Tuning In to WWII

Armchair General by Norman Rockwell, April 29,1949
The war at home: Rockwell’s portrait of a domestic dad in Armchair General portrays both the older generation’s passionate desire to stay current with war news and its frustrating isolation from the action overseas. (© SEPS)

Rockwell’s Armchair General is a reliable reflection of the way many parents of World War II soldiers spent their evenings — waiting for the latest reports to know the fates of their sons.

The April 29, 1944, Post cover shows a worried patriarch who tunes in to the radio to chart war maneuvers. More important, he’s attempting to deduce his three sons’ whereabouts and safety.

Rockwell’s careful deployment of mapping and research props gives the illustration a sense of narrative history. It’s clear this activity occurred nightly. Well-penciled maps flag the sons’ positions next to their military portraits. In homes across the country, parental war anxiety was the norm.

Rockwell’s composition is both heartwarming and sad. The patriotic dad is surrounded by a flurry of homemade research and comforted by a pair of cats. He’s doing all he can to stay current, yet he is essentially powerless. Each night, the reports  coming through the airwaves could signal allied advances, but also crushing personal loss.

The armchair general turns knobs and tunes out static as if he could bark commanding orders through his radio. But, of course, there’s nothing he can do but passively await the news.