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If We Enter a World War – and Lose!

  • Author: BURKE, Howard Austin (Artist)
  • Publisher: Chicago Herald & Examiner (Newspaper)
  • Date: 1937
  • Dimensions: Sheet: 41.5 x 53 cms


Pictorial mapmaker Howard Burke’s frightening 1937 hypothetical map of the results of an American defeat in a future World War

About this piece:

If We Enter a World War – and Lose!

Single newspaper sheet with printed colour map to recto and printed series of strip cartoons to verso, the verso now entirely backed with fine museum-quality archivist tissue for better preservation and presentation. Rust stains marking partial outline of former attached paper clip at lower right corner. The paper somewhat toned and browned, especially at left sheet edge. A few invisible repairs as to be expected with this type of poor quality pre-war newspaper stock. Generally a still very attractive & presentable example.

A powerful and highly provocative hypothetical map with a distinctive pictorial design that is typical of the 1930’s American newspaper artist & illustrator, Howard Austin Burke [1899 – 1967]. The map was published as a double-page spread in Part Three of the Chicago Herald and Examiner (“A Paper for People who Think”) of Sunday November 28th 1937, seemingly a syndicated edition of an identical map that had appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner two weeks earlier.

Artist Howard Austin Burke’s birth date is given as 1st March 1899/1900/1901 in a number of different official US records. His Los Angeles gravestone indicates 1900, though his birth and WWI Draft records would suggest March 1899 is the correct one. Born in Cook County Illinois in 1899, the eldest son of William & Abigail Raney Burke, the family moved to San Francisco in the early 1900’s, settling in San Francisco, where, by the time of the 1920 Federal Census, Howard had already established himself as a commercial newspaper artist, probably working for the San Francisco Examiner. Interestingly Burke’s September 1918 Army Draft papers describe him as a blue-eyed brown-haired “Art student” of medium height and slender build living with his family at 505 Grove Street. The papers also give the name of his employer as “Frank Van Sloune” of 1617 California Street – this can be none other than the important & influential Minnesota-born “realist” painter, Frank van Sloun [1879-1938], who had settled in San Francisco in 1911 and in 1917 had spent a year teaching at the City’s Central School of Fine Arts. In 1926 Van Sloun would join the staff at Berkeley whilst continuing to maintain a studio at his California St home. By the late 1920’s Burke had moved to Southern California, and twice married, eventually settled with his second wife & family in Glendale, Los Angeles where he appears to have begun working for Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner in about 1932. Burke died in Los Angeles in 1967.

The map projects a frightening doomsday scenario which envisages the outcome for the American motherland if the United States were to become embroiled in a second Worldwide war and lose.

The United States, with the greatest resources on Earth, Would suffer the fate of Poland, Austria & Germany – our prized lands would be divided among the conquerors

screams the strap line.

It was in fact a familiar & well-used trope that had already seen use in the previous World War. One thinks particularly of the the map cover of the Feb 1916 “Get Ready” number of Life Magazine which similarly portrayed the United States as a colonized and defeated rump after defeat at the hands of the Central Powers just a year before the final entry of the United States into that conflict, having remained neutral since the original outbreak of European hostilities in August 1914.

So it is that Burke here portrays an American rump sandwiched between two coastal areas stripped from the US and divided amongst its conquerors – the Pacific coastal zone, encompassing Washington State, Oregon, California and parts of Western Nevada and Arizona would, because of its wealth of minerals and many natural advantages, fall easy prey to the Allied conquerors and become an Empire easily defended from the East. By the same token, the Eastern seaboard, from New Jersey to Florida would also be hived off and divided amongst the conquering powers. New York, given its importance, would become an international free port, whilst an “Empire State Corridor” would be created in New England as a buffer between two unidentified victorious allies. Meanwhile a “Corridor of Death” encompassing America’s industrial & agricultural heartland extending from the coal & steel plants of Pennsylvania in the North to the cotton fields of Alabama in the South, would be converted into “Channels of Destruction” through the creation of vast munitions plants “dwarfing the combined output of all Europe” and so cutting out the very heart of the Continent. What would be left is a central mid-west rump, extending from Idaho and Nevada in the West to Kentucky, Ohio and parts of New York State and Pennsylvania in the East, where all natural, agricultural and industrial resources would be shipped abroad “under supervision and control of other powers”. Parts of Texas, New Mexico & Arizona, given their rich natural and mineral resources, would also be ceded to the conquerors.  An inset map also suggests that the natural resources of Alaska would be lost, as equally her Hawaiian naval base and control of the Panama Canal. A frightening inset pictures enemy aircraft bombing central New York and Manhattan with the warning that the City might become a war zone “No Man’s Land” which complete the frightening vision.

Whilst not mentioned explicitly, other maps by Burke from the Los Angeles Examiner (as highlighted in the P J Mode’s Collection of Maps now curated by Cornell University on the Persuasive Cartography site) reveal that the largest perceived war threat was seen by the contemporary Hearst Press as coming from Japan. This is explicitly highlighted in another map, also dating from Nov 1937, designed by Burke and published in the Los Angeles Examiner showing “How Japan might attack the United States”, first capturing Hawaii and then demolishing all the major cities along her western Pacific seaboard. As Mode highlights, whilst the Hearst Press was generally supportive of American neutrality in overseas conflicts in the 1930’s, it did take an increasingly strident and explicitly anti-Japanese stance during this pre-war period.

And whilst it was certainly a popular & much-peddled fear-mongering trope which in Burke’s hands made for a very powerful & striking visual impact upon American readers, the reality of either a Japanese or even a German attack or invasion of the United States was in fact far beyond either power’s military resources or logistical capabilities in the late 1930’s or even during the ensuing 1939-45 global conflict.

Because of the ephemeral nature of these types of pictorial newspaper maps and the often relatively poor quality of the paper on which they were originally printed, relatively few examples have in fact survived.