The Times





 Difficile est saturam non scribere -  
-  It is difficult not to write  satire  

The above title from a satirical poem written by Juvenal was used by Karl Goetz on his medal "English Smear Campaign in Sweden," K-156(a), which is part of the group of World War I medals commonly called "the satirical medals." They range from opus 131 to opus 306 and cover the years from 1913 to 1923.  In these medals Goetz sometimes depicted war events in an intentionally damaging fashion.  A satirist is a man who employs humor as one means to an end, but not as the end itself.  In satire laughter is a weapon used to ridicule and to evoke moral indignation. Goetz used humor to criticize, good-naturedly or otherwise, people and institutions he felt needed criticism. Although these satirical medals were quite popular in the years during and after World War I, and seem now to be regaining popularity, they are sometimes highly controversial. Some are very bitter, if not too bitter, yet they always illustrated the true feelings of the general public in Germany.


Some things which Goetz attacks through satire he later glorifies in other medals. Others, he admires first, but ridicules afterwards.



The most striking example for a change of viewpoint are found in Goetz' medals concerned with President Wilson and his Fourteen Points. Goetz hails Wilson, in K-226, with the title, "Welcome Saviour of Mankind,"...



...but with "Woodrow's Mousetrap," K-227, the artist's attitude toward Wilson has changed. A giant mousetrap depicts how the Germans were trapped by relying on Wilson's Fourteen Points. The title, "System Schufterle" (System Bastard) expresses Goetz' feeling of betrayal.


The span between these two medals is only seven months. But very significant months these were for the history of Germany and Europe. The myth of the "Dolchstosslegende" (stab in the back) was created by these incidents. Ludendorff, and other German generals of World War I, claimed that they had been lured into an armistice in November,1918, by the promises of Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen Points. While this myth had no proper foundation, it was nevertheless the opinion of Goetz and the German public that a betrayal had taken place.

Another case where Goetz jumped to conclusions before checking the facts is illustrated by the Woodrow Wilson K-149 entitled, "The Neutral Dealings of America." On the reverse side of the medal Uncle Sam sits on war material and appears to be bargaining with it.  Obviously Goetz wanted to criticize the American way of conducting business with the Entente, yet claiming that they were neutral in the war up to that point. A dispatch printed in the New York Times of February 19, 1916 clearly states that the USA professed neutrality and lived up to it. The dispatch says that the U.S. Government declined to supply France with a large number of nickel disks asked for, presumably for use in the new nickel coinage of France. The order was declined on the grounds that, while the discs might be intended for coins, there was nothing to prevent them being turned into munitions once they reached Europe. It also stated that an order for mint machinery from the Russian Government was likewise refused.





If one looks over the initial World War I subgroup, consisting of some 82 pieces (K-131 through K-213), one must acknowledge its great value to the historian because it comprises a nearly complete history of the events of the war from a German point of view.


One of the most attractive pieces in this group is the medal depicting the first use of medical dogs in the war (K-147). The medal is 105 mm in diameter, exceeding in size most of the other pieces of the series, which are mostly of the 58 mm diameter size. In high relief, the head of the dog is shown surrounded by the words, "In the service of World War 1914." This medal is considered one of the best works of the artist. The overall effect of this piece is one of artful simplicity.


K-179 is a sentimental piece showing the exodus of the home guard in 1916. Could this have been created as a tribute to Goetz's experience as a home guard soldier with the regiment in Landshut at the beginning of the war? One can compare the exalted mood of this medal with that of......

which documents the senseless butchering of young lives at Verdun in 1917.  Goetz inscribes on this medal, "And quiet flows the Rhine," a line from a Heinrich Heine "Book of Songs" poem.

Still another medal of the World War I group, K-200, shows the famous Russian, Leon Trotsky, as he negotiates the Brest-Litovsk Truce in 1917. The reverse of this medal is of typical German design. The rifles of the soldiers are put together in bivouac fashion, and four candles on a Christmas tree branch symbolize the fourth War Christmas.

The last medal relating to the war events is K-213, "Flush of Victory", made in 1918. The reverse shows French general Foch leading four other men. The four men symbolize the nations of the four continents which were instrumental in fighting for the victory - African negro, Australian, Asian and American. The obverse shows the Gallic cock in a flush of victory, resting on the flags of the allied nations, America, England and Italy. In the background are burning ruins, with the words, Vive Foch (Long live Foch).





Up to K-213 this series contains nothing which would give rise to misunderstanding. Some of the satirical medals are of doubtful taste, but most of the sharp and damaging depictions can be attributed to the ethos of war. Goetz expressed himself by registering protest against arbitrary acts of the enemy, or again, by applauding the deeds of the German armed forces. With his keen sense of pinpointing incident, and his gift for satire, Goetz carved his viewpoint into his medals, delineating all necessary and pertinent detail.


The Lusitania Blunder