Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on December 15, 2009 by permission of the Hillstrom Museum of Art at Gustavus Adolphus College. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Hillstrom Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
Kerr Eby and Efforts Against War
by Loramy Gerstbauer and Donald Myers
KERR EBY'S EARLY LIFE AND TRAINING
Kerr Eby (1889-1946) was born in Tokyo to Canadian missionary parents who brought their family back home a few years after his birth. Eby left Canada for New York City in 1907 and studied art at the Pratt Institute and later at the Art Students League there. He spent several summers (from 1913 to 1917) at the artist colony in Cos Cob, Connecticut. His specialty was draftsmanship, including not only drawing but also etching and lithography, and he was recognized as a master printmaker. His friend artist John Taylor Arms (1887-1953), whose own printmaking abilities are often considered to be unsurpassed, cited Eby for his technical versatility and brilliance, claiming that his works were "some of the finest prints and drawings produced by an American artist." The American Impressionist artist Childe Hassam (1859-1935), who turned to etching in 1915, was guided by the younger Eby in mastering the medium (see Arms' Stockholm and Hassam's Old Lace, also on view in this exhibition).
Eby's maternal uncle was Frederick Keppel, Sr., a leading and influential art dealer in New York at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries who had played a key role in introducing prints as a fine art form to America. The Keppel Gallery, not surprisingly, assisted Eby in his career. In addition to this encouragement and support that Eby received for his printmaking, his early work experience was also important for his development as an artist. In his youth in Canada, he worked for a newspaper as a "printer's devil" (a young apprentice in a printing establishment who handled printing type and was called a "devil" because of generally being covered with black printing ink), and he later held a position at the American Lithographic Company, experiences that attuned him to the printing process.
EBY'S WAR EXPERIENCE AND HIS PUBLICATION WAR
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Eby, too, became involved. After unsuccessful efforts to obtain a commission as an artist, he enlisted and ultimately was assigned to the 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade, Camouflage Division, which was sent to the war front where the Division helped to protect the troops. Eby saw much battle action, especially in northeastern France, including at Belleau Wood and Meuse-Argonne, and in 1918, he participated in the battles of Château-Thierry and Saint-Mihiel, which were instrumental in preventing the Germans from advancing on Paris. In addition to his work as a camoufleur, he also made drawings of the images he witnessed on the battlefield. Interestingly, Eby's cousin Frederick P. Keppel was an Assistant Secretary of War for the U.S. during this time.
In 1936, concerned about the unstable world situation that would soon lead to World War II, Eby published his book War (Yale University Press, New Haven) which illustrated 28 prints and drawings he had made during his experience in World War I and which included an essay outlining his abhorrence of war and his opinion of its futility and barbarity. The lithograph Where Do We Go? was one of the images in the book, which was dedicated "To those who gave their lives for an idea, the men who never came back."
Eby's essay, according to its opening lines, was written "in all humility of spirit, in the desperate hope that somehow it may be of use in the forlorn and seemingly hopeless fight against war." Eby continued by noting that the images in the book were made from his own "indelible impressions of war," and were "not imaginary." He noted further that the "world today [in 1936] is a more savage place than the world of 1914," and bemoaned that war-which he characterized as "idiotic"-was heating up yet again. He ended his essay with a special appeal to women, mothers particularly, exhorting them to act and speak up for the protection of the men who would have to fight the impending battles. Eby's purpose in writing the essay and in publishing his works was not fulfilled, of course, and World War II was not prevented. Although he was himself too old to serve during this Second World War, he served as a correspondent in the Pacific in the combat artist program developed by Abbott Laboratories (which was instrumental in the development of plasma and hired artists to depict its use in the War). Eby again drew images of the soldiers, and he went ashore with the U.S. invading force in Tarawa, where occurred in November 1943 one of the most brutal battles in the history of the Marines. He again witnessed much death and, again, recorded his experience in numerous prints and drawings. His friend John Taylor Arms, in a moving tribute to Eby written shortly after his death in 1946, felt that Eby, like the soldiers whose deaths he recorded, had also given his life for the cause, because Eby had contracted a tropical disease while living with the troops for three weeks in a foxhole in the jungles of Bougainville, a condition from which he never recovered and which contributed to his early death.
ANTI-WAR ART: AN OVERVIEW
In creating anti-war works, Eby joined a long line of artists stretching back into antiquity who had explored the war theme. Among these can be cited the unknown Egyptian maker of the Palette of Narmer (c. 3000 B.C.), a two-sided relief that was a larger, ceremonial version of palettes used for the grinding of eye paints for sun protection and beautification. The Palette depicts, among other things, the corpses of the victims of the ruler Narmer's forcible uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt. In ancient Greece, famous battle scenes were frequently depicted by artists in temple sculpture, as in the metopes for the Parthenon in Athens, dating to the 5th century B.C. These nearly square reliefs, running around the exterior in the temple's frieze (part of the area above the columns and below the roof), include battles between Gods and Giants, Greeks and Amazons, Greeks and Trojans, and Lapiths and Centaurs. In Rome is found the Column of Trajan (erected c. 113 A.D.), with its long, spiraling depiction of that Emperor's army and its battles against Roman enemies; while in Renaissance Italy, Paolo Uccello (c.1397-1475) depicted a Florentine victory in his paintings of The Battle of San Romano (mid-1450s). Images emphasizing the sufferings of war are also to be found, including a series of prints by French artist Jacques Callot (1592-1635) called Miseries and Misfortunes of War, which was published in 1633; and the graphic, gruesome etchings by the Spaniard Francesco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) called The Disasters of War, dating between 1810 and 1820 (published in 1863, after the artist's death), which commemorated the atrocities done upon Spain by Napoleon's invading forces. Closer to the date of Eby's images is the well-known anti-war painting of Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), a remembrance of the battle and the sufferings in that city that occurred at the hands of Germans under the direction of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
Of these, Goya's etchings are probably the most related in approach and spirit to Eby's works, since they include many images of ugly death presented in a matter-of-fact, almost casual way, with titles that frequently understate the horror of the prints to which they apply. Many of the images Eby published in War were ghastly and terrible, such as Mama's Boy, a drawing depicting a dead, staring-eyed soldier whose legs had been blown off. Another drawing, Pencil Sellers, Class of '17, is similar to Where Do We Go? in that it features a crowd of soldiers marching along, but in this case most of them have their eyes covered, having been blinded by poisonous gas (the use of mustard gas was particularly prevalent in the war). The drawing's title refers to the sightless soldiers' grim prospects for employment following the war.
WHERE DO WE GO?
The lithograph Where Do We Go? was reproduced prior to its inclusion in Eby's book, appearing in The New York Times Magazine (on September 9, 1928) with an alternative title Heavy Artillery, Mud and Dawn. The print depicts a long, anonymous line of soldiers trudging along parallel to the picture plane, in a frieze-like configuration. They wear the typical gear of the doughboy, including the characteristic helmet, and they shoulder their rifles and packs. There is a numb quality to this mass of men, recalling Eby's reference in his essay to "men like maggots in a cheese-and seemingly moving as aimlessly." Just one soldier, near the center, peers out of the picture space. As noted, Eby's images were all based on his own experience, a point he emphasized in his essay, and perhaps the visual engagement of this soldier with the viewer is to underscore that fact.
Next to this man, in the very center of the composition, is another soldier, singled out by the way in which he carries his rifle. He has a cigarette in his mouth, and Eby has given it prominence by making it one of the brightest objects in the gloomy, dark print. During World War I, cigarettes were freely distributed to the doughboys. Their ability to relieve some of the stress of the battlefield was a chief reason that the government made cigarettes so available to soldiers, and, in fact, General Pershing gave priority to their shipment to the front. The result of this easy access is that cigarette use among men rose in this period by over 600 percent, and by World War II, they were considered part of the GI's typical and critical gear. Eby used the particular qualities of lithography (one of the freest of the printmaking media since it is capable of accurately reproducing an artist's most subtle drawing) to strong effect in this print, not only by highlighting the central soldier's cigarette, but also by giving an oppressive darkness to the image as a whole, which blurs the individuality of the soldiers and which lends a weariness to all the men and even to the print's background.
LIMITING AND ELIMINATING WAR: LATE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY EFFORTS
Eby's work demonstrates his horror over World War I at a time when the sabers of World War II were already rattling. In U.S. diplomatic history the interwar period is a telling time. World War I, also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, spawned diplomatic efforts to prevent future war as well as citizen peace movements. The failure of most of the former reveals the true nature of Realpolitik and makes one question whether and how it is truly possible to make war an obsolete instrument, or even a more humane one. Despite developments in international law that began a few decades before World War I and reached a highpoint after World War II, war in many ways has become messier over time. The most revealing statistic of this is that whereas prior to 1950 80% of war casualties were combatants, the figure has reversed so that since 1950, at least 80% are civilians.
Efforts to regulate warfare have a long history but hit several important milestones with the development of the Geneva Conventions, beginning in 1864, and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. These conventions were an effort to ameliorate the suffering of soldiers and civilians in wartime, for example by setting standards for treatment of prisoners of war, by allowing passage of medical staff to treat wounded on the battlefield, and by the prohibition of inhumane weapons such as expanding bullets and poisonous gas. The Hague Peace Conferences were also an effort to construct diplomatic structures that would promote peaceful settlements of disputes. Many prominent citizens and politicians in the U.S. were members of peace societies during the decade prior to World War I, and one manifestation of this trend toward limiting war was a set of arbitration treaties that the U.S. negotiated with other nations, the treaty signers promising to submit disputes of certain types to the newly created arbitration court at the Hague.
Despite efforts and hopes prior to 1914 to make the world more peaceful, World War I was a nasty and brutal example of total warfare: warfare that mobilized, enveloped, and destroyed entire societies. Yet, in the midst of rebuilding there again developed idealistic hopes that rational man could render war obsolete. The first embodiment of this idealism was the ill-fated League of Nations.
Despite being a chief architect and proponent of the League, the U.S. did not participate in it. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge spearheaded the opposition in the U.S. Senate. Isolationists feared that the League would drag the United States into foreign conflicts and nationalists rejected the notion that the U.S. should subject its sovereignty to any form of international control. The Senate debate about the League foreshadowed current debate about the U.S. role in the League's successor, The United Nations, with the isolationism of the early 20th century developing into the "go it alone" unilateralism of current U.S. foreign policy.
While rejecting the opportunity the League presented to work with other nations in the interest of peace, the United States revived its old habit of signing arbitration treaties, which were qualified by conditions that made them pointless. Despite all of the arbitration treaties and in spite of the obligation assumed by members of the League to peacefully resolve their disputes, the possibility of "legal" war still existed in situations when the League Council failed to take action. Thus, the most stalwart proponents of peace sought to take things one step further and to outlaw war itself, making ALL war illegal.
THE KELLOGG-BRIAND PACT
This effort birthed one of the most infamous treaties of the interwar period, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (also known as Pact of Paris) of 1928, renouncing war as an instrument of national policy and stating that "the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflictsshall never be sought except by pacific means." The Pact revealed how strong peace had become as a global ideology, in interactions among governments and also among the cultural elite and in burgeoning academic programs in international affairs.
Though initiated by French Foreign Minister Briand as a bilateral treaty between France and the United States, President Coolidge and Secretary of State Kellogg favored a multilateral treaty renouncing war. A total of fifteen governments initially signed the pact, including the major actors in World War II: Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Germany. Eventually, the treaty was signed by nearly all nations in the world.
The U.S. Senate approved the treaty with only one dissenting vote; however, the United States made known its "interpretations" of the treaty, as did some other nations. For example, The Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted that the treaty did not prevent an act of war in self-defense nor did it prevent enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, since that would also be an act of self-defense. Senator Carter Glass of Virginia commented that these "reservations" basically nullified the treaty: "I am not willing that anybody in Virginia shall think that I am simple enough to suppose that [the treaty] is worth a postage stamp in the direction of accomplishing permanent international peace. it is going to confuse the minds of many good and pious people who think that peace may be secured by polite professions of neighborly and brotherly love." Indeed, diplomatic historian Julius Pratt wryly notes that after approval of Kellogg-Briand, the next item of business of the U.S. Senate was an appropriation for Navy cruisers.
Kellogg-Briand was not able to halt the march toward World War II. Just as World War I demonstrated the futility of the peace machinery that preceded it, the peace efforts of the interwar period were tragically disintegrated by World War II. Ultimately, treaties were brushed aside when they no longer served the interests of states.
THE (NOT SO) NEW ORDER AFTER WORLD WAR II
Acts of aggression by Germany, Japan and Italy instigated the Second World War, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact would be cited as one of the key documents with which to condemn the aggressors. At the close of the war, the U.S. was the chief architect of a new order to maintain peace, with the United Nations as a chief cornerstone. The United Nations Security Council was set up to prevent another war between the major powers by giving all of them permanent seats on the Council and veto power. Developments in international law such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention were supposed to make war more humane and prevent mass atrocities.
Unfortunately, it is still the case that laws to abolish war or to ameliorate its effects usually fail to prevent war and its destruction. Someone needs to enforce the law, and the only state capable and willing to do so, the U.S., often refuses to play in the system of its own making. As with the League of Nations, the U.S. has been influential in the formation of the Genocide Convention of 1948, which it then didn't sign until the 1980s; and the International Criminal Court, which it refuses to join, unwilling to subject its own actions to international law. This is not to say that the laws of war are useless, or that the repeated iterations and refinements of international laws of war over time have not been a sign of progress. Even a powerful nation like the U.S. has its actions scrutinized in the Iraq war and is pressured to embed media to portray the battlefield to the public. And though there has been much controversy around treatment of U.S. prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the very existence of controversy speaks volumes toward the power of the law.
CITIZEN MOVEMENTS AND HOPE
Perhaps war will always be as ugly as Eby portrayed it. Eby wrote in his introduction to War that he had been accused of being a pacifist. He didn't really think he was one, but said he believed that "lawful, not to say sanctified, wholesale slaughter is simply slobbering imbecility." Eby saw the folly of war and wondered, with some idealism, why everyone can't just get along and solve their differences peacefully.
Some choose pacifism as a response to the inhumanity of war, and some seek to use citizen movements to hold governments accountable. Eby cried out to the women of the world as the citizens who, as mothers and future brides of the men who die in war, have the "guts" to stop war and speak against it. Indeed many influential citizen peace movements have been founded by women, including the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) whose members met in the Hague in 1915 while their husbands clashed in opposing armies in the war. In the 1960s women were "striking" from their domestic duties in order to protest nuclear testing and war in a movement called Women Strike for Peace. Women's peace movements have often made connections between the "private" realm of household life with the violence of war, suggesting that "security" is not gained by spending billions on high tech weapons and war, but rather by investing in education, healthcare, and projects that provide "security" in daily life.
Today it is probably more true than ever that citizen movements and public support can make or break a war. Wilsonian idealism is based to some degree on faith in "world public opinion" and its moral force as a check to the rule of weapons of force. Wilson dreamed of a world where each nation served not only its own interests, but rather the interests of humankind. The problem may be that citizens of the world's nations are not so oriented; the true battle may be in the minds of the people as media, propaganda, education, and yes, art, sway them to war and self-interest or to cooperation and world-interest.
Eby certainly did his part to enter into the fray. Ultimately,
he concluded that war is not a permanent fixture of our world, stating that
if "everyone who has any feeling in the matter at all said what he
felt in no uncertain terms and kept saying it the sheer power
of public opinion would go far to make war impossible."
Suggestions for further reading:
About the authors
Loramy Gerstbauer, Director, Peace Studies Program at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Donald Myers is Director of the Hillstrom Museum of Art.
(above: Kerr Eby, Where Do We Go?, lithograph)
Resource Library editor's note:
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on December 15, 2009 with permission of the Hillstrom Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on December 14, 2009.
This essay is part of the FOCUS IN/ON program of the Hillstrom Museum of Art in which the expertise of Gustavus Adolphus College community members across the curriculum are engaged for a collaborative, detailed consideration of particular individual objects from the Hillstrom Collection.
Resource Library wishes to
extend appreciation to Donald Myers of the Hillstrom Museum of Art for his
help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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