A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East-David Fromkin
Ideology is sometimes as powerful of a tool as violence and in some cases has been the direct cause of violence. In the Middle East, ideology has maintain a stronghold as it finds itself on a crash course with modernity. Those who live outside the Middle East are at times confused and mystified by the traditions and events that occur throughout the Arab nations. In fact, many of us here in the United States do not know how the modern-day Middle East came into existence. To them, I say that the key to understanding the Middle East is to retrace its history to see why and how it developed into what we know it to be today. David Fromkin lends us a helping hand in this incredible historical investigative account of the fall of the legendary Ottoman Empire and the creation of a region that would never truly know peace.
I find it a bit ironic that the title is called A Peace to End All Peace because when the reader has finished the book, he or she will see that is far from what happened. But the question is why not? To find that answer, we revisit Constantinople, headquarters of the empire, prior to the outbreak of World War I. Iraq and Jordan (formerly Transjordan) had yet to be created. Iraq was then known as Mesopotamia and Jordan was still part of Palestine. The Zionist cause was still in its early stages and it would be several years before the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Regardless, these nations were caught in the middle of a bitter conflict as Britain and Russia took on the German Republic for control of the Ottoman Empire. But as casualties mounted and victories were won, what was really transpiring behind the scenes? And who were the major players? As we step back into time with Fromkin, we are re-introduced to long-lost figures such as the famous Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister Lloyd George (1864-1945), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)(1888-1935). Lawrence has been transformed throughout the years into a larger than life character but Fromkin provides a good biographical sketch of him and investigates his true role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British goal of conquering the Middle East. However, as Fromkin shows us, the heart of the entire stories lies in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret pledge between Britain, France and Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Germany in World War I. The agreement shaped relations between the nations for decades to come.
The story is an incredible from start to finish and after you have completed the book, you will better understand why the Middle East is the way it is today. You will further understand how the Zionist cause for a homeland grew in strength due in part to the actions of the British Government. The story of Palestine is especially important for the effects of the actions then are still being felt today. Fromkin has done an excellent job of researching the topic and it is evident in his writing. The book reads like a historical novel full of intrigue, mystery and ultimately tragedy. Further, the relationship between Russia and the nations of the U.S.S.R. are examined highlighting the cultural diversity that once encompassed the Soviet Union. The Bolshevik revolution is discussed but not at great length. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) make appearances but their story is only discussed regarding its relevance to the current topic. And throughout the book, developments in other nations are mentioned but the author never strays off topic. Like a master professor, he keeps us on course throughout a critical time in the history of the world that was complicated to say the least.
The book ends before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the start of World War II. And it would not be until 1948 that the nation of Israel was formally created. Readers may be surprised to reach the end of the book only to find that the story does not continue in the next decade. But the reality is that was never the intention and is irrelevant to the story at hand. True, the events in this book would affect the future in many different ways but that is a topic for another discussion. For those who wish to understand how an Empire came crashing down, the development of the modern-day Middle East and how several nations underestimated the power of the Islamic faith, this is a great place to start. And for others who have an active interest in the Middle East, this book is a much welcomed addition to any library.
“To the victor belongs the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy
On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland and started the Second World War. In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had rearmed itself and under the determination of Hitler, set its eyes upon conquering all of Europe. The looming threat of German domination had been lingering for quite some time before the outbreak of the war. But sadly, many of the nations that would later be opposed to Germany did not think that Hitler would be brazen enough or have the resources to initiate a world conflict. In hindsight, we know that way of thinking was short-sighted and later highly regrettable. The actions of the British government in response to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, resulted in the condemnation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and established Germany as a legitimate threat to world peace. The episode has been recalled in history books and documentaries and continues to provoke discussion about how Hitler could have been stopped before his army invaded neighboring Poland.
In 1940, a student at Harvard University presented to his professor with his senior thesis entitled Why England Slept. Twenty years later he became the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States of America, known affectionately as Jack. To the world, he remains John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). The thesis was eventually published into this short but well-researched and well-written book that probes the question of why England failed to respond to the growing Germany menace. Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), the creator of Time-Life magazine provides a foreword to this edition, published in 1962. Incredibly, the book sold for $.95 as printed on the cover. I believe it was severely undersold. The beauty in the book is that Kennedy does not simply lay blame for Hitler at England’s feet. Instead he examines the conditions and beliefs that lead to the slow realization that armament was necessary and that Hitler was a very real threat. It should be remembered that Kennedy spent a great deal of time in London as the son of then Ambassador to Great Britain and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy. Fully aware of the nature of British culture and politics, Kennedy wisely incorporates this into the text which helps to explain many of the actions and inactions taken.
In fairness to Britain, it was not easy to foresee the coming of the German nightmare. Hitler invoked secretive maneuvers, arouse national sentiment and provided a source of hope to a nation in despair. And as Kennedy thoroughly points out, he had the advantage of running a dictatorship against a democracy, the latter of which is always slower to respond to the threats of war. Furthermore, distance and size gave Germany advantages against the prying eyes of foreign nations. Today social media has made it far more difficult to conceal the mass production of good and machinery. But in the 1930s, secrecy was easier to effect and many countries used it to their benefit. But even so, Britain did know that Hitler was up to something and was aware that Germany had slowly been rearming itself. But the slowness to act depending on several factors that Kennedy lays out for all to see and understand. Sympathy of Germany, pacifism in Britain, a restricted budget, naiveté and political ambition combined to severely delay the rearmament of Britain prior to beginning of the deadliest war in world history. And as Kennedy explores each issue, we may find ourselves filled with shock and disbelief towards England’s actions. However it is imperative to remember that we have the benefit of history our on side and look back and see the errors of their ways. England did not have this advantage and even struggled internally with how to deal with growing danger.
More than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. Hitler was eventually defeated and Britain was spared from annexation by the Third Reich. But this account of England’s actions prior to the war will remain a guide for us to use as we face new threats to world peace. And it is hoped that world leaders will remind us of why England slept.