‘The Triumph of “Kultur”’
The drawing as propaganda, in which the harrowing scene depicted and the sarcastic caption underneath unite to serve one purpose. The war crime as symbol of German Kultur. The smouldering ruins are contrasted with the peaceful village in the background to delineate the progress of German civilization. The smoking gun is linked with the smouldering ruins as cause and effect. The artist emphasized the brutality of the murdering soldier by positioning him close to the mother and child, with the dead father in the background: it suggests that the man was already dead when the soldier killed the defenceless woman and child. The woman’s arm covers the child: the vulnerable mother’s last act was to try and protect her even more vulnerable child. It is noticeable that – unlike the damage to the building – there are visible wounds: no trace of bullet holes, no sign of blood flowing, which is all the more surprising since the heartless killer must have shot them from point-blank range. It was the artist’s intention to juxtapose his power and their vulnerability, not the brutal violence of war in general.
The Kaiser’s ensign in his left hand, which the officer seems about to plant, is a powerful symbol of German imperialism, and seems to invite a comparison with the British Empire. The message then is clear: whereas the British Empire brought the world civilization, peace and prosperity, German imperialism spreads death and destruction. Germany can only plant its imperial flag amidst the dead bodies of ruthlessly subjected people.
It has been suggested that the German officer in the drawing is intended as a portrait of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Apart from the fact that in that case it would have been a very poor likeness, it would have graced the Kaiser with a healthy left arm, which in reality he did not possess: his left arm was partly paralysed and withered, a fact both he and the German authorities tried to hide from view as much as possible – and with considerable success (see drawing 5). That the British artist would not have known about this, seems highly unlikely. Judging by the headgear the soldier portrayed is a Ulan: the square-topped helmet was worn by these German lancers.