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Belligerents and Participants
O n the eve of World War One, Spain had committed about half its army to a colonial war in Morocco. It could barely be supported by its meager navy, which just started to be rebuilt in 1908 after being nearly destroyed in the Spanish-American War. Ever since that conflict ended in 1898, Spain’s economy had suffered, and it remained politically unstable in the years leading up to the Great War. While Spain would be courted by both the Allies and the Central Powers, the kingdom had little to offer. Even though public opinion was divided, the war to their north was incomprehensible to most and so little pressure was exerted on the government to act. With there being no advantage to take sides, Prime Minister Eduardo Dato declared the kingdom’s neutrality as soon as War erupted. King Alfonso XIII even made overtures for a peace conference but no interest was shown in it. Though thwarted, he still came to play a very active role promoting better care for prisoners of war and refugees.
By 1917 the War had compounded Spain’s economic problems, which led to growing tensions between political radials and conservatives. As strikes broke out, King Alphonso grew more vocal in his support for Germany. This in turn only inspired more unrest in a kingdom too fragile to withstand it. Some hoped entry into the War might topple the monarchy but there was just no way that any of the kingdom’s institutions were up to this momentous task. While Spain retained its neutrality, a period of constitutional reform began.
While not actively engaged in the Great War, the public still had great interest in what was taking place across their border. While not very common, Spanish publishers did produce postcards with scenes from the European War. Most of these images were originally published on cards in other nations and now appeared with titles in Spanish. A good number of these cards show no publisher so it is uncertain if they were republished in Spain or just produced abroad for export.
Despite Spanish neutrality, German U-boats took a heavy toll on their shipping, and King Alfonso XIII became very outspoken against this type of unlimited warfare. Their history with U-boats however is rather complex. Some damaged craft seeking refuge are known to have been interned in Spain, but there are also reports of U-boats operating out of northern Spanish ports and British efforts to sabotage them. If these events actually took place they would have been clandestine operations on both sides making them difficult to document. U-boat activity seemed to be a popular motif of Spanish military cards. Not all in Spain held neutral views and some publishers produced anti-German propaganda cards that focused in on atrocities rather than battles. It is difficult to tell how much of this sentiment is home grown since a great deal of money was funneled to Spanish publishes by both the Allies and Germany to sway public opinion.
Still bitter over the loss of its colonies to the United States after the Spanish American War, a number of publishers produced anti-American postcards during the Great War. Though Wilson played no part in the Spanish American War, his words regarding the self determination of peoples and his condemnation of German atrocities were turned against him in reference to America’s own Imperialist ambitions. While President Wilson made great efforts to keep America out of the European conflict, he had no trouble engaging in aggressive gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean. During the years of the Great War the United States would invade Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic to reshape their governments to its liking.
Lacoste Photo in Madrid is representative of many small studios that took advantage of the War and published military cards for a curious audience. Considering Spain’s neutrality, it is difficult to know from where their images were sourced. While they would have been capable of taking these photos themselves, they would have found it difficult if not impossible to access the front lines. These photographs could also come from a third party but no credit is given and no approval notices from censors are indicated. While these cards do not necessarily support the Allied cause, the captions attached to these images make it clear that the publisher thinks little of Germany.
Francisco Sancha Lengo was a Spanish artist who illustrated postcards for the British publisher, Raphael Tuck & Sons. In 1917 he produced a highly stylized six card set entitled Aesop’s Fables Up To Date that showed Germans facing various moral dilemmas caused by the War. There are short narratives on the back summarizing the fable to provide the most propaganda value. These cards were printed in both English and Spanish.
Luiz Usabal is best known for the numerous romance and glamour postcards he created before the Great War, and his movie posters after moving to Hollywood in 1923. In between he created military themed postcards that depict portraits of women wearing military caps and uniforms from various nations as well as cards of German solders. A number of German publishers used his work to illustrate cards depicting dramatic generic battles in an expressive close up style.