Propaganda and political cartoons from the Russo-Japanese war: Part 2

The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) had far-reaching effects around the world for all the major European powers. Following last week's post about propaganda cartoons from the Russo-Japanese War, we take a look at some more political cartoons published in the New Zealand Graphic that reflect this.

When the war began in February 1904, the Czar and his officials viewed it as an opportunity to divert the Russian people’s attention from their own domestic problems, instead focusing their patriotic loyalty on Czar Nicholas as their ‘Little Father.’ The officials complacently assumed that Russia would achieve easy victory over an insignificant Asian country in a small eastern war. However when the Russian defenders of Port Arthur surrendered to the Japanese in January 1905, things began to go awry.

The significance of the Russo-Japanese War for the rest of the world was that for the first time in modern history an Asian country had defeated a European power. Before the war Great Britain supported Japan economically and militarily, and the two countries signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in January 1902. Britain’s geopolitical objective was to curtail Russian expansion, especially towards Europe and India. So Britain’s political interests would be met if Japan could tie up Russia in an Eastern war. Russia also lost popular support in Britain when its Baltic Fleet, which had been ordered to sail halfway round the world to relieve Port Arthur, mistook a fleet of British trawlers for Japanese torpedo boats and opened fire on them near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea in October 1904! This incident nearly caused a war between Britain and Russia before Russia agreed to submit the incident to an inquiry.

Our first cartoon is loosely based on the Tale of the Fisherman and the Genie from the Arabian Nights. It suggests that Czar Nicholas has let an uncontrollable genie out of the bottle by trying to prolong the Russo-Japanese War. Now that he faces revolution back in Russia, his troubles will only be magnified by the disastrous surrender at Port Arthur.

Ref: ‘The Fisherman and the Genie’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 28 January 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050128-1-1.

The next cartoon is about international power politics in China and the Far East. The Americans and the French had commercial interests in China, but the major rivals for commercial dominance in China and the Far East were Germany and Britain. Germany had also made loans to Russia to pay for the cost of the Russo-Japanese War. Britain had signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the British Government loaned money to Japan to pay its war costs. In the cartoon, the Japanese victory at Mukden has just enabled John Bull to craftily play a trump and thwart Germany’s strategic interests again.

Ref: ‘John Bull plays a trump’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 01 April 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050401-25-1.

The next three cartoons seem to suggest the rise of Germany, the protracted war in South Africa and the impressive performance of Japan in the Russo-Japanese War all began to make Britain uncertain about its global supremacy in the early twentieth century. The first shows a pensive John Bull asking Madame Japan why her army and navy perform so well. When she explains that Japan’s men are willing to sacrifice themselves for their country, John Bull’s response seems to imply that the British soldier’s unwillingness to do the same may have been the reason for Britain’s poor performance against the Boers in South Africa.

Ref: ‘A Lesson in Patriotism’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 17 June 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050617-1-1.

The second cartoon shows the ghost of Admiral Nelson welcoming Japan’s Admiral Togo (who destroyed the Russian fleet at Tsushima) to the Honourable Guild of Great Admirals.  Britain’s ally Japan was becoming a rising naval power in the Pacific. But still, perhaps a matter of concern for Britain?

Ref: ‘Hero salutes hero!’ Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 17 June 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050617-37-1.

The third cartoon suggests that Britain, too, has let a genie out of the bottle. Japan has used its victory in the Russo-Japanese War as a springboard to exploit more markets and commercial opportunities in Asia and the Pacific. John Bull is aware that Britain’s share of Pacific trade has declined as the Japanese have captured more and more of the market. So he is warning Australian and New Zealand farmers they will have to buy more British goods, or risk losing even their British market to Japan. The farmer is wistfully pointing out it was only through British support that Japan has been able to become the economic rival it is today.

Ref: ‘What the Pessimists Predict...’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 01 July 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050701-1-1.

Our next cartoon shows Czar Nicholas being visited by Fate, one of the Sibyls. She warns Nicholas this is the second time she has offered him a way to conclude peace. The cartoon suggests the political unrest in Russia is such that, if Czar Nicholas still refuses to accept reality and begin negotiations to end the war, it will be disastrous for the Romanovs.

Ref: ‘The Sibylline Books’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 29 July 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050729-1-1.

The Treaty of Portsmouth ending the Russo-Japanese War was signed on 5 September 1905.  The American President Theodore Roosevelt facilitated treaty negotiations. In the cartoon Roosevelt is portrayed as an auctioneer. On the wall behind him is an advertisement for Sakhalein Island. The Japanese wanted all of Sakhalein Island and for the Russians to pay an indemnity for the cost of the war, but the Russians refused. Eventually Roosevelt got the Russians to give the Japanese ownership of South Sakhalein and a sphere of influence over the Korean peninsula. So from the Japanese point of view, the negotiations did seem like a horse-trading auction. Here Baron Komura, the Japanese negotiator, is telling Russia’s Count Witte that the peace agreement will not be popular with the Japanese people (which it wasn’t.)

Ref: ‘Dual owners: or, how will he run...?’ Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 16 September 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050916-1-1.

Our final cartoon points out again that the Japanese were soon ready to exploit commercial opportunities arising out of their victory. The wounded Russian soldier has been pushed to the background as the merchants take over. The Japanese merchant has his merchant ships moored offshore, ready to buy or sell goods. Again the cartoon implies that Japan has changed the rules for business in Asia and the Pacific, which threatens British and New Zealand trading interests.

Ref: ‘Now the war is over...’. Cartoon from New Zealand Graphic, 30 September 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19050930-1-1.

Author: Christopher Paxton, Heritage Collections