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The German Debt

A Greek person smirks as they tell a German person that "a debt is a debt." The German person is worried and nervously clutching Drachma bills that Greece wants Germany to hand over.
A Greek man smirks as he tells a German man in a military uniform that “a debt is a debt.” The German man is worried and nervously clutching Drachma bills that the Greek man is nonchalantly telling him to hand over.

The London Debt Agreement in 1953 consisted of twenty countries (including the United States, Britain, France, and Greece) who wrote off about half of Germany’s World War I and World War II debt as well as installed a payment plan (Dearden, “Helped Postwar Germany”). As Germany began to prosper in the years following the debt relief, Greek debt and unemployment continued to rise. Economist John Milios states that Greece should receive a debt write off similar to what Germany received in the London Debt Agreement (qtd. in Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). However, Greece’s political and economic circumstances vary greatly from Germany so it is unlikely that they will receive such help. This cartoon, “The German Debt,” by Miguel Villalba Sánchez (Elchicotriste) portrays the complicated relationship between the two countries and their debt problems through the use of visual exaggeration, irony, and historical allusion.

In this cartoon, Germany and Greece are personified and visually exaggerated in order to convey the strain that debt relief has put on their relationship. Germany is portrayed as an old, pale, sweaty, and almost sickly looking man dressed in combat gear. This rendering of Germany evokes a negative connotation; his pallor and old age represent weakness and intimidation. The German man is wearing a military uniform in which the helmet closely resembles the helmets that Germans wore in World War II (Antill, “German Army Equipment”). The uniform provides Germany with a false sense of safety and authority. By contrast, Greece is portrayed as a young, smiling, and healthy looking man who is at ease dressed in a stereotypical Greek outfit. This shows how Greece is pleased by the German struggle. Germany used to be Greece’s major enemy, however, now the tables have turned and Germany is now Greece’s largest creditor (BBC News). Greece claimed that Germany owed them billions of euros in order to repay the Nazi occupation of Greece during which about 250,000 people died, a forced loan was taken from the Bank of Greece, and infrastructure was destroyed (BBC News). Greece is satisfied with Germany’s struggle because they see justice being exacted.

This cartoon relates to the historical cartoon “Going Down Third Time” by John Knott because it shows how German debt problems in the past led to even worse debt problems. According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, half of German debt came before World War II and the other half came after (“Cancelled Germany’s Debt”). The first half was incurred by loans as Germany tried to pay off their insane World War I debt charges. The second half stemmed from reconstruction following the end of World War II (“Cancelled Germany’s Debt”). After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany’s debt problems continued to worsen. This was foreshadowed in Knott’s cartoon because he made it evident that Germany was drowning and no one was willing to help. However, Germany’s economic trajectory changed for the better in 1953 because of the debt pardon that was an “economic miracle” (Becker, “German Economic Miracle”).

There is irony in Greece chiding Germany by saying “a debt is a debt” because Greece is having problems paying its own massive amounts of debt. After the debt write off, Germany began to slowly but surely recover from their rough past as Greece fell further into recession. Greece feels that they should receive a debt write off similar to Germany, however, the creditors are not inclined to offer the same relief.  The crediting countries see that Germany is trying to “expiate its past” whereas Greece is accumulating debt by “unsustainable socialist benefits” (Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). Some of these socialist expenses include higher pensions, universal healthcare, a large government, and salaries for Orthodox priests (Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). The difference between German and Greek debt is seen in how each country acquired their debt.

According to Leonid Bershidsky in his Bloomberg View column, “Germany Deserved Debt Relief, Greece Doesn’t,” Greece caused deficits by continuing these socialist fiscal practices for three decades, borrowed to cover them, and then lied about them to the Eurostat so they could adopt the euro in 2001. Bershidsky emphasizes the fact that Germany is taking on debts made by previous, corrupt governments whereas Greece carelessly and secretly accumulates debts of their own. On the contrary, the cartoon shows Greece smirking at Germany as if the Greeks didn’t have any debt problems of their own. Therefore, the cartoon is ironic in that both countries have debts to pay and no matter how that debt was incurred, neither Greece nor Germany should be reprimanding the other.

The bar-code mustache and Drachma bills allude to World War II and how it affected Germany’s relationship with Greece. The bar-code mustache on Germany not only alludes to Hitler’s infamous mustache, but it represents a price. In general, we scan bar-codes to get the price of an item. This shows how Hitler’s rule created a huge price that Germans would have to pay for a long time. Not only was previous debt ignored and new debt obtained, but the cruelty of Hitler’s Germany will always be remembered and felt across the world. The bar-code mustache emphasizes the price that Germans are still paying for World War II. This leads to the allusion and symbolization of the Drachma bills.

The Drachma was Greece’s currency until they adopted the euro in January of 2001 (“Greek Drachma”). In 2000, the Greek Supreme Court ruled that Germany “should pay €28m to the relatives of those killed” in the Nazi massacre in Distomo in 1944 (BBC News). There were several other massacres in which hundreds of people died as well as war crimes, a forced loan, and the destruction of infrastructure (BBC News). Because of this, Greece rightfully deserves compensation for the Nazi occupation during World War II. This is a central idea in the cartoon as it shows Germany unwilling to give Greece its own currency. However, Germany is disinclined to settle these reparations because they claim that the issue was settled in 1990 and Greece keeps changing the figure. It also raises questions as to why Greece did not negotiate these repayments before entering the Eurozone (BBC News). This explains why Germany is reluctant to give the Drachmas to Greece, however, Greece feels like the money is rightfully theirs.

Furthermore, relations between the two countries continue to worsen. When discussing a bail out for Greece’s debilitating debt in 2015, Germany approached the topic with what many perceived as a harsh sternness. This view was reinforced when Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, suggested that Greece temporarily exit from the euro (Eddy, “Greek Debt Crisis”). The two countries have to deal with the exasperating problem of getting rid of old debt without incurring new debt.

Miguel Sánchez’s cartoon relates to John Knott’s political cartoon, “Going Down Third Time,” because it shows the results of what happened due to German debt after World War I. The debt problems Germany had with France led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, which then led to more debt, which led to the London Debt Agreement, which led to further tensions between Greece and Germany. Not only do Greece and Germany have their individual problems with debt, but they are still trying to settle conflicts that happened over half a century ago.

Works Cited

Antill, P. “German Army Equipment of the Second World War.” German Army Equipment of the Second World War. N.p., 20 Aug. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Becker, Andreas. “German Economic Miracle: Thanks to Debt Relief? | Germany | DW.COM | 27.02.2013.” DW.COM. N.p., 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Bershidsky, Leonid. “Germany Deserved Debt Relief, Greece Doesn’t.” Ed. Cameron Abadi. Bloomberg, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Dearden, Nick. “Greece and Spain Helped Postwar Germany Recover. Spot the Difference | Nick Dearden.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Eddy, Melissa. “Germany’s Tone Grows Sharper in Greek Debt Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 July 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

“Greek Drachma.” GRD. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

“How Europe Cancelled Germany’s Debt in 1953 – Jubilee Debt Campaign UK.” Jubilee Debt Campaign UK. N.p., 08 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Knott, John. “Going Down Third Time.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News 15 July 1931, sec. 2: 2. Readex: A Division of Newsbank. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

News, BBC. “Does Germany Owe Greece Wartime Reparations Money?” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Sánchez, Miguel Villalba (Elchicotriste). “Pitch THE GERMAN DEBT.” Cartoon. Cartoon Movement – THE GERMAN DEBT. N.p., 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.



Going Down for the Third Time

Going down third time
A German man is drowning and needs help. A French man is in a boat and says, “Sign, first” while extending a paper labeled “Conditions” to the German man. Presumably the French man will help once the conditions are signed, however, the German will most likely drown in trying to sign the paper.

After World War I, the Big Four (United States, France, Italy, and Great Britain) met in Paris in 1919 to negotiate a peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty charged Germany with a vast amount of war reparations and economic restrictions. Ironically, it is this treaty and French modifications to it that led to the second World War. In John Knott’s political cartoon, “Going Down Third Time,” Knott used drowning as a metaphor to illustrate Germany’s debt, its relationship with France, and how German animosity toward the French could (and did) lead to further conflict.

In the cartoon, the image of Germany drowning is a metaphor that portrayed their asphyxiation by war debt. The title “Going Down Third Time” alludes to the saying, “going down for the third time.” This idiom means that if someone is drowning and they go underwater for a third time, they supposedly won’t come back up (Babylon’s Free Dictionary). Therefore, this saying can be used out of the context of drowning in order to portray failure or death. Knott’s title was an effective representation of Germany’s economic state as they tried to deal with their overwhelming amount of war debt; the debt made it impossible for their economy to resurface and swim. However, this was the main reason France wanted such strict contingencies on Germany. They hoped that Germany would remain bankrupt and “drowning” so that it may not rise back up to power (“WWI: Treaties and Reparations”). Because of the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans had their boundaries reassigned, restrictions placed on their military and weaponry, and they were charged with a reparations bill of 6.6 billion pounds ( Staff and “War Reparations”). Ironically, these actions were taken to avoid war, yet they only succeeded in kindling the events in years to come.

Water is a well-fitted symbol for Germany’s war reparations. Not only is it dense and seemingly limitless, but water stays on clothes and skin even after someone gets out. This represents how even if Germany could repay this debt (get out of the water) they would still feel the lasting effects of debt. Their clothes would still be drenched with water, that is to say, the German economy would be further destabilized and in need of reconstruction. It could also be seen that Germany floundering in the water (debt) generated splashes that affected those near, such as the French. France got splashed which wet them with debt as well. War with Germany caused France to be indebted to other countries, such as the United States, after World War I (“War Reparations”).

