 1943

His first cover for The Saturday Evening Post was a portrait of Benjamin Franklin for the January 16, 1943 issue.  One of The Post’s youngest contributors, Falter amassed a large portfolio of Post covers, completing 129 covers over the course of his life.  His works, much like those of Norman Rockwell, are simple observations of every day American life which may have otherwise gone unnoticed if not picked apart by a skilled artist.

By the time America entered both of World War II’s wartime theaters in the Pacific and in Europe, Falter had enlisted in the Navy where he was put on special assignment to design recruitment posters specifically for women. Completing over 300 posters, Falter’s works are now famous for dealing with the “loose-lips-sink-ships” theme.  He was even commissioned, while in the service, for illustrations depicting American Medal of Honor recipients on twelve covers of Esquire Magazine.

In 1956, his first marriage ended in divorce. In 1957 he married his second wife, Mary Elizabeth “Boo” LaRue Wiley. She brought three stepchildren from her first marriage into his life — Elizabeth “Lisa”, Sarah, and John “Jay.” In 1958, the couple had a daughter, Suzanne.

Though popular in the 1940s and 1950s, illustration fell into decline during the 1960s. John Falter was able to adapt and find an even more profitable line of work in portraiture and western art during the late 1970s and 1980s. He was inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1976 and made a member of the National Academy of Western Art in 1978.  In April of 1982, Falter suffered a stroke and died from complications within a month’s time.  He left behind a wide artistic legacy ranging from cover art and advertising, to murals, portraiture, prints, and paintings in a wide variety of media and genres of art.

More on John Falter:
Museums: John Philip Falter Museum in Falls City, Nebraska
Birth: February 28, 1910
Education: Kansas City Art Institute, Art Students League of New York City, Grand Central School of Art
Family: Married Mary Elizabeth LaRue Wiley; stepchildren Elizabeth, Sarah, and John; daughter, Suzanne
Residences: Plattsmouth, Nebraska; Falls City, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; New York City, New York; New Rochelle, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupations: Artist, Illustrator, Portraitist, Painter, Book Cover illustrator, printer
Style/Genre: American Art, Western Art
Death: May 20, 1982

Taking Back Halloween

jack-o'-lantern on table with lantern
Isn’t this holiday supposed to be for kids? Somehow, in our lifetime, parents have taken over and pretty much spoiled everything. (Shutterstock)

For nine years, my wife and I lived in the city, down a long lane, next to the Quaker meeting I pastored. Our first Halloween, we loaded up on candy, anticipating a horde of pirates, ghosts, and witches. But the lane was dark and spooky and not one kid showed up, so for the next month, we ate mini Snickers for dessert at every meal, even breakfast. Then we moved to a small town, and carloads of urchins mobbed our home at Halloween, swarming our front door like rats on raw meat. After the first hour, we were out of candy and began emptying our cupboard to beat back the mob, doling out squares of baking chocolate, sugar cubes, packets of Sweet’N Low. When we ran out of treats, they began TP’ing our trees, soaping our windows, and igniting paper sacks of manure on our porch. It was wonderfully nostalgic, reminding me of my childhood, and I went to bed happy.

We made the mistake of leaving our pumpkin outside, and woke the next morning to find it splattered on the street in front of our house.

“And they say the youth of today have no gumption!” I said to my wife, thrilled to be living in a town whose youth weren’t adverse to labor. If you’ve ever hefted a pumpkin over your head to smash it, you’ll know it’s no easy task.

It wasn’t as if I were out any money. I got the pumpkin free at the hardware store in our town. If you wait until Halloween to get your pumpkin, as I do, the hardware man will pay you to take it off his hands. Nor did I invest much time carving the pumpkin. Triangle eyes, a square nose, and a gap-toothed smile. I’ve carved every pumpkin the exact same way since I was 6 years old and my parents first entrusted me with a knife.

I remember that day well, because I still have the scar. While blood was spurting in a high arc from my forearm, my father said, “Yep, that’s a cut all right. Looks like you hit an artery.” My father exposed me to danger early and often so the lessons would stick. Sever an artery once, and you’ll think twice before doing it again, I guarantee it.

But things changed on the Halloween front. Parents horned in on what had been a kid’s affair. Children were no longer turned loose to find their own costumes, there was no more rifling through the attic for hobo clothes. Costume stores began sprouting up, and parents shelled out 50 bucks for their kid to be a ninja, a Spiderman, or a ballerina. Costumes became the measure of parental worth.

Text from Taking Back Halloween
Around the same time as the outbreak of costume stores, someone discovered there was money to be made selling pumpkin-carving kits. There were no kits in my day, by cracky. A steak knife from the silverware drawer sufficed. Gone were the pumpkins with perfectly good triangle eyes and noses and gap-toothed smiles. Then someone, Martha Stewart, I think, wrote a magazine article about decorating with pumpkins, and, before long, pumpkins were sculpted by adults, not carved by kids. That was when Halloween began floating belly-up in the holiday fishbowl. Martha Stewart was sent to jail, but for entirely the wrong reason.

Now, God help us, parents are accompanying their children door to door. I would have sooner stayed home than had my parents tag along the night of Halloween. What is a boy to do when, in the presence of his parents, he must administer a well-deserved trick to the grouch down the street? His hand dips furtively into the folds of the costume to withdraw a bar of soap, only to have his father, who has forgotten the pure joy of delinquency, give him the stink eye. What have we become?

Certain pastors I know get all worked up about Christmas losing its meaning. This pastor is fine with Christmas. I want to return Halloween to its former glory. So I’m starting a movement to reclaim Halloween. First, no more adults poking their noses in where they don’t belong. If a kid wants to go trick-or-treating, the kid will have to come up with the costume, not the parent. No more store-bought costumes. It will be against the law. Second, every fourth house will have to hand out popcorn balls. There is no candy bar in the world that compares with a popcorn ball, but no one hands them out anymore. My movement will promise a popcorn ball in every Halloween bag.

If this sounds good to you, I urge you to write in my name during the next presidential election so I can get these, and other, crucial problems solved.

The Great War: October 17, 1914

Ruins in Liege
The ruins of houses in Liege, Belgium, which were shelled and burned by German troops.

By this week 100 years ago, the war had stopped moving.

After just two months of fighting, the Western Front was locked in a stalemate. For the next four years, there would be no significant movement across a battle line that extended from neutral Switzerland to the coast of the North Sea.

No one had expected this in 1914. Germany had launched its campaign with a bold assault across Belgium. For weeks they pushed back every Allied army in front of them — the Belgian, the French, and the English. The plan called for the German armies to sweep down into France, surround the remaining Allies, and capture Paris.

It might have worked, but a fresh French assault on the right side of the German line caused a split to form between the German armies. The French and British troops rushed into the gap. The German advance halted, then fell back to the Aisne River.

Both sides realized the way ahead was completely blocked, but there was still a chance to move around the enemy. The Germans began rushing to slip around the left side of the British army, while the British tried to slip around the right flank of the Germans. Both armies began racing north, trying to outflank each other. But they only succeeded in extending the battle line all the way across Belgium to the coast.

For the next four years, the Western Front would change very little. (The Eastern Front, between Russia and the Central Powers, would change quite a bit.) At no point would any army be able to shift the front lines more than a few miles, though both sacrificed thousands of men to break the enemy’s line.

