The Kaiser: A Rogue's Gallery

 

Even well before the onset of war, Germany's Kaiser, Wilhelm II, had worn out his welcome with an Anglo-American audience. Fairly or not, Wilhelm made a convenient target or embodiment of what was perceived to be the "swaggering, imperialistic bellicosity" of Germany in the pre-war years. Michael Isenberg, writing about unsympathetic portrayals of the Kaiser in early films, notes that Wilhelm's "truculent posturing on the international stage" did much to cast his image into that of the hypocritical, murderous bully (War on Film [1981], p. 146). The stills that remain from To Hell with the Kaiser! (1918) have a remarkable resemblance to the caricatures of the Kaiser that were the staple measure of such publications as Punch, which, in particular, specialized in a kind of running catalogue of the Kaiser's cruel and mendacious acts. It is the Kaiser who is seen to represent the paradigmatic Goth, destroyer of medieval libraries and cathedrals, the missionary of a peculiarly German "kultur," the leader who exudes false bravado, as he goes about his daily tasks of pistol-whipping women and children (The Rape of Belgium), duping his non-European allies (especially Turkey), or comforting young draftees to his army with the counsel that after their inevitable slaughter the Vaterland will happily recycle their corpses.

 

Punch (August 26, 1914): Belgium--"The Triumph of Kultur"

Punch (September 1911): "The New Rake's Progress: The Teutonizing of Turkey"

Punch (April 1917): "Cannon Fodder and After," The Kaiser to a New Recruit

Punch (September 16, 1914): "Lies: Made in Germany"