Pictorial map conveying American military might on the eve of the Second World War

Lambert Guenther, SAFEGUARDING OUR AMERICAN LIBERTY. New York: C. S. Hammond & Co., 1941.
Color halftone print, 30 7/8”h x 21 ¼”w at neat line plus margins. Mounted on heavy canvas, poster style. Mended edge tears, including a few extending into printed image, and a 2” x 3” area of lower right corner reinstated in facsimile by hand, visible only on close inspection.

A spectacular pictorial map designed to convey United States’ military might and preparedness, produced as war raged in Europe but prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Recently featured in two important volumes on 20th-century mapping, Curtis and Pedersen’s War Map: Pictorial Conflict Maps 1900-1950 and Hornsby’s Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps. 

This large and colorful image features a world map centered on the United States, with tiny symbols denoting American and British military bases and a network of lines indicating air distances. The United States is shown divided into territories assigned to its nine Army Corps, while its borders are picked out in red, white and blue. Far offshore two concentric “plane” and “fleet patrol belts” protect the country from foreign aggression. Above and below the map are outsized depictions of American warships and military aircraft, with notes giving statistics about numbers of warships of various types, both built and under construction. The poster is surmounted by a Stars-and-Stripes banner and an eagle clutching a ribbon bearing George Washington’s assertion that “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” The one discordant touch is a brief note at right mentioning that the map was “prepared exclusively for Thom Mc An Shoes”!

The persuasive message of the map was that, even as conflict raged in Europe and Asia, the military might and preparedness of the United States would keep it safe from foreign aggression. In fact, the American military was at the time underequipped and underprepared, and, as Stephen Hornsby puts it, “The propaganda value of this pictorial map would be sorely tested by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” (p. 232) Yet there was a fundamental underlying truth to the message: Thousands of miles of ocean provided the country with a vital barrier to invasion of the mainland, which afforded it time to amass the millions of men (and women) and mountains of materiel that would eventually overwhelm the Axis.

Curtis & Pedersen, War Map: Pictorial Conflict Maps 1900-1950, pp. 134-35 (illus.) Hornsby, Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps, pp. 225 and 232 (illus.) Rumsey #12033. OCLC 12620278, giving examples only at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the Pritzker Military Library (October 2018).