A killer game

Sam Ehrlich - Con Conrad: There’s nobody home but me. WWI patriotic song, the sheet music published in New York, 1918

A garden gate, a lad of eight
dressed in a uniform of brown.
Across the way, a troop that day,
we’re getting volunteers in town.
“Who’s home with you my boy,” they cried.
The child saluted and replied:

My brother’s over in the trenches
And sister’s gone to nurse out there
While Daddy’s making ammunition,
My Mama also does her share.
I’ve got my uniform all ready,
A soldier boy, I’d like to be
So if you’re over here
For a brave volunteer,
There’s nobody home but me.

A snow white bed, a curly head,
a mother kisses baby dear
her sleepy boy awakes with joy
and cries, “The soldier boys were here,
they came to take us all away,
and mother I was proud to say:

My brother’s over in the trenches…”

War, like any other product of the government, has to be sold to the public. Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda and successful organizer of the US World War I campaign called propaganda the “engineering of consensus”, and if there are times when consensus is really necessary then war is among them. Hitler in Mein Kampf pointed at poor German propaganda as a main reason of the loss of the First World War, and David Welch complements this in his Germany, Propaganda and Total War, 1914-18 (2000) by saying that the problem was not so much the quality but rather the seriousness of the propaganda, the fact that the military leadership and the emperor did not give much importance to the pressure of public opinion, and hence neither to the task of its manipulation.

War propaganda persuades the public to assume the burdens of war among others by trivializing the bloodshed. The boys are in a good place, they only went to a little excursion, and they will be back home before the leaves fall. The posters and postcards also represent the soldiers mostly as merry lads happily entertaining in the camp or romantic young men who meditate on the mountain ridges by leaning on their guns.

Among these masking techniques a particular genre is the infantilization of the soldiers, their representation in the form of little boys, such as we have seen on Japanese war kimonos. These pictures are the logical continuation of the propaganda which made up the little boy with paper soldiers for the war. The child only continues his paper soldiers game up there in the Carpathian mountains or in the field of Verdun, he does not hurt anyone and nothing wrong can happen to him either. The dear parents should not worry for him, since all is just a game, a nice patriotic game.

Florence Notter: Soldier Bob guarding Mother’s Land, one of the most popular World War I patriotic children’s book, ca. 1915

In WWI a number of belligerent parties published drawings which depicted children dressed in contemporary soldier’s uniform. The reference of these pictures vary deliberately: one cannot precisely determine whether they are real soldiers represented as charming children, or children imitating contemporary combat operations and by this way also preparing for the role intended for them. Here follows a Russian postcard series by Aleksandr Lavrov from the beginning of World War I.

With the enemy I did not fight in vain, look what a trophy I seized!

At the first, superficial glance one would think that the little Russian soldier holds a Russian flag in the hand, but at a closer look no, this is another eagle, from the other side of the Carpathians.

Nish [Serbia] With a coordinated attack of our forces we managed to reoccupy from the enemy
our capital city, the besieged Belgrade. Our faith in the success and our love for our
king helped us to recapture the capita. Belgrade is ours!

This text, disguised as a Serbian news, but written in Russian, also dates the series. Belgrade was occupied on 30 November 1914 by the Austro-Hungarian army led by General Oskar Potiorek, but the Serbians reoccupied it on 15 December under Marshall Radomir Putnik. On 9 October 1915 it fell again in Austrian and German hands who kept it until 5 November 1918. The series could have been therefore published sometime at the beginning of 1915.

Small rain lays great dust.

Defender of the peaceful population.

Winter cold and summer heat, our guard bears all.

For the soldier the gun is his friend, the cauldron his plate, the smoke his warmth.

Oh, my dear, how do you live without me?

Letter to home.

There’s no worse than to the wife without the husband and to the husband without the wife.

Dreaming about “Him”.

Когда мы были на войне… (When we were at the war). Cossack song, performed by the Русичи. Thanks for the recording to Natasa on The Great War blog!

Когда мы были на войне,
Там каждый думал о своей
Любимой или о жене.

И я, конечно, думать мог,
Когда на трубочку глядел,
На голубой ее дымок.

Но я не думал ни о чем,
Я только трубочку курил
С турецким горьким табачком.

Как ты когда-то мне лгала,
Но сердце девичье свое
Давно другому отдала.

Я только верной пули жду,
Чтоб утолить печаль свою
И чтоб пресечь нашу вражду.

Когда мы будем на войне,
Навстречу пулям полечу
На вороном своем коне.
when we were at the war
each thought of his wife
or of his beloved

I could have thought, of course
at the time when I lit my pipe
at the bluish smoke of the pipe

but I did not think of anything
I just kept smoking the pipe
with the bitter Turkish tobacco

how you ever lied to me
but your heart of maiden
has long belonged to someone else

I’m just waiting for that bullet
to come and to quench my sadness
to curb the hatred between us

when we will be at the war
I will gallop towards the bullet
on my crow black steed

It is a pleasure to smoke after the hot battle.

The mahorka on the picture, the typical Russian canaster-tobacco made of Nicotiana rustica includes five or ten times as much nicotine as the noble tobacco, the Nicotiana tabacum, and therefore it was used by the soldiers also as a pain-reliever and a mild drug. During WWI special fundraising were organized to provide the soldiers with it, but it was also popular in the Second World War, both in the Red Army and among the Estonian boys joining the SS.

In three degrees of strength

“On tobacco for the soldiers. Donate on 20-21 May!” In the smoke the inscription “Спасибо – Thank you!” is looming.

To the left: Mahorka produced in Reval (Tallinn), the seat of the German protectorate of Ostland (Estonia) (1941-1944). To the right: “The front is waiting for mahorka! We must give mahorka to the Red Army!”

It was a lot of effort to tinker this machine gun

I even celebrated the feast, I was not left without a Christmas tree.

The experienced soldier is recognized by his holding and stance.

Does not indicate any stone or cross / where we put the Russian flag into a glorious tomb / only the waves of the sea praise / the heroic death of the Varyag.

These four verses are the last strophe of the popular song narrating the destruction of the “Varyag” (Varangian) cruiser which was attacked at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, on 9 February 1904 by the Japanese fleet in the Korean – that is, neutral – port of Chemulpo. The crew confronted the superior force for a long time, and when the defense finally seemed hopeless, they blew up the ship to avoid its getting to enemy hands. In 1946 even a film was made on the battle by Viktor Eisymont, in which the role of the Varyag was played by none less than the Aurora cruiser. In the following video the battle scenes of this film accompany the song performed by the Choir of the Red Army

Apart from the really heroic gesture, the song and the film do not recall some minor circumstances. The one is that only the ship perished, while the crew could safely land on boats. The other is that the Japanese salvaged the Varyag from the sea and they made it a cruiser of the Japanese Navy under the name Soya. What is more, they even found the Russian flag “buried in an unmarked grave”, which was purchased after the defeat of Japan in 1945 from the Americans by the Koreans, who recently gave it on a long-term museum loan to Russia. But what could really not be mentioned in 1915 was that the text of the song was written by an Austrian poet, the pacifist Rudolf Greinz in German language shortly after the battle in a spirit condemning the war, and only in the Russian translation published in April 1904 by Yevgeniya Studenskaya it became the patriotic song as we know it today.

There is also another, earlier hymn on the heroic death of Varyag, whose text beginning as Плещут холодные волны, “Cold waves are rising” was written by Y. Repinsky just two weeks after the battle, and its music was composed by V. Benevsky, the cantor or the Stavropol cathedral together with a student, N. Bogorodicky. It is understandable that the funeral hymn composed in the style of Orthodox church music and reeferring to “the flag with the cross of St. Andrew” fell into disgrace after 1917, so much that on Russian forums even today there are people who look at it astonished, although they also state that “this is the real song of Varyag!”

Both soup and porridge make our guys strong!

Look at this, the terrible Turkish fleet!

The puppy of the bataillon and me are inseparable friends

“I caught a tongue!”.

Inscription: Пожертвуйте, donate! – Why do you all just pass by, dropping nothing into my box?

Those avaricious people surely thought twice to pass by without donation when Crown Prince Aleksey Nikolaevich himself stood out to collect with his little box for the army!

A pike in the pond keeps the little fishes awake.

And what do the boys do there in the far distance? Maybe something wrong to the boys next door, as this image suggests? Not at all! They are just playing, please, it’s all just for fun!

Only for what I have just seen I will be surely awarded with the cross.

For the brave Cossack the attack is just an entertainment.

The enemy will find only grief here, both on land and on water.

The cannon does not stop thundering, the enemy is getting less and less.

In the trench.

In fact, they specifically went to the borderland to make friends with the boys next door.

His coat is of sheep, but his heart of a man!

Narrow, but in peace.

And even if they fall out with each other sometimes, it is not so bloody serious.

Little Willy bitterly cries, he was soundly beaten.

Unexpected host, worse than the Tatars.

He falls into the pit which he digs for another.

Don’t fraternize with the sky and the winds, be faithful to Mother Earth.

Long live our brave sons, the fearless Russian pilots!

And of course the main attraction of the battlefield is the nurse romance!

The eyes, not the bullet pierce the heart.

Endure, Cossack, you’ll be an ataman.

It’s better not to get used to him who will have to leave.

A consolation is for me to walk with the nurse after the battle.

The look of the nurse is a consolation after the hot battle.

The nurse consoles us on the battlefield.

The children-nurses attending on children-soldiers on the last pictures also highlight what the starting song emphasized in the respective verse: that is, what the homeland expects of women and which role is intended for the little girls who play with such images. As Celia Malone Kingsbury writes it in her For Home and Country: World War I Propaganda on the Home Front (2010):

Young girls are taught to nurture and comfort the soldiers who fight for glory. Once again the primary unit, the family, is served in the children’s service to the state. These girls will marry and become the mothers of tomorrow who will hold the family unit together while father goes off to work or to war, and later when the state demands more aid, she will send her sons, the boy soldiers off to war and her daughters to nurse them.

And this is how the world is going along.

British, French, Belgian and American front nurses. A cut-and-fold toy published for girls. Reilly and Britton Company, 1918

1 comentario:

Effe dijo...

Sad but true conclusion.
Very interesting the mahorka story!