Norman Lindsay and the ‘Asianisation’ of the German Soldier in Australia during the First World War

Introduction

During the First World War, cartoonists throughout the English-speaking world responded to Allied allegations of German atrocities by depicting the German soldier as a monstrous ogre and labelling him a ‘Hun’ (Gullace, 2010 Gullace, N. F. (2010) Barbaric anti-modernism: representations of the ‘Hun’ in Britain, North America, Australia, and beyond, in P. James (Ed.), Picture This: World War I Posters and Visual Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press., pp. 61–62). The ‘Hun’ became a prominent symbol of the enemy’s capacity for rapacious violence and was widely depicted in both government and non-government propaganda. While the simian German soldier was unique to the First World War, the racial tropes projected on to him were not. Indeed, he was an amalgam of pre-existing imagery that had been created during the 19th century as British imperialists applied scientific notions of race to colonised people throughout the globe (Robertson, 2010 Robertson, E. (2010) The Hybrid Heroes and Monstrous Hybrids of Norman and Lionel Lindsay: Art, Propaganda and Race in the British Empire and Australia from 1880–1918, MA Thesis, Australian National University.). The Australian transformation of the German from racially similar Aryan to monstrous ‘Other’ is an excellent example of how this process occurred, and clearly demonstrates that race played a central role in the Allied construction of the ‘Hun’. Through an examination of the war art of Australian artist Norman Lindsay (1879–1969), this article will establish the importance of race to the creation of the ‘Hun’ in three ways. First, Lindsay’s ‘Hun’ was closely modelled on anti-Asian and anti-African British imperial atrocity propaganda that long preceded the Great War. Thus, popular tropes from ‘atrocious’ rebellions such as the Indian Mutiny were recycled for use in 1914. Second, racial stereotyping reflected the particular culture that produced it—in this case, Lindsay’s work was the product of a uniquely Australian brand of racism that pilloried the Chinese and Japanese. Third, Lindsay’s racial stereotyping, although uniquely Australian, nonetheless drew upon deeply held British beliefs about the nature of imperialism, being that white civilisation waged a war against black barbarism: by ‘Asianising’ the German, Lindsay therefore removed his status as a white man, and enfolded him in a pre-existing and powerful imperial narrative about the ‘Just War’ against coloured savagery.

Source: Norman Lindsay and the ‘Asianisation’ of the German Soldier in Australia during the First World War

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