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The World In Arms! (R173)
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2006 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine

 

Can America Maintain Peace With The World In Arms ?

The World in Arms (WIA) consists of 48 beautifully drawn cards produced in 1939 by Gum, Inc. Each card is a magnificent piece of art, very colorful and superbly painted. The set is divided into six sub sets: 16 Airplanes, 12 ships, 4 Iron Calvary, 4 Field Artillery, 4 Fortifications, and 8 Miscellaneous.

I recently purchased this set from an ad in The Wrapper and was delighted when it finally arrived. Like other non-sport trading card sets that revolve around a historical theme, WIA gives us a visual snapshot of military history frozen forever in 1939 frames. True to its name, The World in Arms faithfully represents numerous different countries in its card choices, Italian Breda Fighter, Belgian Fighter, Russian Paratroopers, Swedish Junkers, Spanish Cruiser Canarias, Japanese Scout Cycle, Latvian Reconnaissance Two-Seater, Czech Fighter, Dutch Fokker, and of course, German, British, American and French entries.

This is a remarkably neutral set, resisting the urge to portray the Japs, Nazis, and Italians as the bad guys, as earlier sets by Gum Inc (especially Horrors of War) routinely did. Instead, there is a sort of admiration for more effective weapons of war, regardless of who devised them or how they were used. Take for example the German Junkers Bomber (Airplanes #2). It says simply, "The German air fleet, ranked by some experts as the biggest in the world, makes use of many converted transport ships for bombers... The Ju-86K is a deadly, high speed night bomber carrying a crew of five. It is provided with three gun turrets, one in the nose shielded by a sort of 'bird-cage' arrangement to keep the gunner from falling out, and two in the the back of the trailing edge of the wings, one above the fuselage and one below. The bombs (2200 lbs) are carried within the plane. Two six-cylinder 'Jumo 205' heavy-oil Diesel engines power this German bomber, giving it a maximum speed of 242 miles per hour. It is believed to have a cruising range of over 1,000 miles..." There's no speculation about who might get blown up by the bombers, whether they were intended for cities or military targets, or condemning the Nazis for re-arming the German military.

The card on Japanese scout motorbikes (Iron Cavalry #4) applauds the invader for the machine's effectiveness against the Chinese. "These mechanized units have been waging a successful fight against the persistent Chinese guerrillas. The unit shown consists of a speedy motorcycle of the latest design, equipped with siren and searchlight, and a side-car in which rides the machine-gunner who operates a light machine gun mounted on the tonneau... Inferior Chinese roads make motorcycles desirable." There is no mention of the civilian victims of those machine guns, or the staggering amount of rape, pillaging, and wholesale slaughter by Japanese soldiers, despite graphic portrayals of the same subject in Horrors of War.

Even inflammatory weapons of war get the soft ball treatment. Check out the Italian Flame-throwing Tank (Iron Cavalry #3): "Italy is reviving the use of fire as a war device. In a recent demonstration in Rome these awe-inspiring, camouflaged tanks that spit flames were on exhibition. Similar to the heavy type flame-throwing apparatus mentioned in another card, the tank flame throwers have a range of over a hundred yards. The fire is a highly inflammable oil ignited from a blowpipe. It's ghastly appearance accompanied by great clouds of black smoke is enough to cause men to flee without being touched by fire! Since the Ethiopians and later the Spaniards, discovered that a well aimed rock or torch applied to the caterpillar tread was enough to put an Italian tank out of commission, this may help explain the reasons why flame-throwers were added to the equipment of the tanks!" That's right kids, the Fascists had to burn the soldiers to death because those pesky Ethiopians had damaged their tank treads!

My personal favorites are the images with large panorama scenes, which make the other cards of close-up pictures of equipment look bland in comparison. I especially enjoy the eight Miscellaneous cards, including the "flame throwing apparatus mentioned in another card." That other card is #1. Its white hooded soldiers look like futuristic versions of the Klu Klux Klan carrying Weapons of Mass Destruction. One mows down a line of unprotected soldiers with the 1939 equivalent of a Heat-ray gun. Check out that guy on the far right who's getting the blunt of the blast. That's gotta hurt!

