We are presently commemorating the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Plenty of different theories allocate blame for that event to various powers, usually to Germany, with Russia as a runner up. For present purposes, though, let us set aside blame and look at how the different powers presented the war to their people.

The range of visual imagery of the war is vast, although most books and newspapers tend to use the same tried and true pictures, and usually with a strong Anglo-American bias. Let me illustrate here some of the propaganda coming out of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Partly, this is because I was very impressed by the splendid commemorative exhibition that is on right now in Vienna at the National Library, An Meine Völker! Der Erste Weltkrieg 1914-1918. I’ll look at other countries later.

I stress that this is no attempt at systematic coverage, just some representative and (I hope) unfamiliar images. Click on any image to enlarge.

It is very tempting indeed to look at what we might call high art depictions, which the Austrians excelled at, especially in their appeals for people to invest in war loans.

Just search GOOGLE IMAGES under the word “Kriegsanleihe.” You can find dozens of examples.

These are memorable, and they are of excellent quality.

In a sense though, these are less interesting as historical sources than the very ordinary propaganda items that circulated especially in the early days in the war, in the form of postcards and comics. The main theme here, I suppose, is: how easy it was going to be!

Really, just a shooting match:


The Germans would thresh the Allies like wheat.

So easy…  Jeder Schuss ein Russ, Jeder Stoss ein Franzos: “Every shot brings down a Russki, every stab gets a Frog.”

Together, Germany and Austria are invincible:

And even more so with the Ottoman Turks!

Here are two other views of the German-Austrian alliance, the first from a children’s book:

Our enemies, though, are not just cartoon figures. Some of them are really pernicious, especially the conspiratorial English. They are spiders and snakes!

Worst of all, complained the Germans, the British and French even bring “primitive” non-White soldiers from their colonies to fight against Germany.

Outrageous racist cartoons and posters were a whole sub-genre of German propaganda:

German intellectuals denounced France and England for the heinous crime of “inciting Mongolians and Negroes against the white race.”

All in all, though, the struggle would not be either hard or long:

And Germany would win, quickly and easily! If the Allies did not realize that, they were Don Quijotes.

What could go wrong?

Incidentally, although the sources are many and various, the German magazine Kladderadatsch is the gift that keeps on giving. Try searching Google Images under each individual year, eg “Kladderadatsch 1915.” The satirical magazine Simplicissimus is also wonderful.

The resources are amazing.