Description: This political cartoon from the early 1930s, depicts a Christmas tree with ornaments of war, but with one small glimmer of hope – that of a candle topping the tree. It is referring to the hope that France and Germany will work out their differences regarding reparations in the post WWI landscape.
This cartoon is humorous because of it’s contrasts between the usually happy celebrations of Christmas time with the sad, meager tree and the angry, combative “ornaments that are hung on the lowest branches – perhaps implying the lowest hanging fruit and thus the most likely to occur.
John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
“Reparations.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 4. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2205-2209. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.
If They Would Exchange Presents is a political cartoon by John Francis Knott mocking the predicament of U.S. and European relations post-World War I. It depicts “Europe” giving the gift of disarmament to the U.S., represented by Uncle Sam, in exchange for war debt revisions. The cartoon implies that Europe would disarm if the U.S. would revise, or essentially decrease, European war debt; likewise, the cartoon suggests that the U.S. would gladly decrease European war debt if Europe were to disarm first (Knott 2). The accompanying editorial titled “The Reparations Problem” summarizes the context of the cartoon. It explains that by the end of 1931, the U.S. Congress finally gave approval for a one-year postponement of German reparations, acknowledging a proposal made in the previous year by then President Herbert Hoover. The U.S. Congress did not want to cancel war repayments, as it strongly indicated to the International Committee on Reparations, but instead wanted to suspend payments. The reason for Germany’s inability to pay was that it could only pay from borrowed money that it was no longer able to obtain or from money made off of exports that were heavily tariffed (“The Reparations Problem” 2).
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian nationalists in 1914 catapulted Europe into the First World War. The assassination set off a domino effect, causing country after country to get involved in the escalating conflict that eventually developed into World War I. What ensued after the war was the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, a meeting that established the terms of peace after the war, and during this conference the Treaty of Versailles was established (Cochran). The reparation clauses of the Treaty of Versailles stated that Germany was to take responsibility for the damages caused by World War I and that it must adhere to a payment schedule to pay back the cost of those damages. The mindset of the United States and its allies was that they were essentially dragged into the war out of obligation, and therefore should be repaid for everything lost in the war. However, it was known that Germany could not pay the entire costs of the war and that it was nearly impossible to create a realistic repayment schedule in 1919, the year that the treaty was signed. The Treaty of Versailles did not have a definitive reparation settlement (Merriman and Winter 2207). Therefore, naturally, Germany wanted debt revisions. Germany, however, wasn’t the only European country in debt. For example, in 1934, Britain still owed the US $4.4 billion of World War I debt (Rohrer). For this reason, Knott’s cartoon depicts “Europe” in need of war debt revision and not just Germany.
The disarmament portion of the cartoon pertains to the U.S.’s insistence on worldwide disarmament, highlighted in President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points peace proposal that said, “All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels (Multilateral disarmament.)” (Fuller). The Treaty of Versailles initiated the notion of disarmament by targeting Germany in particular, forcing them to take full blame for World War I and to disarm. “The German army was to be limited to 100,000 men and conscription proscribed; the treaty restricted the Navy to vessels under 100,000 tons, with a ban on the acquisition or maintenance of a submarine fleet. Moreover, Germany was forbidden to maintain an air force” (“Treaty of Versailles, 1919″). The Treaty’s main concern was the disarmament of Germany. Politicians, journalists, and academics argued at the time that the naval race for arms was one of the major causes of the war. Based on this idea, the victors of the war decided to force Germany to disarm due to its previous invasion attempts toward France. It was thought that by forcing its disarmament, Germany was being stripped of its power to wage war (Merriman and Winter 856). Soon, this philosophy was expanded to include all European nations. “Following the atrocities of World War I, both nations [the U.S. and Great Britain] hoped to avoid any future conflicts, and both faced difficult economic times that restricted military spending. As a consequence, the two governments were willing to consider serious limits on offensive weapons” (World History Encyclopedia 593).
Reduction of conflict, however, wasn’t the only motivation behind disarmament. The Great Depression diverted attention from the issue of disarmament to debt and unemployment. In 1932, everyone owed America money, but because of the depression, few countries could repay their loans. The U.S. decided that if nations didn’t spend money on arms, they would be able to repay the United States; therefore, the U.S. called for worldwide disarmament (Bradley 38).
Knott’s cartoon represents a very circular predicament. The two entities were at a stalemate. The U.S. was the world’s major creditor nation, and in order to get paid back, it insisted on worldwide disarmament so that funds could be redirected to debt repayment. Europe, however, would only disarm if war debts were lowered and revised first. It was as though this political stalemate could only be resolved by some miracle.
