Satirical Cartoons of World War I, 1914-1916

I’ve been re-reading portions of Mark Sullivan’s Our Times: The United States, 1900-1925 while my students have been taking their mid-term exams. Mark Sullivan was a muckraking journalist of the early twentieth century, and he compiled a popular history of the American people in the first eventful years of the 1900s.

The following are some satirical cartoons that Sullivan collected and included in the fifth book of his series entitled Over Here: 1914-1918. The cartoons appeared in newspapers and journals in the years that the United States remained neutral, but while the forces of the European nations slaughtered each other on the battlefields. The cartoons I have selected here follow the development of American sentiment about the war, from early desires for neutrality to that of preparedness for entry into the war on the Allied side.

Notice in these cartoons the attention to artistic detail, the use of stark symbolism, and the deep poignancy that arises from each one. These are aspects unseen in many of today’s satirical cartoons, which are usually one dimensional and often lack aesthetic and moral depth.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 34.

This cartoon shows Wilson’s determination to keep the US out of the fighting in positive terms.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 41.

This cartoon illustrates how both sides of the conflict sought to win American public sympathy to their respective causes.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 79.

It wasn’t long before America’s sympathies became obvious.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 81.

This is an ominous one.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 89.

Here, the cartoonist doubts that America will be able to stay neutral for long.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 121.

This cartoon appeared shortly after the sinking of the Lusitania in May, 1915. It is referencing the famous advertisement of the Imperial German Embassy warning Americans about the dangers of sailing on the luxury ship, since it flew the flag of its enemy (Great Britain) and it was passing through hostile waters. When the Germans torpedoed the Lusitania, it only took 20 minutes to sink. Nearly 1400 lives were lost, many of them children and infants.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933),  131.

After the sinking of the Lusitania, President Wilson began issuing a series of notes of protest to the German torpedoing of merchant vessels. More and more Americans were becoming critical of the President’s neutrality policy. Theodore Roosevelt became the primary spokesman urging American intervention and hammering President Wilson in speeches and editorials.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 205.

This cartoon speaks for itself.

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 247.

In late 1916, the Germans surprised everyone by offering peace terms. The terms offered were not at all acceptable to the Allies, since Germany demanded that new international boundaries be drawn according to the battle lines. All of Belgium and much French territory would have been absorbed into Germany. The Allies quickly and firmly rejected the German offer, but it lit a fire under Wilson. He began crafting his own peace proposal and urged the Allies and the Central Powers to consider his offer to mediate an end to the war.

Wilson’s proposal was extremely controversial and unpopular, because he advocated for what he called a “peace without victory.” Few approved of his proposal, and fewer still appreciated his interference in a war in which he had strenuously worked to keep America militarily uninvolved.

Here’s how the Germans viewed Wilson after offering his “peace without victory” proposal:

Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 253.
Mark Sullivan, Over Here: 1914-1918, vol. 5. Our Times: The United States: 1900-1925 (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 255.

Here’s how the French viewed Wilson’s overtures.

Which are your favorites?

3 responses to “Satirical Cartoons of World War I, 1914-1916

  1. The one I liked best is the one of the skeleton toasting the demise of civilization because its criticism is not nation-specific, but rather indicts all of humanity.The artwork and attention to detail is marvelous in all of them.

  2. As disturbing as these are, they are far better than the w=ones today which are all the "name calling game." These are much deeper

  3. Reblogged this on To Breathe Your Free Air and commented:

    This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to re-post it now that the world is getting ready for the World War I centenary.

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