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Themes of World War One:
HATRED IN GREAT BRITAIN
After the British Expeditionary Force was nearly annihilated in the first few months of fighting, the call for volunteers grew imperative and the propaganda war was forced to speed up. Under the leadership of Charles Masterman, postcards became an important tool of the War Propaganda Bureau. The problem was that there was little historical antagonism between Great Britain and Germany for propagandists to draw on. Britain had been allied to Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars, and King George V was of German ancestry from the royal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The long standing rivalry over colonial acquisitions and naval superiority were political matters that did not translate down very well to ordinary people. If most Brits had no personal grievance against Germans then one had it be contrived.
Propagandists fortunately received a great deal of help from German actions in Belgium to react against. The invasion of a kingdom whose neutrality Britain had sworn to uphold was seen as both a criminal act and an insult, which generated outrage. When stories of atrocities from the Rape of Belgium emerged, people were further incensed that such cruelty could be directed against innocent civilians. This was seen firsthand when naval raids against English coastal towns also caused civilian deaths. All this was then widely promoted on postcards early in the War to help generate widespread hatred for Germany. Unlike French postcards that were full of vitriol, British publishers approached the War in a much more subdued manner. Graphic images of destruction and death are almost non-existent. When Germans were harshly criticized, it was most likely to be through symbolism.
While real atrocities committed in Belgium early in the war may have been fueled by hatred, they seem to have been viewed by the German high command as a military necessity. Most would end once the Germans realized they were creating a propaganda bonanza for the Allies that was turning world opinion against them. This change however made no difference to Allied publishers who had quickly created the myth of German Barbarism that could not be so easily erased. An endless supply of Allied propaganda cards would continue to be produced until the end of the War regardless of facts. Atrocities, especially those committed in Belgium where so closely associated with Germans that it became a trope. The British postcard above has the caption “Remember Belgium.” Nothing more needs to be said.
The card above by Valentines is part of a set that displays German atrocities in Belgium. While it makes direct reference to the burning of Louvain, it shows little more than a few burning buildings. Its bright blood red color seems to evoke more than the imagery, which is rather tame. Such cards rely on knowledge of events already gleaned from written news to reinforce existing outrage. While they are part of the propaganda chain, their potency is limited.
Bernard Partridge produced many anti-German illustrations for Punch magazine that were later reproduced as a large set of postcards by the department store, Jarrold & Sons. These did not necessarily reflect actual events but were meant to satirize Germans as uncivilized barbarians. These cards are much more dramatic in the way they attack the German character than typical British depictions. This might be related to his long standing interest in the theater, but even so, these cards often deal more with the symbolic than graphic depictions of violence.
Though not an official war artist, Frank William Brangwyn produced a series of eighty powerful images for propaganda posters and charity cards during World War One. The harsh tone expressed in these cards was unusual for a British artist, though his having grown up in Belgium before his family moved back to London may account for this. Some of his attempts to rouse hatred toward Germany were so strong that it was rumored the Kaiser had personally put a bounty on his head.
Some of the more hateful depictions of Germans on British cards came from artists born overseas. Louis Raemaeker came to London from the Netherlands to produce a very powerful set of propaganda cards for the Red Cross. Italian cards were much harsher toward the enemy than the British, and Enrico Sacchetti who worked for the Italian newspaper, La Tradotta contributed some of his cartoons to George Pulman & Sons of London. On the card above from the set titled The Hun, we find German soldiers hunting Red Cross dogs normally used to help the wounded. If killing medical personnel was not bad enough, innocent animals are now presented as victims to further pull emotions.
There were many great military illustrators residing in Britain during the conflict who produced dramatic battle scenes and images of atrocities. These often appeared in illustrated newspapers and magazines, but it seems that few were reproduced in postcard form. This is at least true in Great Britain for French publishers reproduced these same images on their cards in far greater numbers. This may have more to do with business decisions regarding distribution than anything to do with public taste or they would not have appeared in newspapers in the first place.
Nuns and other women serving in religious orders played the role of nurses in most nations. While this was also true in Britain, many women volunteered for this service out of patriotic duty and the simple need to help. Their work was grueling and they came to be highly respected by the soldiers they served. Many postcards went beyond mere descriptions of good work to present them in highly idealized, even angelic terms. After the British nurse, Edith Cavell was caught behind the German advance in Belgium, she was arrested after caught secretly ferrying stray British and French soldiers into the neutral Netherlands. Once executed in the fall of 1915, she became the most famous victim of German barbarity. For Germany, her execution was only a routine act because in their eyes she had forfeited her protection under the Geneva Convention by directly taking part in belligerent actions. They were oblivious to her greater potential as a tool for propaganda against them once dead. She was portrayed as an innocent In Great Britain, showing that any English woman might fall victim to Germany’s aggression if given the chance. Despite the widespread use of Cavell’s death by propagandists, there was still reluctance to place graphic images on postcards. Though the card above is captioned in English it was produced in France.
The story of nurse Edith Cavell became an epic within the propaganda war. Not only was it exploited as an act of barbarity, it highlighted a new way of looking at German society. The values of Western civilization were now divided in two with the line drawn at the battlefront. A popular set of cards depicting Edith Cavell along these lines was published by Inter-Art of London and also republished in Italy. Although the narrative is presented in a highly symbolic manner, the great publicity surrounding her death insured that the meaning of these cards was lost on no one.
Sometimes hatred was stirred up in very roundabout ways. The postcard above was issued to publicize the film Wake Up! by Laurence Cowen. It presents a futuristic story line in which a nation is invaded by the armies of Vaerictia, who then commit a series of atrocities. While this is pure fantasy unrelated to World War One, the similarity to what was happening in Belgium was not lost on anyone when the film was released in early 1915. This card is closer in intensity to those anti-German cards being produced in France than typical British propaganda cards. Is this an example of how even movie makers side stepped direct criticism of Germany even though the hatred was obviously there?
Since the latter half of the 19th century, public opinion had grown to believe that accords between civilized nations would lead to a more civilized form of warfare if they should be fought at all. At the same time advances in technology had changed the way in which war could be waged. In World War One this idealism would be brushed aside in favor of total war. The use of flamethrowers and poison gas were innovations that the public could not understand and would not accept. When German U-boats began sinking merchant ships and passenger liners, the public was appalled. While the U-boat war that made the news stirred up deep hatred, very little imagery was placed on postcards. This might have been a deliberate attempt to hide how much British shipping was being lost. German cards by contrast glorified the U-boat war.
When zeppelin and bombing raids over England brought the War up close to civilians, they were perceived of as unjustified acts against defenseless civilians. This gave rise to a whole new postcard theme that concentrated on the bombing from airships and their demise. Hatred was largely fostered through manipulating the use of language, and Zeppelins were not referred to as innovative weapons but Baby Killers. Many postcards were made depicting zeppelin attacks, but it is difficult to know if their numbers reflect an effort to stir up hatred or simply meet the demand of a very curious public. The two rationals of course are not inclusive.
Zeppelin attacks were widely illustrated, mostly by showing these behemoths caught in searchlights, or better still, coming down in flames. While these attacks could not be hidden away from the public, few postcards illustrate actual destruction of property or lives. British cards rarely did. People were already frightened enough without stimulating further panic. The rather bland card above is from a large set of War related images made from photographs provided by the International News Service. While ruins of a generic building are shown, most of its emotional content comes directly from the inclusion of the single descriptive word “defenseless” in its caption.
By 1917, even the British royal family could not escape the rising anti-German tide. It reached the point where they were forced to change their German title to the more English sounding House of Windsor. Even so, postcards published in Great Britain rarely criticized Germans in a vicious manner. There were lots of patriotism and humor to be found, but little graphic violence. Cards such as the one above produced in 1914 rest somewhere between a comic card and political satire. It has a sharper edge than most British cards but it is still rather tame. In a society consumed with social standing and proper manners, this may reflect an unspoken national consensus that expressions of bitterness were in poor taste.
If British cards can be generalized, it might be said that their publishers largely approached the War through humor. More comic cards were certainly produced in Great Britain than anywhere else. This was not a sign that the conflict was taken lightly for it exacted a high toll in British lives. With output constantly under the eye of censors, humor may have been seen as a way of lifting morale. Even subjects like looting that might be depicted as a war crime elsewhere are passed off on British cards with some humor. This was a particular aspect of the postcard industry because such matters were discussed harshly in the press.
Many British cards dance so closely between humor and harsh commentary that they are hard to classify as comic cards or political satire. While the card above is hardly serious, it does display the dark mood caused by the War. Even those cards that provide one little jab in attempts to dehumanize the enemy were part of the propaganda war.
HATRED IN RUSSIA
It is difficult to accurately assess Russian propaganda postcards from this era due to the low number of surviving examples. Production was also low, largely due to their dependency on foreign imports that ceased once the War began. Most Russian made cards only depict their soldiers because demonization of the enemy was seen as beyond good taste. Russian newspapers even went so far as to criticized derogatory illustrations found on German postcards. When images of hate are found, they are usually on cards printed elsewhere with foreign sensibilities and exported to Russia.
Most political cartoons concerning Russia were printed by Allied publishers in France or Great Britain. This also goes for cards designed to show atrocities and drum up hate. The card above is part of a set that portrays Germans as pillagers, robbers of the dead, killers of red cross workers, and menacers of women and children. The images however seem to originate with a French illustrator, and there is no telling where the card was actually printed. The Allies re-captioned many domestic cards in other languages for foreign audience.
Genevieve became the patron saint of Paris after her prayers diverted Attila the Hun away from the city in the 5th century. On the card above, she becomes the subject matter for the Russian artist Sergei Sergeerich Solomko who places her in a contemporary wartime scene. While the connection between past and present may seem obvious, the image is about more than prorating the Kaiser as a barbarian. It portrays the triumph of good over evil in terms of the devout. Religion played a huge role in the life of ordinary Russians, and the Great War was often presented through this lens. While Solomko moved to Paris in 1910, his propaganda postcards were made for both a French and Russian audience.
HATRED IN NEUTRAL NATIONS
Propaganda from neutral countries fall into two categories. First there is that created by publishers located far from the fighting who had the opportunity to express their own views without fear of military reprisals. Most of these nations however produced few cards related to the War simply because they were not that invested in the outcome of a conflict that seemed to be fought for little purpose. Neutral countries that bordered the belligerents had a much finer line to walk. They tended to be weaker than their neighbors and always stood the risk of being invaded if military necessity dictated it. Governments attempting to maintain their neutral status often came into conflict with their own publishers who had strong desires to choose sides.
While most Spanish publishers did not even address the Great War, those that did tended to call for an end to the fighting rather than take sides. Many of the cards that do exist seem to have originated abroad and only captioned in Spanish. Some local publishers were moved by the stories of atrocities taking place in Belgium and the ongoing U-boat war and felt they had to address the issue. A very attractive Spanish set explores the crimes of Germany on land, sea, and in the air. While these cards are far less graphic than those produced in Allied nations, they still present Germans in a bad light. Even if they were only meant to give reasons for ending the War, they can’t help but generate some feelings of animosity.
While current events painted Germans in a bad light, there was a long standing animosity toward Great Britain dating all the way back to the Peace of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. The losses Spain suffered were humiliating, especially that of Gibraltar, which remains a heated issue. While the British helped to drive the French out of Spain during the Napoleonic era, they were largely seen as fighting for their own interests. A number of Spanish postcards produced in the Great War degrade the Allies and the British in particular. The one above shows the hypocrisy of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George who presents himself as a liberator from German aggression while his imperialist empire, represented by John Bull keeps his subjects enslaved.
Like Spain, Portugal had the freedom to express itself freely as a neutral state, and both were highly critical of the U-boat war that took their ships. Unlike Spain, its retaliatory actions eventually led it to war with Germany and the focus of their postcards became more bitter. Portugal had never been a major producer of postcards, and there are few good examples of propaganda to be found. The card above, printed in Lisbon, is an example of how their publishers followed the French model. Since no fighting took place on Portuguese soil, we find a generic image of a pillaging German soldier posed as an enemy to civilization. While images of German atrocities generated outrage, the public never came to embrace the War.
The Netherlands, a nation that feared invasion from both Great Britain and Germany had to keep its army mobilized for the full length of the War. Conflict was a very real possibility, and so officials discouraged publishers from stirring up controversy that might overly antagonize one side or the other. This was easier said than done because their proximity to the front lines tended to raise strong passions. Louis Raemaeker, a constant critic of Germany produced many biting political cartoons for the Amsterdam newspaper Der Telegraaf that were then reproduced with the help of the French Counsel as a charity postcard booklet. These hateful images became a huge embarrassment to the Dutch government, and by the end of 1915, the paper’s editor was arrested. Raemaeker would move to London where he found work with the British War Propaganda Bureau. Many of these same images were later reproduce by Century Magazine when he moved to New York City. Raemaeker is perhaps the best known propagandist of the War.
Many in the Netherlands also harbored ill feelings against Great Britain dating back to the Boer War. The British blockade that tried to prevent all trade between the Netherlands and Germany only antagonized them further. On the card above a shivering Dutchman complains to England in the form of an arrogant John Bull about the lack of coal coming to its shores. While Dutch political cartoonists often attacked Britain as insatiable imperialist power that will bully anyone to get what it wants, this card has no attributes. Many such cards were secretly manufactured in Germany for Dutch consumption. Promoting hatred against Britain helped to preserve Netherland’s neutrality, which in turn served German interests.
While sympathies in Switzerland were even more divided between France and Germany than in the Netherlands, most postcards publishers concentrated on producing images that highlighted their nations defense. Contrast was often made with the horrors taking place just over the borderline. These cards were not designed to stir hatred, but to remind the Swiss people how lucky they were to live in a neutral nation, and have an army capable of securing the border. Mobilizing their Army for defense was a real burden, and such cards were a reminder of why the sacrifice was needed. While only minor incursions were made into Switzerland, both France and Germany had drawn up plans for invasion.
Even though the Swiss card above from 1916 is very similar to those produced in France that show a rampaging soldier destroying the people and towns in front of him, it does not condemn any specific atrocities. The soldier is not German but an allegory for war while the woman on her knees is not pleading for her life, she is the angel of peace praying that the horror will stop.
Some Swiss publishers could not resist taking sides despite official efforts to maintain strict neutrality. The hateful illustrations by Pierre Chatillon, like the one pictured above, were so inflammatory that they could only be placed on cards through a foreign publisher, Grellinger in Paris. This defiance of neutrality did not go unnoticed by Swiss authorities who eventually arrested the artist. Chatillon’s powerful images probably had more effect as propaganda in France than in Switzerland where there was little taste for war.
HATRED IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States was no stranger to military confrontation, but it did its best to stay out of European entanglements. There had been problems with Great Britain and France during the American Civil War and new tensions had grown with Germany and Japan over colonial expansion, but little of this resonated in public opinion on the eve of the Great War. Even when public outrage rose up over the Rape of Belgium and from losses in the U-boat war, America remained a highly divided nation. In response, publisher produced cards that expressed calls to arms and calls for peace. It was only after the United States joined the Allies in April 1917 that the messages on cards became one sided. While President Wilson could not obtain complete censorship over the press, the Espionage Act of 1917 gave the government complete control over War news, and the postmaster discretion over what opinions would be allowed on materials sent through the mail. The Sedition Act of May 16, 1918, further prohibited forms of speech deemed disloyal, or that challenged government policy. This no doubt affected the number of prewar cards with antiwar views that survive today. American publishers never produced many propaganda cards, largely due to the lack of resources caused by the War.
Since the American public was still widely divided over the European conflict on the eve of war, a massive propaganda effort was launched to help sway opinion. The Committee on Public Information was then formed under the journalist George Creel who would stir up an anti-German frenzy. A Division of Pictorial Publicity was established within the Committee to encourage enlistment in the armed forces, the buying war bonds, and to except personal sacrifice. While a great deal of this work was hate driven, it is not well reflected on postcards. Most cards, even those that reproduced official posters, only exploited natural patriotic tendencies since there was no direct contact with the enemy outside of the U-boat war. A few illustrators drew upon the well reported atrocities from the Rape of Belgium, to find a topic that would enrage most Americans.
The postcard above is a typical piece of German propaganda that derides the British as protectors of civilization when their empire is made up of racial inferiors. Though captioned in German, the back of the card above is in English showing that it was designed for the large German-American audience residing in the United States. It was suspected that even those who had assimilated would still be susceptible to this argument because of widespread segregation and racial tensions in Jim Crow America. Many such cards were produced in the United States, often with German financial backing, to help persuade it to remain neutral. Once war was declared, messages disparaging any of the Allies were strictly prohibited.
Even when what was expected from American publishers became well defined, they still faced problems when it came to depicting the enemy. While German-Americans could be put under the thumb of repressive policies, they still made up a huge proportion of the nation’s population and publishers could not afford to lose them as customers. Most cards ended up dealing with the sense of duty, love of country and other patriotic themes. Although Germans were turned into the dreaded Hun, anti-German cards tended to focus solely on the Kaiser. Despite the similar negative message, American postcards rarely expressed the same kind of graphic violence found on its European counterparts.
The postcard above delivers a familiar refrain; we love the people, we hate their leaders. It is a good example of the conflicted nature in which America approached the War. While there was a harsh crackdown on all things German, compromise often had to be found to help postcards sales within the large German-American community. The nation’s politics are also reflected here. President Wilson was an idealist who believed the United States had a special destiny to fulfill, and entered the War as if it were a call from God. The Kaiser and his ilk had to go, but unlike the other Allies he wanted a fair lasting peace. Despite his lofty ideas, there seemed to be no limits to the measures he would take to get there, even if it meant betraying his own ideals.