“China’s Silver” (August 15, 1939)
by Mischa Richter (1910-2001)
11 x 8 in., ink and wash on paper
80 years ago!
Mischa Richter (1910-2001) was a well-known New Yorker, King Features, and PM newspaper cartoonist who worked for the Communist Party’s literary journal “New Masses” in the late 1930 and early 1940s, becoming its art editor in the 1940s.
In this piece, from the August 15, 1939 issue of the New Masses, you see a cartoon that was published just a week before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Nazis and the Soviets, which included the secret division of Poland, whose invasion was only two weeks away, on September 1. UK PM Chamberlain, depicted here, was still up to his armpits in appeasement as a policy, and in meaningless negotiations with Hitler that would not prevent the start of WWII.
The Sino-Japanese war, considered the unofficial opening to WWII, had been ongoing since 1937. Britain had backed China, and Japan was now in a strong position of power in China. The cartoon accompanies an article describing how Japan was starving the British investors through the return of silver reserves.
Appeasement in the Far East revolves, in large part, around whether for not the British will hand over the fifty million ounces of Chinese silver, property of the Chungking government, now stored in the Tientsin concession. That is what the Japanese want, for the Chinese silver would bolster their foreign exchange, and upset Chinese relations on the international silver market. The United States would be forced to abandon its silver purchases in order to avoid virtual subsidy to Japan. The world price of silver would fall, thereby embarrassing the treasury of India, and incidentally react against nations such as Mexico for whom silver is vital.
August 1939 is a historically interesting month.
On August 1, Hitler forbade Jews from buying lottery tickets, in the continued effort to remove normal rights. Glen Miller recorded the classic standard “In the Mood.”
On August 2, Albert Einstein signed the famous letter warning FDR about the potential for Germany to develop an atomic weapon, which prompted FDR to start the Manhattan Project.
On August 3, the medical licenses of Jewish physicians were nullified.
On August 8 and 11, the first air raid defense tests, and blackouts, were carried out in Britain.
On August 14, FDR moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to the next-to-last Thursday, mainly due to pressure from merchants to extend the holiday shopping season.
On August 15, the day this cartoon was published, the Wizard of Oz premiered in Hollywood.
On August 17, Hitler closed the border with Poland.
On August 18, the first step in the Nazi child euthanasia program began, as medical personnel were ordered to report any child under the age of three who showed signs of physical or mental disability.
On August 19, Italy barred immigration into the country by Jews.
On August 22, Hitler briefed his commanders about the impending invasion of Poland.
On August 23, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed.
On August 25, the Louvre was closed, ostensibly for repair, to begin the packaging and relocation of some of the collection.
On August 28, the border between Germany and France was closed.
On August 31, the Soviets ratified the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact… Hitler issued the directive to invade Poland on September 1, and the first-ever Marvel comic (Marvel Comics #1, with an October cover date) was published by the Timely company, featuring the origin of the Human Torch and the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner.