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George Breitman

Workers’ Bookshelf

The New Sad Sack

(13 July 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 28, 13 July 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New Sad Sack
by George Baker
published by Simon and Schuster, 162 pages, $2, 1946

The Sad Sack was one of the better comic creations of the war – like Bill Mauldin’s characters, a great advance over those produced in the first world war. He was the private of the U.S. Army, caught in a military machine he did not like and did not fully understand, always the good soldier getting the short end of the stick, always the victim and the fall guy for the brass, always sadly disillusioned in the end. It is easy to see why millions of soldiers came to identify themselves with the Sad Sack.

Baker’s hero is the Charlie Chaplin of the cartoons – a wistful, loveable "little man,” digging either foxholes or latrines, working hard, being shot at, hounded by fate and bullied by officers. He is always trying to improve things, to do his job conscientiously, to make life a little more liveable – but he is invariably defeated either by bad luck or red tape or some fangtoothed officer who takes credit for the Sad Sack’s work or dumps the blame for his own errors on the Sad Sack. In the first strip the Sad Sack is usually happy, sometimes even jubilant as he starts out on his little adventure – in the last, he is either horribly deflated or unconscious.

This pattern is maintained even on that happy day when he finally gets his hand or, his discharge papers. He leaps into the air with joy as he leaves the separation center, even jitterbugs as he goes down the street. But he is slowed down a little by a newspaper headline: Housing Shortage Worst in 100 Years. He recoils as he hears the blare of a radio: Inflation Spreads as Prices Rise. And so it goes: Another headline: International Diplomatic Crisis Looms. Another radio: 3,000,000 Unemployed by Spring. Another newspaper: Atomic Rocket Can Wipe Out USA in 30 Minutes. Finally, passers-by turn in curiosity to stare at the Sad Sack sitting on the sidewalk curb, holding his head in one hand and his discharge papers in the other, a look of profound woe on his face.

Together in a book, the Sad Sack cartoons read as well as they did in the pages of Yank. But something is more noticeable now than when they were read week by week. And that is the absence of the element of protest, the desire to rebel and get even – to which Mauldin’s cartoons gave recognition every once in a while. In that sense alone is the Sad Sack not faithful to the typical army private he is patterned after.

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