Never again !

Never again !


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  • Let’s kill the war with general disarmament.

    ANONYMOUS

  • Children, do not play war.

    ANONYMOUS

Let’s kill the war with general disarmament.

© Contemporary Collections

Children, do not play war.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

" Never again ! "

The Great War, by its unbearable duration, the extension and multiplication of its fronts, the experience of the trenches and the relentless mobilization of the rear, had a profound impact on the European populations. Remembrance ceremonies and published accounts instill pacifism, while Aristide Briand, mastermind of national diplomacy in the 1920s, struggles to find partners to "outlaw war." The relative failure of the Briand-Kellog Pact in 1928 did not call these efforts into question: a large Conference on Disarmament was organized in Geneva in 1931 under the aegis of a S.D.N. But Germany is rearming, and France has the world's largest army: Herriot's formula "arbitration, security, disarmament" struggles to materialize.

Image Analysis

The campaign for general disarmament

The poster sponsored by S.F.I.O. for the legislative elections of 1928, although pacifist in the language, is visually of rare violence. The poster artist chose a simple composition: a clenched fist, made red by effort, with fused fingers, firmly holds a severed head reminiscent of Medusa, a figure from Greek mythology. Athena punished this beautiful woman by turning her hair into snakes and afflicting her with a look that now petrifies those who pass her. The green tint used underlines the ugliness of the features: it is the hideous and hateful war that is thus beheaded. The drops of blood are heavy, probably blood spilled during the Great War. The closed fist recalls that of the workers. But here, the Greek hero Perseus has as his heir, between the wars, the political party: in this case, the S.F.I.O. internationalist socialist, mentioned twice, at the top and at the bottom of the poster.

The second document is a poster circulated by the International League of Peace Fighters in the early 1930s. Head down, focused on the ordering of the figurines that wear the bulging French helmet, a child in schoolboy breeches plays wisely to small soldiers. The gray tones illustrate the banality of the scene. But the big cannon is pointed at the little boy's chest - and his already red sweater. Importantly, as recently invented x-rayed, the skeletons of soldiers reveal death lurking beneath the apparent order of attention and the elegance of the condom. Their smile, as frozen as the military pose, probably chilled with horror the children to whom the slogan was addressed directly, and who could easily identify with the innocent at risk of his life.

Interpretation

Limits and dangers of French pacifism in the interwar period

If Medusa, the evil mythological being, was the only mortal Gorgon, her head figured on the aegis - the shield of Athena, goddess of war - on the contrary provided perfect protection. The (classical) ambivalence of Greek myths is used here to illustrate the paradoxical slogan chosen by the S.F.I.O. : kill the war by… disarmament. The brandished head causes repulsion, but the closed eyes and grief are also reminiscent of the face of a Mater dolorosa, a motif often used to evoke the civilian populations who have suffered from the conflict. This poster, which bears the name of the socialist newspaper as on any other electoral medium The Popular, belongs to the 1920s. In the 1930s, the pacifist current splits in two: the intransigent, of the extreme right and the extreme left, are ready to go as far as an alliance with Hitler's Germany to avoid the war ; on the left, anti-fascism is grafted on pacifism and brings together socialists and communists.

The International League of Peace Fighters brings together writers, like Stefan Zweig and Jules Romains, who refuse to let the horrors of war set Europe ablaze again. The drawing, which denounces the masked militarism of these toys, a traditional gift to little boys - including during the Great War by the way - can be read on two levels. The simplicity and harmony that this peaceful play scene exudes stands in stark contrast to the war experience that most children do not have, but which directly appeals to what their parents may have gone through at the same age. Linked to this memorial reference is a grim prognosis for future generations, which inscribes the permanence of the danger of war in the flesh and innocent games of childhood. "Moral disarmament" does not mean the abandonment of all vigilance, quite the contrary: it requires active engagement not only against war, but against the imperialism which is responsible for its outbreak.

  • allegory
  • childhood
  • War of 14-18
  • pacifism
  • patriotism
  • Third Republic
  • League of Nations (League of Nations)
  • Herriot (Edouard)
  • imperialism
  • propaganda
  • SFIO

Bibliography

Maurice AGULHON, The Republic, volume II, “1932 to the present day”, Paris, Hachette, coll. "Pluriel", new expanded edition, 1990. Jean-Jacques BECKER and Gilles CANDAR (eds.), History of lefts in France, volume II, "20th century, put to the test of history", Paris, La Découverte, 2004. Dominique BORNE and Henri DUBIEF, The Depression of the 1930s (1929-1938), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1989. Raymond HUARD, Universal Suffrage in France (1848-1946), Paris, Aubier, 1990. Jean-Marie MAYEUR, Political life under the Third Republic, Paris, Le Seuil, 1993.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, “Never again! "


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