In the cartoon, the depiction of the French withholding help and saying “sign, first” as Germany drowned illustrated the tensions that were drawn taught between the two countries. Germany’s war ridden land and economy was incapable of fixing itself so Germany needed assistance from other countries. However, they owed other countries mass amounts of money or gold in order to pay off material damages caused by the war (“WWI: Treaties and Reparations”). When they signed the Treaty of Versailles, Germany unhappily acknowledged that they were the sole cause of World War I and agreed to the stringent obligations set by the Big Four (“WWI: Treaties and Reparations”). German bitterness deepened toward the French because they thought France held almost all of the responsibility for charging Germany with an outrageously high reparations bill (“War Reparations”). This was depicted in Knott’s cartoon because Germany drowned under the French conditions, but France required Germany to sign their conditions before they offered help. However, if Germany didn’t sign, it would still drown. Paradoxically, Germany had to hurt itself in order to potentially save itself. Signing acknowledged responsibility for the war, loss of land, loss of military, and insurmountable reparations yet Germany retained hope that the economy and political relations would be repaired. However, things would get worse before they got better. Due to the debt and unnecessary stipulations, the tensions between France and Germany continued to tighten putting Europe on the brink of World War II.

The French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau is more easily recognized than the German man in the cartoon. This is most likely because Clemenceau was known for his austerity in exacting revenge on Germany (“Treaty of Versailles,” sec. 1). The German man was not so easily recognized because Germany had nine different chancellors from 1917-1920 (during which Clemenceau held office in France), not to mention all nine chancellors had bushy mustaches like the man Knott depicted (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). The editorial mentions Chancellor Bruening of Germany, however, Clemenceau died before Bruening held office so it’s unlikely that Bruening is depicted here (“Georges Clemenceau” and Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica).

Without prior knowledge, it can be deduced simply from Knott’s cartoon that this situation wasn’t handled efficiently. Standing by and letting someone drown unless they agree to ridiculous conditions is a fast and sure way to make enemies. The prevention of war simply cannot be executed by repressing a country and limiting its resources. Clemenceau’s strict demands did anything but smooth tensions and ease these countries out of a post war period. The cartoon showed that no matter what Germany did, it drowned in debt and desperately needed a savior. The attempted repression of Germany caused animosities toward the French that only built as Germany struggled to make payments. This is the beginning of how and why Hitler and his National Socialist, or Nazi, Party rose to power (“Treaty of Versailles,” sec. 1.1).

The editorial for “Going Down Third Time” is titled “Hitler to the Rescue!” While praising Adolf Hitler seems facetious in this time period, he had serious leadership potential in the years following World War I. Hitler was seen as an eloquent public speaker and his platform rejected the Versailles treaty, aimed for Germany to return as a military power, and suppressed communism (“Hitler to Rescue!”). Because Germany struggled to stand on its own feet, Hitler’s policies were enticing to many people. He asserted that he was “ready to take charge of the Government and to resist communism by force of arms,” however, the French were ready to invade Germany “to restore order” once revolution broke out (“Hitler to Rescue!”). Germany was on the brink of World War II and all it needed was a nudge before crisis hit. It’s odd to think that World War II could have possibly been avoided had France given Germany a little room to breathe after World War I.

The symbols and portrayal of the issue in the cartoon is humorous in a sense that it is utterly ridiculous. Obviously, someone can’t sign a document if they are drowning. However, as one begins to process this humour, a more somber tone is evoked because of the realization of this fundamental problem. Knott’s cartoon showed that Germany’s post World War I debt was an indomitable obstacle. It not only struck the German economy harder as the world entered the Great Depression, but it created tensions between countries, specifically France, that led to conflict. Furthermore, the cartoon was published in 1931, however, it depicted circumstances that occurred in 1919 and throughout the 1920’s. This emphasizes how issues regarding debt and unfriendly political relations  festered for over a decade and led to the problems they faced as World War II drew nearer.

Works Cited Staff. “War Reparations – Weimar Republic.” Weimar Republic. N.p., 17 July 2012. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

“Definition of Go down for the Third Time.” Go down for the Third Time Definition by Babylon’s Free Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

“Georges Clemenceau.” Georges Clemenceau – New World Encyclopedia. N.p., 28 May 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

“Hitler to the Rescue!” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News 15 July 1931, sec. 2: 2. Readex: A Division of Newsbank. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. Staff. “Treaty of Versailles.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

Knott, John. “Going Down Third Time.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News 15 July 1931, sec. 2: 2. Readex: A Division of Newsbank. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “List of Chancellors of Germany.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 31 May 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

“Treaty of Versailles.” Treaty of Versailles – New World Encyclopedia. N.p., 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

“World War I: Treaties and Reparations.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 02 July 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.