Is This Tomorrow? Cold War Comics and American Identity – Greg Daddis – Professor of history at San Diego State University

Humanist Society President Judy Flattery introduced Greg Daddis, professor of history at San Diego State University. She said she was watching American History TV on CSPAN back in January of this year and saw Professor Daddis speaking about Cold War comics.

Some of the comics warned about the threat of “Godless Heathens” in our country as part of the Communist menace. As a Godless Heathen herself, Judy invited Daddis to speak!

Professor Daddis holds the USS Midway Chair in modern military history at San Diego State University. Before joining the History Department at SDSU, he directed the MA Program in War and Society Studies at Chapman University.

Before that he was the chief of the American History Division of the History Department at the US Military Academy at West Point. He is also a graduate of West Point.

He is a veteran of both Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and his military awards include the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Meritorious Service Medals.

He is the recipient of the 2022-2023 Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award at the University of Oxford.

Daddis began his talk noting that a central aspect of the Cold War was the paranoid hysteria that there was not just a Communist threat from the USSR and China. But that the threat was within the US. Infamously spread by Senator Joe McCarthy to advance his career. And spread by Senator Nixon as well, who leveraged it to go on to higher office.

Comics are a visual medium that reflect cultural trends. We can see this in the movie revival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Daddis generously has shared his slides and this was his opening slide for his talk, showing the paranoid mood of the Cold War.

The Red Iceberg comic, published in 1960, implies that exercising basic American rights shows “proof” of Communist infiltration. Students, minorities and workers fighting for their rights.

The US had just won a world war, yet we were supposed to be more fearful than ever. Here was a movie poster for the 1952 film “Invasion USA” promoting this “Sweat Drenched” Fear.

Clark Clifford was special counsel to President Truman and went on to be a security advisor to other presidents. In 1946 he issued the Clifford Report claiming that the USSR was all about world domination. That Americans are under threat of espionage and our freedom and democracy are imperiled.

“The Plot to Steal the World” was a 1948 comic book that blurred the lines of fact and fiction for its readers. Mixing factual quotes with wild speculation.

“Threat to Freedom” was a 1965 comic book telling American children how it is under Communism: Children are asked to spy on their parents and report them to the authorities. Ironically, this seems to be the point of the comic book: For American children to report “Communist” activity of their own parents.

The visual power of comics is clear in “If the Devil Would Talk”. A 1950 comic that creates the fear of a weapon even worse than the hydrogen bomb. The “Prince of Hate” is depicted in the red of the devil and the red of Communism.

President Eisenhower left office warning of the danger of the Military Industrial Complex. That it is politically and economically profitable to create a sense of constant fear.

Even when the terrifying figure of Stalin was replaced by the more liberal Nikita Khrushchev, the paranoia was stoked. Khrushchev may talk of peace, but we cannot trust him.

“This Godless Communism” spread the paranoia that even the local librarian may be in on the Communist conspiracy.

The 1947 comic book “Is this Tomorrow” warns that the Communists want you to forget your rights as Americans. Again, the irony is that these people spreading this fear were claiming that using your rights to speak out were signs that you were Communist!

“Is This Tomorrow” also warned that Communists were out to burn traditional books like the Bible. Again, it was the anti-Communist crowd in the US that sought to ban books.

It wasn’t just comic books. The Bowman Gum Company distributed anti-Communist trading cards like this one.

Fear was elevated to the point that the end of the world itself was coming. Not even Captain Marvel can save us.

Daddis took questions and the first questions were from Judy Flattery about religion. Noting that “In God We Trust” on the money and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance happened under Eisenhower. Daddis said this was part of an overall effort to narrow public debate.

I asked Daddis why he joined the military. He said he came from a working class background in New Jersey and it was a way to get money for education.

I asked if comics today are also politicized. He said yes, but along different lines. Now it is more about diversity and identity politics.

I followed up asking who funded the Cold War comics. He said a lot of it came from the Catholic Church. But some came from the government Civil Defense program. The Duck and Cover film started as a comic book.

The US government also funded comics to send overseas.

Lynda Hoogendorn was participating remotely from Canada. She said in Canada there was suspicion of the Communists, but also suspicion of the anti-Communist American leaders. Especially Reagan. Canadians noted that the Soviets took over their neighboring countries. But the US did the same in Latin America.

Gary Noreen noted that the Russians are doing their own propaganda now via social media. Daddis agreed that pop culture has shifted from comics to social media.

Being in San Diego, Daddis was exposed to Comic Con, which was part of how he became aware of these comics.

For more information about upcoming events with the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara, you can join their Meetup page at:

Here is more information about the Humanist Society and their upcoming events.

– Robert Bernstein


Written by sbrobert

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