World War II Through Cartoons
Charles Hou

Political cartoons do not simply report the news. Cartoonists use a variety of devices, such as exaggeration, caricature and analogy, to make a point in an arresting way that will stimulate the viewer to think critically about the events of the day. Political cartoons also provide a fascinating glimpse into the people, events and issues of the past. The Second World War is one such event.

The war breaks out on September 1, 1939, when Germany invades Poland. On September 3 Britain declares war on Germany. On September 10 Canada enters the war in order to support Britain. Canadians greet the news of war with more resignation than enthusiasm, remembering the terrible price paid for Canada's involvement in the First World War. The Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 has also weakened the nation economically and psychologically. Canada's armed forces are undermanned, poorly equipped and inexperienced.

As in World War I, Canadians are bitterly divided over the issue of conscription. Even Prime Minister King is forced to reconsider his opposition to its introduction as more troops are needed. A 1942 plebiscite grants him the authority to implement conscription if it should become necessary. When he is finally forced to do so in November 1944, it is accepted by most Canadians. In 1942 women start to serve in the armed forces. They also enter the workforce in large numbers and assume many of the jobs formerly done by men.

The nation's output of agricultural products, raw materials and manufactured goods expands along with its armed forces. As the economy improves, Canadians hope for a higher standard of living after the war. They demand and achieve far greater social security and better treatment of veterans and minority groups.

Canada's relationship with Britain and the United States also changes dramatically during the war. Britain's near loss to Germany and its weakened economy cause Canada to turn to the United States for help with its defence and economic needs. At the same time, Canada's successes during the war give the country greater confidence. Canada now seeks recognition of its new role as a middle power in international affairs.