Uncle Sam: Reviled, Rebuked & Revived into a New Century (Part 5 of 5)

 

A menacing image of Uncle Sam from contemporary Russia.

A menacing image of Uncle Sam on steroids from contemporary Russia.

The pervasive use of the Uncle Sam image as a symbol of determined American military might during World War II served as a rallying point on the home-front. During World War II, Nazi Germany intelligence forces even used “Samland” as a code name for the United States.

The disgruntled but determined Uncle Sam carries the world in a menacing cartoon critical of US foreign aid.

The disgruntled but determined Uncle Sam carries the world in a menacing cartoon critical of US foreign aid.

The distinct image of Uncle Sam also, however, left a permanent impression on the minds of people across the world.

As the six decades of the post-war era proceeded, the appropriation of Uncle Sam by the media and governments of adversarial nations turned him into an increasingly less benevolent a figure.

An early 20th century Russian image of Uncle Sam sitting on a massive bag of money, with little  Japanese soldiers seeking some financial support in war against Russia.

An early 20th century Russian image of Uncle Sam sitting on a massive bag of money, with little Japanese soldiers seeking some financial support in war against Russia.

Whether ruled by czars or commissars, Russian and Soviet depictions of Uncle Sam as the representative of the United States extend back at least a century to when seeds of mistrust were sown by American support of Japan in that nation’s war with Russia.

Some two decades later, however, when now under the rule of “Red Russia,” the United States provided enormous humanitarian relief of food supplies to a starving population there, Sam was suddenly shown as benevolent.

A 1917 Russian poster depicted friendly Uncle Sam with "Ivan," an immigrant worker from pre-communist Russia.

A 1917 Russian poster depicted friendly Uncle Sam with “Ivan,” an immigrant worker from pre-communist Russia.

During the pre-communist years when hundreds of thousands of impoverished Russians were streaming into the United States as immigrants, Uncle Sam was shown as welcoming and warm towards Russians.

As allies during the second World War, there was no derision of Uncle Sam by the Soviets.

That all changed in the Cold War era which followed.

In the decades following the end of World War II,  the Soviet Union invariably showed  a skinny and sinister Uncle Sam as a poster boy of capitalist American greed with lust for global war by nuclear bombing. Perhaps communist propagandists were a bit too obvious, however. Invariably, their version of Uncle Sam has him dressed in black, without any blue – and certainly with no sign of red.

In more recent years, anti-American sentiment in communist Cuba and other Latin American nations in sympathy with it, invariably show an Uncle Sam prone to violence and greed. Since its 1979 revolution, Iranians have carried Uncle Sam in various forms of effigy through the streets of Tehran, whether as a burning stuffed dummy or as an evil force seen on color posters.

And, upholding a tradition which began once Great Britain and the United States fought their last battle during the War of 1812, English depictions of Uncle Sam and its own John Bull remained friendly – though Sam was often “inappropriately” dressed in colors other than the red, white and blue.

cause cold war

A classic Cold War Soviet Union view of  a menacing Uncle Sam, dressed in black, seeking to use bombs and destroy other lands, while the idealized commissar offers him some Marxist morality maxims.

cause cold war

Inexplicably dressed in brown, the Cold War Uncle Sam from the viewpoint of its closest ally Great Britain was friendly.

Soviet industry rates versus American industry is contrasted by an Uncle Sam dressed entirely in black.

Soviet industry rates versus American industry is contrasted by an Uncle Sam dressed entirely in black.

 

The Vietnam War had Soviet propaganda depicting Uncle Sam once again all in black, intent on dominating all other nations with the threat of destruction by fire and bombs.

In the 1960s, the Vietnam War had Soviet propaganda depicting Uncle Sam once again all in black, intent on dominating all other nations with the threat of destruction by fire and bombs.

A Cuban cartoon depicts its leader Castro as leaving Uncle Sam tongue-tied.

A communist Cuban cartoon depicts its leader Castro as leaving Uncle Sam tongue-tied.

Uncle Sam unhappy with Middle Eastern developments during the first Obama Administration as depicted in an anti-American caricature from South America.

Uncle Sam unhappy with Middle Eastern developments during the first Obama Administration as depicted in an anti-American caricature from South America.

A South American seemingly senile Sam spreading imperialist blood across the hemisphere.

A South American seemingly senile Sam spreading imperialist blood across the hemisphere.

Anti-American street protestors carried a poster of Uncle Sam with a trim beard and wire-framed specs looking suspiciously like actor Robin Williams.

Anti-American street protestors carried a poster of Uncle Sam with a trim beard and wire-framed specs looking suspiciously like actor Robin Williams.

Maturing from an innocent child into a lean youth, Uncle Sam finally became a fat imperialism by the 20th century's end.

Maturing from an innocent child into a lean youth, Uncle Sam finally became a fat imperialist by the 20th century’s end, rich enough to support other nations for the price of their alliance.

The post-Civil War period first began the period when many citizens began to question the motives and wisdom of the American government’s role in big industry and immigration policy.

It was the decidedly imperialist seizure of the Philippine Islands, following President McKinley’s leadership of the Spanish-American War that Uncle Sam began to increasingly be shown in cartoons which offered skepticism about the U.S. taking an increasingly dominant role in world affairs.

There seems to be practically no example whatsoever of any depictions of Uncle Sam from either World War I or World War II which casts him in a critical way. The patriotism felt across the nation during those two wars was seemingly so universally supported by the vast majority of the people that no even mild criticism was conveyed by Uncle Sam.

All that changed in the years which followed, whether it was a large or small manner in which the United States became involved in a foreign conflict. It culminated with the Vietnam War, which increasingly drew bitter criticism and calls for withdrawal under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

cause vietnam

An American cartoon depicted an invisible Uncle Sam making haste on his way out of China right after the common enemy of Japan had been driven out after World War II, but just as the massive nation was establishing itself as Communist.

cause vietnam war

Herblock of the Washington Post depicted a regretful Uncle Sam sinking in the mire of general U.S. involvement in Asia, and specifically the Vietnam War.

A real model posed as Uncle Sam in this 1971 poster urging the American withdrawal from the endless Vietnam War.

A real model posed as Uncle Sam in this 1971 poster urging the American withdrawal from the endless Vietnam War.

Using an offensive racial epitaph drew attention to a Black Power advertisement from 1968 seeking to draw the anti-war support of African-Americans living in poverty with little hope of financial mobility except the grim prospect of going to war and killing others.

Using an offensive racial epitaph drew attention to a Black Power advertisement from 1968 seeking to draw the anti-war support of African-Americans living in poverty with little hope of financial mobility except the grim prospect of going to war and killing others.

A more irreverent but no less bitter Mad Magazine cover from 1969 suggesting that the U.S. role in the Vietnam War ignored the growing sentiment for withdrawal.

A more irreverent but no less bitter Mad Magazine cover from 1969 suggesting that the U.S. role in the Vietnam War ignored the growing sentiment for withdrawal.

Uncle Sam ominously caricatured in black as the leader of "Freedom Fighters" making a secretive U.S. incursion to topple the Nicaraguan regime in the late 80s.

Uncle Sam ominously caricatured in black as the leader of “Freedom Fighters” making a secretive U.S. incursion to topple the Nicaraguan regime in the late 80s.

Although the generalized cynicism among American citizens towards its federal government, whatever political party may be in the White House, has never entirely evaporated since the acrimonious Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, as the 1970s went on towards the end of the century and into the new one, Uncle Sam was again revived to portray less bitter topics of national policy – like the fight for Equal Rights Amendment passage to ensure gender equity and the emergence of more powerful African-American political base.

Flagg’s classic Uncle Sam, however, was also put to use for less patriotic motives and more as Pop Art advertising.

In fact, the increased commercialization of seemingly every aspect of American life found Uncle Sam appropriated as a symbol that did everything from raise money for a local zoo to hawk cupcakes.

A Bicentennial era Uncle Sam appeared on the cover of a comic book as the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment was raging. Was the long-ago death of Miss Columbia, as embodied by liberated Wonder Woman in blue-starred hot pants a pause of regret for the treatment of women?

A Bicentennial era Uncle Sam appeared on the cover of a comic book as the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment was raging. Was the long-ago death of Miss Columbia, as embodied by liberated Wonder Woman in blue-starred hot pants a pause of regret for the treatment of women?

A new type of Uncle Sam, making ironic use of a name once used disparagingly, an emerging African-American symbol of the United States finally appeared in this poster.

A new type of Uncle Sam, making ironic use of a stereotyped slave name once used disparagingly was used as a symbol of emerging African-American power in the United States in this poster.

Flagg's Uncle Sam riding the pop culture zombie wave.

Flagg’s Uncle Sam riding the pop culture zombie wave.

Flagg's Uncle Sam transmogrified into a tiger - for just cause.

Flagg’s Uncle Sam transmogrified into a tiger – for just cause.

Uncle Sam got into the cupcake craze of the early Twenty-Teens.

Uncle Sam got into the cupcake craze of the early Twenty-Teens.

While the commercialization was intended to be light-hearted, it often seemed to strike a discordant note about what path the American nation had taken. The lingering cynicism about the government was combined with an overall disenchantment about the values which guided national life which was increasingly fixated on consumerism and status.

Increasingly that disenchantment was found in displays of Uncle Sam, be he blissfully ignorant of larger, underlying issues creating a sense of unhappiness among the richest nation on earth – or angered, frustrated and enraged at the way he was now being treated by powerful interests focused primarily on profits regardless of how the cost was affecting the citizens.

 A 1988 New Yorker cover found Uncle Sam in a posoperous era without war but having reduced a series of familiar old American mottoes as quaint archaisms worthy only of barbeque splattering on the Fourth of July.