Sherman Said It; Looking for War in a Taxicab — and Finding It

By Irvin S. Cobb

Irvin Cobb grabbed a taxicab in Brussels and said, in essence, “Follow that war.” When the driver would go no father, Cobb and his companions continued on foot into a small Belgian town.

Sherman Said It
Read the entire article “Sherman Said It” by Irvin S. Cobb from the pages of the Post

“A minute later … we had gone perhaps 50 feet beyond the mouth of this alley when two men, one on horseback and one on a bicycle, rode slowly and sedately out of another alley, parallel to the first one, and swung about with their backs to us. I imagine we had watched the newcomers for probably 50 seconds before it dawned on any of us that they wore gray helmets and gray coats, and carried arms — and were Germans! Precisely at that moment they both turned so that they faced us; and the man on horseback lifted a carbine from a holster and half swung it in our direction.

“Realization came to us that here we were, pocketed. There were armed Belgians in an alley behind us and armed Germans in the street before us; and we were nicely in between. If shooting started the enemies might miss each other, but they could not very well miss us. Two of our party found a courtyard and ran through it. The third wedged himself in a recess in a wall behind a town pump; and I made for the half-open door of a shop.

“Just as I reached it a woman on the inside slammed it in my face and locked it.

“Then a troop of uhlans [cavalry] came, with nodding lances, following close behind the guns; and at sight of them a few men and women, clustered at the door of a little wine shop calling itself the Belgian Lion, began to hiss and mutter, for among these people, as we knew already, the uhlans had a hard name.

“At that a noncommissioned officer — a big, broad man with a neck like a bullock and a red, broad, menacing face — turned in his saddle and dropped the muzzle of his black automatic revolver on them. They sucked their hisses back down their frightened gullets so swiftly that the exertion well-nigh choked them, and shrank flat against the wall; and, for all the sound that came from them until he had holstered his gun and trotted on, they might have been dead men and women.”

Liberty—a Statement of the British Case

By Arnold Bennett

Most First World War historians avoid placing responsibility for the conflict with any one government. In fact, historians are now so careful not to ascribe guilt to any country, it seems the war was nobody’s idea. It just happened, apparently.

During the war, though, there was none of this hesitation. Everybody knew who started the war — “the other side.” Here, Englishman Arnold Bennett, author of 30 novels, states in no uncertain terms that Germany and Austria were to blame. What the Post didn’t know when it printed Bennett’s article, was that he was working for the British War Propaganda Bureau.

Liberty: A Statement of the British Case
Read the entire article “Liberty: A Statement of the British Case” by Arnold Bennett from the pages of the Post

“The German military caste is thorough. On the one hand it organizes its transcendently efficient transport, if sends its armies into the field with both gravediggers and postmen, it breaks treaties, it spreads lies through the press, it lays floating mines, it levies indemnities, it forces foreign time to correspond to its own, and foreign news-papers to appear in the German language; and on the other hand it fires from the shelter of the white flag and the Red Cross flag, it kills wounded, even its own, and shoots its own drowning sailors in the water, it hides behind women and children, it tortures its captives, and when it gets really excited it destroys irreplaceable beauty. …

“If Germany triumphs, her ideal — the word is seldom off her lips — will envelop the earth, and every race will have to kneel and whimper to her: ‘Please may I exist?’ And slavery will be reborn; for under the German ideal every male citizen is a private soldier, and every private soldier is an abject slave — and the caste already owns 5 million of them. We have a silly, sentimental objection to being enslaved. We reckon liberty — the right of every individual to call his soul his own — as the most glorious end. It is for liberty we are fighting. We have lived in alarm, and liberty has been jeopardized too long.”

Hoping to make an ally out of the United States, Bennett was careful to mention a book that had recently surfaced, written by a member of the German army’s staff. In “Operations Upon the Sea”, Franz Frieherr von Edelsheim proposed an eventual assault on America.

“Von Edelsheim … begins by stating that Germany cannot meekly submit to ‘the attacks of the United States’ forever, and that she must ask herself how she can ‘impose her will.’ He proves that a combined action of army and navy will be required for this purpose, and that about four weeks after the commencement of hostilities German transports could begin to land large bodies of troops at different points simultaneously. Then, “by interrupting their communications, by destroying all buildings serving the state, commerce and defense, by taking away all material for war and transport, and lastly by levying heavy contributions, we should be able to inflict damage on the United States.” Thus in New York the new City Hall, the Metropolitan Museum and the Pennsylvania railway station, not to mention the Metropolitan Tower, would go the way of Louvain [a Belgian town where Germans burned, looted, and shot civilians], while New York business men would gather in Wall Street humbly to hand over the dollars amid the delightful strains of ‘The Watch on the Rhine.’ [A rousing German song from the 1850s, which asserted that the Rhine river must always remain German. It became an unofficial theme song for militant German nationalists during both world wars.]”

New Factors in War

By Samuel G. Blythe

In this report, Blythe observed several developing trends in the ancient art of war. Not only was the horse being replaced but soon airships would be bombing Paris and London. Even more ominous were the reports that France had developed a lethal gas for use on the battlefield. (The first poison gas attack on the Western Front was launched by the Germans in January 1915).

New Factors in War
Read the entire article “New Factors in War” by Samuel G. Blythe from the pages of the Post

“It has been an axiom of war since wars began that an army travels on its belly. This war, which is the greatest of all wars, has made it necessary to revise that statement. As it now is, an army travels on its gasoline.

“Food, next to men, is the oldest factor in war, and gasoline is one of the newest. Of the two, gasoline—or petrol, as they call it over here — is the more important, because, as modern armies are organized and used, as well as from the sheer size of them, there would be little food for the soldiers if there were no gasoline.

“No staff officer goes anywhere on a horse. He uses an automobile. More than that, the Germans, and presumably the French, have taken auto delivery trucks of the heavier type and mounted field guns on them. These can be moved in any direction almost instantly. They constitute the most mobile artillery the world has ever known. In other wars artillery was shifted by horse or by hand. In this war some of the lighter guns are automobile guns, and they can be transferred from one point to another while horses are being brought up.

“I was told that a Frenchman had invented [a] identical gas that the imaginations of various novelists have invented for use in war fiction — a gas that is so frightful in its effect that when it is liberated all human beings and all living things within a large radius are instantly asphyxiated.

“I was told further that the French Government had the secret of the composition of this gas; that it had been proved out on sheep and cattle — that, at about the time I heard of it, a shell containing it was dropped two hundred feet from a flock of sheep, and that the sheep died instantly when the gas reached them.”

Step into 1914 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 100 years ago.

Paul

All these years later you can’t even remember his last name, but for 45 minutes of your life, Paul was the most important person in it. He was supposed to pick you up at the airport, assigned to you by the university as your international student guide. He had emailed you a few weeks prior to your arrival with instructions to meet him at the café next to baggage claim. And even though his message was brief, you were relieved to know at least one person in all of Denmark.

The thing that really irritated you when you arrived at the Copenhagen International Airport was how attractive everyone was. The other passengers at the gate, the airline employees checking baggage, hell, even the cashiers at the convenience store were putting you to shame. After sitting in coach class for nine hours, you found yourself buying a pack of gum from a 6-foot-tall blonde woman — whose silk blouse fell exactly right — wearing a hint of lipstick and blush in natural tones that made her look like she wasn’t wearing any at all. But you knew. Oh, you knew.

