The New-York Historical Society Education Division provides dynamic programming and curriculum resources for students in New York and beyond. The Teen Historian blog features research and writing from high school students in our after-school programs who’ve used these resources to deepen their understanding of American history.
The Funeral Oration for Poland was on view at New-York Historical in 2018 as part of the exhibition Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.
David Mellgard, 12th Grade
“The Funeral Oration for Poland,” or simply “The Funeral Oration,” by Hugh M. Hutton (1898-1976) is an editorial cartoon made for the Philadelphia Inquirer. After two short stints drawing illustrations and comics for New York World and the United Features Syndicate, Hutton joined the Inquirer in 1934. There, he became famous for his highly politicized cartoons. A World War I veteran from Lincoln, Nebraska, Hutton did not shy away from violent topics like war in his work and was a vocal supporter of intervention, unlike Norman Rockwell, whose editor at the Saturday Evening Post, Garet Garrett, was a staunch anti-interventionist. His politicization pervades this cartoon as well. In this specific cartoon, Hutton depicts two carrion birds perched on a tree overlooking a facedown woman clad in white. The woman is labeled “Poland,” while one bird bears a Nazi swastika, the other— a Soviet hammer and sickle. Created using lithographic crayon on paper, the cartoon was published on September 20th, 1939, 19 days after the start of the joint Soviet-German Invasion of Poland. In and of itself, Hutton’s piece reflects the contemporary developments in Eastern Europe, but, in a larger context, it serves as a useful juxtaposition to Rockwell’s pieces at the time and as a primer for the state of one of President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms— Freedom from Fear.
In relation to the developments in Eastern Europe, the piece depicts the collusion between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union to partition Poland as agreed upon in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939), which was also a non-aggression pact that lasted until Germany declared it void and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. This political relationship is reflected in the parity of the USSR and Nazi Germany in Hutton’s cartoon. Perched on a level branch, the two birds are depicted as equally threatening to Poland and neither is given more agency or importance. This equality within the cartoon not only symbolizes the diplomatic parity between the two powers during the events, but also their equal vilification in the eye of the American public. Up until this point in American history, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were seen as equally threatening by many members of society, with Hutton perhaps among them. In just the previous decade, Americans had experienced the first iteration of the Red Scare, a reactionary anti-communist movement in response to the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Red Scare not only led to the violation of many civil liberties, but also to a general apathy towards far-left movements, which the media exacerbated. This portrayal by the media continued during Hutton’s time and the fact that both Germany and the USSR were each totalitarian dictatorships, highly militarized, practitioners of hateful rhetorics, and sought to occupy Poland did not help erase the obvious parallels. This very literal connection between the piece and real world politics also reveals a more abstract one about the state of Roosevelt’s “Freedom from Fear.”
While there are many definitions of fear and what freedom from it may look like, in relation to Roosevelt’s definition of a “worldwide reduction of armaments,” as laid out in his January 1941 address to Congress, the world failed dramatically during the Pre-WWII period. Not only had Germany increased their arms production and invaded Poland, but they had recently annexed Austria as well as Czechoslovakia. Even their less bellicose, southern allies, the Italian Fascists, had occupied Ethiopia and Albania. In the Pacific, Japan had also begun to commit some of the most terrifying crimes of the war such as the “Rape of Nanking” and the exploitation of Korean and Chinese women as “comfort women.” In these circumstances, the League of Nations had been unable, as Roosevelt hoped the world could in his address to Congress, to be “a good society… able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.” Instead of facing the German, Italian, and Japanese head on, France and Great Britain instead largely conceded to their demands and engaged in a policy of appeasement. This relation to the events depicted by Hutton illustrates how far the world was from peace and what events Roosevelt would be reacting to two years later.
Having set the stage for the representation of Freedom from Fear in the piece and its status during the period, what remains is to show its relation to Rockwell. The Funeral Oration for Poland is an extreme contrast to Rockwell’s period pieces. At the time, Rockwell chose to paint relatively peaceful scenes of everyday life, such as Marble Champion (1939), which, despite being produced the same year as Funeral Oration for Poland, lacks any notion of the violence and extremism that is racking Europe. What the audience gleans from this comparison is how Rockwell is not innately prone to depicting violence and suffering. Not only was his editorial board anti-intervention, but he himself had been in art school during WWI and did not have the military experience of men like Hutton. This point is not made to disparage Rockwell, but rather to contextualize his earlier works and show just how impressive of a transformation he made from his those to his wartime ones, which began to exhibit and allude to the themes expressed in Hutton’s Funeral Oration for Poland.
McNaughton, Frank. “Roosevelt Deplores German Bombings.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 19, 1939, 8. Digital file.
Norman Rockwell Museum. “Norman Rockwell: A Brief Biography.” Norman Rockwell Museum. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://www.nrm.org/about/about-2/about-norman-rockwell/.
Plunkett, Stephanie Haboush, and James J. Kimble. Enduring Ideals Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms. New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 2018.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “1941 State of the Union Address.” Speech transcript, Capitol Building, January 6, 1941.
Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Collection. “Hugh M. Hutton Papers.” Syracuse University Libraries. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/h/hutton_hm.htm#top.
Tucker, Jeffrey A. “Who Is Garet Garrett?” Mises Institute. Last modified October 25, 2007. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://mises.org/library/who-garet-garrett.