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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Geopolitical Cartoons: China under Imperialism (early 1900s)

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a geopolitical cartoon of Korea under imperial control of Japan, this week I return to the theme of imperialism with a pair of cartoons (via imperialism-by-brady) on the imperial domination of China in the closing years of the 19th century, that is the late 1800s.

Imperial powers ready to fight a sleeping China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The cartoon above is my favorite of the two, in it the imperial powers are represented by common animals associated with the country. We have the American eagle, German vulture, British lion, Austro-Hungarian double-headed eagle, Italian wolf, Japanese leopard, French rooster, and Russian bear. Each is armed, or ready to fight with tooth or claw, and ready to attack a sleeping dragon, representing China. The use of the queue hairstyle on the Chinese dragon is telling for the time period of the cartoon. According to wikipedia, the queue came to predominantly Han (an ethnic group) China via the Qing dynasty of the Jurchen/Manchus in the mid-1600s. Although resisted by most Han the queue, later became a symbol of the Qing dynasty until 1911. It is likely that this cartoon was made around the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), as the imperial powers are getting ready to disturb and tussle with the Chinese dragon. Below is a photograph of the troops from most of the states (Russia isn’t shown) that took part in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion:

Alliance troops during Boxer Rebellion, ca. 1900 (via wikipedia)

Imperial powers divide China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The second cartoon shows the European and Japanese imperialists literally carving up a king cake representing China. The cartoon is from France, hence China is “Chine”. Rather than using animals commonly associated with the powers, the artist utilized current (at the time) rulers and human symbols. The United Kingdom is represented by Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II represents Germany, Czar Nicholas II represents Russia, “Marianne” is the emblem of France, and a samurai represents Japan. In the background a Qing official futilely tries to get their attention. One wonders if “Marianne” is actively participating in the division of China in the artist’s eyes. According to the wikipedia article, “Marianne” is an allegory for liberty and reason; while, the French government could certainly make a “reasonable” explanation for its imperial activities at the time (safeguarding French economic interests), but the lack of liberty enjoyed by the Chinese would be harder to explain (unless they thought they were saving the Chinese from themselves).

These geopolitical cartoons capture the breadth of foreign involvement in China’s internal affairs at the beginning of last century. The major powers from Europe, the United States, and Japan all sent troops to suppress the Boxer Rebellion and to safeguard their interests in China. What the second cartoon really shows is the inability of the Qing dynasty to protect its own territory and the power of the imperialists to enforce their will, despite Qing protestations. A potent symbol of the imperial era, the second cartoon hints at the eventual collapse of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the Republic of China. The fall of the Qing signified the end of dynastic rule in China, a system of government that had been established with the Xia dynasty around 2,000 BCE.

Geopolitical Cartoons: Mali, France, uranium? (2013)

In this week’s geopolitical cartoon we’re (briefly) leaving the 20th century to take a look at the 21st. More specifically, today’s cartoon is an going issue of which Z Geography has written about previously (see category tag, Mali). The cartoon below reflects a cynical, but perhaps correct, view of France’s intervention in Mali. While some observers celebrate France’s intervention in the beleaguered state to be move to support the Bamako government against separatists and Islamists, the cartoon suggests that France has more selfish motives. In the cartoon, a frustrated militant Tuareg Islamist (or so we assume based on the AK-47 and tagelmust) is attempting to cross from Mali to neighboring Niger but is prevented from doing so by the stomping booted leg of the French military. The goal is a stash of uranium in Niger, implying that French military intervention is meant to prevent violent Islamists from gaining access to radioactive material.

French intervention in Mali, 2013 (via red phoenix)

Based on some cursory research there may be truth to this view. According to analysis at Global Research published late January, France announced that it would deploy its Special Forces to guard the Areva uranium mines near the towns of Arlit and Imouraren, in northern Niger (article calls this “imperialist expansion”). The towns are about to 200 miles from the, probably, porous border with Mali. While I can’t really comment on France’s neocolonial tendencies (ok, I could but this isn’t the space), a brief geologic survey of Niger notes that in 2005 Niger was one of the largest producers of uranium in the world. Further, “Niger’s main uranium resources are all contained in the sediments of the Tim Mersoi sub-basin…of the Iullemmeden basin,” shown in the map below (and taken from that report). Given the proximity of the mines to the Malian border, the likely porousness of that border, and France’s decision to deploy additional military personnel there – it would appear that the French government is at least concerned about the mines. Indeed there are a number of companies operating in this area of Niger mining uranium, as the popup map on this geologic consulting site attests, including the China National Nuclear Corporation, a subsidiary of Ivanhoe Resources (Canada), and other British and South African companies.