Yes, that Scandinavian beauty you’d heard so much about was rearing its beautiful head in every damn corner of the place. Even the Danish design furniture store was just too much for you at that moment.

You landed there on the first double-decker plane you had ever taken, together with 400 other passengers, but very much alone. All told, your trip took 1 commuter flight from Iowa and everything you had known, 90 minutes of nervous pacing in the departures terminal of O’Hare International Airport, 2 Xanax, 1 Dramamine, and 9 transatlantic hours of medically dulled anxiety. But you made it.

Your face still smelled like tears. You were able to avoid crying when you said goodbye to your poor parents, but like a badly timed geyser, it all came pouring out on the tram ride to your connecting gate. Badly timed because, no matter how hard you try to be invisible at moments like that, you will always run into someone you went to high school with.

“Lydia, hey, are you OK?” she had asked with a mix of enthusiasm and concern.

“Oh, yeah, how’s it going.” You said it, rather than asked it, willing the conversation to end. Also, you could not for the life of you remember her stupid name. Megan? Ashley?

Undeterred, she soldiered on with “So, are you coming or going?”

Which, at that particular moment, was a little too much — a little too symbolic, too deep. And the fact that she would never, ever realize that just made you cry harder. You did, however, manage an “I’m going to Denmark for a year.”

“Oh, wow! That’s really neat! I’m coming home from a week in Denver!”

The exchange with Megan-Ashley was enough to propel you out of the tram with aggressive speed — the speed of someone practiced at the art of avoidance. And the speed seemed to calm you down, forced you to focus on something other than your anxiety.

But then you arrived at Gate K-25, which is where your anxiety (Hey, wait up, I’m on this flight too!) caught back up with you. While there, you discovered that people do really interesting things before boarding an international flight, and you watched them with the focused curiosity of an anthropologist studying a newly discovered tribe.

  1. There were the young parents who, despite knowing this was the worst idea they’d ever had, were about to take their toddler on an overnight, transatlantic flight. Their sequencing of events was highly strategic: They first tried to exhaust the chubby pink-cheeked boy by chasing him through the rows of connected metal chairs. They next transitioned him into calm sleep mode — changing him into cotton footie pajamas and giving him a Pavlov baby bottle that signaled bedtime. Everyone at Gate K-25 was rooting for these parents. But every time the boy emitted one of his ear-piercing shrieks, you could also see in their faces that these people would band together to overthrow the tiny tyrant if necessary.
  2. There was the older couple — late 60s, maybe — wearing eye masks on their foreheads like sunglasses, doing what looked like tai chi in front of the roped-off Diamond Platinum Preferred Elite line. They were wearing durable slippers, the kind with hard rubber soles and fleece tops, not about to let the water-retention-induced foot swelling get the better of them this time. They both took a swig of Emergen-C to prevent any airborne pathogens from ruining their river cruise through Germany and the former Czechoslovakia — something they had done before, but never on the 12-day Jewels of the Danube package. The instant they boarded the flight, they would put on their eye masks and take one Ambien each. Until then, they busied themselves with deep squats and forward bends — the woman almost reaching the linoleum floor, the man hanging down with his fingertips just past his knees. They executed all of this with choreographed synchronicity.
  3. And then there was you, the lone young woman clutching her computer bag as if it were a security blanket, impatiently ready for this part to be over, and scared shitless for the next part to begin. You had already taken your plane meds, a cocktail of anxiety and motion sickness pills that you were accustomed to taking before every flight. This, though, was your longest one yet, and for that reason you convinced your doctor to increase the dosage. She agreed, but cautioned you not to let this become an addiction “like Jeb Bush’s daughter did.” You weren’t familiar with that reference, and forgot to look it up online afterwards. However, you remained confident that your fear of plummeting 35,000 feet from the sky to your tragic death was strictly airplane-induced.

Despite your best efforts to irrationally panic, the flight was uneventful. You were served the best airplane food you’d ever had, by the most pleasant-but-cool flight attendant you’d ever met, and you had complete control over your own movie and radio channels. All of this proved to you that, not only do the Danes do everything right, you were completely out of your league in moving to their country — and so you did find a reason to irrationally panic after all.

It looked hazy as the plane made its final descent into Copenhagen; you could tell that the city was surrounded by water, but in the fog, everything took on a gray-toned hue. You didn’t have many expectations for what it was supposed to look like; but after a suspiciously perfect Danish airline experience, it was nice to see that even the Danes couldn’t control the weather.

And so, there you were. In a haystack of beautiful people, looking for a needle whose name was Paul. Besides his name and his birthplace (South Africa), you didn’t know much about Paul. For some reason you scanned the crowd for someone who looked like he might have played rugby growing up.

It became clear to you when you met Paul that he had never played rugby, but you did not rule out the possibility that he was an underwear model at some point in his life. He was handsome, with a lean build that made you feel like you towered over him even though he was at least two inches taller. You were suddenly keenly aware of the fact that you had spent the last 12 hours soaking up airplane stench in every fiber of your clothing and laugh-crying during a medley of romantic comedies that you watched with preemptive homesickness.

“Hello, you must be Lydia.”

He said it in an accent that made your name sound exotic. You shook his hand, trying not to touch too much of him for fear that he’d discover the strange combination of smells — recycled air and tears? — was coming from you.

Walking to the baggage claim, you exchanged a predictable dialogue of one stranger welcoming another to a foreign land. The fact that Paul was South African added a little dynamism to the conversation, although it was you who did most of the talking. You have always been the type of person to fill silence with words, a carryover from middle school days of wanting to impress and charm and entertain people into liking you.

Paul seemed stoic, thoughtfully answering the questions you fired off about school and work and South Africa, evening out the pace of the conversation into a more measured calm. His gentle tone complimented your nervous buzzing nicely, you thought, and as you casually glanced down at his hands, you surprised yourself with how delighted you were by his lack of ring.

As you neared baggage claim, you became very concerned that Paul would soon discover how much luggage you had deemed appropriate for a year abroad, and would quietly judge you for it. You considered warning him about your suitcases, which weighed about 80 pounds each, but decided just to tell him that you’d know your bags (you called them bags to downplay their size) when you saw them.

Your suitcases circled around together, and as you pointed them out to Paul, it occurred to you that their weight might actually have been an important detail. You stood side by side, each reaching for a suitcase — you knowing to expect the strong heave required to lift a cannonball from a moving target, Paul probably anticipating a moderately sized bag of clothes. Your expectations, of course, proved accurate, while Paul was forced around the carrousel — all the while holding onto the bag’s handle, grunting his way through several surprised onlookers, eventually deadlifting the bag first onto the metal frame and then onto the feet of another passenger.

You wished you could laugh, you really did, but it was not the time for that. Maybe someday you’d laugh, when you were sitting around a table with friends, reminiscing about your amazing adventures in Copenhagen. You hoped Paul would be a central figure in those stories, the one person you knew in the entire country of Denmark, on whom you would eventually grow.

First, though, Paul needed an apology, and you rushed over to offer a heartfelt one. His response was simply a quiet “It’s ok,” which alarmed you in its finality. You trailed Paul out of the sliding glass doors toward the train tracks, trying to decide whether more talking or silence would be best. You went with silence, which was not easy for you.

Up until that point, your experiences on public transportation had included a nostalgic trolley service that ran the five blocks of downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a school bus ride to a friend’s house one middle school afternoon. The Copenhagen metropolitan train system was an interesting divergence from those experiences in a lot of ways, but most notably that day was the level of difficulty with which you and Paul had to 1) sprint to the platform to catch it; and 2) lift the 80 pound beasts three feet straight up into the train car in the middle of rush hour traffic.

Paul was really keeping it together; you had to give him credit for that. He may have had a hard time even looking in your direction, but he had not yet abandoned you — something you frankly would have done if the roles were reversed.

The train made periodic stops, and you found it stressful not knowing which one was yours. You kept shifting around your suitcase to let other people on and off, eventually picking out the one phrase they all seemed to be using — one that sounded like “oon-skoolt,” which you had to believe meant either “excuse me” or “stupid idiot.” Paul had not yet volunteered information about the duration of your ride, but at that point you had gone too long without speaking to break the silence.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, your stop was the exact same stop as literally every single person on the train, including all the school children in all of Denmark, who were coincidentally all riding that very train that same day. You lost Paul in the sea of beautiful people, but somehow managed to right yourself and your gargantuan suitcase on the platform below.

On the walk from the train station — with Paul once again at your side — there were cobblestone sidewalks for days. Days and days of plastic suitcase wheels getting stuck between the historic bricks that laid the foundation of the beautiful old city

From the comfort of your Iowa cocoon two months prior, you had received a welcome letter from the university, telling you that you would be living in a dormitory called Regensen, on a street spelled “St. Kannistræde,” with the little ‘a’ and the little ‘e’ making one single little letter, which sort of looked like two number 8s put together. Like any rational human being, you had no idea what that little letter sounded like, but you assumed the “St.” stood for “Saint,” so when Paul seemed lost on the walk from the train station, you cheerfully noted that you were looking for “Saint Kah-nis-straid?”

You had never seen Paul look so disgusted in your entire life.

And though he had not uttered a single word to you since that unfortunate baggage claim incident, he spat back, “It’s Store Kannistr-uhhhhh-thuh,” with such a forced pronunciation that you gasped a little bit.

You couldn’t help yourself; your only real option was to kill him with kindness. And so you pursued a line of questioning thus far left unasked, one that began with an innocent “Do you live somewhere around here, Paul?” and ended with “No, we live outside of the city to be closer to my girlfriend’s parents, who help with the baby.”

And just like that, everything changed. In that one moment, you realized that Paul would not be someone you could commiserate with over drinks about being a foreigner alone in this place or with whom you could develop a lasting friendship. You were not looking at an equal; you were looking at a man who had gotten his Danish life together, who had made this place home. And you started to notice in his demeanor — his eyes gave it away — that he was doing the university a favor by escorting you from the airport.

When you finally made it to the thick curved wooden door that was sandwiched between two solid brick walls, you were choking back strange tears — homesickness? loneliness? or, damn it, both?

Paul leaned into the electronic dialing pad and said some nonsense into the speaker. Overhead, you heard a long high-pitched tone and a click, and just like that, you entered into the hallowed halls of Regensen Dormitory. You wanted to reach for Paul’s hand, but after everything, you knew you couldn’t.

Together, separately, the two of you walked through a short tunnel and into a large, sunny courtyard where a group of beautiful Danish models were sitting on a beautifully rustic picnic table, drinking champagne and eating strawberries. You let Paul do all the talking, but with every harmonized glance given to you by the picnickers, you wondered what exactly he was saying. At last, one of the Danish men stood up, shook your hand, and reached for the suitcase that Paul had carried this far.

You turned to say thanks to Paul, generically promising to “See you around,” to which — although your memory is a little foggy — you recall him replying “Cheers” and lifting his hand in a motionless wave, leaving you there, in the middle of the courtyard.

The Great Disillusionment

Ribbentrop-Stalin-Molotov
When They Were All Friends: Nazi Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop, Stalin, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Molotov

The week before news of the war stunned America, the country had been shocked by an even more startling piece of news. On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia — the two most dedicated foes in Europe — became allies.

For years, they had each shaped their foreign policies around total opposition to each other. Hitler and Stalin had both built fanatical support among their people by demonizing each other. Now, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the two men would be the political equivalent to friends.

Both dictators had good reasons for making the deal. It would allow Hitler to invade Poland without fearing an unexpected attack from Russia. And it would give Stalin more time to build up his military. Germany sweetened the deal by allowing Stalin to grab up the independent Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Hitler even invited Stalin to divide the spoils of a defeated Poland.

Stalin Over Europe
Read the entire article “Stalin Over Europe” by Demaree Bess from the October 14, 1939 issue of the Post

As Post journalist Demaree Bess saw it, the agreement between these two dictators led to World War II just as surely as the shooting of Franz Ferdinand led to World War I. He wrote, “Joseph Stalin shares equal responsibility with Adolf Hitler for plunging Europe into war.”

The agreement kicked the legs out from under the world’s radicals. Ever since 1917, when the Bolsheviks had overthrown Russia’s autocratic government, revolutionaries around the world had viewed the new communist government as the future of mankind. When the First World War ended and Europe’s governments tried to turn back the clock to regain privilege and power for their ruling classes, Russia seemed to be the only progressive force on the continent. The radical regarded the Soviet Union, not the U.S., as the international champion of liberty. To them, Lenin replaced Lincoln as the great emancipator. And Russia’s commitment to world communism, they believed, would end the oppression of workers everywhere.

Of course much of this thinking was put forth by the Soviet government itself. It had sent agents around the globe to promote unrest, destabilize governments, and recruit activists who would help establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Men and women by the thousands gave their efforts, and sometimes their lives, to realize this dream. But the Worker’s Paradise in communist Russia had become a cruel joke, particularly after Stalin seized total power. The Soviet government had become the regime of a despot.

Communist supporters recognized Stalin could be ruthless and cruel, but most remained faithful to the revolution. A few of them hoped to rise to power in Stalin’s new world order. But most avoided looking closely at the Soviet’s violent excesses: independent farmers destroyed, thousands of opponents executed, and millions of Ukrainian peasants starved to death. Communism, these supporters argued, had to be ruthless, violent, and deceptive if it was going to defeat the forces of reaction.

By the late 1930s, though, it was getting harder to keep faith with Soviet Russia. News was leaking out of the country, despite rigid censorship, that Stalin had executed not only his opponents but thousands of his most dedicated followers.

And then Stalin signed a peace accord with his sworn enemy. For many radicals who still supported the ideals of communism, this was simply too much. Stalin had betrayed them.

disenchantment-cartoon

“Heartbroken”

Herbert Johnson cartoon appeared in the Post in 1939 illustrated communist supporters’ disillusionment with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

“By his deal with the Nazis,” Bess wrote, “Stalin completely wrecked the Communist movement in all countries except his own. He finally made it clear, even to the most muddleheaded liberals, that there is little or nothing to choose between Stalin and Hitler, between Bolshevism and Nazism. He deliberately threw away any prospect of world leadership which he might have possessed.

“The Russian revolution … ceased to become an expansive world force on the day Stalin announced his deal with Hitler,” he continued. “The antics of the Bolsheviks, from this time onward, are of concern only to the people of Russia and their immediate prey. The tragedy is that Communism’s collapse as a world movement was achieved only by provoking European war.”

