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Session 3: Global war experiences

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Figure 5’s title ‘The Civilising of Europe’ was a sarcastic allusion to France’s alleged ‘civilising mission’ in its empire. The cartoonist was Arthur Johnson (1874–1954), a German-American artist who often portrayed his subjects as grotesque. Our image here certainly bears this out. This issue of the magazine reported on the Battle of the Somme, which had begun on 1 July, and the front page features a cartoon depicting a Senegalese infantryman apparently dancing a tribal dance and wearing a skull instead of a standard issue bag, while clad only in remnants of the French uniform. The depiction is meant to make the viewer question the nature of French civilisation and of France’s civilising mission. The soldier is both menacing and ridiculous, but he is certainly supposed to be threatening. His stance, as if stepping out of the picture and towards the viewer, suggests that he is entering the viewer’s private space.