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Freiheit der Meere

  • Publisher: Militärische Stelle des auswärtigen Amtes [MAA] [Military Dept of the Office of Foreign Affairs] (Publisher) / Dietrich Reimer, Berlin (Printer)
  • Date: 1918
  • Dimensions: Sheet: 56 x 42 cms.


Rare 1918 German propaganda poster entitled “Freedom of the Seas” & depicting Britain as a globe-encircling imperial octopus

About this piece:

Freiheit der Meere [Freedom of the Seas]

Lithographic map printed in black & red. Three short marginal nicks & verso repairs at sheet edges top & bottom. Couple of small spots of unobtrusive marginal toning & light surface discolouration. Some very light creasing, most visible in black-printed areas of map, caused by the unusual double layered glossy paper on which the map is printed, made good as best possible, given the type of paper.

In early 1918, the MAA, the Military Department of the German Foreign Office, began a new poster campaign, powerfully directed at the perceived hypocrisy of US President Woodrow Wilson’s idealism in his principles for the post-war Peace settlement, as propounded in his January 1918 speech to Congress, in what became known as the Fourteen Points. German propagandists inferred that these simply did not square with the enduring imperialist legacies & agendas of the Allied Powers, particularly France and Great Britain, nor with the pragmatic realpolitik of the unfolding political and military endgame in these final months of the War.  One of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, was the principle of “Freedom of the Seas”:

 Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.

It was a principle rejected by both Britain & France, and by Germany as well. It is interesting to compare this poster with a c.1917 British propaganda poster, “Freedom of the Seas from the Hun Point of View”, in which a German U-boat captain ironically exhorts the lifeboat survivors of a sinking British merchantman to enjoy the freedom of the seas & “go ver you tam please”!

Britain now takes on the symbolic guise of the much-maligned Octopus, “the bloodsucker of the World”, her entangling tentacles touching all corners of the globe & pinpointing twenty seven colonial acquisitions & conquests from 1609 (Bermuda) to 1917 (Kronstadt), made possible through Britain’s position as one of the World’s leading maritime powers, backed by the unrivalled naval & military resources of Empire.

The Octopus has long been a potent and malevolent symbol of covert infiltration & grasping aggrandizement & a highly effective propagandist trope. It was employed by both the Allied Powers & Germany in propaganda posters and leaflets during World War One. In propaganda maps of this genre, its origins can be traced back directly to Fred Rose’s famous serio-comic “Octopus” map of Europe, published at the time of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 (depicting Russia as the all-entangling, ever-acquisitive cephalopod).

Refs: Imperial War Museum Collections