During the third and final year of the presidency of John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), international issues had overwhelmed domestic concerns. Herblock’s sharp pen addressed the need for a nuclear weapon test ban and supported Kennedy’s trip to Europe, where the U.S. president encouraged European leaders to collaborate on defense issues. Herblock’s cartoons also focused on Asia, as China developed its own style of communism. He took the administration to task for approving the assassination of South Vietnam’s corrupt President Ngo Dinh Diem, as it struggled against communism in Southeast Asia.

But it is the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, that dominates the memory of American history fifty years ago. Herblock admired Kennedy and drew numerous cartoons that conveyed the widespread grief over the death of the popular president and the sense of a lost hope for a better world. A longtime advocate of gun control, Herblock also vented his anger at the ease with which guns could be obtained to wreak enormous tragedy.

“Why Don't We Have the Thirty Budgets of Ben Franklin's Day?”

When President Kennedy proposed a fifty-two million dollar budget for the Department of Defense, Herblock questioned cutting money for ground troops in Vietnam (represented by the Minuteman soldier) in order to expedite production of Minuteman missiles. Fearing a “missile gap,” as Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union continued, the United States funded the missile defense system.

Why Don’t We Have the Thrifty Budgets of Ben Franklin's Day? 1963. Published in the Washington Post, January 18, 1963. India ink, graphite and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (001.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05772] © Herb Block Foundation

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“Bah!—You Haven't Been Trying To Make it Grow”

By depicting the ease with which Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev could kill an anemic flower, Herblock reminded the “West” (the United States and the United Kingdom) that their hard work to find common ground was pathetic. Both needed to work more vigorously to end the risk of radiation caused by testing nuclear weapons. The following summer, the negotiators limited the ban to atmospheric and underwater testing and signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in Moscow on August 5, 1963.

Bah! —You Haven’t Been Trying To Make It Grow,” 1963. Published in the Washington Post, May 2, 1963. Graphite and India ink with overlay over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (002.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05845] © Herb Block Foundation

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Cold Line

While the Cold War was usually portrayed as an East-West conflict, Herblock understood that the greatest international tension came from the differences between Soviet and Chinese interpretations of communism. Lines of communication between Beijing and Moscow froze, and Soviet domination in the communist world declined when the Soviet Union negotiated a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The ideological differences played out in the world theater—Khrushchev backed down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, while China forcefully pushed into Southeast Asia.

Cold Line, 1963. Published in the Washington Post, July 11, 1963. Graphite and India ink with overlay over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (003.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05890] © Herb Block Foundation

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Diem-Nhu Regime

Herblock acknowledged Vietnam as a political hot spot before most Americans had even heard that President Kennedy had committed ground troops to the war there. When South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were murdered on November 2, 1963, their repressive regime collapsed under a military coup. The fire scorching the pants of the figurative regime also alluded to the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. In protest of persecution by Diem’s government, Duc had burned himself to death in Saigon on June 10, 1963.

[Figure representing Diem-Nhu regime running away from Vietnam War fire] 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 4, 1963. Graphite, India ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (004.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05970] © Herb Block Foundation

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“After All, These Men Are Mortal—And Who Will I Be Dealing With After They're All Gone?”

Touring Europe to encourage more North Atlantic political and economic partnerships, President John F. Kennedy’s popularity increased in 1963. Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), president of the French Republic, preferred the European Economic Community and refused to participate in Kennedy’s negotiations for the defense of Europe as a whole. Considering the pomposity of Charles de Gaulle, Herblock wrote, “If there is a de Gaulle motto, it might be: In defeat, unbearable; in victory, insufferable.” Here, Herblock offered an uncanny prediction of the untimely end to the Kennedy presidency.

After All, These Men Are Mortal—And Who Will I Be Dealing With After They’re All Gone? 1963. Published in the Washington Post, June 28, 1963. Graphite, India ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (005.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05883] © Herb Block Foundation

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Sportsmen! Kids! Maniacs!

Angered about the ease with which Lee Harvey Oswald purchased a 6.5 mm Carcano rifle, model 91/38, to kill President Kennedy, Herblock spoofed existing firearm advertisements. This cartoon appeared with a strongly worded Washington Post editorial decrying the effortlessness of obtaining a firearm and pointing out that all four assassinated presidents had been victims of guns: “What lunacy is it, what bemusement with a frontier past long vanished, that leads the people of this land to allow firearms to be sold and possessed in the United States uncontrolled?”

Sportsmen! Kids! Maniacs! 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 27, 1963. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (006.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05988] © Herb Block Foundation

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Long Shadow

A hooded figure of death casts a long pall over the future while clutching a funerary wreath for John F. Kennedy as Herblock imagined a darker world without the president and his vision in this drawing. Herblock mourned the loss of hope for the world, which Kennedy symbolized for him. This cartoon was published the day that Kennedy was buried.

Long Shadow, 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 25, 1963. Graphite, India ink and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (007.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-5986] © Herb Block Foundation

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“I Still Can't Believe It”

Nearly 93 percent of Americans watched the television news after President John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963. Previously considered primarily an entertainment medium, television stations concentrated on news coverage during the weekend after the assassination. The broadcasts offered information, covered the murder of Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and showed public memorial services. Only later, however, was the live film captured by Abraham Zapruder made available. It aired for the first time on ABC’s Good Night America on March 6, 1975.

I Still Can’t Believe It,” 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 24, 1963. Graphite and India ink with overlay over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (008.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-5985] © Herb Block Foundation

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“With A Good Conscience Our Only Sure Reward. . . .”

Using lines from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, Herblock mourned his death along with the rest of the nation. This cartoon appeared in newspapers while the president’s casket laid in state in the East Room of the White House. This somber depiction of grief, represented the deep loss shared by Americans regardless of race, gender, age, or political affiliation.

With A Good Conscience Our Only Sure Reward, with History the Final Judge of Our Deeds, Let Us Go Forth to Lead the Land We Love. . . , 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 23, 1963. India ink, graphite and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05984] © Herb Block Foundation

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Let Us Continue

President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908–1973) rallied the country to the cause and ideals of his predecessor in his first address to a joint session of Congress after the death of John F. Kennedy. Johnson said, “This is our challenge—not to hesitate, not to pause, not to turn about and linger over this evil moment but to continue on our course so that we may fulfill the destiny history has set for us.” Herblock portrays a congressman sitting at his desk faced with the pressing, legislative agenda that the assassinated president had set in place.

[Congressman at desk reading memo, “Let us continue,” L.B.J.] 1963. Published in the Washington Post, November 28, 1963. Graphite, India ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.05.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-hlb-05989] © Herb Block Foundation

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