on March 10, 2016
This is the story, from 1914 until 1922, of how the Allies, especially Britain, the United States, France, Italy, Greece, and Russia, tried to exert influence and control over the factious governments of the Middle East, who resented foreign intrusion. Here are some highlights from this exhaustively researched book.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE YOUNG TURKS
Prior to WWI, ambitious new men such as Enver Pasha, Mehmed Talaat Bey, and Ahmed Djemal Pasha, also known as the Young Turk Party, took power in the Ottoman Empire, which had not kept up with European intellectual, industrial, and military progress, in the hope of bringing it into the 20th century. For example, the primary mode of Middle Eastern transportation was the caravan of camels, horses, mules, and animal-drawn carts. This could not compete against the foreign-held railroads and steamships. The Young Turk Party also resented when European powers intervened in defense of Christian minorities and Christian rights. Nevertheless, the young leaders sought a European ally who could provide money and military support so they could preserve and build their empire.
THE DARDANELLES AND GALLIPOLI
It was always mistakenly believed, even by the general public, that Winston Churchill had started the war between Turkey and the Allies by authorizing the seizure of the German battleships, the Goeben and Breslau. But it was Enver and Germany who had done so. In fact, it was not known until years later, that Enver had secretly executed a treaty of alliance with Germany PRIOR to Britain seizing these ships. Churchill was also blamed for the failed Dardanelles plan. This was the strategy of sending Allied ships and troops through the Dardanelles, up the Black Sea, and attacking Germany's southern border. This would then require thousands of German troops to be be pulled from the WWI trenches, possibly winning the war for the Allies. But the British admirals and generals did not listen to Churchill. Had they done so, the Dardanelles would have been an Allied victory incurring only a few hundred causalities rather than the actual 200,000 lost. The incompetent British Admiral Carden, charged with mine-sweeping the Dardanelles, lost his nerve when fired upon by small arms Turkish fire, even though he had lost no ships nor suffered any casualties! Also, Gallipoli was a strategic nightmare. The Allies, with overwhelming numerical superiority, because of confusion as to who was in command, chose to dig in on the beaches rather than to ascend the heights and destroy the small Turkish garrisons.
THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES
In early 1915, Enver claimed that the Armenian Christians, who lived in northeastern Anatolia, Turkey's northern border next to Russia, were openly supporting Russia against Turkey. There had been previous Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1909. Enver ordered the entire population of Armenians deported to locations outside of Anatolia. These deportations are remembered as the Armenian Massacres of 1915. Rape and beatings were commonplace. Those who were not immediately killed were driven through the mountains and deserts without food, drink, or shelter. Hundreds of thousands died. Armenian sources place the figure as high as 1.5 million. Turkish historians claim that Enver and other Ottoman rulers acted only after Armenia has risen against them. But German officers stationed there say that the area was quiet until the deportations began. What remains controversial today is whether or not there had been insurrection among the Armenians, and whether Russia had actually instigated it. But by July 1915, the German ambassador to Turkey, said there was no longer any doubt that the Turkish leadership was trying to "exterminate the Armenian race in the Turkish empire."
ORIGIN OF THE TERM "MIDDLE EAST"
In 1902, the American naval officer and historian, Alfred Thayer Mahan, invented the term "Middle East" to designate the area between Arabia and India.
WHY AMERICA ENTERED WWI
President Woodrow Wilson was sincerely committed to keeping America out of WWI. It was the German submarine campaign, exacerbated by the notorious Zimmerman telegram, that pushed the United States toward war. German military leaders believed that the war could be won speedily through unrestricted submarine warfare. They believed in January 1917 that Britain could be forced into submission within 6 months, and that American intervention in the war would come too late. On March 17, 1917, German submarines sank 3 American merchant vessels. On April 2nd, Wilson went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war against the German Empire on the grounds that Germany had sunk 3 American merchant vessels and proposed to sink more. Acts of war were being committed against the United States, to which she had no honorable choice but to respond in kind.
The Zimmerman telegram was sent by the German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman to his minister in Mexico, seeking an alliance with Mexico against the United States. Mexico was to be given Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The British government, having broken the German Enigma code, turned over an intercepted copy of Zimmerman's cable to President Wilson, who published it.
THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN
In the mid-17th century, English Puritans Joanna and Ebenezer Cartwright believed that the advent of the Messiah would occur once the people of Judea were restored to their native land. In the mid-19th century, the social reformer Anthony Cooper, who became Earl of Shaftesbury, inspired a powerful Evangelical movement within the Church of England that aimed at bringing the Jews back to Palestine, converting them to Christianity, and hastening the Second Coming of Christ. Shaftesbury also inspired Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, who believed that Britain was to be the chosen instrument of God to bring back the Jews to the Holy Land. Lloyd George, who had been brought up on the Bible, was the only man in government who wanted to acquire Palestine for Britain. The Zionist movement's roots were as old as Judea, whose independence had been crushed by Rome, and whose inhabitants had been driven into foreign lands in the second century A.D. While in exile, the Jews clung to their own religion, with its distinctive laws and customs, often resulting in inferior status, persecutions, frequent massacres, and repeated expulsions. This actually reinforced their separate identity. According to their teachings, God would bring them back to Zion, as they would say each year in their ritual Passover ceremony, "Next year in Jerusalem!"
Churchill avidly supported Zionism, writing "It is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national centre and a national home to be re-united and where else but Palestine with which for 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews, good for the British Empire, but also good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine...they shall share in the benefits and progress of Zionism."
THE MAJOR FLAW IN BRITISH THINKING ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST...
...was that the Middle East wanted to be governed by Britain, or with assistance. But Middle Eastern leaders wanted full and complete independence. On August 7, 1920, a leading article in The Times demanded to know "how much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed in the vain endeavor to impose upon the Arab population an elaborate and expensive administration which they never asked for and do not want?" The Middle East was predominately a Moslem world which resented any foreign or Christian country attempting to impose its own rule.
HOW PRESIDENT WARREN G. HARDING DIFFERED FROM PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON
Woodrow Wilson's Middle Eastern policy included support for Christianity, especially American missionary colleges and missionary activities. Wilson was the grandson of a pastor and the son of a Presbyterian minister. However, when church groups in the Middle East asked the U.S. Government to stop the massacre of Christians in Smyrna, President Harding said, " It is difficult for me to be consistently patient with our good friends of the Church who are properly and earnestly zealous in promoting peace until it comes to making warfare on someone of the contending religion." Harding's Secretary of State said, "While nothing can excuse in the slightest degree or palliate the barbaric cruelty of the Turks, no just appraisement can be made of the situation which fails to take account of the incursion of the Greek [Christian] army into Anatolia, of the war there waged, and of the terrible incidents of the retreat of that army, in the burning of towns, and general devastation and cruelties." In short, Harding's argument was that both sides had committed atrocities.
Wilson also wanted to ensure that the Middle Eastern countries should be ruled by governments of their own choosing. Harding limited his effort's only to American interests, which were primarily commercial oil interests.