The Devil is in the Details

How all sides used images of the Devil in World War I propaganda posters

Barron CollierSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The following cartoons are part of the Barron Collier Patriotic Series. Collier (seen here) was an American developer and entrepreneur, who produced the series during World War I.

AC0433-0006311Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The first image depicts two demons sitting and talking in a hellish landscape. The figure on the right appears to be the actual Devil.

The figure on the left is a demonic German soldier, wearing military gear and bearing a sword covered in blood. This is likely meant to be Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The cartoon’s title, “Chums,” and the intertwining of the Devil’s tail with the Kaiser’s, further align the German army with the Devil.

Why the Germans Torpedoed the LusitaniaSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Devil congratulates the Kaiser on the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, which was downed by a German U-boat in 1915. Here, you can watch Smithsonian scholars explain how the death of nearly 1,200 people, more than a hundred of which were U.S. citizens, helped push the United States into World War I.

Smithsonian Channel

AC0433-0006350Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The second cartoon portrays the same two figures, pouring over a monthly report of murders.

The emblem at the bottom of the report is the Reichsadler, a symbol of Germany.

The title of the cartoon, “A Good Month’s Business,” implies that the Germans are literally doing the Devil’s work, and purposefully killing the innocent bystanders of war – babies, children, women, and non-combatants.

AC0433-0006349Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The final cartoon shows the Devil congratulating Kaiser Wilhelm II – “Your Majesty,” as the Devil calls him – on the destruction and death that he has caused. The statement that the Kaiser and the German army has “done more in four years than [the Devil has] in four thousand” emphasizes just how horrific the war was.

The Devil’s pitchfork acts as a symbolic counterpart to the Kaiser’s sword.

AC0433-0009979Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

This contrasting poster, designed for the U.S. Marine Corps by artist Charles Buckles Falls, is a 1917 U.S. ad calling for men to sign up for the Marines, nicknamed “Teufel Hunden,” or “Devil Dogs” in German.

The U.S. Marine is represented as a bulldog with glowing red eyes. On its helmet is the symbol of the Marine Corps: an eagle atop a globe, from which hangs an anchor.

The bulldog is chasing a small dachshund, its tongue dopily lolling out. It is clearly representative of the German army: it bears the Reichsadler on its helmet, and its tail ends in the Iron Cross, a common German military insignia used in both world wars.

These four posters were all produced around the same time, with the symbolic weight of the Devil signifying evil when applied to the enemy, and power when referring to the American military.

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