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Themes of World War One:
UNITY BETWEEN THE ALLIES continued
The nations that appear on Allied unity cards was more than a numbers game. Inclusion was never guarantied and the motivation behind this not always clear. Most cards only represent Great Britain, France, Russia, and later Italy. On the British card above, Serbia is left out while Belgium is included even though it was not officially an Allied nation because of its long standing neutrality. While the plight of the Belgian people was used extensively to rouse anti-German feelings in England and France, little attention was paid to the invasion of Serbia because it was more difficult to raise sympathy for the people of the Balkans who were generally viewed as inferior to true Europeans. Many in Britain thought these uncivilized people were not worth fighting for.
At first glance the French card above seems to be another hateful depiction of Germany as the enemy of civilization. While this content is there, it is so powerful that it overwhelms its other message of unity. Both France and Russia are posed to fight this monster, but Great Britain is not. France was at war only one day longer that Britain, so why the slight? Perhaps there is none. Sometimes publishers just highlighted the friendship between two nations, which was especially common when the card was part of a larger set that could display a number of relationships.
Although smaller nations were extensively wooed to join the Allies, few were given credit on postcards when they did so. Many of the larger powers were so invested in the conflict that it was difficult for their publishers to see it outside of their own national perspective. Each of the major powers produced cards as if they were leading the war effort. Those like many of the countries that joined the Allies towards the end of the War did not have printing industries capable of mounting their own large scale propaganda efforts and are largely invisible on postcards. The card above printed for the American YMCA is a rare example of inclusiveness.
Since the Japanese unity card pictured above was made for the YMCA, it is difficult to know if it expresses Japanese or Western values. While Japan was an old member of the alliance against the Central Powers, the empire is not always represented on Allied unity cards. This may be a result of racial bias, but it could also be that Japan was only seen as a minor player in the West. Many Japanese cards were printed with additional captions in English so they could more easily be sold in a foreign market.
It is sometimes difficult to tell if an image is promoting unity when it is published in a neutral nation. The Swiss card above shows the flags of four of the Allies, but to what purpose? Could this be the straight reporting of facts or has the publisher taken sides? The official policy of strict neutrality could always be evaded by disguising a message in ambiguity.
Racial classifications can be seen at work on the French postcard above. As all the Allies charge forward under the personification of victory, there is a second line being brought up by an Indian and Senegalese soldier. While this gives some credit to the vast amount of British and French colonial soldiers that fought in the War and made victory possible, it reinforces imperialistic relations of power showing who is on top and who is not.
While most unity cards were needed to soften attitudes toward former enemies who were now allies in a common cause, some were also needed to soften discord within empires. A notable example are the numerous cards that deal with the Black troops brought to fight in France from French West Africa. Stereotypes of Africans as barbaric cannibals were played up more on French postcards than those made in Germany. The object was to instill fear in the enemy by presenting him with a foe that did not limit themselves to civilized warfare. This approach however was problematic for many French citizens also feared Black troops, and stirring up resentment to their presence was always a risk. In response, publishes began presenting these troops as gentle giants, powerful enough to kill the enemy while always friendly to civilians. Many contradictory messages were generated in the propaganda war. They did not have to make sense, only address the problem at hand.
There may have been far less issues with Indian troops stationed in France, but the civilian population still had to be calmed. The French card above depicts British and Indian officers billeted in a private home as the owner rests in a chair. Nothing is out of the ordinary here except for the ethnic diversity, which is of course the point. It says Indian soldiers are no different from the British who have come to help, and they live the same normal life as any Frenchman.
Other internal divisions within empires were politically drawn as with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Nearly everyone assumed that civil war was eminent over Ireland’s quest for independence when Catholic and Protestant militias began to arm themselves. The outbreak of the Great War brought an unexpected surge of unity, if only lukewarm, and Irishmen ended up fighting for the Empire. Tensions were ignored as best as they could be, and postcards only represented Ireland as part of a united front. Although the Easter Uprising of 1916 was crushed due to a substantial lack of support, it still showed that serious animosities were simmering. Postcards depicting buildings damaged in the Uprising became a constant reminder of those who died for Irish independence and a symbol of disunity.
By 1914, much of the United Kingdom was no longer under direct English rule. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and India had all achieved dominion status, which meant they deferred their foreign policy to the English Crown, but had discretion over how they responded to declarations of war. All would respond and send troops to fight in the Great War, though some more eagerly than others. Those more unified like Australia showed a very patriotic response but other places had a more troubled history. Special consideration had to be given to the conscription of French Canadians, while Afrikaners actually rose up in revolt. Indians seeking independence posed a constant threat to the Empire, which was carefully monitored. These points of disunity made it important for British publishers to show the enemy that there were no cracks in the desire for victory. These postcards tend to be very simple; they do not address any points of contention, only unite all under common British symbols.
Fearing a possible war with France, Italy joined with Austria-Hungary and Germany to form the Triple Alliance in 1882. Over the years relations between France and Italy grew friendlier, so while a secret political alliance was formed in the years leading up to the Great War, traditional resentments towards its Austro-Hungarian ally remained strong. After Italy changed sides to further its imperialistic ambitions, a whole range of Unity postcards were produced to promote the Kingdom’s newfound friendship with France. Since tensions between the two nations had not been very high, unity cards were only produced in limited numbers.
Portugal was another latecomer, joining the Allies only after Germany declared war on her in February 1916. She had been reluctant to join the Allied cause despite losses in the U-boat war because of fears that her oldest ally Great Britain was scheming to dismember their overseas empire. Troops were finally dispatched to Flanders in January 1917 where they were integrated into the British Expeditionary Force. Unity cards between the two kingdoms were issued even though the Portuguese army had little taste for the War. By the end of 1917, when a pro-German government headed by Sidónio Pais took power, Portugal basically gave up on the conflict. When its troops were badly defeated at the Battle of La Lys, the British lost all confidence in the alliance but this was never expressed on postcards.
At the beginning of the Great War, Italy as a member of the Triple Entente had its troops massed on the French border ready to attack, but the kingdom never declared war. They used the technicality of calling Austria-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia an act of aggression rather than defense. While Italy’s former allies portrayed this on numerous cards as a betrayal, some Allied publishers characterized the move as a sign of moral fiber. Italy was actually waiting to see who would provide the biggest bribe before choosing sides.
After the Italian army nearly collapsed in 1918, large numbers of French troops were transferred to Italy to bolster the Piave front. This provided a new incentive to produce unity cards though these functioned more as a thank you than to repair soured relations. The Italian card above references a past event between the two nations that brought them together in common cause against Austria. While this formula was often used to dredge up old animosities, it is used here as a reminder of French help in Italy’s struggle for unification.
The British unity card above is typical of those produced when Italy joined the Allies in 1915. Soldiers of each nation salute the arrival of Italy to their ranks. There is never any hint of Italy’s late arrival or its betrayal of the Central Powers, only that the Allied cause has been bolstered and is now better positioned to achieve victory.
In the months leading up to Italy’s entry into the War, publishes produced many cards related to the belligerents wooing of the Kingdom’s allegiance. These are mostly political cartoons that present a mocking comic edge despite the seriousness of the issue. While some favor the Allies and others speak of the perils in abandoning neutrality, many cards fail to take one side or the other so it is not always easy to decipher their real intent. While there is a tendency to view them as antiwar cards, they might also be saying that Italy is strong enough to follow its own interests wherever they lead.
Once participating in the conflict, Italian postcard publishers were quick to produce many images of the Allies standing together. They were also more inclined to show Serbia as part of the mix since its proximity to Italy made its fate more of a concern. These cards were often very elaborately designed as if the occasion required celebratory flourishes. As with similar cards from other Allied nations, they presented an image of strength through unity.
Despite the continuous efforts to bring America into the War, it proved problematic for some British propagandists once the United States declared war in April 1917. As with France, there was a long history of hostility ever since the American Revolution. While the British card above expresses a change of heart between the two nations as they celebrate Independence Day, it neglects the history in-between hostile events such as the War of 1812, disputed borders with Canada, and Britain’s aid to the rebellious Confederacy. Without a somewhat shared common language and culture, it is easy to speculate that this alliance may not have been made.
Before the Great War, British publishers were already producing postcards to help unify the far-flung pieces of her empire. From this a specific genre sprung up that depicted two clasped hands and the words “Hands Across the Sea.” While this sort of symbolism is very old, its use on postcards was very appropriate for cards were primarily used to reinforce social bonds. This extension of friendship was eventually extended to the United States because of shared culture. These types of cards continued to be produced during the War years. It was particularly important for British propagandists to stress the commonalities with neutral America since their second largest ethnic group was of German origin. The card above makes reference to the RMS Baltic, a passenger liner that transported troops and materials between the United States and England. General Pershing also arrived in Europe aboard this steamer in June 1917, symbolically extending America’s hand of friendship.
While the United States provided Britain with badly needed arms and loans, relations deteriorated as soon as Americans set foot in France. Britain wanted the men but not interference in how they were waging war. This position was intolerable to President Wilson, and his insistence on an independent American Expeditionary Force led to poor cooperation. Most unity cards between the two nations were produced in Britain, and they are not overly enthusiastic.
There were also great problems in France over how independent the American Expeditionary Force should be, but they eventually came to a compromise. French publishers however had a very different reaction than the British or even their own generals. Ordinary French people were very enthusiastic over the arrival of American troops who gave them some hope of victory, and so this alliance was honored on many postcards.
Since American troops had a fair amount of discretionary money to spend, this enticed many French publishers to produce postcards with both French and English captions. This arrangement had already been established with the British, but now it became much more common. While the tone of these cards may have been affected by financial concerns, Most French publishers seem to show a genuine affection for Americans who now became essential to all images of unity.
By May 1917 the belief that the lives of French soldiers were being carelessly wasted led to mutiny, which spread rapidly through the ranks. After a while, half the French Army was challenging orders and small army units were even marching on Paris. This disastrous situation was only calmed after Georges Clemenceau was appointed prime minister in November. He saw to it that ringleaders were shot and real improvements were made to soldiers’ lives. In spite of this, a state of collective indiscipline remained that left France only capable of waging a limited war. French generals now put their hopes for the future on the Americans who had just begun to arrive. Unity postcards were made to help raise the spirit of French soldiers, but no reference could be made to the mutiny, which was the biggest secret of the War.
Although France had presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States to represent the long standing friendship between the two Republics, it largely came to be seen worldwide as a national symbol America alone. French propagandists tried to revive its old meaning on numerous postcards during the War, and American and French soldiers were often placed together under the statue’s shadow. Historic dates were often added to either represent French aid to the American Revolution or portray the American and French Revolutions as struggles for liberty, thus reinforcing common bonds and cause in the current struggle.
After the October Revolution in Russia, Lenin exposed secret agreements revealing the imperialist ambitions of the Allied nations regarding how they planned to divide the spoils of war. This proved a great embarrassment to those who pretended to be supporting the noble cause of saving civilization from barbarism. The revolution that took Russia out of the War at the end of 1917 also created the framework that allowed America to support the War without being allied to an absolute despot like the Czar. When President Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points in January 1918, Allied propaganda refocused on the united moral struggle for liberty with America and sometimes President Wilson taking the lead.
We can find the likeness of the Statue of Liberty on the Italian unity pictured above as a symbol for the Allied cause. While it is no longer seen as a specific symbol of the United States, its connection to America cannot be ignored since references were evolving quickly at this time. The United States often became synonymous with the liberty it would bring to Europe. While this symbolism generally had a unifying effect, this changed when a number of independence movements were inspired to associate the same symbolism with their cause.
America’s entry into the Great War had a surprisingly huge effect on Italian unity cards. While the French and the British were supplying Italy with a large amount of aid, most unity cards concentrated on the friendship with the United States. Even though only a small contingent of American troops was sent to Italy, the anticipation of the effect they would have on the war effort as a whole brought some desperately needed optimism. While some of these cards depict American soldiers, others deal more with their symbolic arrival and lofty principals.
While many Italian cards show the friendship between individual soldiers, the United States is also represented in the pantheon of Allied nations. America, often represented by President Wilson is give special honors. On the surface, this seems out of place with the facts on the ground, but it says much to the state of mind of ordinary people who had grown fearful of defeat.
The playful Italian unity card above promotes the idea that unity between the Allied nations in pursuit of victory is so strong that they will continue to love one another even after victory is achieved. While this may have been Wilson’s aim, political differences sprang up as soon as an armistice was signed with their common enemy, and there was much discord at the Paris Peace Conference. When Italy’s imperial ambitions for territory as a reward for their participation in the conflict were thwarted by Wilson’s notions of self-determination, this god-like figure was quickly demonized. Hatred was also stirred up against the British who had promised multiple parties the same territory as spoils of war.