With his pact signed, Hitler invaded Poland within the week. Seventeen days later, Stalin followed suit. He sent his army into eastern Poland, violating a nonaggression pact he had signed with that country six years earlier. Stalin’s disregard of his old treaty with Poland didn’t phase Hitler. He wasn’t relying on the Soviet leader to keep his word, anyway. The Nazi leader was planning to break the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when it suited him.

That moment came the morning of June 22, 1941, when he sent his troops across the Russian border, racing away to deliver the final blow to communism. When he first heard of Hitler’s plan, Stalin refused to believe it. He had the officer who reported the German invasion executed. But gradually, doubt gave way to certainty. Stalin hurriedly retreated to his country home, refusing to talk to anyone, fearful that his misjudgment of Hitler would earn him the punishment he had meted out to so many old Communist Party members.

Yet he survived Hitler’s betrayal. And thousands of hard-core communists survived Stalin’s betrayal of communist principles. By the time the war ended, the communist machinery for world domination was up and running, ready to swallow Eastern Europe and much of Asia.

Step into 1939 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 75 years ago:

Stevan Dohanos

Stevan Dohanos
Stevan Dohanos

Stevan Dohanos, born May 18, 1907 in Lorain, Ohio, grew up as a great admirer of Norman Rockwell, going so far as to copy his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations in crayon that he sold to friends, relatives, and co-workers.  Little did Stevan know, he would develop a close personal friendship with Rockwell as his own art graced the Post’s cover 123 times over the course of his lifetime.

Dohanos was the third of nine children born to Hungarian immigrants Elizabeth and Andras Dohanos.  His upbringing in a midwestern steel town would later influence the cultivation of his artistic style showing the normalcy and realism of American life.  While inspired by Rockwell’s talent, Dohanos became an “American Realist” who depicted everyday life as it was.  He was most heavily influenced by the work of Edward Hopper, and chose not to idealize American life the way Rockwell did.

Dohanos realized his love of art fairly early in life, selling calendars and illustration copies for $1.00 to $3.00 apiece while he worked in a grocery store and later at an office job.  He began his formal education by taking correspondence classes through the International Correspondence School.  Soon after, the artist took night classes at the Cleveland School of Art where he received a scholarship to complete his formal art studies.

During and after art school, the young Dohanos worked in a Cleveland advertising firm, then travelled around the country painting wall murals before heading to New York City to work as a commercial artist.  He eventually moved to the artist colony of Westport, Connecticut where he found inspiration in the everyday lives of his neighbors.

While working in the city, Dohanos picked up advertising work from clients such as Four Roses Whiskey, Maxwell House Coffee, Pan Am Airlines, Cannon Towels, Olin Industries, and John Hancock Insurance.  His work was featured in Esquire, Medical Times, McCall’s, and Colliers prior to his first successful submission to The Saturday Evening Post.  In September of 1938, he married his longtime sweetheart, Margit Kovacs, and had two children, Peter and Paul.   

Searchlight, anti-aircraft guns, soldiers
Anti-Aircraft
Stevan Dohanos
March 7, 1942

His first Post cover, the March 7, 1942 issue, was a well-received wartime image of air raid searchlights from an artillery battery.  Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the artist’s workload for The Post increased, garnering a contract for roughly a dozen covers a year.

During World War II, Dohanos aided the war effort by painting recruitment posters and wall murals for federal buildings.  He also designed stamps for the federal government, starting during the Roosevelt administration, and staying in the profession the rest of his life.

As magazine covers turned toward photography and away from illustration, Dohanos quickly changed careers.  He did film art for such classics as White Christmas and was the chairman of the National Stamp Advisory Committee where he oversaw the art design for over 300 stamps.  He held the position throughout the administrations of 7 presidents and 9 Postmaster Generals.  His depictions include presidential portraits, the now collectible NATO commemorative stamps from 1959, and the 1967 John F. Kennedy commemorative stamp.

Stevan Dohanos found beauty in everyday life, choosing to focus on “the location and trappings of the American dream, not those who populated it.”  Elevated to lofty status as a famous Saturday Evening Post illustrator, Dohanos’s works now garner the walls, halls, and galleries of The Cleveland Museum, The New Britain Museum of American Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Dartmouth College, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and various federal post offices across the United States.  He died July 4th, 1994 at the age of 87, leaving behind his second wife Joan and their son, Anthony.

 

   
Stevan Dohanos hewed closely to the photo that he used to create this homey Florida scene for our February 2, 1952, cover.

Covers by Stevan Dohanos

View full gallery »

The Great War: October 10, 1914

From pages of the Post, October 10,1914: A forgotten American humorist turns war reporter, the war finds an unofficial theme song, and a doctor’s optimistic prediction of death is proved false.

A Little Town Called Montignies St. Christophe

By Irvin S. Cobb

Burning Belgium farmhouse
A farm house in Belgium which was burned during World War I by the German Army.

You probably wouldn’t know the name Irvin S. Cobb unless, like me, you haunt the dustier shelves in used bookstores. Far in the back, usually in the humor section, I’ll find at least one of his books; he published over 60 titles between the 1900s and the 1940s.

Back in those years, Americans apparently couldn’t get enough of him. He was America’s highest paid short story writer. He also wrote movie scripts, appeared in motion pictures and on radio, traveled the lecture circuit, and hosted the 1935 Academy Awards. And he produced a mountain of work for the Post: [180 articles and stories between 1909 and 1922].

In 1914, Cobb decided to join the long line of American humorists who went to Europe to write a travel book. His series, titled “An American Vandal,” ran in the Post from March through June that year. No sooner had he returned to the States than the war started in Europe. Although he’d made his reputation as a humorist and storyteller, Cobb was still a journalist at heart. He jumped at the chance to report a war. He set off for the frontlines and, just across the French border, came across “A Little Town Called Montignies St. Christophe.”

It was a sleepy Belgian village when Cobb passed through it in the spring, but now he was giving the village a second, serious look.

A Little Town Called Montignies St. Christophe
Read the entire article “A Little Town Called Montignies St. Christophe” by Irvin S. Cobb from the pages of the Post

“Something has happened to Montignies St. Christophe to lift it out of the dun, dull sameness that made it as one with so many other unimportant villages in this upper left-hand corner of the map of Europe. The war has come this way; and, coming so, has dealt it a side-slap.

“A six-armed signboard at a crossroads told us its name — a rather impressive name ordinarily for a place of perhaps twenty houses, all told. But now tragedy had given it distinction; had painted that straggling frontier hamlet over with such colors that the picture of it is going to live in my memory as long as I do live.

“Every house in sight had been hit again, and again, and again. One house would have its whole front blown in, so that we could look right back to the rear walls and see the pans on the kitchen shelves. Another house would lack a roof to it, and the tidy tiles that had made the roof were now red and yellow rubbish, piled like broken shards outside a potter’s door. The doors stood open, and the windows, with the windowpanes all gone and in some instances the sashes as well, leered emptily at us like eye-sockets without eyes.

“Until now we had seen, in all the silent, ruined village, no human being. The place fairly ached with emptiness. Cats sat on the doorsteps or in the windows, and presently from a barn we heard imprisoned beasts lowing dismally; but there were no dogs. We had already remarked this fact — that in every desolated village cats were thick enough; but invariably the sharp-nosed, wolfish-looking Belgian dogs had disappeared along with their masters. And it was so in Montignies St. Christophe.