The very next card is just as detailed: British Death-dealing Balloon Barrage (#2). This dark scene of black balloons floating silently over London looks sinister and deadly, yet futuristic in its own way, like a scene out of Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow. The detail in the background is very minute and complete. Entire neighborhoods, streets and rivers can be seen far below. And Gas Raid Rescue Squad (#6) is just as exquisite. The gas masks look like black skulls and are reminiscent of Darth Vader helmets. The faint gas trails in the foreground and tiny detail of bricks and shingles in the damaged homes in the background remind us how dedicated the artists were in providing kids their full penny's worth of card viewing and gum chewing pleasure.

Part of the fun of collecting cards is talking about them with other collectors. I contacted another Wrapper reader/ writer whom I knew enjoyed vintage war sets and asked if he had any thoughts on WIA. It was Joel Bevan, and it turned out that he had just purchased his own set about the same time as did I, and was just as pleased. One thing he enjoys about it in particular is the way that the set deals with the gruesome aspect of war.

"The combat images within the pictures manage to be frightening without resorting to blood and guts," he said. "One's imagination is gripped and thus the effect is achieved more fully than just reliance upon graphic violence."

Joel points out that the historical context of World In Arms placed the young collector of 1939 in a nervous and apprehensive world. "Fresh in everyone's mind were the shocking numbers of war dead, and the conflict still had six more years to expand and many more countries to demand sacrifices of, including America," he recalls. "The Sino-Japanese War had already killed millions of what would eventually reach twenty million dead. The Italian-Abyssinian War had slain 50,000. The Spanish Civil War butchered 350,000, and the Russo-Finnish Winter War was in the midst of massacring another 350,000. Each campaign was replete with horrors, atrocities, poison gas attacks, fire bombed cities or frozen dead."

Of course, these were horror stories only the adults who read newspapers were aware of. 1939 was long before TV or "R" rated movies, so the average kid on the street never saw any gory images of war from so many thousands of miles away-- unless he happened to collect some of the more infamous Gum cards...

One of the few disappointing aspects of this series is knowing it was a commercial wash. According to the free sample cards given away in other packs by Gum, Inc., the machine stamp super-imposed on the back announced the set was slated to to be 120 cards in size, with 40 planes, 30 ships, 20 miscellaneous cards, and ten of all the other categories (all for only 1 cent each). Unfortunately, it failed to reach even half of its ambitious goal.

Another disappointment (albeit a minor one) is the fact that J. Warren Bowman recycled 24 of the exact same images from WIA to boost the size of War News Pictures, also released in 1939. (The WIA cards were the best images in the set, but the full color paintings didn't fit in very well with the other two-color paintings or the various black and white photos that made up the rest of the 144 cards in the set.) The WIA images also appeared in a Canadian version of the same series called Fighting Forces, which included some French text along with the English (Viva la diversity!). Ten of the paintings were also reprinted in the Rand McNally Books America's Army and America's Navy (according to the Benjamin Price Guide). But heck, we have to cut Bowman some slack for that one since it was 1942 and we had a war to win! Too bad the recycling didn't lead to another 48 in the series, because that certainly would have been worth any amount of reuse. Alas, the original 48 WIA paintings seem to be all that were completed, which just so happened to be one for every State in the Union (back then).

Joel enjoyed the set enough to make larger format images. But there there is a disturbing sub text to the series, something that is difficult to put one's finger on. "I made a couple of glossy 8X10 photos from the cards to put in a binder," Joel explains, "I also made full screen wallpapers for my pc at home, both of which expand the detail found in these cards. Whenever I leaf through them, I try to place myself in those bygone days. I love the set, but the images are of a surging military parade gone berserk, Art Deco style, like a maniacal World's Fair trapped in 1939."

Perhaps one cause of the uneasiness is the knowledge we have that collectors of 1939 only dreamed about in their worst nightmares: The paranoia that various outbreaks of war across the globe would soon culminate into a giant world war, and even peaceful America would eventually dive into the bloodbath. One can imagine the excitement and/or fear that card collectors who had Horrors Of War, Don't Let It Happen Over Here, and World In Arms might experience once they realized some of the dramatic scenes depicted in the cards might eventually come to life in their very own neighborhoods!

Lucky for America, we only exported troops and never suffered an actual invasion. Looking over these cards is a solemn reminder of just how beautiful and awesome the explosions and military maneuvers can appear at a distance, and yet, how horrifying they would be in our own back yard.

 

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