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Themes of World War One:
HATRED IN FRANCE continued
Nuns and priests were another group who were generally considered neutrals immune to violence, and so any transgression against them were often viewed as a break with a sacred covenant. Even though there was a long standing battle between church and state in republican France, actions taken against the church by German soldiers were widely portrayed on postcards as serious crimes. While priests were indeed singled out for revenge in places like Louvain, most of these cards depict generic incidents just as with atrocities against children.
Some acts against clergy take place in the street but others involve violating the sanctity of the church to render the act even more heinous. In some cases only a despoiled church interior is displayed to show the uncivilized enemy has no respect for the sacred. While many of these incidents were wildly exaggerated, it must be said that rampant anti-Catholicism did lead to the singling out of many clergy members for exceptionally brutal treatment when encountering Protestant Germans. In the eyes of many German soldiers, they were seen as instigators of violence against them, even when no acts of hostility had taken place.
Women were yet another group often singled out for portrayal as victims on postcards. The most common form they took was that of widow. Unlike atrocity cards, these were published in nations fighting both side of the conflict. Their purpose is not to stir up hatred as much as sympathy, often in order to raise money for charity. In the same manner destitute women are often portrayed as refugees on charity cards. While some cards make a patriotic attempt to present women as stoic and brave, most of these cards are much more melancholy. Even when the enemy is not shown, his destructive presence can always be felt.
Most cards depicting violence against women are made in generic terms of criminality. There is no narrative that accounts for their ill treatment or death other than they are being attacked by barbarians. The most effective cards are artist drawn, that depict them as mothers. Quite a number of studio shots also depict women as victims at the hands of German solders, but their staged appearance often makes them ineffectual as propaganda.
Graphic scenes of violence against women was usually only tolerated as art if it could be placed in a historical context. As propaganda, it was often neglected by publishers who felt this type of brutal content was too much for their audience to handle even in times of war. When these cards were produced, acts of rape were usually implied rather than graphically shown. Even so, some illustrators managed to capture a real climate of fear. The message was two fold, present the enemy as barbaric criminals that should not only be hated but feared. If the consequences of loosing the War to these rapists cannot be tolerated, then everyone must do their duty to achieve victory.
Not all followed suggestive models when it came to rape, some pushed the limits on the type of violence the public would accept. In better times authorities would have cracked down on this type of misogamist display, but now it became advantageous to promoted the war effort by vilifying the enemy by any means possible. The rarity of such cards however tells us that much of the public still found this type of subject matter distasteful and did not buy it. While nearly every aspect of the War was captured on postcards, there were always subjects for which there was a very limited audience.
The depiction of the destruction of small towns across Belgium and France was another method used by French publishers to stir up hatred. While such damage was not uncommon in War, its widespread occurrence and scale was unexpected. While some of this is attributable to the large scope of the War and the newfound power of modern artillery, a good deal of this destruction was unleashed through military policy. When the Germans pulled their lines back after the Battle of the Marne, they made sure that nothing useful would be left behind for the enemy. French publishers then pounced on the opportunity to show the ruthlessness of German occupiers on countless cards of towns in ruins. While many of these depictions were produced after the War as mementoes, many artist drawn cards appeared in the early years of the conflict.
Many of the photo-based postcards depicting the devastation across France are truly chilling, but so many were made that a good percentage become to be viewed as just matter of fact. This can have a numbing effect, which is the exact opposite of their intention. A few illustrators tackled the subject by ignoring actual places and representing a generic feeling of loss. Not only did these cards relate to a larger audience, they were better able to pull on emotions. A fine lithographic set by Judex covers a number of subjects, though many of these cards specifically deal with destruction and death. It is sometimes difficult to determine the main focus of such images. Were they meant to stir up hatred for the Germans or aimed at presenting the tragedy of War? Those who sought peace could always hide their feelings behind ambiguity when censorship did not allow free thought to be expressed.
While the bombardment of towns and cities might be anticipated in war, the destruction of the cathedral at Reims became the second most reported atrocity after the burning of Louvain. The structure was not only sacred as a church, it also served as the traditional site of royal coronations, and was considered a great work of art. It did not matter that Germany denied responsibility or made excuses for its destruction; countless artists signed and photo-based postcards of its ruins were produced that helped to turn the War into a crusade to save Christian civilization from German Kultur. An attack on culture is an attack on all those who share that culture whether they are at war or not. This propaganda had great effect in turning public opinion in neutral nations against Germany, especially in the United States and Italy. It proved so successful to the propaganda war that some did not want the Martyr Cathedral restored in favor of its ruins left standing as an anti-German monument.
E. Le Deley of Paris published a large set of oversized cards during the War entitled Crying Cities. While they do not show graphic violence or destruction, they depict the occupied towns and cities of Belgium and France in the style of old engravings whose narrative is largely presented through symbolism. Their message is one of oppression rather than sensational crimes. It is rare to see such subtlety used on French cards, but they still manage to instill hatred for the enemy.
With the coming of Kultur, the word German disappeared from many Allied postcards to be replaced by Barbarian or Hun. The Germanic people that had destroyed Roman civilization had apparently never evolved, and they were descending once more to destroy modern Europe with their barbarity. The precedent not only stirred up fears, it provided a historic context to place them in. If a German was a barbarian, then there was no criminal behavior he was incapable of. If not resisted, the consequences were self evident.
Another way of isolating one society from another is through language. Not only were Germans described in derogatory terms, a familiar word was transformed into a catch phrase that could easily be identified. If theAllies were preserving the culture of Western civilization, then Germans were trying to subvert this through their own Kultur, which embraced the lowest values of mankind. The letter K was often used to symbolize things German because of its common use in their language. Associations of it with words such as Kaiser and Krieg helped to reinforce its negative connotations. Hatred for the letter K grew to the point that French scholars presented the idea of removing it from the Latin alphabet. The double KK was often printed on postcards of Germans because of the French pronunciation, kaka, which was tha same for shit.
While most postcards promoting the Great War as a religious crusade against an evil enemy were German in origin, we can find this theme on French cards as well. Above a French knight protects his homeland against a horde of advancing barbarians. While we know the enemy are Germans, their vague appearance here can conjure up the traditional fight against the infidel Turk. Many had trouble killing fellow Christians, and breaking these associations were an important element of propaganda. The Crusades were also a clash of civilizations from which hatred can be inspired. Many Allied publishers came to depict the Great War as a War for Civilization, and say so directly on their cards.
French publishers rarely degraded the enemy on racial terms because victory was dependent on so many of their own colonial troops. The card above is an exception in its equating German Kultur with long standing fears of the Turk. While Christian Europe battled with Ottoman Turks for centuries, making them the most traditional form of the other, over a hundred thousand Muslims fought in the French army making this dangerous ground to thread on.
Another popular way of displaying the barbarity of German Kultur was through the use of the traditional personification of Germania. Symbols of high culture are replaced with the common, civilization with militarism, and beauty with the grotesque. Although many of these images are more satyrical than hateful, they still work to degrade the enemy and set them apart so they can be hated.
Since there were few ways to directly implicate German women in atrocities, the personification of Germania is often used as a substitute. She is typically depicted killing children while in a hysterical rampage, which not only implies that Germans are a barbaric people, but that even German mothers have no sense of nurturing. Their natural inclination to be the crazed killer of children shows that they cannot be less like us.
Eventually, portraying Germans as barbarians was no longer powerful enough to set them apart and they began to take on non-human forms. There was already a long illustrative tradition in this type of association so there was much visual vocabulary to draw on. Some of these portrayals like donkeys and pigs were just meant to be insulting. The associations were obviously symbolic, but they still imply that the enemy has lost his humanity and is thus less than us.
Many French as well as German cards show their soldiers kicking the enemy. This is more than an act of violence; it should be viewed in symbolic terms as an insult. It says that the enemy we fight are not real soldiers, they do not have to be fought with arms, a kick in the rear will do. They are not even real men for no man would put up with this insult. Sometimes this formula is taken further with the enemy being poked in the ass with a sharp bayonet that draws blood. Not only is this more vicious but it brings up connotations of homosexuality, which is also meant to degrade. Since Germans viewed Senegalese soldier as their inferiors, it was doubly insulting when they were on the giving end as on the French card above. These cards also say that even Africans fight against this type of barbarity.
In Germany, pigs have been associated with good luck for centuries, and this symbolism grew into a highly recognized trope. To have good fortune is schwein haben, that is to have pig. Commonplace in German commercial art, it eventually became associated with Germans themselves, especially by the mid-19th century when anthropomorphized illustrations became very popular. When pigs are shown to represent Germans on Allied propaganda cards, they take on their more traditional symbolism representing uncivilized behavior. On the French card above, a pig protests at the slander of being associated with the Kaiser.
Some French illustrators were more choosey about the animals they used to represent Germans, and we find cards with them depicted as apes and predatory beasts. This was not to just to insult but imply that they were dangerous wild creatures beyond the ability to control by rational means. Since they only understood force, force should be our only reply. One cannot negotiate with nor tame such wild beasts.
Most French propaganda cards were used to degrade the enemy, thus making him easy to hate and easier to kill. It was a simple time tested formula that could be expressed in many different ways. A side effect of creating hate was the creation of fear. Some was good for it made people hate what they were fearful of, and it made them mobilize for their own protection. The problem is people have as much a natural tendency to run from what they fear as they do to stand up to face danger and fight back. Illustrators had to be careful where they took their imagery. Truly scary cards were produced in limited numbers.