A wrecked bridge in Andenne, Belgium
A wrecked bridge in Andenne, Belgium

“On a roadside barricade of stones, chinked with sods of turf … I counted three cats, seated side by side. It was just after we had gone by the barricade that, in a shed behind the riddled shell of a house, which was almost the last house of the town, one of our party saw an old, a very old woman, who peered out at us through a break in the wall. He called out to her in French, but she never answered — only continued to watch him from behind her shelter. He started toward her and she disappeared noiselessly, without having spoken a word. She was the only living person we saw in that town.”

Sidelights on the War

By Samuel G. Blythe

Just two months old and the war already had an unofficial theme song. Its brisk march tempo captured the spirit of the time so well that even today, when so much has been forgotten about the war, many will still recognize it as one of the signature songs of the conflict.

It's a long, long way to Tipperary
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary / written & composed by Jack Judge & Harry Williams. (1912)

“The marching song and the fighting song of the British soldiers and the British sailors is not ‘God Save the King!’ or ‘Rule Britannia!’ or any other classic. The marching song and the fighting song of the British soldiers and the British sailors is: ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary!’ And that song is an inconsequential music-hall ditty, just as was ‘A Hot Time in the Old Town!’ And this is how the chorus goes:

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go;
It’s a long way to Tipperary—
To the sweetest girl I know !
Good-by, Piccadilly !
Farewell, Leicester Square !
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary;
But my heart’s right there!

“This is the song that the British soldiers and sailors sang when they went to France and to sea, which they sang in the fighting all along the line, and which they are still singing, and will sing to the end of the war. … It roars and rolls over the barracks and the camps; and even the French have re-constructed it as ‘Le Chemin a Teeperaire,’ and are singing it too.”
Listen to “It’s a Long Way To Tipperary” by the great Irish tenor John McCormack.

Read the entire article “Sidelights on the War” by Samuel G. Blythe from the pages of the Post

The Hour of Aëroplanes

By F.S. Bigelow

Paris through the wings of a plane.
Photo of Paris through the wings of a plane.

Ah, the French esprit. Here is an amusing example of the bright, happy spirit of the French in the early days of the war, before thousands of deaths darkened the country’s mood.

“In a single week this became a veritable institution. At half past four, or perhaps at five, the planes began to appear. Suddenly the streets swarmed with people who wanted to see them. The Place de l’Opéra may fairly be said to be the center of Parisian sidewalk life. Every afternoon this square was closely packed with eager sightseers. When a plane was sighted the crowd in the square set up a shout and the people at the café tables rushed into the street to get a better view. Much of the talk was of bombs, planes, and Zeppelins.

Place de L'Opera, Paris
Panoramic view of Place de L’Opera, Paris

“By no means were all the aircraft that passed over the city hostile. Indeed, most of them were French scouts; still, it took two looks to distinguish friend from foe. … The simplest rule is that friends fly low and foes remain aloft out of danger.

The Hour of Aëroplanes
Read the entire article “The Hour of Aëroplanes” by F.S. Bigelow from the pages of the Post

“There is no doubt the first bomb-dropping foray made the city nervous; but Paris made a fête of it, nevertheless. Army officers sitting at sidewalk café tables rushed into the streets and discharged their revolvers at the aerial enemy, quite regard-less of the fact that he was far out of range. Still, the shooting was fun and it added to the excitement. The higher military authorities, not to be outdone, mounted ma-chine guns on the public buildings and took futile pot shots at the gun-shy strangers.

“Before a week had passed the Hour of Aëroplanes had become such an institution that old men, bearing hand bags full of opera glasses, were wending their way among the sidewalk tables, renting their glasses to those who wished a better view.

“When a plane was sighted it was almost a point of café etiquette to warn your companion to raise her lilac parasol to keep off the bombs. If your careless neighbor, rising hastily, overturned your little table and sent a carafe of water or a siphon of soda crashing to the sidewalk, the delighted crowd exclaimed, ‘A bomb ! A bomb!’ and showed every sign of glee while the waiter was sweeping up the broken glass.”

The Wreck of a Continent

By Samuel G. Blythe

Europe’s collision with war reminded Blythe of the days that followed the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg. Now, as England began shaking off its shock and disbelief, it was handing unprecedented powers over to its wartime government.

The Wreck of a Continent
Read the entire article “The Wreck of a Continent” by Samuel G. Blythe from the pages of the Post

“I sat in the visitors’ gallery of the House of Commons a few afternoons ago and heard the legislators there passing law after law of the most sumptuary character, without sword of debate, without question, without a protest of any kind. Measure after measure came up and was hurried through on that afternoon, and on other afternoons, placing the control of the people of England — the absolute control — in the hands of the Privy Council and the military and the naval authorities, which are the state; for by the passing of these acts the Parliament voted itself subordinate to the men who are thus empowered to act. Parliament abrogated many of its own functions, recognized the emergency, and placed itself in un-questioning obedience to the supreme power.”

The Unemotional Frenchman: A Wartime Trip Through the Southern Provinces

By Homer Saint-Gaudens

Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of the famous American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, found himself stranded in a French town also named Saint Gaudens when the war broke out. His two-part article showed the French quietly resigning themselves to war.

The Unemotional Frenchman: A Wartime Trip Through the Southern Provinces
Read the entire article “The Unemotional Frenchman: A Wartime Trip Through the Southern Provinces” by Homer Saint-Gaudens from the pages of the Post

“Here had been a perfect opportunity for flags, confusion, illogical demands on the government, irresponsible moves by the government, extras, scareheads, and patriotic drunkenness. Yet none of these appeared. When the call came each man heaved a sigh of regret, laid down his tools and stood ready. The government was of his choosing. It had prepared the country for the crisis before it. He had infinite faith that all measures had been taken for the national safety. What these were he did not know. Were he to know everybody would know, the country’s enemies would know. His task was to obey the call to arms. He did not complain or criticize.

“The roads we found deserted of teams, the fields deserted of laborers. In the doorways stood women. Toward the railroad station moved a young man and a girl. The man had a bundle in one hand, the other was on the girl’s shoulder. From the station came three girls walking quickly up the road, hand in hand, crying. Only women came from the stations. One and all were dressed in black—most of them had been weeping. More and more we became the unwilling witnesses of other persons’ domestic tragedies.

“We had seen recruits before, mostly huddled together like cattle driven to the slaughter. We had heard the Marseillaise sung before, especially in that maudlin fashion in Saint-Gaudens. These men were neither cattle nor maudlin. They were unkempt and they perspired. They were dirty. They smelled of garlic and their bundles were awry. But they were sober, and they were proud as they passed up the hot, sunlit street; and they sang the song of their land and marched it as their fathers must have marched and sung it when first it was written.”

Following the Red Trail: The Real Perils of War

By Woods Hutchinson

A professor of clinical medicine and a medical writer, Hutchinson was optimistic that modern medicine would help control the casualty numbers of the war. Combat deaths declined in every successive war, he noted, and he expected they would remain low in the coming months.

Following the Red Trail: The Real Perils of War
Read the entire article “Following the Red Trail: The Real Perils of War” by Woods Hutchinson from the pages of the Post

“The cheerful pastime of slaughtering our fellow men has, in the most recent wars, been carried on with smaller loss of life and less suffering and hardship, both to the actual combatants and to the noncombatants in whose territories the war is waged.

