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Bits of History and Historical Fiction

"Destroy This Mad Brute"

H. R. Hopps, 1917 (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Building on my previous post about the Seattle parade and propaganda efforts, here's more historical background for my forthcoming novel, Lonely Are the Brave.


Many recruiting posters in Britain and the United States appealed to men by addressing the masculine imperative to protect women. But the one shown here pulls out all the stops.


"Destroy This Mad Brute" posits a savage gorilla wearing a spiked helmet that says, "Militarism," wielding a club labeled "Kultur" (frequently translated as "civilization"), and abducting a fair-haired woman. She, for once, isn't wearing white, and you can't see her face, a concealment perhaps intended to spare her; or conversely underline her humiliation; or leave the viewer free to imagine her as a loved one. Further, the invader advances menacingly, having already torched American shores to cinders. The single word "Enlist" sends the message.


For starters, I find it sad and utterly misguided how humans can cast other primates as savage, when we're the ones to machine-gun and bomb each other; but gorillas, essentially peaceable, shy creatures, have long suffered a bad rap (witness King Kong). The German Army had abandoned the admittedly ludicrous (and impractical) spiked helmet by 1916, but for some reason, it became an emblem of brutality, and American propagandists loved it.


As for "militarism," responsible for the invasion and destruction of neutral Belgium, that's the lone scrap of truth. But, as I noted in a previous post, legal and moral arguments lack visceral appeal. Ridiculous as it sounds today, the suggestion that the German Army raped its way across Europe and would somehow cross the Atlantic to repeat the crime found its adherents.


The story of this poster didn't end there. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Hitler's chief propagandist, Josef Goebbels, rolled out this same illustration, with different text, to inoculate the German public against foreign charges of atrocities.


More to come.

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