That is exactly the point Knott wants to impress upon his audience. The illustration of the Christmas tree, along with the fact that the cartoon was being published on Christmas Eve, gives the cartoon an air of Christmas spirit. The term “Christmas Miracle” is typically used to emphasize how unlikely an event is to occur, and that seems to be what Knott is implying as the only solution to this conflict – a Christmas Miracle – given how unlikely a compromise seemed in 1931. What is also humorous is how nonchalant the gift exchange is, almost trivializing the damages and lives lost in the war. It is as if there is no rivalry or conflict of interest between the two parties; it’s not as aggressive, or desperate, or even as somber as one would expect. It is definitely not a gift exchange of good will either; Christmas is regarded as a time of selfless generosity and community, a time of giving rather than receiving without the expectation of anything in return. However this is a very self-interested exchange, defying the traditional, selfless ideals of Christmas. These contradictions serve as indirect attacks on the U.S. and Europe’s inability to reach an agreement.
If They Would Exchange Presents is a political cartoon by John Knott that focused attention on and mocked the diplomatic gridlock between the U.S. and Europe. It uses the setting and themes of Christmas to criticize the two sides’ uncompromising stances toward disarmament and war debt revisions, comparing the successful exchange of “presents” to a Christmas Miracle. The cartoon serves as political commentary on post-World War I negotiations and ranks as one of Knott’s many politically motivated cartoons.
Knott, John. “If They Would Exchange Presents.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, sec. 2: 10. Print.
Merriman, John, and Jay Winter. “Disarmament.” Child Care to Futurism. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 855. Print. Vol. 2 of Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction.
Merriman, John, and Jay Winter. “Reparations.” Nagy to Switzerland. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2206. Print. Vol. 4 of Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction.
“The Reparations Problem.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, 85th ed., sec. 2: 2. Print.
World War I was an enormous global conflict that completely altered the geopolitical landscape and changed the way the world thought about war. Many societies, including the United States, were astonished by the unprecedented death toll that occurred due to advances in weapons, machines, and trench warfare. The introduction of tanks, the automatic gun, and use of chemical weapons, such as tear gas, led to horrors that had never been seen before. With a generation of young men killed and injured due to the Great War, society was left changed, and the United States’s view of the contributing factors and aftermath of this war were broadcast throughout the nation in newspapers. In the political cartoon There Ain’t No Such Animal, by John Knott from the December 28, 1931 issue of the Dallas Morning News, we see a satirical and politically biting interpretation of the controversial war reparations brought upon Germany by the Allied powers.
Following World War I, at the Paris Peace conferences, the Allied powers had to decide what punishments to divvy out to the Central powers. The Allied powers decided to force the defeated Central powers to pay reparations. However, the other Central powers could not pay reparations because many countries were bankrupt and their governments had broken apart, such as the dissolution of Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, Germany was forced to take sole responsibility for World War I and for the reparations. Many countries recognized there were other contributing factors to World War I and believed the reparations would be too harsh, which would lead to geo-political and economic consequences in the future (Webb, 786). However, France believed Germany deserved to pay all these reparations due to France’s destruction at the hands of German troops. The debate over reparations was a point of contention throughout the Paris peace conferences. Germany had to pay thirty-three billion US dollars to the Allied powers in 1931, which is the equivalent of five hundred and sixteen billion dollars in 2015 (Webb, 793-4). The Allied powers should have had the foresight to see that these penalties were too harsh and would ultimately lead to further tragedy, such as World War II.
In the political cartoon, There Ain’t No Such Animal, we see Uncle Sam passing a store front acknowledging, yet walking away from the ‘Germanese twins’. The title of the cartoon alludes to the idea that this colossal amount of debt and reparations had never been seen before because no war resolution had ever resulted in such large reparations directed at one country. As we see Uncle Sam peering into a window, in shock at the two fat twins, and he is trying to wave at them. Yet, the twins look back angrily through the window. Germany was angry because America was one of the countries that contributed to the reparations, and the German people believed the reparations were unfair and humiliating to their country. The twin’s size illustrates that Germany had a large war debt. Uncle Sam’s facial reaction alludes to the American people’s guilt of Germany’s financial situation. The ‘Germanese twins’ represent the massive war debts and the one hundred and thirty-two billion gold marks of war reparations that Germany had to pay (Taussig, 37-8). Knott employs the use of humor through his characterizations of the two global superpowers. The emblem of Uncle Sam is supposed to demonstrate American military heroism, yet here Uncle Sam shies away from his own actions. The large size of the twins and their angry expressions are literal in demonstrating Germany’s large debts and reparations and their anger about said debts and reparations, and Knott illustrates the humiliation and reduction of Germany as a country by placing the twins behind a glass window. The glass window allows others to ignore their plight and their accountability.
The Basel Report opinion article that is paired with the cartoon explains the economic consequences of Germany’s war debts and reparations. The article states that economists in over eleven nations believed that Germany was unable to pay these reparations due to their “declining business, departures from the gold standard, tariff bars, and heavy interest charges on loans and credits” (The Basel Report). Another issue set forth in the article is that taxes could not be raised to pay the reparations. There was growing fear that Germany’s economic crisis could start a global economic decline. In the cartoon, we see Uncle Sam shying away from the twins, but also staring at them in fear of what troubles they could bring. The issue that the war debts and reparations were part of the same issue and could not be separated is demonstrated in the cartoon by representing them as twins. Basel asks, “If war debts due us cannot be met in full, they should be reduced. Why worry over the loss of driblets, when billions of dollars are being lost annually through the continuance of hard times and unemployment?” (The Basel Report). Clearly the reparations were not the answer to global economic repair, and many people found the reparations to be ridiculous and humiliating, as the cartoon illustrates.
Ultimately, these reparations were unjust and shortsighted because they forced Germany into a financial crisis from which they could not recover. As world renowned economist John Keynes said this was a ‘Carthinagian’ solution that ultimately led to the complete destruction of Germany’s economy and political system. The economic collapse and degradation of the ineffective Weimar Republic led to poor quality of life, rampant poverty, and desperation in Germany that ultimately led the German people to alternatives like the Nazi party to save the country from total disaster.
Bradley, Megan. “Reparations.” The Encyclopedia of Political Science. Ed. George Thomas Kurian. Vol. 5. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011. 1459-1460. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
Knott, John. “There Ain’t No Such Animal.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News 28 Dec. 1931, 89th ed. Print.
Taussig, F. W.. “Germany’s Reparation Payments”. The American Economic Review 10.1 (1920): 33–49.
“The Basel Report.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News 28 Dec. 1931, 89th ed., sec. 1: 4. Print.
Webb, Steven B.. “Fiscal News and Inflationary Expectations in Germany After World War I”. The Journal of Economic History 46.3 (1986): 769–794.
Following World War I, Germany was asked to pay reparations to Britain and France; however, Germany was reluctant given the staggering sum requested and the inevitable financial distress associated with paying such reparations. Germany’s reparation bill seemed so incredibly outrageous that it was almost impossible for the struggling country to pay for the large sum (Schuker, 542) . A 1931 Los Angeles Times article supported the notion that, “Germany [would] simply not pay, [because] no party and no government…willing to agree to payment [could] possibly stay in power” (“Germany and Reparation”, 4). At the same time they also accumulated a large amount of international debt. Consequently, the public lost faith in the German currency, and hyperinflation took over the country. In 1931 the German government battled high unemployment, plunging farm income, and political unrest as economic depression enveloped the country. To combat the deflated currency and economic distress, Germany continued to borrow capital and placed a massive strain on its banks. The German debt spiraled to an unsustainable level while debtors became increasingly concerned about recovering their capital. It was important to note that forty percent of those debts were owed to Americans (Fearon, 510) . By the summer of 1931, the banking system of Germany began losing when “Germany introduced exchange controls and froze foreign-owned credits, [which made] it impossible for US citizens to withdraw their capital (Fearon, 510). Similarly, that consequential loss of economic confidence could also be traced back to modern economic dilemmas, such as the 2008 Credit Crisis (Stewart). Those measures set the stage for heated foreign relations and an international credit crisis, because most countries were occupied with their own domestic economic difficulties in the midst of The Great Depression.
The 1933 editorial in The Dallas Morning News, “Panic or Prosperity,” underscored the bleak economic outlook for the world and emphasized the necessity for international cooperation to resolve the crisis. “Panic or Prosperity” explicitly highlighted a suggestion for an international conference on debt as recommended by Great Britain, “in order to restore confidence and credit relations among the states of the world” (“Panic or Prosperity”, 2). The editorial also articulated concerns regarding restrictions on the war debt revisions due to the Hoover Moratorium. The Hoover Moratorium was a proposal by President Herbert Hoover to postpone all intergovernmental debt payments and reparations, excluding governmental obligations held by the general public (Fearon, 511). The moratorium was an attempt to alleviate some of the financial turmoil and depression that plagued Germany due to their massive debt after World War I (Robinson, 456).