A 1988 New Yorker cover found Uncle Sam in a prosperous era without war but having reduced a series of familiar old American mottoes as quaint archaisms worthy only of barbeque splattering on the Fourth of July.

While interpretation is subjective, this 1997 poster by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross of old U.S. seems to suggest the trampling of traditional reverence for earlier American values as the fellow is trampled by the greed of a corporate business-suit and indifference of a common man.

While interpretation is subjective, this 1997 poster by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross of old U.S. seems to suggest the trampling of traditional reverence for earlier American values as the fellow is trampled by the greed of a corporate business-suit and indifference of a common man.

In this undated incarnation from the early 21st century, Uncle Sam seems to have had it with no one and yet everyone.

In this undated incarnation from the early 21st century, Uncle Sam seems to have had it with no one and yet everyone.

Uncle Sam saw a dramatic return when the nation was galvanized in shock and horror in reaction to the Islamic terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Quickly, however, he was also depicted cynically again, as if in a house of mirrors: the opinion that Uncle Sam was actually exploited by the Bush Administration Iraqi War and intelligence policies, some of which would be continuing under the Obama Administration.

With the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President, there were occasional glimpses of Uncle Sam much more like his old self – a figure of hope proud of the traditional ideal of equality being realized. With the sense that a small minority were benefiting from a recovering economy while the vast majority still lived with a financial insecurity it had never known to linger as long as well as a shrinking middle-class, Uncle Sam remains a dichotomous and ambivalent figure, summoning a sense of promise and goodness with the reality that such intentions are not always so readily achieved.

Artist Alex Ross captured a nation's shock with this Uncle Sam pained by the September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Artist Alex Ross captured a nation’s shock with this Uncle Sam pained by the September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

George W. Bush was used as Uncle Sam on the cover of Time, in his efforts to garner support for the Iraqi War.

George W. Bush was used as Uncle Sam on the cover of Time, in his efforts to garner support for the Iraqi War.

Osama Bin Laden was swapped in for Uncle Sam encouraging the US to enter Iraq and thus sow seeds for its own hard, according to the Islamic terrorist leader's belief.

Osama Bin Laden was swapped in for Uncle Sam encouraging the US to enter Iraq and thus sow seeds for its own econimic harm, which the Islamic terrorist leader’s believed would be the result.

A snarky early 21st century update of a World War II poster calling on Americans to keep what they might know about wartime defense quiet in case there were German spies about the community.

A snarky early 21st century update of a World War II poster calling on Americans to keep what they might know about wartime defense quiet in case there were German spies about the community.

 

Sam as W in an anti-Patriot Act cartoon of the early 21st century.

Sam as W in an anti-Patriot Act cartoon of the early 21st century.

An unsubtle command for old patriotism over new nationalism in the early years of the 21st century.

An unsubtle command for old patriotism over new nationalism in the early years of the 21st century.

Two long, costly international wars, major bank meltdowns, Internet-altered unemployment, and massive home foreclosures had Sam not wanting but needing a very different kind of help in 2008.

Two long, costly international wars, major bank meltdowns, Internet-altered unemployment, and massive home foreclosures had Sam not wanting but needing a very different kind of help in 2008.

A more optimistic Sam appeared upon the election of the first African-American President in 2008.

A more optimistic Sam appeared upon the election of the first African-American President in 2008.

Twenty-first century Sam, buff and botoxed, the true blue behind him.

Twenty-first century Sam, buff and botoxed, the true blue behind him.

Flagg's Sam refashioned for traditional use in a maroon smoking jacket.

Flagg’s Sam refashioned recently for traditional use in a maroon smoking jacket.


Categories: Myths, The Story of Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam

Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 replies »

  1. As a cartoonist I was enthralled by this series and fascinated by the evolution from sweet sentiment to the other side of the coin with such a dark intent. Still always wondered how our symbols are “translated” by other governments. Great series by a great historian and author! Nicely done, Carl, and wonderful illustrations a susual!

    • Well thank you Phil…especially for waiting an entire year until I had finally posted these last two pieces of the five-part series. I appreciate your generous words. It was not quite so easy this series, neither the early nor the latter ones – so it is gratifying to receive your response.

  2. Great series. Thanks for providing this historical information to everyone. I found it very enlightening and thought provoking.

    • Thank you Ryan – very much. As I’ve so often written to others who have left comments like your own, one puts a lot of research and writing effort into each one of these articles and then sometimes questions the wisdom of making such a “public interest” effort – and then moves on to the next one, often forgetting the previous toil. Until that is, when one gets a great reaction of appreciation like your own. So, it means much that you made the effort to write. Thank you. And I’m not great about encouraging those who like articles to share them widely and freely, so I am now…encouraging! Anyway, cheers and a great Fourth of July to you.

Trackbacks

  1. Banned Books That Shaped America: Catch-22 | Waldina
%d bloggers like this: