Tuesday, January 6, 2015

WWI - The Price of Neutrality (1915)

British Lion: "Please don't look at me like that, Sam. YOU'RE not the eagle I'm up against."

I had a little time to turn my attention back to the Great War this morning, fortunate since I had a cartoon that is exactly 100 years old today! As of this day 100 years ago, the US was still a neutral party to the growing European conflict. Woodrow Wilson had sent out an appeal to the US people on August 17, 1914 to be "impartial in thought as well as action", a plea meant to stave off attacks from pro-war pundits within the country while he tried to beat back British encroachments against neutral trade with their enemies, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Understandably, his efforts were less than acceptable and in December of 1914 he was forced to give up the effort to use the 1909 Treaty of London as a guarantee of safety for American merchant ships and fall back on much more ambiguous international law.

On February 4, 1915 the German government announced that it would begin a submarine campaign against the allies overwhelming naval power and that, because submarine commanders would find it hard to differentiate neutral ships from those of the allies, no vessel would be safe from being torpedoed within the war zone. This move prompted a warning that Berlin would be held accountable for any US losses from Wilson, but it was vague and Washington wasn't really sure how it would handle any transgressions.

The political cartoon from the January 6, 1915 issue of Punch depicts the British Lion giving Sam the Eagle an assurance that the British rejection of US neutrality shouldn't be taken personally. It's a bit paternalistic in tone, if you ask me, but it's coming from London's perspective in a time when Empire was a real thing. The cartoonist, John Bernard Partridge, was the London born nephew of John Partridge, portrait painter to Queen Victoria. Partridge started his career as an architect before beginning a career as an illustrator. He came to Punch in 1910, replacing the magazine's chief cartoonist. The year this cartoon ran, Partridge also was designing war posters including his famous Take Up the Sword of Justice .

In 1925 Partridge was knighted. He died at the age of 84 in August of 1945.

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