From representation as a wild beast, the German soldier evolved into an ogre or other mythical creatures of vile reputation. This was not just to insult; further differentiation became a necessity once the horrors of war befell both sides and no one could claim true innocence. Now only the evils of faceless monsters needed to be condemned while the bad behavior of so called good people could be overlooked.
There was one last transformation of the German into the ultimate non-human. German solders now appeared as swarms of insects for which no compassion or sympathy could be offered. The only reaction one can have when meeting up with such creatures is to exterminate them. Guilt need not become an issue. This type of vitriol was especially common of French postcards, which constantly depicted the enemy in the worst light possible. Soldiers on the battlefield were a bit more empathetic as both sides suffered the same hardships that those at home didn’t understand.
A primary goal of the propaganda war was to destroy all human associations with the enemy because soldiers found it difficult to kill others that they perceived to be too similar to themselves. If religious and national myths already supply a mechanism to sanction the killing of outsiders deemed a threat however defined, then it is easy to see how our natural repulsion to a parasite can turn it into the ultimate enemy. The postcard above not only depicts a German soldier as an insect, he appears as a blood sucking louse. Those placed in the extreme end of the non-human template face an archetypal path to destruction.
The metamorphosis of Germans into what was seen as lower forms of life also entered the symbolic world. These cards often have religious overtones as the enemy is associated with demons, the devil or death. Images of an apocalyptic war were best suited to served an antiwar agenda, but when personified in the form of an enemy leader his cause becomes the work of the devil and his eradication a war against evil. Merely associating a leader with death in times of war is not much of a stretch. The association could be used to illustrate his prowess in military affairs but that is never the point on cards published by the enemy. Their focus is to create hate and cast blame.
By pinpointing the cause of one’s suffering, hate can be directed to the proper source; once focused, it can then grow more intense. There are countless French cards portraying the Kaiser in some sort of distorted form from the humiliating to the monstrous. Insulting caricatures of the Kaiser played an immense role in the propaganda war and were produced in astounding numbers.
An interesting set by Lorraine entitled, Les Monsters des Cathedrales depicts a number of German leaders and generals in the form of medieval gargoyles. While gargoyles usually function as water spouts, they are often carved in the grotesque form of monsters and demons. Those that sit atop Notre-Dame de Paris had been a very popular subject of postcard publishers before the War, so this clever substitution was well understood as a demonization of Germans.
As ordinary people became tired of the hardships and misery they were forced to endure, they wanted those responsible for it punished. Blame of course was placed on the enemy, which only produced frustration since those leaders beyond the battlefront were out of reach. Punishment however endured on fantasy cards, but this was not the type of justice that is dispensed from courts. Judicial prudence is for humans and the enemy is an animal. In any case judgement was already passed in public opinion.
Inflicting pain on the enemy could be seen as a form of punishment, and this was often expressed in sadistic terms. While these cards might hide behind the ides that justice was being dispensed, they spoke to a darker need for revenge. Hatred had built up to the point where satisfaction could not be found without dispensing suffering. Most of these cards focused on the Kaiser who was met with a variety of gruesome fates.
On the French card above, captured German soldiers are being thrown into a large vat where they are being pressed by the stomping feet of the Allies as if they were grapes picked from the vine. This 1914 vintage however is only suitable for pigs, which by the brand represents Kaiser Wilhelm II. Even though this cartoon is presented as an allegory, there is an underlying tone in which the enemy is completely dehumanized. It is very similar to other cards that present the enemy as vermin that can be killed with impunity.
It was not unusual for one Allied nation to depict the victories or relay the propaganda of another, and French publishers produced many political cartoons related to Russia. There is however a notable difference outside of language that separates the cards of these two nations. It would be rare for a Russian illustrator to present the enemy with as much vital as found on French cards. While we must give the French card above depicting the unstoppable Russian Steamroller some leeway as metaphor within a political cartoon, it is difficult to escape its sadistic edge.
The constant bombardment by negative images of the enemy took a toll on French public opinion. While images of barbarians were meant to stir up hatred for the enemy and support for the war effort, depictions of them as ogres and parasites were designed to quash any reluctance to kill one’s fellow man. The result was that the bitterness created also made it difficult to work toward peace outside of a military victory. Negotiations are only possible with an enemy that understands civilized values, and the Germans no longer fit this role. It is difficult to say if this was an unintentional side affect of the propaganda war or just a reflection of French society. Peace through victory was the official government line, and there were many who feared a negotiated peace might interfere with the revenge they sought.