“The average death rate of the first three great wars of the past century — the Napoleonic, the Mexican, and Crimean — was 12.5 percent a year; that of the last three wars — the Spanish-American, the Boer, and Russo-Japanese — was 4.8 percent.

“By the time the Napoleonic wars were reached, the mortality from deaths in war, from all causes, had fallen to about 125,000 a year, or about 12 percent.

“In our own Civil War, it fell to 10 percent.

“The Sedan campaign cost the German army only 8 percent of its three-quarters of a million men; while our Spanish-American and England’s Boer War reached the low-water mark, with barely 3 and 4 percent of loss respectively.

“As to the cause of this gratifying reduction in war fatalities, several influences have been at work. One of the most obvious has been that the invention of gunpowder and the improvements of rifles and artillery, with such enormous increase in their range of death dealing, has steadily forced more and more of the fighting to be carried on at long range.

“The net result of this has been that not nearly so many men are actually hit as in the days of old point-blank firing by platoons; that as a battle becomes a long-range duel … its fate is decided more and more by maneuvers such as surrounding a force or cutting it off from its base than by actual sacrifice of life, or by weight of numbers in a bayonet charge.

“The other most important change … was that in the old days, when battles were decided by hand-to-hand fighting, the victors were literally right on top of the vanquished the moment the tide turned and the retreat began; and only superior fleetness of foot or length of wind could save a very large percentage of the beaten troops from slaughter, maiming, or slavery.”

Despite Hutchinson’s predictions, the First World War quickly surpassed single-digit casualty rates. The percentage of casualties in Great Britain’s forces was 36 percent. It was 65 percent for Germany, 76 percent for Russia, and 90 percent for Austria-Hungary. (The casualty rate for American forces, which were engaged for only 17 months, was 7percent.)

Step into 1914 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 100 years ago.

Mary Whalen Leonard on Posing for ‘Shiner’

Girl with black eye sits outside the principal's office
Shiner
Norman Rockwell
The Saturday Evening Post
May 23, 1953

Sometimes in life you have to take a beating — literally or figuratively — to stand up for the truth, yourself, a loved one, or something you truly believe in. And it’s always worth the cost of that battle, as this girl’s triumphant smile, even with that shiner, celebrates.

Mary Whalen Leonard, Norman Rockwell’s favorite female model, who posed for Girl at Mirror, Day in the Life of a Girl, and others, speaks fondly of posing for my grandfather’s illustration Shiner (above):

“My recollection of working out this picture with Norman [above] is one of laughter and fun. He showed me the sketch and wondered what I thought about it. I got it. It was about role reversal. For once the little girl was victorious, and it did not matter that she had a black eye. That was the mark of the trophy!

“These posing sessions were filled with lots of Norman’s laughter as he knelt on the floor and pounded his fists to get the smile he wanted …”

I’m Going to Live Forever

Dead WomanI want to be famous.

This presents one immediate obstacle, as Jenny does not hesitate to point out whenever I mention it.

“Famous for what?” she asks, scraping the few bits of apples and dumplings she served with her pork roast from my dinner plate into the can where she collects stuff for composting.

I leave the warm kitchen and go outside to my workshop, my sanctuary, and one day, my portal to fame. Every idea and plan I ever had is filed there, along with the Wikipedia entries of every member of the Inventors Hall of Fame from Acheson to Zworykin. I study them, looking for that key factor that connects us all.

It is a little cramped, my workshop. There is the unopened air purifier Jenny gave me five Christmases ago, next to all the old computers I have replaced over the years. You have to be on the cutting edge of technology to lead the way.

The following night I bring home a new computer.

“You just got one. Why do you need a new one?” Jenny keeps our household budget because I never have time to know the cost of two chicken legs. And each time I buy a new machine, she says the same thing: “Well, we’ll just eat dog food this month.” Tonight I smile at this over my last forkful of her strawberry rhubarb pie.

“I think this will be it. I am so close,” I casually say.

“Hmmph,” or a sound like that, comes out of her lips as she clears the dishes. I retreat to my workshop.

It’s true, about being close. I decided it was time to leave the base camp, to make the final push for the summit of my Everest and I went through all 283 ideas and plans. Jenny would be shocked to see how systematic I have been. Whenever she picks up my pants and T-shirts from the floor, she always complains about my disorderliness. When I reply that 35 years of successful actuarial work at Guaranty Life Assurance couldn’t have been done without order, she just says “Hmmph,” and marches out to her laundry room. I think that’s her favorite word.

College was where I first studied math and dreamed about the Fields Medal, but those never go to people who have jobs, a wife, demands to be met, bills to pay. Besides, I passed the age limit for the Fields 25 years ago.

There are only a limited number of ways a person can become famous. The surefire way is with an award, like a Nobel Prize or one of those genius grants. Those people often take years to lay the foundations for their ultimate accomplishment. Within those years, they don’t have the distractions or demands that I have had to devote to Jenny, the family, and to Guaranty Life. With no secretaries, assistants, or helpmates, there is no way that sort of life could have lead to a Nobel Prize.

It’s not like there weren’t accomplishments, though. Above my desk, framed and laminated, is an article from Actuarial Monthly News about my retirement dinner, at the Kon-Tiki restaurant. It’s a nice long piece, although it does not mention that I did not want to retire, that I went from adding machines to computers without difficulty, that I should have been the damn vice-president who engineered my retirement. It didn’t even refer to an earlier article about the equations I created, using large-purchase data to adjust life expectancy and how it saved the company thousands, millions even.

Back to the subject at hand, the path I have chosen to achieve my fame. I was noodling around one evening in my workshop. Something Jenny said, an “I don’t have time now” thrown over her shoulder as she went off to match up my socks, kept ricocheting around my brain.

Time. The fourth dimension. And if mathematical equations defined the other three dimensions, the fourth dimension must have them too. If I defined it, I could manipulate it. H.G. Wells merely wrote a fictional tale about time travel, and he is still remembered for it. Actually doing it would be exponentially better.

The math was, to be sure, rather daunting. It whirled around my head so much that for several weeks I was unable to get back to sleep after getting up in the middle of the night to pee. It has taken sheer will to achieve my ultimate route to renown. I am sure a pure mathematician would call it elegant.

Beautiful as they are, equations are not enough. A demonstration is necessary, one so conclusive that everyone, from fellow inventors to ordinary citizens like Jenny, will understand it. That’s why I have decided that the ideal demonstration of my conquest of time is to kill Jenny. I don’t mean I literally kill her, just arrange for her to go elsewhere in time, and when everyone is convinced she is dead, demonstrate her return and my fame is guaranteed.

Wikipedia is my browser home page. It’s where I always start my research and where I now learn that an average of seven people fall overboard from cruise ships each year and almost all become shark chum. One of Jenny’s constant nags is about going on a cruise. It’s perfect; two leave on the cruise, one comes back.

After two years, a court will need to declare her officially dead. I could discretely invite some media and perhaps have it streamed live on the Internet. In any event, just before the judge pronounces Jenny dead, I will jump up.

“Wait a minute, Your Honor,” I will shout. “She’s not dead.” Here I will pause for dramatic effect. “I have just moved her back in time.” Pandemonium when I produce her.

