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Themes of World War One:
HATRED IN AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
The Great War began as a regional conflict between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom Serbia, but as it expanded across Europe the familiar mix of friends and enemies were put asunder. Russia, a traditional ally was now their number one foe while the Ottoman’s, their traditional enemy was now an ally. France, with whom animosities existed was once again the enemy, but they did not share a common border. Austrian publishers produced cards that celebrated German victories in France, but there was no need to mount a wide scale propaganda effort against an enemy they were only fighting on paper. These realities limited the possibilities by which propagandists could wage war.
While a few real victories were achieved against the Russians early in the War, most confrontations ended very badly for Austria-Hungary afterwards. These setbacks however do not appear on postcards, which are full of victories and courageous soldiers. This created a very distorted view of events, but this is not unexpected in a propaganda war that is attempting to rally public support. In many ways Austro-Hungarian postcards mimic those produced in Germany that try to degrade the enemy though the manner in which they do so is much more limited. Political cartoons are often put aside to present more realistic images in which the enemy is usually fleeing when not pictured dead or taken prisoner. If this projects good news, it also degrades the enemy by portraying them as cowards. This is a small but important step in creating the image of the other.
Atrocities were rarely depicted on Austro-Hungarian cards though some publishers tried to besmirch the Russian character beyond the usual depiction of the cowardly. A popular incident reproduced by many publishers is a Russian ambush of a defenseless Red Cross train. The setting at night in a stormy winter landscape adds a great deal of drama to the scene that no doubt made it very popular. Its beauty also softens the atrocity to the eye, which makes any attraction to the crime more palatable. While such cards may stir up hatred for the enemy, they also appeal to a darker side of human nature that is attracted to viewing the horrific.
If the French portrayed Germans as barbarians, then the Austro-Hungarians portrayed Russians as barbarians. The analogy was not quite the same for the Germans were occupying foreign territory while the Russians were defending theirs. Russians are usually pictured in the form of Cossacks, which were actually just one ethnicity within the Russian Empire. The choice is not always clear. While their fierce reputation made it easier to present them as uncivilized, few other recognizable stereotypes were available to stand in for the average Russian soldier. Cossacks are often shown burning villages and then posed in retreat as soon as real cavalry appears to oppose them. This is an assault on character; they are too cowardly to defend their own homeland and will only fight unarmed civilians. Cossacks were known to be very effective fighters, which is why they had to be taken down a notch in the propaganda war. They could be presented as vicious, but never to the point of actually threatening the Austro-Hungarian Empire or its people.
Austro-Hungarian publishers did not play on race to stir up hatred as much as their German counterparts, but Russians and Cossacks were often portrayed as an uncivilized Mongolian race in their propaganda war. While the card above displays an interesting collection of masks, its attractive design is diminished when the caption is read. Each horrific countenance represents one of the Allies (the Entente) they are at war with through racial stereotyping. They are truly unworthy opponents.
The use of race may not have been used extensively on Austro-Hungarian postcards because of the wide ethnic makeup of their own empire. It was a constant struggle to keep everyone loyal as it was without stirring up further tensions. Czechs were the most problematic group because of their size and long struggle for more autonomy. Many Czechs who saw the War as an opportunity to gain true independence aided the enemy, which made all suspect in the eyes of Austrian authorities. Austrian reprisals were sometimes depicted on Czech postcards as wartime atrocities, though it is difficult to know if these are meant to be seen as crimes against people or nationhood. The timing of these cards is also often in question. While some Czech publishers managed to escape the eyes of Austrian censors late in the conflict, most of these cards seem to have been made after the armistice but before Czechoslovakia’s independence was secured. They were a reminder to the rest of the world why the Czechs sought freedom and their own nationhood.
The Balkan Wars exposed a whole range of atrocities from rape to mass murder committed by all sides, and the hatred that allowed this to happen flowed seamlessly into the Great War. These people were already set aside by other Europeans as savages and anarchists, evidenced by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist. This attitude might have contributed to the low number of hateful cards from this front; there was little need to demonize Serbs further, and there were not many who offered character references.
After the Serbian army fled their Kingdom, most postcards only presented German and Austro-Hungarian occupation forces in benign poses. In reality, a serious guerrilla war continued after the Kingdom fell that brought about harsh reprisals from both Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary. Many cards from the Balkans are real photos that depict executions but they are rarely attributable. This also clouds their purpose as the depiction of the same event could be meant to document an atrocity or as issued as a warning against disobedience by officials. Similar cards were made of the hanging of Czechs captured while fighting for the enemy, though these are more often captioned. Even when there is little to no information to attach them as evidence to specific crimes, they still provide us with reasons to hate.
Even though Austria-Hungary had a military alliance with Italy before the War, the territories of northern Italy had been fought over by empires for centuries leaving them in a constant state of uncertainty and agreements made over them shaky. These however were only political differences. Austria had a majority Catholic population ever since the Counter-Reformation, which led to far less cultural tensions with their Italian neighbors that could be exploited on propaganda cards. When Italy joined the Allies in May 1915, the anti-Italian cards that were produced tended to focus on Italy’s perceived betrayal of the Triple Alliance. A natural form of attack was to portray Italy as Judas, paid off by British gold. German publishers followed with similar cards after Italy declared war in August 1917.
It was not common for Austro-Hungarian publishes to directly attack the character of Italian soldiers, but some followed the same formulas used on French and German cards. A popular theme were Red Cross workers being shot in the back. Those working for in the medical services were generally looked upon with great respect for their unselfishness in putting themselves at risk to help others whether they be friend or foe. Any harm inflicted against them was seen as an act of disrespect to the basic morale fiber that held a civilized society together.
If Austro-Hungarian publishers were reluctant to degrade Italian soldiers on realistic looking cards, there was little reluctance when presenting them as an allegory for Italy. Here character assassination was the norm, and Italians were typically shown as little gangsters, ready to betray their friends for personal gain. They usually carry daggers, the weapon of criminals, not proper soldiers. There small, almost deformed shape is a dig at Italy’s King Emanuel who was short in stature. This type of humiliating representation of an inferior enemy continued throughout the War.
The card above that presents a bombastic Italian soldier as a toad, unfit to carry out his bold rhetoric might be presented humor but it is also meant to demean. Why would an Italian publisher produce such a card in an environment where unpatriotic satire could land you in prison? Even though the caption is written in Italian, there are no attributes to be found on this card. It is known that some propaganda cards were printed in Austria for Italian distribution.
Italy’s attempt to seize Tirol led many Austrian publishers to produce propaganda cards that evoked the Tyrolean War of the Napoleonic era. These cards range from reproductions of historic events to scenes of modern soldiers that often feature the martyred rebel leader Andreas Hofer. While these highly patriotic cards are a reminder of how the region rose up against Napoleon’s imperialist ambitions, they also invoke the resistance of the region to imposed cultural change. They are meant to stir up hatred among a people with proud traditions against any foreign invader wishing to destroy them.
HATRED IN ITALY
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, much of what is now northern Italy was left in the hands of the Austrian Empire. Most of this territory was only wrestled away from them with the help of France and Prussia during the wars for Italian unification, but since victory came from their alliance with Prussia rather than military victory on the ground, Italians never received all the lands they coveted. Considering this history, it is odd that when war broke out in 1914 that Italy found itself in a military alliance with Austria-Hungry and posed to attack France. While Italy found a legal excuse not to honor its pact with the other Central Powers, its initial absence from the conflict may indicate that political convenience is not the same as putting an end to long standing animosities.
The imperialist ambitions of Italian leaders rose above the heads of most common people who had little concern over anything outside of their own communities. Few could fathom why they were going to war, and only participated out of loyalty to their Kingdom. While many patriotic cards were produced, further prompting was needed and propaganda began to be used to stir up a general climate of hatred for the enemy. Some of this was already in play while Italy remained neutral. Many cards of this period simply expressed the horror of the war ragging around them but some specifically addressed the outrage felt over reported German atrocities in Belgium.
The destruction of Reims cathedral was played up as a major German atrocity against Western culture on an endless supply of French propaganda cards. Many of these cards reached Italy, but Italian publishers also produced many on their own. This seemed to be the single incident that resonated strongly with most Italians. While the Cathedral held special historical significance for the French, many Italians saw this crime as an attack on their faith and turned against Germany.
The Italian illustrator Alberto Giacomo Spiridione Martini produced very harsh postcards criticizing German behavior in Belgium. While they eventually came to attack both Austria-Hungry and Germany, they weren’t anti-Central Powers per se as much as antiwar. Even so, his symbolist style borrowed from the Mannerists and even older medieval traditions of the grotesque and macabre was so expressive that it is hard to imagine that they did not stir up hatred towards Italy’s enemies.
