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)

Geographic Perspective: Last foreign invasion of the U.S.?

A not-very-heated debate about the last foreign invasion of the United States provides the fodder for today’s post. The question was when the United States last experienced a foreign invasion. The potential answers provide an illustration of our collective mental map and how it doesn’t always mesh with reality.

Like most, I assume that the last foreign invasion of the United States was the War of 1812. During that side-show of the Napoleonic Wars, the British invaded the U.S. from the north (subsequently burning Washington, D.C. in 1814) and the south (at the Battle of New Orleans).  Incidentally, New Orleans illustrates another critical military geography concept – the effects of distance on communications. The Treaty of Ghent (city in modern Belgium) was signed in December 24, 1814, signifying an end to the war. Although King George IV signed on December 30, 1814 this news didn’t reach the British in time to avert the battle. In fact, the British went on following this defeat to capture Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay on February 12, 1815. Only when the British were planning to besiege Mobile, Alabama did the news reach the British Army (the U.S. Congress did not ratify until February 16). A note on Washington, Washington’s burning was more than likely in retaliation for the American burning of the Legislative Assembly in York (now Toronto), Canada a year earlier. Common wisdom is that the United States has suffered a foreign invasion in almost two centuries.

But that’s not true. The last foreign invasion of U.S. soil was the Imperial Japanese invasion and occupation of the Aleutian Islands starting in June 1942, specifically Attu and Kiska. As the Wikipedia article notes, the remoteness and rough topography of the islands prevented Allied reclamation of the islands for over a year. That we retook the islands (and subsequently forced Imperial Japan to surrender) is probably a good thing. The Soviet Union invaded and occupied the Kuril Islands, after Japan terminated the war on August 15, 1942, kicking out Japanese residents. The Kuril Islands dispute is an ongoing thorn in Russo-Japanese relations. Russia continues to administer the islands, despite Japanese demands their return.

It might be easy to forget about the Aleutian Islands, given that they’re not part of the continental United States, but they are still U.S. territory. Within the continental United States, the last foreign “invasion” might be the conflict that occurred in the border area of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) called the Battle of Ambos Nogales, 1918. Unlike the above incidents though, Ambos Nogales was hardly an “invasion” but a one-off conflict that occurred on U.S. and Mexican soil.

Our collective mental map of the United States is highly dependent on location. Several maps and articles have poked fun at American’s view of the whatever, typically a map with (usually) humorous names for countries. On a more serious note, our collective “forgetfulness” of past conflicts reflects our bias with not only the continental United States but with “large-scale” invasions. While this is understandable, its worth bearing in mind that most conflicts involving the United States, especially after World War II are “small-scale” affairs, with the exceptions of Korea and Vietnam. A good geographic perspective then, forces you to account for your own bias, and expand your mental map to consider phenomena “outside your map.”