Inspired by The Dead Matador by Edouard Manet, Rockwell initially portrayed a black man and his white friend dead in a ghetto. With the war in Indochina raging, Look requested that Rockwell substitute a Vietnamese village for the inner city. Rockwell's haunting revision showed two dead marines -- one black, one white -- in a pool of melding blood. "His idea for the painting," Claridge wires in Norman Rockwell: A Life, "was the visual mixing of blood flowing from both men, reminding the audience that skin color didn't affect the deepest levels of human connection."
Look again passed on the piece, notifying Rockwell that an African American editor at the magazine found the painting "patronizing." The comment wounded Rockwell and led to some self-doubt. But any misgivings about Blood Brothers receded in time. According to Claridge, Rockwell ultimately concluded, "Look lost its nerve."
From Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression, edited by David Wallis.