Australian Screen

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Cartoons of the Moment – The Kaiser War (c.1918)

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The Kaiser War education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This clip begins with a cartoon of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II surrounded by skulls. A caption illustrates the Kaiser’s thoughts, saying that while he wished to fight in the trenches, the almighty ‘willed it otherwise’. The hand of a skeleton then delivers the skull of a German soldier. The Kaiser sheds a tear but remains remorseless. Meanwhile, a suffragette from England attempts to persuade Mr Hughes to return to England, but he refuses.

The next section shows a man reading a newspaper with the war headline ‘great eclipse’. This is followed by a drawing in the shape of a sun filled with the head of a Kaiser Wilhelm II. He is then supplanted by the head of England’s King George V, captioned 'The Allies’, on a circle that rolls across the screen to 'eclipse’ the German sun.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows three animated Australian political cartoons created during the First World War. Cut-out animation with captions satirise Kaiser Wilhelm’s failure to take responsibility for the war dead represented by piles of skulls and crosses. The second sequence 'Look out Billy’ shows the comical figure of a suffragette whose advances are rejected by prime minister Billy Hughes. The final cartoon shows the Sun with the face of Kaiser Wilhelm being eclipsed by the face of King George V.

Educational value points

  • Political cartoons often use humour to try to persuade the viewer to adopt a certain position on a contemporary social or political issue. This clip contains two pro-First World War cartoons depicting the Kaiser as an unfeeling butcher and as a man whose power will be eclipsed by Britain’s king. The other cartoon pokes fun at an English suffragette who has come to Australia to get prime minister Billy Hughes to return to Britain to support their cause.
  • The communicative power of simple cut-out animation is demonstrated in the clip as the Kaiser’s words of self-justification are ironically commented on by the graphic images of skulls, a wartime graveyard in a desolate landscape, and the skeletal arms handing Wilhelm the globe that turns into a skull. The Kaiser’s face on the dial of the Sun changing to George V’s face graphically represents the Allied powers eclipsing Germany’s might.
  • The style of these animated cartoons supports the multiple roles they were designed for as part of silent newsreels. They had to convey timely information, entertain and make a point without a spoken commentary. The simple white-on-black cut-out images quickly establish a personal point of view. The comparative simplicity of the technique assured their speedy production to provide weekly political commentary, then the only alternative to the print media.
  • The clip shows a view of the role of Kaiser Wilhelm, Emperor of Germany, in the First World War that has been debated by historians. The cartoonist holds him responsible for the large numbers of German war dead. It is not clear how large a role Wilhelm played in the progress of the War. He was commander-in-chief of Germany’s armed services but his lack of military ability meant his influence waned as the War progressed and the real power devolved to his generals.
  • The second cartoon is an example of the nature of cartoons, the meaning of which, over time, may be lost or difficult to retrieve. Cartoons rely on context as well as visual imagery to convey their message to an audience. This cartoon from the First World War appears to poke fun at the British suffragette and her mistaken belief that Australia’s prime minister would support British women’s suffrage, but the context familiar to audiences at the time is not familiar to us today.
  • This second clip shows an affectionate regard for William (Billy) Hughes (1864–1952), Australia’s prime minister during most of the First World War. In England when the War ended he worked hard to ensure Australia’s interests were represented at the Paris Peace Conference, particularly to ensure that Germany should pay the costs of the War. He was greeted as a hero on his return to Australia.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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