“Panic or Prosperity” claimed that the ratification of the moratorium would hinder war debt revision as well as the global discussion required for effectively combating the German credit crisis. The article supported its plea for international collaboration by referencing the thoughts of world-renowned economist, Sir George Paish of England, who predicted, “a speedy breakdown in world credit [would occur] unless an international conference is held” (“Panic or Prosperity”, 2). Moreover, there was concern that the strong financial interdependence between nations would serve as a catalyst for global economic decline. Reliance on the stability of other foreign nations directly impacted the economic condition of the United States. Such economic dependence rendered the U.S. more vulnerable to the Great Depression due to international instability and the inability to withdraw U.S. capital from Germany. Accordingly, Germany left other nations susceptible to poverty, unemployment, and overall economic instability. The editorial concluded that passing the moratorium and ignoring the need for an international debt conference could have dire consequences. Such actions, therefore, should not be viewed from an isolationist perspective since putting the needs of a single country or political party above the collective need for international collaboration would result in global economic chaos.
An accompanying political cartoon by John F. Knott, “Urgent Letter to Santa Claus”, illustrated personification of the globe writing a letter to Saint Nicolas and demanding the receipt of credit. The sketch alluded to the growing tension amid world powers in 1931 and their impatience with Germany for causing an international credit crisis.
In his cartoon Knott highlighted these grievances against Germany and their freeze on global credit by addressing the problem to Santa Claus. The depiction of Santa Claus, universally known as a giver of gifts during Christmas, was incorporated within the illustration. The cartoon itself was drawn around the time of the holiday, a season that is known to encourage thoughts of generosity and hope. The character of Santa Claus or Saint Nicolas originated from Germany, therefore, it can be assumed that the cartoon was directly addressing Germany.
Worldwide dissatisfaction with the international credit freeze was apparent as the primary figure of the cartoon clearly expressed frustration with the international financial situation. Likewise, Knott’s use of “…or else” sardonically pokes at the destructive financial consequences following Germany’s actions in the summer of 1931 (“Panic or Prosperity, 2).
Furthermore, Knott illustrated the deteriorating nature of the financial condition within the U.S., depicted by broken windows, tattered clothing, and lack of shoes on the character. The use of these details emphasized the poverty and economic collapse that followed the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression era (Mcelvaine, 151).
Upon closer examination of Knott’s work, there was also a juxtaposition of the scribe with a lower body which resembled a young boy, while his hands were seemingly aged. The depiction of the adult hands stressed the seriousness of the message and the threat of “or else”—i.e., the dire consequences of the credit crisis. The kid-like aspects of the cartoon suggested a needy world looking, as children do, towards Santa to deliver wishes. Through this contrast, Knott implied that even though the world powers were delivering a serious message to Germany, their requests could come across as foolishly desperate.
The congressional vote on the Hoover Moratorium was set to occur within days of the cartoon’s publication. Accordingly, even the title, “Urgent letter to Santa Claus”, conveyed the pressing nature of the topic. As a final attempt to alter the impending ratification of the Hoover Moratorium, the cartoon directly addressed the readers of TheDallas Morning News as well as Congress to carefully consider the consequences of passing the bill.
John Knott’s, “Urgent Letter to Santa Claus”, directly addressed the plummeting financial circumstances of countries directly involved with the debt that Germany owed. Knott acknowledged the frustration with Germany and the poverty and instability caused directly by their actions. As a way of combating the destruction created by Germany, Knott drew attention to the matter to fight for future economic restoration.
Both the editorial “Panic or Prosperity” and John Knott’s cartoon, “Urgent Letter to Santa Claus”, directly addressed the need to reconsider the consequences of passing the Hoover Moratorium. Knott’s cartoon placed the blame for the declining international economies on Germany and suggested that the primary solution to the problem was to coerce Germany to unfreeze repayment of foreign credit. Meanwhile, “Panic or Prosperity” highlighted that the true means of repairing the economic destruction would occur solely through international cooperation rather than isolationist actions. Differences aside, the two sources agreed that immediate action was required to restore the deteriorating financial situation and prevent further damage to the world economy.
“Panic or Prosperity.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 21 Dec. 1931, 82nd ed., sec. 2: 2. Print. <http://infoweb.newsbank.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/iw-search/we/HistArchive/HistArchive?d_viewref=doc&p_docnum=-1&p_nbid=U50X50WDMTQ0OTk1NjYwOC44ODgyODQ6MToxMjoxMjguODMuNjMuMjA&f_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-104D22155F61DF68@2426697-104D221569F70FFE@0&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-104D22155F61DF68@2426697-104D22159BA346A4@9-104D2217C3412E7A>
Knott, John F. “Urgent Letter to Santa.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 21 Dec. 1931, 82nd ed., sec. 2: 2. Print.
Robinson, W. A. “Moratorium, Hoover.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 456. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.
Schuker, Stephen A. “World War I War Debts.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 8. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 542-543. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.
“War Reparations.” World History Encyclopedia. Ed. Alfred J. Andrea and Carolyn Neel. Vol. 18: Era 8: Crisis and Achievement, 1900-1945. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC- CLIO, 2011. 439-441. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
FEARON, PETER. “International Impact of the Great Depression.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 510-516.Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
MCELVAINE, ROBERT S. “Causes of the Great Depression.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 151-156.Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
“GERMANY AND REPARATIONS.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 1. Jan 12 1932. ProQuest. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
Stewart, Heather. “We Are In The Worst Financial Crisis Since Depression, Says IMF.” Editorial. The Guardian. N.p., 9 Apr. 2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
This political cartoon, published on December 23, 1931, depicts the economic crisis Germany faced due to reparations after World War 1. The Treaty of Versailles, negotiated among the Allied Powers and Germany, stated that Germany would agree to pay reparations under the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan. Germany’s paramount issue involved foreign debts with the United States. During the 1920’s, Germany’s government borrowed excessive amounts of money abroad in order to fulfill reparations payments to France and Great Britain. In the summer of 1931, various German banks began to close while the percentage of bankruptcy and unemployment continued to increase at an alarming rate. Germany’s economic struggle ultimately became a catalyst for voters to consider political parties such as fascism and communism. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party reached its peak during this particular era. Hitler promised to end reparations, eliminate unemployment, overturn the Treaty of Versailles, eradicate debts, and lay the foundation for a strong national government thus recovering Germany’s sense of authority and pride.
The article associated with this cartoon titled “Center of Interest” capitalizes Germany’s strategy to rebuild its infrastructure and reputation. Hitler is confident that his Fascist party will be in power in Germany and Premier Laval loudly proclaims that France will never permit reparations to be sacrificed to private debts or permit the tampering of the Young Plan (“Center of Interest”). The economic interests of the French and United states would be jeopardized if Germany were to disclaim reparations and decide to pay short term credits instead. Ultimately, refusing to pay reparations could potentially lead to another war. President Paul von Hindenburg would no longer be a candidate for re-election in the spring due to his old age which leaves Germany with an unanswered question of who would obtain power. Hitler’s political claims for the economic stability of Germany are beginning to appear much more attractive to voters. Author John Hartwell Moore suggests that many in the international community such as British general Henry Wilson and economist John Maynard Keynes believe that reparations authorized under the Treaty of Versailles were unreasonably disciplinary, stripping Germany of its dignity which ultimately created geopolitical circumstances that aided Hitler’s rise to power in Germany (“Reparations for Racial Atrocities).
The humor conveyed in this political cartoon derives from an ironic representation of how a Christmas tree should be decorated. Instead of a beautiful arrangement of ornaments and bright lights wrapped around a healthy pine tree, the Christmas tree portrayed in the political cartoon illustrates a desolate tree without pine needles garnished with the burdens of Germany and strung together with thick chains. Ornaments on a common Christmas tree consist of ornaments and decorations that represent the Christian religion. Christmas is usually perceived as a holiday involving an abundance of gifts yet there are no gifts under Germany’s Christmas tree. Christmas lights which signify hope, happiness, and safety is substituted with thick chains representing bondage and enslavement. Germany’s Christmas tree vividly epitomizes Germany’s economic well-being at that time. A small candle lit on the top of the tree labeled “hope” exemplifies Hitler’s proposal for safety, strength, and renewal for Germany utilizing fascism as a catalyst.
John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Author Not Listed. “Center of Interest.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 23 Dec. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Knott, John F. “Germany’s Christmas Tree.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 23 Dec. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.
“Reparations for Racial Atrocities.” Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Ed. John Hartwell Moore. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 490-493. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
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