Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Anti-Fascist Cartoons of David Low

David Low (1891-1963) was one of the great political cartoonists of the 20th century.David Low, Cartoonist Born in New Zealand, he emigrated to Britain in 1919. In 1927 he joined the staff of London's Evening Standard. He took the job on condition the paper's owner assured him he would have complete freedom from editorial interference. 

Low remained at the Evening Standard until 1950. He is perhaps best remembered for his cartoons of the 1930s and early 40s. lampooning the dictators Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, and British architects of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. 

In 1937, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels told Halifax that Low's cartoons were damaging German-British relations. Halifax promised to try and restrain Low, with little effect as it turned out. Indeed, Halifax himself became one of the chief targets of Low's satire. 

In the first cartoon, from July 1936, Low draws Hitler advancing towards his goals of expanding German military power and territory by walking along the backs of the "spineless leaders of democracy" who are nothing more than "Stepping Stones to Glory." 

Hitler had already violated key terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919). After gaining power in 1933, he massively expanded the size of the German military, violating the clause restricting its size and weaponry. In 1936, he ordered German soldiers to occupy the Rhineland on the French border, which the Treaty had declared a demilitarized zone. The other powers did nothing. 


Lack of spine remained a theme in another cartoon, which blasts the appeasement policy of British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The policy veered between conceding the "legitimate" demands of Hitler and Mussolini and warning them not to demand more or resort to military action. 

Here, Halifax, in bed under piles of foreign office dispatches, is approached by his butler carrying breakfast and newspapers. The butler's question and the items in the wardrobe make Low's point. 




In "Cause Precedes Effect," below, European leaders, including Mussolini in black cap. give Hitler the Nazi salute while parading with his army. The Versailles Treaty, key clauses of which Hitler had violated, is carried in front, along with a banner. The caption, "17 Years of Lost Opportunity" refers to the leaders' failure to act decisively to preserve the Treaty's promises of democracy and world peace. 



In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria and the other powers did nothing, reasoning that Austrians were Germans. In September 1938, after threatening war, British and French leaders met with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich. With Chamberlain pushing the French, they agreed to Hitler's demand that Germany be allowed to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten region had a German majority and Hitler claimed that the Czechs were oppressing them. 

In return, Hitler promised to make no more territorial demands in Europe. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, arrived  back in London waving the agreement, and saying he had brought "Peace in Our Time." Low mocked the Munich Agreement by implying that it amounted to destroying a strong defensive wall and replacing it with Hitler's worthless paper promise. Chamberlain and Halifax are at left holding the rope which Conservative sheep are jumping over.



How worthless Hitler's promise was became clear within a few months. The Nazis occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia and began making territorial demands on Poland. Low predicted as much at the end of 1938 when he portrayed Hitler as Kris Kringle collecting European nations, pictured as children of the "French-British Family," as presents for Germany. 




Shortly before invading Poland, Hitler negotiated a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. The Nazi-Soviet Pact took many observers by surprise. In Mein Kampf Hitler had denounced "Jewish Bolshevism" as one of the greatest threats to the "Ayran Race" and threatened to invade and destroy the Soviet Union. 

Hitler only agreed to the pact because his generals feared getting stuck in a two front war as in the Great War of 1914-18. Stalin, who had tried and failed to form an anti-fascist alliance with the Western Powers, agreed to the pact in return for being allowed to annex eastern Poland and the Baltic States. 

Here, Low portrays Hitler and Stalin meeting each other in Poland, with a dead Polish soldier lying between them. Their greetings to each other indicate the underlying animosity between the two dictators. 



Indeed, Low was convinced that the Nazi-Soviet partnership could not last. In "Someone is Taking Someone for a Walk" he predicts, correctly, that they were insincere in their new friendship and would soon be enemies again. 



In May 1940, Hitler invaded France and the Low Countries sweeping aside the French and British armies.Within a few weeks, France had surrendered. Several hundred thousand British and French soldiers escaped to Britain in what became known as the "Miracle of Dunkirk." But there was no hiding the fact that Nazi Germany had achieved a tremendous victory. Most of Continental Europe was soon under his control or allied with him.

As the scope of the disaster in France became clear, Chamberlain's Conservative government fell and a National Government led by Winston Churchill replaced it. Churchill was also a Conserative, but the new government was a coalition of Conservative, Labour, and Liberal MPs. 

Low cheered the creation of the new government with the cartoon, "We're Behind You Winston," emphasizing national unity in face of the fascist threat. Churchill leads, followed by leaders of the three major parties. Chamberlain and Halifax, first and third behind Churchill on the left, remained in the war cabinet for the time being, and Halifax in particular pushed for a negotiated peace. Chamberlain was soon removed by death from cancer. In 1941, Halifax was packed off to Washington as British ambassador.



With the fall of France, Britain  found itself with no allies in Europe, facing not only Germany but Fascist Italy. Mussolini, who had formed a pact with Germany in 1936, joined Hitler in the war as soon as it became clear France was finished.

Low illustrated Britain's dire situation in "Very Well, Alone," with a British soldier on a rock surrounded by stormy seas, vowing defiance. Britain would remain alone for a year, until Hitler betrayed Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. A few months later, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the USA into the war, which would last another four years.



Many more of Low's cartoons can be found on various online sites.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Punch Goes to War: World War I


The British humorous and satirical magazine Punch began its long and influential run of publication in 1841. Among other things Punch helped give the word "cartoon" its modern meaning as a humorous picture. Cartoons were a mainstay of Punch as it commented on the events of the day. Some may not seem funny today. Some were racist or xenophobic. But the cartoons were generally designed to raise laughter among the magazine's readers.

As Europe moved towards what would become a world war just before and during 1914, however, its cartoons became increasingly serious in tone and message. As the war unfolded, Punch would become an important tool of British propaganda. 

The cartoon below, "The Boiling Point," appeared in Punch in October 1912.  It was reacting to the dangerous situation created by the first of two Balkan Wars in 1912-13. The wars were related to the long decline of Ottoman Turkish power in the region. Several countries, including Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, had won their independence from the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. They were intent on expanding their new states at the expense of the Ottomans, and then each other.

The cartoon reflects fears, correct as it turned out, that the Balkan conflict might spill over and ignite a wider war. In the foreground, left to right, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary strive to keep the lid on the boiling pot. Behind them, Britain and France look on anxiously. 


Within less than two years these fears had materialized. As is well known, the spark that ignited what became The Great War was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz -Ferdinand, in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, on August 28, 1914. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian Serb with links to an extremist Serbian nationalist organization. 

Serbian nationalists had long sought to unite the South Slavs or Yugoslavs into a Greater Serbia. The territory they craved included Bosnia-Herzogovina, Slovenia, and Croatia, all currently part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Austrian leaders sought to use the assassination as a pretext to destroy the Serbian nationalist movement. They issued an ultimatum to Serbia that led to war at the end of July, a war that quickly engulfed all the great European powers. The cartoon below, "The Power Behind" shows the Austrian double-headed eagle about to pounce on the defiant Serbian cock, while the Russian bear emerges from behind a rock. 




Russian determination to protect Serbia brought Germany into the war on behalf of its Austrian ally. Germany also declared war on Russia's ally France, a move dictated by the war plan of the German High Command, the Schlieffen PlanMeanwhile, Germany virtually assured Britain's entry into the war by invading France through neutral Belgium on August 4. 

The German government had asked Belgium permission to cross their country. Belgium refused. The German Army, committed to its war plan, marched into Belgium. Britain demanded an immediate withdrawal, then declared war on Germany when the demand was ignored. 

Punch applauded Belgium for its defiance in the cartoon, "Bravo Belgium," published on August 12. The farm boy represents "Little Belgium" protecting his farm from the German brigand, identified by the sausages hanging from his pocket.







In order to whip up British support for the war, the British government and media reported many instances of German "atrocities" in Belgium. Some were real; others invented. 

Punch contributed numerous cartoons to the patriotic effort, including the two below. In the first, from August 23, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II stands over Belgian civilians he has just shot, holding the German Imperial flag. His revolver is still smoking. The illustrator, Bernard Partridge, had long produced unflattering images of the Kaiser and that would continue throughout the war.




The second cartoon portrays Germany as a barbaric ogre who has torn Belgian neutrality to shreds, protesting he had to attack Belgium in self-defense. The sign behind him says: "World Power or Decline," reflecting the view of Germany's leaders that they were encircled by enemies intent on their destruction. Both cartoons feature burning and destroyed buildings in the background. 



Though the Belgians put up stiff resistance, the German Army overwhelmed them. Within days, the small British Expeditionary Force had arrived to aid the Belgians and French. They fought their first engagement at Mons in Belgium on August 23. During the next two weeks, they and their French allies were 
pushed back by superior German numbers to the outskirts of Paris. 

Reinforced by additional French troops, the allies counterattacked along the River Marne on September 6. Over the next week they pushed the German Army back about 40 miles (65km). The Battle of the Marne was a major victory for the Allies, but the Germans reformed their lines along the River Aisne and began to dig trenches. The Allies followed suit. The line of battle would soon stretch from the Belgian coast to the Alps and would not shift significantly for the next four years. A war of movement became a war of stalemate and attrition, with millions of casualties.  

Punch seemingly made light of the horrors of the war in "The Incorrigibles," by Frederick Henry Townshend. A new soldier arrving at the British trench line is greeted by an "Old Hand" in a waterlogged trench, who assures him that he will have a jolly good time at the front. 



This cartoon (and others) show Punch retained some of its old sense of humor. But the humor was becoming darker. Was Townshend simply trying to boost morale in a dire situation? Or was he cynically poking fun at the British stiff upper lip syndrome? Despite the soldiers' words and smiles, it seems hard to believe anyone would consider their situation enjoyable. As the realities of trench warfare sank in over the next four years, the soldiers themselves would produce much dark and cynical humor of their own.