Goodbye Samoa

This cartoon dates from 1899. It portrays an interesting and complicated development in international imperialistic rivalry. The late Nineteenth Century was a time when Britain was at its peak in terms of prestige and power and yet had found itself dangerously exposed and isolated. This cartoon plays on their fears and hopes for imperial cooperation and rivalry in the wider international scene. The picture refers to a situation in the Pacific Ocean, which was long regarded as a preserve of the British, but had recently seen increasing activity on the part of the Germans and Americans. In 1899, avoiding a potential diplomatic breakdown, the Germans and Americans decided to split the administration of the island of Samoa, this somewhat isolated the British and left them out of the picture. What is interesting about this particular cartoon is the way it portrays the American and German sailor. The American is very much a friend of the British, but the German looks like a dimwitted, slob of a Hun. It's pretty clear from these characterisations that the author is much more amenable to the idea of passing the imperial torch to the Americans rather than to the Germans, a sentiment that most people in the wider British public would also have agreed with.

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by Stephen Luscombe