A fair amount of anti-German propaganda came into Italy from abroad. While working in London, Louis Raemaeker did much to call out German atrocities through very powerful imagery printed on Red Cross postcards. This was a large multilingual set in English and French that was later issued in Italian to stir up the kind of hatred that might turn this neutral kingdom against their former ally.
While news of atrocities in Belgium were being reported around the world, Italians were also playing attention to what was happening closer to their border in Serbia. Although the Vatican had thrown its support to Austria, no doubt due to its large Catholic population, ordinary Italians had more sympathy for the underdog. This did not translate into a call for action for most in Italy had no desire for war. While the military campaign in Libya had wet the appetite of many to seize more territory, the lack of a quick victory made many reluctant to get involved in another conflict. Despite this, many publishers continued to produce anti-Austrian postcards based on the bullying of Serbia.
The initial Austro-Hungarian invasions of Serbia met with stiff resistance and they did not quickly overrun the Kingdom as the Germans did in Belgium. This changed in November 1914 when they made a drive on Belgrade and many civilians got caught up in the fighting. With many Italians having already taken the side of the Serbs, pro-war publishers began exploiting this situation by producing cards of innocent civilians suffering at the hands of Austro-Hungarian invaders. These cards follow the same formula used by the French to show atrocities committed against the Belgians though they tend to be less graphic.
Political satire and propaganda dominate Italian postcards as they were produced in far greater numbers than military imagery. This was most often directed against individual leaders rather than ordinary soldiers. Emperor Franz Joseph was a favorite target, already widely criticized for his brutal behavior in Serbia before Italy’s entry into the War.
Before Italy entered the War and strict censorship was placed on what could be published, a variety of views concerning the conflict could be found on postcards. Most depicted the War as a horror that Italy should stay far away from. The Italian card above mocks both sides fighting in the conflict for calling each other barbarians while each are committing barbaric crimes.
While some Italian publishers raised a cautionary tale when it came to the Great War, many others took sides. A notable set of anti-British cards was illustrated by Ezio Castellucci. On the one above, the artist follows in the tradition of German propagandists to portray those fighting for England as uncivilized and possibly not even human. Such racial inferiors had no right to claim they were defending real culture or civilization.
Italy was no stranger to using racial hatred for political gain; their imperial ambitions in North Africa pitted them against the Ottoman Empire. The enemy had to be portrayed as unworthy of possessing the lands they held so they could be seized with good conscience. At least when it came to the Turk, there were hundreds of years of hatred to base propaganda cards upon.
What differentiated Italy from most other nations carried into the Great War was that it did not present itself as fighting a defensive war, it was strictly about realizing its imperialist ambitions. Its invasion of North Africa in 1913 had given many a taste for empire, and more territory was sought to prove that Italy was an important world power. As soon as Italy entered the War on the side of the Allies in May 1915, Italian publishers began producing large numbers of anti-Austro-Hungarian cards as if the Triple Alliance never existed. Many generic patriotic postcards were produced, though the single most common battle cry was Italia irredenta, unification with the last of the lands they saw due to them. Some cards even reference the War for Italian Unification. While seemingly more political than hateful, these cards do present the idea that the enemy is holding something that does not belong to them and thus is no better than a thief.
Much of the territory Italy sought to acquire only held small minorities of ethnic Italians, and some areas along the Adriatic, none at all. Even so, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was portrayed as the great oppressor of Italians longing to unite with their brethren. Once the War began they were then portrayed as the victims of heinous crimes. The idea that any mistreatment might be due to suspicions of disloyalty brought about through Italy’s invasion were simply ignored.
While the amount of hate filled postcards increased in 1918, they were nothing new. On the card above we find an Italian soldier bayonetting Austrian soldiers in the back with as much glee as if he were on an Alpine vacation. While this card does not inspire hatred, it does demonstrate how casual hatred had become. It promotes the acceptance of killing without the need for much thought.
There was a heavy use of children on postcards by all sides in the Great War. While they are usually presented as children at play, they often stand in for adult soldiers or symbolize the nations at war. In this way serious subjects could often be toned down and made acceptable to a wider audience. Some cards however are not toned down that much and present children engaged in violent acts, even killing enemy children. These types of cards may be in the minority, but it was commonly considered the patriotic duty of parents to teach their children who to hate. Many postcards presented young children as future soldiers needed to protect their nation; and many children got caught up in this propaganda.