There are so many details. For one, those equations need to be fed into a 3-D printer to create the mechanism, ingeniously small enough to fit into a camera bag I can carry on board the cruise ship! I also create a failsafe system that will bring her back in the unlikely (9.3 percent) chance I die prematurely. Every detail has been recorded in a notebook, for future scholars and biographers.

All this excitement has whetted my appetite, and I lock the door to the workshop before heading back to the house for dinner.

Jenny brings her beef bourguignon to the table.

“My dear, my efforts are bearing fruit, so to speak,” I say.

“You are close?” Jenny asks from the kitchen, then returns with a bowl of glazed carrots and her wonderfully creamy mashed potatoes.

“More than close. It’s just about a done deal, a triumph even.”

“Oh,” she says. She sounds almost disappointed.

“What’s the matter?” I ask.

“Well, I got you a gift, and now I am not sure if you will need it,” she says, her eyes downcast.

“You got me a gift? I am touched. And do you know what is ironic? I have a gift for you, to make up for all the time that I left you for my workshop,” I tell her, filling up my plate. It is so fragrant, rich, and meaty; I pour on some extra sauce.

Jenny gets up and heads toward our bedroom. This allows me a few good forkfuls of the savory beef, sweet carrots, and smooth potatoes before she returns, holding not a box, but her own laptop.

“George, here is what I wanted to give you. With presidents and movie stars and Albert Einstein, your own Wikipedia entry!” Jenny twirls the laptop around and presents the screen to me.

And so it is. Not a stub, even, but paragraphs, sections, even the photograph from my retirement party. I read it all quickly and then a second time, awestruck that it is so substantial and detailed.

“This is fantastic, Jenny. However did you do it? How long has it been up?” I wonder how many hits it’s received.

“Three days,” she answers.

I sigh. Soon, anonymous editors will recognize it as a vanity entry and demand that it meet the rigorous standards of reference to publicly available facts.

“Thank you, Jenny. This is a wonderful trifle, however transient it may be.” The cruise tickets will look so much better next to her little effort.

“Transient? Why transient, dear?” she asks, in innocent ignorance.

“Well, dear,” I explain. “All the facts in a Wikipedia entry must be verifiable using publicly sourced documents. You just can’t make things up.”

“Oh, but these are sourced. Every fact. Well, some won’t be available for a few days but they will be in the paper.”

I reach for the water glass. The beef bourguignon is unusually dry in spite of the extra sauce I poured over it.

“What do you mean, what source are you talking about? Those Actuarial News articles are years old.” My words sound as if I am trying to imitate Demosthenes with a mouth full of marbles.

Jenny stirs the pot of stew. I can smell rosemary, wine, oregano.

“How do you feel, George?” Jenny asks me.

“Fine,” I say, though I am clearly not.

“I suppose I should be sorry, George. But I am not. Even before you disappeared all the time into that shed, I grew to know you less and less. So with that shed, what did you do in there? You never shared it with me, even when I asked, and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. When you were out at the hardware store the other afternoon, I went in there.”

I can feel the muscles around my eyes straining as I try to widen them.

“I found your notes. George, right out in the open. Right there. I read your plan to kill me on the cruise. And it just did not seem fair.”

She walks to where I am seated and stands over me. Her eyes look sad, moist.

“I told myself for years that it was fair. You provided and I kept the home and raised the children. It was hard but I told myself that it did work, that we did our part for each other. But I see that to you I am just another piece of equipment for your crazy schemes,” she tells me.

I try to speak, but for some reason I cannot. She puts her head under my arm and pushes up, lifting me to my feet. I can barely shuffle with her to the bedroom, where with a twist, she drops me onto my side of the bed we have shared for, what was it, 47 years?

“The stew was very flavorful tonight, wasn’t it?” Jenny is truly crying now. “It simmered for hours, before I added the Botox. I found the supply via an email offer. Spam I think you call it.” She leaves me. I can hear her in the kitchen pouring the sauce into the compost can. She comes back, and leans into my field of vision, her hair, backlit by the bedside lamp, is the same blond as when we first met. The angle of the light smoothes her face. Her green eyes look into mine, like she used to.

My mind is racing, even if I can barely move a millimeter. It is an ingenious plan. I have to give her that. As good as I could have done. Maybe, even a little better.

The best thing is that, whether she is caught or gets away with it, the result will be the same. I have a Wikipedia page!

I wish I could thank her.

A Bad Choice for Spokesman

Student Peace Strike at the University of California at Berkeley
Student Peace Strike at the University of California at Berkeley

In the days to come, the Post editors must have regretted ever hearing of a young man named Milton S. Mayer

The editors had been looking for contributors who supported the magazine’s isolationist views when war broke out in Europe. Like many Americans, they regretted U.S. participation in the last war, in which the country lost thousands of young men but gained neither wealth nor territory as our European allies had. Worse, the war had only increased enmities among the nations of Europe. Moreover, our allies were not paying back the war loans America had extended them.

I Think I'll Sit This One Out
Read the entire article “I Think I’ll Sit This One Out” by Milton S. Mayer from the October 7, 1939 issue of the Post.

Now, with unemployment still hovering around 18 percent, and the U.S. economy still trying to shake off the Depression, the editors wanted to concentrate on America’s problems — which meant staying out of the war.

Milton Mayer also opposed the war, but for quite different reasons, which he presented in the article “I Think I’ll Sit This One Out.” Read the entire article “I Think I’ll Sit This One Out” by Milton S. Mayer from the October 7, 1939 issue of the Post. The editors included it in the October 7 issue, with the statement that Mayer spoke “for himself.” He also happened to be supporting the Post’s isolationist viewpoint. I think the editors agreed with him so strongly that they overlooked the fact his article was filled with groundless claims and sweeping generalizations.

He was an unlikely contributor: a 31-year-old student at the University of Chicago, though he was still on probation, he told a Post interviewer, for throwing beer bottles out his dorm window several years before. He had never lived outside the U.S. and had no experience of the situation in Europe. His sole recommendation as a contributor was his antiwar stance.

Mayer opposed any involvement in the war for three reasons. “I think it will destroy democracy,” he wrote. “I think it will bring no peace. And I think it will degrade humanity.”

Well, he had a right to his opinion. But normally, the Post wouldn’t offer opinions that weren’t backed by some research or personal experience. All Mayer could offer was his faith in his own wild assertions, such as—

• Defeating Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918 had resulted in Hitler’s coming to power. Therefore, if America defeated Hitler, another tyrant — even more brutal than Hitler — would take his place.

• England wasn’t worth defending because it would betray any ally to buy peace with Hitler.

• Many of the leaders who’d been deposed by Hitler weren’t strong advocates of democratic rule, hence not worth helping.

• Intolerance and fascism rose sharply in America after World War I. So it was bound to happen after the next war.

To all these assertions, he offered neither argument nor evidence.

All wars were bad, Mayer believed: “War makes ‘madmen’ of us all, and no balance of power that was ever devised remained in balance very long. For the victor grows fat and the vanquished grow lean, and the time comes when the vanquished have to fight and see their chance.”

To be fair, most of history up to 1939 supported Mayer’s statement. He couldn’t have known that when World War II ended there would not be another Hitler. Germany would not start another war for European conquest. France, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations would enter a peace that has endured for almost 70 years. And America’s two greatest adversaries became strong postwar allies.

Step into 1939 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 75 years ago: