You’ve probably seen this amusing poster somewhere or other; a bookstore near my house has it displayed on the wall. It’s often cited as an example of Cold War hysteria—the evils of McCarthyism—how foolish our grandparents were, that they would believe such silliness! They must have been really backwards.
I recently got suspicious about the origins of this poster, and decided to see if I could track down the original. My suspicion was that it was fake, put together by someone who, for ideological reasons, wanted to downplay the reality of the Soviet threat during the Cold War. Heaven knows, there are many such people, who seek to characterize the United States as either the villain in the Cold War, or at best paranoid in its fear of communism. Such people overemphasize the importance of Joseph McCarthy, and breeze past the real incidents of Soviet espionage and propaganda that occurred during that period; they portray communist propagandists as martyrs, and American leaders as insidious or as the bumbling offspring of the John Birchers and the Keystone Kops.
My skepticism was increased by the fact that the original is nowhere to be found on the Internet. Most pictures of the ad are entirely unattributed. And other sources point out that it ran in Mad Magazine sometime in the 1950s or ‘60s. In the 1970s, a Los Angeles-based left-wing group called NAM distributed copies of the ad as a poster for fundraising purposes, attributing it to Time Magazine in 1932. But it keeps being repeated uncritically; no authentic sourcing ever seems to have been done.
Still, there’s only one way to be sure, so I went to the libraries at Cal. State Sacramento and U.C. Davis, both of which have Time Magazine back issues, and I went through them. What I found was more interesting, I think, than outright fraud.