In World War One, for the first time, whole nations and not merely professional armies were in mortal combat. Propaganda was global, with a clear message. Hate the enemy; our cause is just; support our soldiers; unite with our allies. In this pre-radio and television age, posters were one of the most important means of spreading propaganda. Governments invested heavily in posters that grabbed attention, and some of them became symbols of national resolve.
A vital function of the poster was to make the enemy appear savage, barbaric, and inhumane. All the belligerents in World War One employed such atrocity propaganda, using stereotypes largely developed in the period leading up to the outbreak of war. The enemy provides a target for attack to unite the people, and offers a scapegoat to diverting attention from problems at home.
This Russian poster is an example. The enemy of the people is personified by Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941) – the last German emperor and king of Prussia, whose policies had contributed to the outbreak of the war. He is caricatured as a cloven-footed, tailed devil, his spiked helmet barely able to conceal his pointed ears, and holding human skulls: an icon of greed, evil and brutality.