War news in the wilderness

Hahn oorlogsnieuws in de wildernis.jpg


Cartoon by Dutch artist Albert Hahn, in which two 'uncivilized' black men read about the German atrocities in their newspaper The Jungle. The text reads: 'Are these Europeans not the people who send missionaries to civilize us?'


The clash of European empires strongly incited debates about the 'civilized' nature of Christian countries and of Europe as a whole. The war was interpreted as a clash of civilizations. Competing visions of what 'true civilization' should be were discussed: was it spread by the Germans who defended the atrocities committed in Belgium, were the Russians the 'true' barbarians, or was French culture the highest aim?
Among colonial and left-wing European intellectuals, discussions on the 'cultivated' nature of Europeans turned into cynical remarks about a misguided European 'civilization mission' in the colonies, as is depicted in this cartoon.
When the colonial soldiers were summoned to join the war, contacts between colonial and European soldiers resulted in debates about the 'barbarian' or 'civilized' nature of the other, and this is visible in the writings of the Flemish authors Cyriel Buysse and Ernest Claes.