“Who is Bill Mauldin?” reads lamppost banners outside the Monroe Building, where “Drawn to Combat: Bill Mauldin & the Art of War” opened Friday at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 104 S. Michigan.
A sad, almost a shocking question. But the truth, which he so revered, is that in 2021, Bill Mauldin’s name will evoke nothing to many, or else be a distant ping. If fame were doled out according to impact, Mauldin would stand today among the best-known Chicagoans.
Alas, people forget.
Mauldin not only changed how Americans viewed World War II but how we think about war and the military. At a time when the Army was presenting its shiniest spin, when a photo of an American casualty would never be seen in a newspaper, when cartoons about Army life were Sad Sack peeling potatoes, Mauldin created Willie and Joe, a pair of exhausted, bedraggled infantrymen flat on their bellies in the mud, hoping to live long enough to smoke another cigarette.
Nor did his influence end on V-E Day. After the war that made him famous, Mauldin advocated liberal causes decades before they became common. Odds are, if you believe strongly in social justice, Mauldin was advocating your core principles before you were born. He was fighting for civil rights when Martin Luther King was a teenager, for gay rights in the mid-1970s. He wasn’t just a cartoonist but an artist, a Chicago artist.
OK, “Chicago artist” might be a stretch. Mauldin lived most of his life in the Southwest, born in New Mexico, settled in Arizona. But in between, he came to Chicago for a key year to learn his art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. And was an editorial cartoonist on staff at the Sun-Times for almost 30 years.
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