Geopolitical Cartoons: Depictions of Imperial Germany (World War I)

This week’s geopolitical cartoons comes from World War I, or The Great War as its sometimes known. I stumbled on the first picture while looking for an explanation of Germany’s animal symbol from a few weeks back. I thought it was a vulture, and I ended up finding the image below, turns out the avian symbol of Prussia and Imperial Germany is an eagle.

France taunting Imperial Germany, World War I (via eBay)

The postcard above shows the personification of France, Marianne, preparing to stab the German eagle. Its most certainly from World War I because of the German pickelhaube lying in the foreground. Pictures of from the period (such as the one found on that wikipedia page) often show Otto von Bismarck or Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing the helmet, doubtless a symbol of German military might (and as it turns out, aggression). The pickelhaube itself was a symbol of the German empire during the war, as shown in the enlistment poster below. Another piece of evidence are the word “pro patria” located in the bottom right of the foreground. World War I is generally recognized as the first major conflict motivated by “nationalism”. While choosing individuals choose to participate in a conflict for a variety of reasons these days, World War I was characterized by widespread conscription and levée en masse, specifically in Europe. I deliberately used the last term because of its links to Napleonic France, that revolutionary place where nationalism was first introduced as a guiding principle in a state in the late 18th century. The inscription on the top reads: “Infamous and barbaric monster back! I curse you! Our dead will be avenged, your crimes will be punished!”

Imperial Germany to invade the U.S.?, World War I (via wikipedia)

The propaganda poster deserves some explanation as well. It depicts the German Empire (actually Kaiser Wilhelm II) as a slobbering, “crazy”, “brute”. Probably issued during the war (rather than before), the story line is that after the German Empire lays waste to Europe (as it has in the background), it will come to the United States, as its shown coming up from the water to the shores of “America”. The brutish gorilla is Kaiser Wilhelm II, as it bears that ruler’s characteristic mustache (see below reference material). Interestingly, the pickelhaube bears the inscription “militarism”. In other words, coming to the shores of the U.S. with “militarism” on his mind. He bears the club of “Kultur.” I ended up doing some digging on this (these posts really take on a life of their own) and found a digital copy of a book written in 1917 title “Conquest and kultur: aims of the Germans in their own words”. How awesome is that?

Kaiser Wilhelm II (looking not so brutish), 1902 (via wikipedia)

At any rate, if you check out that link go to page 17 (on the web, page 13 of the report) there’s a quote relevant to “Kultur” (German for culture): “The more it [German kultur] remains faithful to itself, the better will it be able to enlighten the understanding of foreign races absorbed or incorporated into the Empire, and to make them see that only from German kultur can they derive those treasures which they need for the fertilizing of their own particular life…” That quote comes from Otto von Geirke a “most distinguished professor law in Berlin” in 1914. In other words, some in Imperial Germany saw the war as bring “German culture” to the rest of Europe, something like a modified “white man’s burden,” where that phrase was used to justify colonial and imperial policies in Africa, Asia, and the “New World” where Europeans were bring “civilization” to an “uncivilized” landscape. I suppose this can be considered the logical conclusion of that logic, the German Empire formed as a coherent state five decades prior to World War I found itself one of the most populous, industrialized powers in Europe. Why not bring the successes of Germany to the rest of Europe, under German supervision of course.

The rest of Europe, of course, didn’t quite see it that way, as the French postcard, American enlistment poster, and French-Italian geopolitical cartoon below show. In this last cartoon, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Imperial Germany) is taking a bite out of the world but finding it a tough nut to crack. The inscription reads “L’ingordo” (“the Glutton”) “trop dur” (“too hard”). Apparently, it is French and Italian symbolizing half of the Entente powers (Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) with Italy entering the on the side of Great Britain, France, and Russia in 1915.

“The Glutton” finding the world “too hard” to eat, World War I (via wikipedia)


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