PICTURING THE GREAT WAR (2)

I was discussing the vast range of visual materials that historians can use to illustrate attitudes to the First World War.

German propaganda especially suggested that easy victory lay within reach, which was fine unless and until they ran into obstacles and defeats, when all those cheery images began to look very sour. The French, in contrast, recognized that they faced a desperate existential threat.

They concentrated on German barbarity and atrocities, and especially the violation of French and Belgian holy places. Remember!

They demonized the Germans as evil aggressors, and stressed German war crimes.

They also suggested that Germany had deep-laid plans to dominate Europe.

War, they said, was Prussia’s national industry:

France was still a great military power, especially with all the soldiers it could draw from its Empire. But if France was to survive, it would only be with the support of its mighty Allies.

That did raise a minor embarrassment in drawing on the British alliance, as the two countries had so often been at war. This postcard tries to smooth over grievances harking back to Joan of Arc, whom the English had burned.

If the Germans and Austrians trumped the French artistically, the range and power of propaganda themes on both sides was still overwhelming.

When talking about Germany, I cited the visual resources in the magazine Kladderadatsch. A French equivalent is Le Petit Journal. To see what I mean, go to Google Images and feed in “Petit Journal 1914″ or whatever year you are interested in.

You’ll be impressed.


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