Monday, May 26, 2008

But They Respected Us Before 9/11, Right?

I do not know the origin of this poster. I have seen it ascribed to both a World War I and a World War II context. It is said to have been Dutch, originally, but it also is said to have been Danish. It clearly was used by the Nazis, and was printed in a propaganda magazine in 1944. The wording varies in different versions.

It's a delightful artistic capsule containing all the irrational and contradictory strains of European anti-Americanism. Absent the artistic style and period details, it would be appropriate to the 19th century, or even the 18th.

Look! The gangster's gun. The Jewish symbols. The Masonic symbols. The crass sexiness. The industrialized military might. The American Indian (playing a trumpet) is here a symbol of the United States. And the monster has the black arms of an African-American, waving a 78 rpm record (presumably jazz) and wearing a boxing glove. Message: American culture is Africanized and debased, and thus a threat to the superior race-culture of Europe.

At the same time the monster has a Klansman's hooded head, and a noose dangles, presumably a reference to lynchings. Message: America's racism renders it hypocritical and inferior to Europe's presumed enlightenment.

At the very heart of the beast is a cage, and in it are trapped two black people. But they are drawn as crude racist African caricatures, and they dance a frenzied jitterbug.

Now check this list of widely held prejudices about America in Germany today, and see how well it matches up with the Nazi propaganda.