Simplified geologic map of Niger

Simplified geologic map of Niger

Despite this, one wonders if the Islamists’ objectives were the uranium mines to begin with, the border has been porous and the Nigerien state just as weak now as it was a decade ago and this is unlikely to change in the future. One could argue that if the violent Islamists sought mined uranium from Niger they would have already been able to acquire it. Ultimately, this continued concern with uranium mines can’t help but to remind me of the Nigerien yellow cake argument put forth by the Bush presidency over a decade ago…

Military Geography and Mali: the Afghanistan-effect

There’s one good thing about international crises of the day, they always provide good fodder for blog posts, particularly those blogs concentrating on Geography. Foreign Policy seems to allow almost anyone to write a guest column and I always find myself commenting on it. If anyone at Foreign Policy should happen across this blog, I hereby volunteer myself to write! I’ve discussed Mali twice now, first in general terms of the organic state concept, and then again to discuss the Council on Foreign Relations’ view of the Malian situation (with the requisite plug for organic state).

A recent article from FP (on Mali) boldly states that “Mali is not a Stan”. For those not in the know, a ‘Stan, is what the kids these days call the Central Asian republics – Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Dagestan, Uighurstan – you know predominantly Islamic in religious orientation, fairly poor economically (Kazakhstan doing somewhat better), and with a bit of a problem with radical Islamist militancy. Let me be clear here: Islamism is not Islam, the -ism is a political ideology based on the religion that is the latter. So when I say radical Islamist militancy, I’m talking about violent militants espousing the idea of a state structured on Islamic principles. Typically the stated way to get to this state is to overthrow the current one, violently. Of course, who gets to decide what principles are “acceptable” in this new state is usually decided by the militant with the biggest gun. Go figure. So in FP’s view, Mali is not a predominantly Islamic, economically poor state with bit of a problem with radical Islamist militants. Curious. As the most cursory search engine research engine will tell you – 90% of Malians claim to be Islamic, the economy is in shambles (like the state), and there is most definitely a problem with violent Islamists. But to FP’s credit, Mali is most definitely not in Central Asia.

Mali in West Africa (via NatGeo)

What they actually meant is that Mali is not AfghaniSTAN, or more accurately that Mali isn’t a place where France will bogged down, like the U.S. did in Afghanistan. The first piece of evidence offered is that Mali has some history of centralized rule, unlike Afghanistan. The prime example of this? The Malian Empire which lasted about 300 years, from the 13th to 16th centuries. If we’re playing the “I-had-an-ancient-empire” game than Afghanistan had at least one too, the Ghaznavid dynasty, granted they were Turkic and Persianized, but they ruled from Ghazni, Afghanistan. In addition, the Ghaznavid’s empire was several times larger than the Mali Empire. Maintaining an empire over increasing distances implies some degree of centralization, though admittedly there is also a good chance of decentralization as inefficiencies develop (an organic state model would be useful in depicting this, I really need to do this!). And there’s a more glaring problem with FP’s assertion, the Mali Empire didn’t even stretch in the area of Mali that is home to the Tuareg tribes and violent Islamists today, check out the map below. So while there may be “some history” of centralized power in Mali, the prime case didn’t even include the vast northern reaches of the country. Though it’s topographically dominated by sand dunes, people still live, work, and make their homes there.

the Mali Empire, ca. 1350 (via wikipedia)

The second piece of evidence is that France supposedly has a deep knowledge of the country and that they are “practically drowning” in expertise, thanks to their colonial history. On top of this “most educated Malians still speak French” making “it much easier for French forces to relate to average Malians.” This last sentence doesn’t even make sense. Most educated Malians speak French, therefore French forces can relate to average Malians? According to Ethnologue, a generally reliable source of data, a whopping 9,000 French speakers exist in Mali (I actually find that hard to believe), based on 1993 data. Perhaps this is the number of speakers of near-native French proficiency, French is taught in school and is the official language but Bambara is the most widely understood (and I bet the French troops aren’t speaking Bambara). And then there’s the colonial legacy of “expertise” I’m sure the French were “drowning” in expertise with respect to Algeria and Vietnam, both countries they had colonized, both countries experienced anti-colonial revolutions, and both earned their independence (in addition to two others:  Laos and Cambodia). In fact, I would argue that having a colonial history with a place probably results in chauvinistic attitudes, especially when the former colonizers are confronting what they consider to be “backwards,” “uneducated,” “tribal,” guerrillas.

Third, FP asserts that Mali isn’t Afghanistan because ethnicity isn’t the same basis of contention that it is in Afghanistan. Rather, differing interpretations of Islam is the most interesting “social dynamic”. And, absurdly, FP states that “there is no neighboring state or individuals in that state who share militants’ ethnicity and have the backing of elements of a hostile spy agency.” First, the Tuareg’s range is FAR beyond Mali’s borders encompassing Algeria, Libya, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Of course, I’m not privy to whether or not the Tuareg militants are back by a spies, but do they need to be? With most of Africa now awash with small-arms any movement (not just violent Islamist ones) could acquire weaponry at very modest prices. More importantly, FP’s framework for religion and ethnicity is completely monolithic. To FP, ethnicity and religion are separate identities, this is erroneous. Ethnicity and religion have been, and will probably always be, linked. The reason is that these are aspects of a person’s identity. Academics often speak of a person’s “multiple” identities and this is probably the reason for the confusion. Rather, each of us has one identity with roots in a social communities. One person may be Irish and another person English, but another aspect of their identity could be religious: Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Zoroastrian Another aspect could be sexual orientation, language, gender, social class, education, and any number of “observable” social markers. Which one is “most important” to an individual, to an organization, or to a “nation” is difficult to predict and varies based on who you talk to, when you talk to them, and who you are. Ultimately, all aspects of an individual’s identity do matter because organizations and movements largely form around one or two aspects in order to not only delimit membership in the group but also to make inclusive of as many people as possible. By the same token, these movements and organizations adapt which part of the identity is emphasized based on the needs of the movement. Attributing a conflict to one aspect of identity is dangerous, uncritical, and lazy. As humanity routinely demonstrates, we have a fantastic ability to differentiate between each other and organize ourselves accordingly.

map of significant Tuareg populations (via wikipedia)

Finally, I mostly agree with the article’s final point that France’s political objectives are much different from the United States’ in Afghanistan in 2001. Most importantly, the article observes that it is unlikely for the French to “stick around” and “attempt to govern on their own terms,” adding that “the bulk of peace-building” will be undertaken by African forces. The stated goal of French intervention is simply “to rid northern Mali of Islamist militants.”

To me France’s objectives are not to solve the root of northern Mali’s violence, but rather to provide a bandage to a sick old man. I’ve written about the need for increased state capacity in previous posts, the French intervention for worse, isn’t about that. But you can’t really blame the French government, the French government isn’t beholden to Malian voters and French taxpayers certainly aren’t going to tolerate expending cash and coin in creating a functioning state apparatus with the ability to project itself into the Saharan wastes. Neither should we be held in awe by France’s actions, the stated goal is to push the rebel-insurgent state back, then leave. Does France really expect African states to be able to create state capacity in Mali when most of them can’t assure state control over their own territories? One thing that is novel is the articulation, before the beginning, of clear objectives for intervention – General (retired) Rupert Smith articulated this in a great book, The Utility of Force.

In closing, I’d argue that every conflict has the opportunity to become somebody’s “Afghanistan.” Geographers and historians are uniquely positioned in academia, they are often forced to look at a variety of scales and times and through multi-disciplinary lenses. Historians focus on time and must be able to follow the threads of economics, politics, culture, and a myriad other disciplines. Geographers focus on place and must do the same, remaining cognizant of the influence of terrain, economics, social groups, and other specialist disciplines. Often, you begin to realize that though there are always stark differences there are also striking similarities spanning places, and times. Geography’s disciplinary emphasis on physical terrain and human activity leaves many well placed to analyze military conflicts, in fact there is an “official” sub-discipline in Geography called, “military geography.” Consider this recent article from the Times of India on violent Islamist activity in Mali, “the Islamists have put up little resistance, many of them fleeing to the Adrar des Ifoghas massif around Kidal, a craggy mountain landscape honeycombed with caves…” Sounds a lot like Afghanistan doesn’t it?