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World War 1 Era Political Cartoons

WW1 Political Cartoons

This section will display political cartoons from the First World War. Some cartoons are patriotic, while others express a cynical view of the war and its waste.

The British cartoons emphasized the unflappable poise and urbanity of the British public and soldiers in the face of German atrocities. The so-called Rape of Belgium under German occupation was a main target of Allied propaganda cartoons. While German treatment of civilians in occupied territories was far from gentle, it was kind in comparison to later brutalities perpetrated by the Nazis during World War 2.

The Kaiser and to some lesser extent the Emperor of Austria-Hungary were also favourite targets of caricatures.

Here are some World War 1 Propaganda Cartoons:

world war 1 propaganda

GERMAN BULL: "I know I'm making a rotten exhibition of myself; but I shall tell everybody I was goaded into it."
In this cartoon the Germans are portrayed as a bull running amok in a "neutral china shop" bearing the flags of the neutral nations. The caption reads: "I shall tell everybody that I was goaded into it." The point of the cartoon is that the Germans would attack neutral countries, such as Belgium, with the excuse that they had been provoked by the actions of the victims. The original cartoon appeared in the British satirical magazine Punch, during the early part of the War.

British wartime cartoons

"I say, old girl, do let me carry something."
In this cartoon, a British soldier laden with his heavy kit and weapons offers to help a lady with her shopping bags. The cartoon, like many others like it, glorifies the self sacrifice and gentility of the Allied troops, in contrast to the rapacious German soldiers. This cartoon appeared in Punch.

world war 1 propaganda


THE KAISER: "So, you see--you've lost everything."
In this cartoon the German Kaiser is seen mocking the Belgian King, telling him that he has lost everything. The Belgian replies that he has not lost his soul. The cartoon refers to the fact that neutral Belgium has been invaded and largely overrun by the Germans as they sought to outflank the French and British armies by pushing along the English Channel towards Paris. The Belgians were vastly outnumbered but fought bravely against the Germans.

www1 cartoon

DOCTOR: "Your throat is in a very bad state. Have you ever tried gargling with salt water?"

SKIPPER: "Yus, I've been torpedoed six times."
In this cartoon a Doctor is seen examining a British ship captain's sore throat and recommending that he gargle with salt water. The skipper replies that he has been gargling because he has already been torpedoed six times. The cartoon alludes to the success of the German u-boats in sinking British shipping. It portrays the British seamen as stoic in the face of danger.

grim reaper

The Harvest Is Ripe
This is a cartoon by Louis Raemaekers.

The artist writes: "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few": here is only one, but he is quite sufficient—"the reaper whose name is Death," a skeleton over whose bones the peasant's dress—a shirt and a pair of ragged trousers—hangs loose. The shirt-sleeves of the skeleton are turned well up, as if for more active exertion, as he grasps the two holds of the huge scythe with which he is sweeping down the harvest.

This is not war of the old type, with its opportunities for chivalry, its glories, and its pride of manly strength. The German development of war has made it into a mere exercise in killing, a business of slaughter. Which side can kill most, and itself outlast the other? When one reads the calculations by which careful statisticians demonstrate that in the first seventeen months of the war Germany alone lost over a million of men killed in battle, one feels that this cartoon is not exaggerated. It is the bare truth.


"Ain't I a lovable fellow?"
In this cartoon a brutish German soldier is seen "seducing" a young maiden who is bound and gagged. The writer G.K. Chesterton had this comment about the cartoon: "The cartoon in which the Prussian is depicted as saying to his bound and gagged victim, 'Ain't I a lovable fellow?' is one of the most pointed and vital of all pictorial, or indeed other, criticisms on the war. It is very important to note that German savagery has not interfered at all with German sentimentalism. The blood of the victim and the tears of the victor flow together in an unpleasing stream. The effect on a normal mind of reading some of the things the Germans say, side by side with some of the things they do, is an impression that can quite truly be conveyed only in the violent paradox of the actual picture. It is exactly like being tortured by a man with an ugly face, which we slowly realize to be contorted in an attempt at an affectionate expression. In those soliloquies of self-praise which have constituted almost the whole of Prussia's defence in the international controversy, the brigand of the Belgian annexation has incessantly said that his apparent hardness is the necessary accompaniment of his inherent strength. Nietzsche said: "I give you a new commandment: Be hard." And the Prussian says: "I am hard," in a prompt and respectful manner. But, as a matter of fact, he is not hard; he is only heavy. He is not indifferent to all feelings; he is only indifferent to everybody else's feelings. At the thought of his own virtues he is always ready to burst into tears. His smiles, however, are even more frequent and more fatuous than his tears; and they are all leers like that which Mr. Raemaekers has drawn on the face of the expansive Prussian officer in the arm-chair. Compared with such an exhibition, there is something relatively virile about the tiger cruelty which has occasionally defaced the record of the Spaniard or the Arab. But to be conquered by such Germans as these would be like being eaten by slugs."

edith cavell

The Martyred Nurse
The cartoon depicts a dead nurse being thrown to the swine. The cartoon refers to the execution of American Nurse Edith Cavell who was working in Belgium at the time of the German occupation. She was tried, convicted and executed for spying, although there was little evidence to support the charge and the American government protested. Although millions died in this war, the execution of this single civilian nurse was seized upon by Allied propagandists and cartoonists as the epitome of German barbarity. Note that the swine in the cartoon are wearing monocles and pointed helmets typical of German Prussian officers.


"But Mother had done nothing wrong, had she, Daddy?"
In this cartoon by Raemaekers, a young British girl cries at the bedside of her dead mother, killed in a zeppellin air raid on London. The cartoonist very effectively turns the "triumph" of the successful German bombing raid into a lament for all innocent civilians killed in the war. The answer to the little girl's question is, of course, that her mother had done nothing wrong and did not deserve her fate.

War Propaganda From Various Countries: