The League of Nations: Conflicting Opinions in Editorial Cartoons

We thank Arlene Balkansky,  a reference librarian in the Serial and Government Publications Division, for allowing us to excerpt this from her post of the same title. It caught our attention for the obvious teaching opportunities not only to read primary source accounts of the events of the Paris Peace Conference and League of Nations, but also to compare point of view and consider how editorial cartoonists select details to convey a particular message. The Library’s Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Political Cartoon and a companion student analysis tool offer questions to deepen engagement and analysis as well as follow up activity ideas. You can read the the complete original post, which includes extensive related resources, on the Headlines and Heroes blog. Please let us know in the comments what your students discover in examining the conflicting opinions in these editorial cartoons!


One hundred years ago, on January 25, 1919, the delegates to the Paris Peace Conference approved a proposal to create the League of Nations. Nearly a year later, on January 16, 1920, the League held its first meeting with its stated principal mission of maintaining world peace.

American newspapers presented conflicting views of the League of Nations as evidenced in editorial cartoons of the time.

The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), March 7, 1919.

Support for the League initially appeared to run high among Americans, including within The Stars and Stripes, the official military newspaper “by and for the soldiers” of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Private Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge’s prophetic front-page cartoon depicted children who would be draft age by World War II, and so “most interested” in the League’s goal of preventing war. Even earlier, in the January 31, 1919 issue of The Stars and Stripes, Baldridge represented the graves of war dead as “The Founders of the League of Nations.”

War dead became a powerful symbol for and against the League. Baldridge did not specify the countries of the dead he memorialized in his cartoon. Less than two years later, the New York American, owned by William Randolph Hearst, emphasized American war dead with its anti-League cartoon of American graves on European soil: “35,000 American Dead. Enough!”

The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), Jan. 31, 1919.

 

Reprinted from the New York American, Oct. 10, 1920, in The Lake County Times (Hammond, IN), Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1920 (date appears erroneously on inner pages of this newspaper as Wednesday, Oct. 21).

 

Much of the opposition centered around Article Ten, which committed the League’s member nations “to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members…” Some Senators, along with other Americans, feared this clause would again entangle the United States in European squabbles. The Dearborn Independent on November 8, 1919, on the other hand, expressed concern about world peace and loss of international trade when it depicted opposing Senators as misbehaving babies. The Independent was the official organ of the Ford Motor Company from 1919 to 1925, and best known for its virulent antisemitism.

“England, France and Italy are Getting a Start for World Peace and World Trade, by Accepting the League of Nations while Uncle Sam is Held Back,” The Dearborn Independent (Dearborn, MI), Nov. 8, 1919.

 

A few newspapers opted to reprint multiple cartoons, sometimes featuring varying viewpoints. An array of four cartoons in the New York Tribune, July 18, 1919, included two that recognized thorny issues related to American foreign policy and two that criticized the Senate for partisanship and attempting to ignore public opinion favorable to the League.

New York Tribune, July 13, 1919.

On the same page, the Tribune reprinted cartoons from “A Group of Foreign Critics of the Peace” following close upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

New York Tribune, July 13, 1919.

Likewise, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reprinted multiple cartoons, “Touching on and Appertaining to that League of Nations” on February 27, 1919.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York, NY), Feb. 27, 1919 (correct date from Brooklyn Newsstand; erroneously dated as June 12, 1919 in World War History). World War History, Vol. 388, Image 91. Serial and Government Publications Division.

On November 19, 1919, and again on March 19, 1920, the Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and the U.S. never joined the League of Nations.

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