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A Guide to Warfare
It is probably fair to say that there is has always been a great preoccupation with warfare since no generation seems to have escaped knowing it since the beginning of recorded time. Today it is no longer something that occasionally breaks out but has reached the status of our perpetual being. Our perceptions of it are largely based on two contradictory traditions, one that stresses our yearning for eternal peace, where war is seen as a breach of our covenant with civilization. The other sees in warfare the natural cycles of death and rebirth, where it is the duty of leaders to renew society through the spilling of blood. Both positions have always shadowed mankind in one form or another, and it is through this paradox that most of our artistic expression is formed. Despite the evolution of warfare over millennia, we continue to relate to this violent aspect of our past because our understanding of it has continuously been passed down through the symbols and myths that create our own culture. History tends to come down to us as myth rather than fact, so truth is defined by what people believe, not what happened.
War has often been referred to as an extension of politics, though perhaps it might be better considered the failure of politics. The subject is rarely approached on the honest terms needed to be avoided, wrapped up instead in cultural baggage that often forces decisions. In our efforts to mold the world into something that provides the comfort of sameness, we lose track of the constant change about us. While some see in war a chance to reinvigorate a stagnating society, most intellects must be inspired and emotions aroused before masses of people will agree to pit themselves against one another in deadly combat. Many forms of propaganda have been used to accomplish this feat, with postcards being one of the prime delivery methods. While all postcards can be looked upon as propaganda, for even the most unassuming view-card was usually designed to represent the most positive ideals of a community, some were more pointed in their message. In times of war it is only natural to see the use of a popular medium such as postcards make use of powerful universal myths to reinforce the values needed to carry on something inherently distasteful.
There is no single way of promoting war through propaganda, and public sentiment at different times often required different approaches for it to have effect. Through postcards we can examine a full gamut of expressions that relate to how societies faced war. It is important to be aware of cultural differences for these images do not contain inherent meaning. The same image in one society might evoke a very different response in another. While the messages postcards deliver can provide us with some insights into the era in which they were made, they can also serve to document those times. We tend to be very selective about what we wish to remember and many aspects of our own history have faded from public consciousness. Sometimes postcards have helped this along, first by encouraging hatreds and biases, then by contradicting these sentiments for political expediency.
In this guide we will examine the various ways in which all wars were portrayed on postcards. This is meant to provide a clearer understanding of changing attitudes rather than a history of any single conflict, which can usually be investigated in detail elsewhere. Many significant events may be overlooked, sometimes even in favor of the seemingly trivial for this guide is basically focused on matters that concerned postcard publishers, not historians. It is important to remember that postcards were not created to teach us history; they were primarily produced to generate profits through sales. Even large sets supposedly documenting a struggle will often have to frame events towards public expectations rather than truth if sales are to be made. For this purpose the myths that grow out of conflict are often more important than actual consequences. Historical subjects from pre-postcard days don’t arbitrarily appear on cards, they are there to fulfill a contemporary mission. Even cards as benign as art reproductions still present us with ideas that are thought to be valuable enough to preserve and disseminate. The ideals trapped within a postcard reflect on what was important to that society when the postcard was made.
It is not uncommon for postcards collectors to find images referencing some military campaign that they never heard of. This guide is also designed to help clarify these minor events to some small degree by providing a brief historical perspective. Establishing an accurate inventory of all that was published can be a tricky business as there are various reasons outside of production that make some cards plentiful and others scarce today. As more cards of a missing conflict or aspects of it become available, these events will be added to this Guide. Some of the conflicts listed in the individual sections might easily fall into more than one category but they have been placed where they are to represent different approaches to postcard production rather than reflect recognized historical periods of warfare.
WARNING: Some of the content to be found on the pages of this guide display images of graphic violence and its consequences, which is intended for a mature audience. If you feel you may be offended by such content you should leave this page now.
This Guide is broken down into nine chapters, each of which are further broken down into related subjects, or sections. Click on the titles under each chapter below to open new pages.
1. EARLY WARFARE
The second type of military card depicting events long past was basically a marketing strategy adopted by many publishers. The collecting of paper scrap and mementos was very widespread during the 19th century; a pastime relegated to women. Many of these women would be the first collectors of postcards and it became generally seen as a woman’s hobby. To bolster sales publishers began searching for topics that might be more interesting to men, and military subject matter was an obvious choice. The collecting of military memorabilia was already a strong hobby and now the collection of military postcards could supplement it or make collecting available to those with fewer funds to spare. All of military history could be drawn upon but the most suitable subjects were those that remained strong in public consciousness through myth. Postcard subjects that reflected contemporary values as to how to be a man were more likely to sell.
A third type of postcard depicting past events was often issued strictly for propaganda purposes. Most of these are commemorative cards, issued on the anniversary of a great battle or sometimes an entire war. These events usually have great significance within the country they are published and draw on their national myth. These postcards were not meant to teach specific historical facts; most members of that society would be expected to have at least a cursory knowledge of the depicted event before they would buy the card. Even as propaganda they rarely spoke to a specific contemporary issue. Their main purpose was to have a unifying effect on society by reinforcing the ideals that form national identity. This was usually easily accomplished because individuals used these same national myths to help mold their own personal identity. Such postcards were usually issued as commemoratives or honored specific regiments though the further back history is referenced, the more likely it will rely on mythical associations.
2. THE WAR AGAINST THE TURK
(See the section above on Early Warfare for more information on the Crusades)
These long standing attitudes were reinforced in 19th century through Orientalism. As art and literature came to represent the Muslim world in terms of the exotic and the other, they created a uniform perception in popular Western culture that did little to distinguish between the cultures of Morocco and India. Orientalism was not designed to provide a true understanding of other societies but to codify them into something that could be easily grasped regardless of whether it was true or not. It is an expression of Western perception rather than reality. As such it came to color our view of the Orient and still does so to this day, creating a world where curiosities can be sought without giving up notions of superiority. This perspective greatly affected the imagery placed on postcards, which needed to match public expectations if sales were to be made.
The Ottoman Empire began to form in the 14th century with the consolidation of Turkish tribes that had moved into Anatolia from Central Asia under the leadership of Oman I. They absorbed the last remnants of Byzantium with the capture of Constantinople in 1453, and turned the great city into their own capital (Istanbul). The Ottomans continued to expand into Muslim lands until the Mamluk Empire of North Africa and Persian Mesopotamia fell under their control. By now nearly any Muslin regardless of ethnicity was referred to as the Turk by Europeans. The Ottomans then began expanding their empire into Europe through the 16th century, conquering the Balkans and pressing into Hungary. Their first attempt to capture Vienna was made in 1529, but it was not successful.
While many of the conflicts discussed in this section revolve around various ethnicities struggling for autonomy or the quest for empire, they are lumped together here because they have largely been framed within the context of a religious struggle. Some peripheral struggles in the region are also covered here, for while they may have not been directed against the Ottomans they are crucial to the understanding of this general arena.
3. WARFARE IN THE AGE OF NAPOLEON
The French Revolution, in which this period starts, did not only change the leadership of France; by replacing the monarchy with a republic they challenged the very foundation of European power. Many of the ideals of the revolution were carried forward in the Napoleonic code that systematized tolerance, and prized ability over status of birth. This doctrine that challenged notions of class has also ensured Napoleon’s place in history. While each nation&rsquo's approach to this narrative may differ, Napoleon as a myth is now recognized worldwide, this includes nations that never knew of him during his lifetime. The fact that these years are best characterized through the actions of a single man separates this period from all that came before and after it. Even though this period consists of numerous campaigns between different coalitions, they were once all grouped together as The Great War prior to World War One for they were then considered the conflict of consequence. Now often seen as a result of one man’s ambitions, they are referred to as the Napoleonic Wars.
Not only were many of the artist signed cards in this chapter produced by illustrators that also produced cards depicting the First World War, many of these Napoleonic cards were produced during World War One. It is an important reminder that even historic postcards tell the story of the time they were made much more than the period they depict.
4. WARS IN THE AMERICAS
5. WARS OF LIBERATION AND UNIFICATION
6. WARS FOR EMPIRE
7. WORLD WAR ONE
Unfortunately official efforts to control all information disseminated to the public during the Great War has seriously skewed subsequent interpretations of the conflict. These early narratives largely relied on the myths of their day so few challenged popular interpretation. This in turn has only fostered the proliferation of these myths, and solidified them in popular culture over time. After a hundred years we are still presented with accounts based on nationalistic boosters and too many apologists for the incompetence of leaders. While I believe the narrative posted here is accurate, much is still a matter of interpretation and may conflict in places with more traditional accounts. Many of the dissenting viewpoints are not based on original research but come from the published work of many fine historians with whom I share their analysis. The most influential of these were Thomas Flemming, Allen Frantzen, Jack Beaty, Meirion & Susie Harries, Adam Hoshschild, Alan Kramer, and John Mosier. This guide is too concise to provide a true understanding of all the Great War’s complexities; and while we may not find all the answers we seek through postcards, they do offer us insights into issues that are not always discussed.
A note on terms: The Triple Alliance was a treaty agreement formed in 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy to come to each other’s aid if attacked. Italy did not honor this treaty in 1914 claiming that Austria’s attack on Serbia was a solely aggressive move. After Germany and Austria-Hungry made a new alliance with the Ottoman Empire they became known as the Central Powers. Bulgaria entered into this alliance in October 1915. The Triple Entente was the military alliance between Great Britain, France, and Russia forged in 1907. They are referred to on these pages as the Allies. The many countries that subsequently found themselves fighting the Central Powers are also included here as the Allies, even though formal alliances may not have ever been made.
Theaters of World War One
By the middle of the 19th century the Austrian Empire, second only to Russia in size, was beset with internal problems. The Hungarians had been in revolt since 1848, and in 1866 Austria lost control over the many small German kingdoms in its war with Prussia. To stem the tide of disintegration the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was signed the following year establishing the duel monarchy of Austria-Hungary. While the agreement kept unrest down, few were happy with this arrangement; it work very badly in practice making the Empire difficult to govern. It has been argued that the German elites of Austria thought they could regain their former power by diluting Hungarian influence through the addition of more Slavic subjects. Austria had long coveted the Ottoman controlled lands of the Balkans out of imperialistic desire, but now their conquest became an integral part of a power play. While Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the Austrian fold in 1878, they were unable to formally annex these territories until 1909. By this time a strong anti-Austrian government had established itself in Serbia, which had growing territorial ambitions of their own. Austria grew more fearful of these ambitions when Serbia seized land from the Ottomans in the Balkan War of 1912. Austria contemplated declaring war on Serbia at this time to prevent the transfer of territory, but its ally Germany was not yet ready to lend its support. By the time the Austrian Archduke was assassinated in June of 1914 both were ready to use it as a pretext for war.
As a result of the Archduke’s assassination, Austria sent Serbia a number of harsh ultimatums, most of which were reluctantly met. When Serbia suggested that the most severe of these that threatened its sovereignty be arbitrated by The Hague, Austria declared war. Austria-Hungary’s ally Germany then threatened Russia hoping that its weight would keep them from aiding the Serbs. When Russia continued to mobilize their army, Germany not only declared war on her but on France as a Russian ally. Afterwards Germany requested that Belgium allow the transfer of troops through its territory in order to attack France. Having assurances of British and French support, Belgium refused and Germany invaded. As a guarantor of Belgian neutrality, Britain then declared war on Germany. Britain also had a mutual aid alliance with Japan causing them to declare war on both Germany and Austria-Hungry. Germany would then secure a new secret alliance with the Ottoman Empire. While this chain of events may make it seem that a worldwide war was inevitable, it must be remembered that all these nations still had a choice to make. Italy and Romania, both of whom had military alliances, found excuses to ignore their treaty obligations and decided not to enter the war at this time. It seems that generals who lobbied for war did so more on the basis of a good opportunity than necessity.
One of the most important factors that discouraged serious negotiations to head off war was the rush to mobilization. It is often stated that once military mobilization began it became difficult to stop the momentum toward war, but that hardly seems reason alone considering the consequences. The real problem lay in the military doctrine of the times rather than in its administration. The military policy that every nation developed rested on the offensive as espoused by the strategist Karl von Klausewitz. This basically involved striking the enemy first before they were fully prepared to receive the blow, which in turn meant ignoring peace overtures so that an army could be fielded as fast as possible. While once sound advice, advancements in weaponry had since made killing ever more effective; this would logically indicate that any modern war should be fought defensively. Life and death decisions however would be based on romantic myths, not fact.
There was a strong distain for the defense among military officers of most nations that went beyond logic. The idea that men of breeding and honor just didn’t fight in such a cowardly fashion discouraged alternate ways of thinking. Much of military life was consumed by illusions of chivalry, which were not only outdated but grew into romantic fantasies that were not even entertained by medieval warriors. It had become easy to believe in these ideas that promised honor and respect when they did not have to be applied to an actual war. Men of foresight who already knew by the end of the 19th century that these long held beliefs would lead to disaster were largely ignored. chivalry was more than a military code; it was part of the covenant that permitted good Christians to kill one another with impunity. While some tried to define the Great War as a struggle for democracy, many on all sides saw it as a crusade against evil.
Cooler heads may have seen the folly in this rush to war, and understood it would not be as easy or short as it was presented it to the public. It was also known that war would drastically hurt their economies, which were doing better than ever due to international trade, but none of these logical rationalizations had any effect on planning. There were many undercurrents driving these nations to war that seemed to have trumped the agreed upon consensus that it would come with a great price that was not to anyone’s advantage. There was much resentment between the old empires that felt entitled to control the world, and newer empires like Germany who was demanding to be treated like an equal. Germans saw themselves in ascendancy and highly resented those decaying nations trying to deny them their God given place in the world. It could be said that the most noted factors that drove these nations to war were nothing but abstract mechanisms that could have all been mitigated by strong public opposition, but the undercurrent of hatred and resentment toward other nationalities, ethnicities, and their culture caused too many to turn their backs on peace. Even for people who had no patriotic sense for empire, their long standing hatreds were quite clear and could be drawn out at a moments notice. Romantic notions of warfare provided room for this hatred to be entertained for the cost did not seem great.
Old religious differences coupled with growing nationalism helped support pro-war positions everywhere, but it also helped to undermined them where various ethnicities within larger empires sought self-determination. While most people in Europe did not want war there was also a very powerful and vocal segment that glorified the warrior and saw in warfare a way, and perhaps the only way of cleansing society of all its moribund and undesirable modern habits that prevented real progress. While an old idea, it gained momentum in the late 19th century with the growth of Social Darwinism. Many now believed that war was an essential part of human evolution, and by 1914 there were also many ready to put it to the test. It must be remembered that the prewar years were a time of great social upheaval with the disenfranchised of the labor and suffrage movements as well as ethnic minorities all vying for more rights. While many would not take the extreme positions of the Futurists or Vorticists in calling for war, many still came to believe that nothing less than a war could break the old order that repressed them. For others war simply represented an adventure, a way to escape an unvaried life due to tight social constraints and lack of mobility.
The year 1916 brought massive battles to the War without providing any clear cut end to the conflict. With the trench line on the Western Front seemingly set in place, any hope for a short conflict had ended and those with foresight could see that it would be waged as a war of attrition. Many soldiers came to believe it would be a war without end. While deadlier weapons were developed and armies became better supplied, the soldiers in the field grew disillusioned and weary. As the romantic notions surrounding war faded away, a revolution took place in soldiers thinking. If the absurdity of the War caused soldiers to developed a more pessimistic attitude, leaders all thought they would win and overtures for peace went unheeded. In some cases troops mutinied or just went home but there were enough with stoic resignation to fight it our through 1918. By this time the manpower of all the belligerents had been slowly exhausted to the breaking point. The exception to this was the United States who entered the war late; but even they suffered heavy casualties in just a short amount of time. All had become casualties because the War destroyed their social relationship with the prewar world. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June of 1919 would formally end the Great War, but in many places fighting continue for years to come under another name.
To understand the images on military postcards from this period one must first understand the great efforts put into the propaganda war. These times saw an unprecedented effort by governments to control this imagery, which was done in two ways. The first was through censorship that controlled what images and information the public was allowed to see. For the most part this policy was determined by the General Staffs of armies and do not necessarily have any relation to actual events. While this war was well photographed, photographers for the most part were not photojournalists but agents of governments. Images were carefully rationed out by military censors with their propaganda value in mind so most depictions of the front became dependent on the artist’s eye and imagination. Governments also interfered with publishers directly, having them produce propaganda created by ministry agents. These arrangements do not seem to have been coerced but rather created though patriotic appeals. Even so, the public was kept in the dark in regard to these secret arrangements, as well as to the depth of censorship. The general lack of information regarding the War’s progress led to all sorts of rumors as the public became prone to believe anything. This was fertile ground for the sale of postcards.
There were also cultural aspects at play that came to be presented as propaganda without any government oversight. Postcards publishers were not journalists seeking the truth, they sought out imagery that would best promote sales. Much of what we find on cards from the Great War reflects the values of the society they were published for as they had to meet public expectations in order to sell. When we are presented with propaganda, we must also remember that it doesn’t come out of nowhere. While it does not even have to be based on a kernel of truth to be believed, it must have its roots in a society’s expectations and prejudices. Each belligerent nation had a long history that determined the way in which they thought about their neighbors and war in general. As postcards expressing these values were passed about, they greatly reinforced these biases. This also means that many of the narratives found on postcards may not coincide with actual history. In this way they may not be a good historical record of events, but when a single theme is addressed in great numbers, these cards offer a serious glimpse into public sentiment of those times.
A note on terms: The Triple Alliance was a treaty agreement formed in 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy to come to each others aid if attacked. Italy did not honor this treaty in 1914 claiming that Austria’s attack on Serbia was a solely aggressive move. After Germany and Austria-Hungry made a new alliance with the Ottoman Empire they became known as the Central Powers. Bulgaria entered into this alliance in October 1915. The Triple Entente was the military alliance between Great Britain, France, and Russia forged in 1907. They are referred to on these pages as the Allies. The many countries that subsequently found themselves fighting the Central Powers are also included here as the Allies, even though formal alliances may not have ever been made.
While the relative isolation of each Front listed below allows the events that unfolded there to be reported as a complete story, there were troop movements that took place between these Fronts that often had a considerable consequence on events.
Belligerents and Participants of World War One
Weapons of World War One
Rules regulating warfare were anathema to most military leaders, who goal was to kill as many of the enemy as fast as they could. Treaties were fine for politicians to argue over but once war broke out, rules were generally understood to be little more than worthless words. Admiral Jacky Fisher of Britain’s Royal Navy summed up this attitude when he spoke as a delegate to the Hague Convention of 1899; “The humanizing of war? You might as well talk about humanizing hell. The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.” Those who called for moderation were perceived of as speaking from a position of weakness. This only encouraged others to strive for greater advantage over them.
By 1914 Germany had by far outpaced other nations in providing the most useful and deadly weapons to its armed forces. It would also continue to make improvements in weaponry throughout the Great War. This allowed them to achieve greater results on the battlefield with far fewer men. This is more of a result of the way the German General Staff was structured than the generals themselves. Good ideas had a natural way of flowing upwards but they were still at the mercy of preconceived notions. Military men of all European nations tended to be of the most conservative professional class, and as such social conditioning rather than practicality played the most prominent role in their thinking. Technology was generally distrusted because it meant changing the honorable traditions they were fighting to uphold. This is not to say they were unaware of the advantages technology brought. Many postcards celebrate these weapons through the fear they generated in the enemy.
In this light it is amazing that so many innovations found their way onto the battlefield. The end of the 19th century saw a miraculous growth in technology. Advances were made in all sorts of human endeavors including the ways in which we kill one another. Not only did traditional weapons like rifles and large guns become more powerful and deadlier, a whole new range of weaponry was introduced that had never appeared on a battlefield before. The Allies would eventually catch up to Germany but not until the very end of the conflict. Even after the war many generals who led armies in the field still though that cavalry were more important than tanks, and that airpower was just a fad.
Many of the new weapons that were introduced during World War One inspired great curiosity among the public. Postcard publishes saw a profit to be made in satisfying this desire and so there exists a plethora of cards dealing specifically with the technical side of warfare. Postcards do not only provide us with images of weaponry, they give us some insights into the way people of that era perceived them. A general knowledge of this equipment and accompanying tactics can also add to the greater understanding of all military cards from World War One.
Popular Motifs of World War One
Heroes (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Humor and Satire (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Leaders and Generals (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Peace and Victory (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Prisoners of War (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Refugees and Charity (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Soldier Life (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
Songs and Poems (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
8. WARS OF IDEOLOGY
9. WORLD WAR TWO