And Babies

And babies (December 26, 1969[3]) is an iconic anti-Vietnam War poster.[4] It is a famous example of "propaganda art"[2] from the Vietnam conflict that uses the now infamous color photograph of the My Lai Massacre taken by U.S. combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968. It shows about a dozen dead and partly naked South Vietnamese women and children in contorted positions stacked together on a dirt road, killed by US forces. The picture is overlaid in semi-transparent blood-red lettering that asks along the top "Q. And babies?", and at the bottom answers "A. And babies." The quote is from a Mike Wallace CBS News television interview with U.S. soldier Paul Meadlo who participated in the massacre.

According to cultural historian M. Paul Holsinger, And babies was "easily the most successful poster to vent the outrage that so many felt about the conflict in Southeast Asia."[4]


Partial transcript[5][6] of the Mike Wallace interview with Paul Meadlo in which he describes his participation in the massacre:

Q. So you fired something like sixty-seven shots?
A. Right.
Q. And you killed how many? At that time?
A. Well, I fired them automatic, so you can’t- You just spray the area on them and so you can’t know how many you killed ‘cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or fifteen of them.
Q. Men, women, and children?
A. Men, women, and children.
Q. And babies?
A. And babies.

In 1969 the Art Workers Coalition (AWC), a group of New York City artists who opposed the war, used Haeberle's shocking photograph of the My Lai Massacre, along with a disturbing quote from the Wallace/Meadlo television interview,[5][6] to create a poster titled And babies.[4] It was produced by AWC members Irving Petlin, Jon Hendricks and Fraser Dougherty along with Museum of Modern Art members Arthur Drexler and Elizabeth Shaw.[4] The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) had promised to fund and circulate the poster, but after seeing the 2 by 3 foot poster, pulled financing for the project at the last minute.[3][7] MoMA's Board of Trustees included Nelson Rockefeller and William S. Paley (head of CBS), who reportedly "hit the ceiling" on seeing the proofs of the poster.[3] Both were "firm supporters" of the war effort and backed the Nixon administration.[3] It is unclear if they pulled out for political reasons (as pro-war supporters), or simply to avoid a scandal (personally and/or for MoMA), but the official reason, stated in a press release, was that the poster was outside the "function" of the museum.[3] Nevertheless, under the sole sponsorship of the AWC, 50,000 posters were printed by New York City's lithographers union. On December 26, 1969, a grassroots network of volunteer artists, students and peace activists began circulating it worldwide.[3][7] Many newspapers and television shows re-printed images of the poster, consumer poster versions soon followed, and it was carried in protest marches around the world, all further increasing its viewership. In a further protest of MoMA's decision to pull out of the project, copies of the poster were carried by members of the AWC into the MoMA and unfurled in front of Picasso's painting Guernica — on loan to MoMA at the time, the painting depicts the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent civilians.[3] One member of the group was Tony Shafrazi who returned in 1974 to spray paint the Guernica with the words "KILL LIES ALL" in blood red paint, protesting about Richard Nixon's pardon of William Calley for the latter's actions during the My Lai massacre.[8]

Although the photograph was shot almost two years prior to the production of the poster, Haeberle had not released it until late 1969. It was a color photograph taken on his personal camera which he did not turn over to the military, unlike the black and white photographs he took on a military camera. Haeberle sold the color photographs to Life magazine where they were first seen nationally in the December 5, 1969, issue.[3] When the poster came out a few weeks later, in late December 1969, the image was still quite shocking and new to most viewers.

The implied message of the poster was that in Vietnam, babies were enemy combatants i.e., the war was immoral. The derision "baby killers" was often used by anti-war activists against U.S. soldiers, largely as a result of the My Lai Massacre.[1] Although Vietnam soldiers had been called "baby killers" since at least 1966, My Lai and the Haeberle photographs further solidified the stereotype of drug-addled soldiers who killed babies, according to cultural historian M. Paul Holsinger, And babies was "easily the most successful poster to vent the outrage that so many felt about the conflict in Southeast Asia. Copies are still frequently seen in retrospectives dealing with the popular culture of the Vietnam War era or in collections of art from the period."[4]


Further reading

  • Lucy Lippard, A Different War: Vietnam in Art, Seattle, 1990, pgs. 27-28.
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