Why ‘murder of babies’ is the pinnacle of war propaganda in WWI and now

Published: 11 January 2024

By Nusmila Lohani
via The Business Standard web site

Atrocity charges then and now

1918 British Empire Union poster (left) shows German soldier bayonetting a baby. (Right) Protesters display a picture of wounded Palestinian baby Meera and other victims of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, during "Solidarity with Palestine" demonstration in Gdansk, Poland November 4, 2023. REUTERS/Peter Pawlowski

To engineer conflicts which benefit a certain group and punish the majority — one needs public opinion in its favour. Atrocity propaganda comes in handy here

The news spread quickly. The German forces cut off the hands of Belgian babies!

The year was August 1914 when German forces breached  “neutral” Belgium’s border to avoid French fortifications along the French-German border. At the time, the Germans had already declared war on France.

Tensions were high in Europe by August 1914, especially after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914 — which would morph into the driving factor leading to World War I.

The ‘Great War’ was fought over four years starting in 1914 between the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied forces (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Canada, Japan and the United States).

When the German forces invaded Belgium, it violated the 1839 Treaty – which had declared Belgium neutral. The Treaty subjected relations between European powers to legal rules and preserved the safety of smaller states. Thus, the German forces’ invasion of Belgium upset the British government to no end.

What unfolded was nothing short of war crimes by the German forces in August. During their pillage, they killed thousands of civilians. But later, historians also took stock of how mainly British war propaganda fueled, mobilised and shifted global (especially the Allied forces’) public opinion).

This propaganda included: The Germans cut off Belgian babies’ hands! Akin to a highlight reel, this piece of information and news of babies bayoneted, the nurses whose breasts were cut off, and the Canadian soldier who was crucified to a barn door at the hands of the German forces — implanted a visual seed in the audience’s mind. The Germans are barbaric and evil.

The vivid details that came out of the German’s pillage shocked the world. Subsequently, it was relentlessly used in war propaganda over the course of time. This is one example – the “Once a German – Always A German!” posters were distributed for sale in France, Belgium and Britain: the enemy bayonets babies, murders nurses, burns cathedrals and sinks merchantmen.

So much so, it quickly became dubbed as the “Rape of Belgium,” “Remember Belgium,” and “Poor little Belgium” — in fact it was the victimisation of Belgium which ultimately persuaded the US to join WWI and enlist soldiers.

When the victims are babies, children and women – the impact is more visceral than the deaths of men as collateral damage, historians and experts say.

The German forces did in fact commit atrocities against Belgians during the invasion and later during its four-year occupation. On the flipside, during the invasion, rumours also circulated that Belgian “guerilla” fighters slit the throats of sleeping German soldiers and gouged out their eyes.

Read the entire article on The Business Standard web site.
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