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.
Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941) – the last German emperor and king of Prussia, whose policies had contributed to the outbreak of the war – was a frequent subject for caricature in poster propaganda by Britain, France and Russia.
This Russian poster, ‘Wilhelm’s ravings’ or ‘Wilhelm’s nightmare’, is an example. It depicts him waking in panic – still wearing his spiked helmet even in bed – and seeing his acquisitive intentions for Europe, marked over his bedspread, being repulsed by the Russians.