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A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East-David Fromkin

20181205_223638Ideology 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

ISBN-10: 0805068848
ISBN-13: 978-0805068849

Why England Slept, With a New Foreword by Henry R. Luce-John F. Kennedy

20180603_133752On 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 inaction 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.

ASIN: B000JKO9Y4

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past-Jennifer Teege

16923849739_a73717f925_bOn September 13, 1946, Amon Goeth, the former commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, is executed for his actions during World War II  after a trial and conviction by the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland.  Goeth was brought to life on the silver screen in Steven Spielberg’s classic film ‘Schindler’s List’ in which he is played by actor Ralph Fiennes.  The film is moving and one of the most haunting to have even been produced about the Holocaust.  Survivors of the Holocaust vividly recalled memories of the remorseless killing committed by Goeth and those under his command. Several decades later, his life is revisited, not by a random author, but by his granddaughter Jennifer Teege, a child of a German mother and Nigerian father who discovers her family’s past and struggles with her own identity in this biography that is bound to leave the reader speechless.

Jennifer’s story and those of other descendants of Third Reich leaders, most notably Gudrun Himmler and Niklas Frank, shed light on an often overlooked part of the second World War.  Following the Allied victory and occupation of Germany, the families of Nazi officials were often in turmoil.  Hunted by the Allies, many Nazis fled to other countries, some committed suicide, others were executed and under the CIA’s Operation Paperclip program, some were even relocated to the United States.  Their descendants were left to confront the individual’s past actions and the policies of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler.  And it is this past which haunts not only Jennifer, but her mother Monika, Goeth’s daughter who was only 10 months old when he was executed.

The book begins in Hamburg, and we are with Jennifer in the library as she discovers a book about Amon Goeth. Recognizing the last name, she begins to ask herself questions and puts together the puzzle that is her past.  And as she learns about her grandfather, the man who struck terror in the hearts of thousands of Jews, she is faced with the grim reality that yes, her grandfather would have shot her during his reign of terror.  In her youth, the remaining link to her grandfather was her grandmother Irene, who until her own death from suicide in 1983, remained loyal to Goeth.  Having lived with Goeth at the camp, she conceived Monika while Goeth was still legally married to another German woman.  The inner battle she fights regarding her feelings toward her late grandmother whom she loved dearly, is heartbreaking and reminiscent of the struggle of many others whose parents and grandparents committed horrific crimes under the banner of the Third Reich.

Teege’s story is an amazing one,  filled with many trials and tribulations.  We follow her as she struggles with depression, how to tell her Israeli friends about her past, establish relationships with both of her biological parents, love, a family of her own and ultimately, her acceptance of her family name.  To the generation of today, World War II is something that’s mentioned in textbooks. But a large number of people around the world who are still alive,  memories remain fresh from a time in history when the security of the world as we know it, was in danger of being completely destroyed.  For people such as Monika Goeth and Jennifer Teege, the war always remains in the present in the form of Amon Goeth, whose deeds and name will continue to live in infamy.  And as we learn Jennifer’s story, we are forced to ask ourselves what would we do if we were in her place? It’s an answer I’m sure many of us would struggle to find.

ASIN: B00XGLGEMS

 

What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany – Eric A. Johnson and Karl Heinz Reuband

what-we-knewIn April, 1945, allied troops moved through Germany as the walls surrounding Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) began to collapse. His suicide on April 30, allowed him to escape justice but helped to cement his place in history as one of mankind’s most tyrannical leaders.  Concentration camps across Germany and Poland were liberated, releasing thousands of Jews who had been imprisoned as the Third Reich began its Final Solution, the plan produced by the minds of homicidal maniacs such as Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942).  The emaciated figures that were once lively young men and women provided allied troops with a shocking sight that no one could ever forget. Even today, images and videos of bodies stacked upon bodies produces a feelings of disgust and anger toward those responsible for the crimes and others who feigned ignorance.

I have visited Germany twice and enjoyed my experiences there. Today it is hard to imagine that less than eighty years ago, one man plunged the world into war and oversaw the deaths of millions of Jews.  When Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany giving the N.S.D.A.P. the majority presence,  German society was transformed and turned upside down.   Many Jews fled Germany before the Third Reich began its campaign of genocide and some of them never returned. The actions of an unhinged Hitler, nearly brought Germany to the brink of collapse.  Widespread famine and lack of basic necessities made life in post-war Germany close to unbearable.  Some undoubtedly believed that Germans only had their selves to blame for the war and should suffer for what they did to other nations. The United States and Soviet Union stepped in to divide Berlin and the wall constructed remained in placed until 1989.  It was the end of two different German nations contained within one mass of land. The division is similar to the subject of this book entitled ‘What We Knew”.

Historians have always debated what ordinary Germans knew and did not know.  Surely, there were many Germans who sought to save their own lives and desperately avoided being linked in any way to Hitler’s failed regime.  Many claimed that they had no idea Jews were being systematically murdered in concentration camps.  For the Jews, it was hard to believe they could proclaim such ignorance when Antisemitism was a pillar of the Nazi ideology.  Americans and other foreign nations always pondered the same question. This book by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband has attempted to take on those questions in the search for the truth about how much the German people knew about the fate that awaited millions of Jews across Europe. Divided into two parts, the first half of the book contains interviews of German Jews who either fled Germany or survived concentration camps.   The second half contains interviews of non-Jewish Germans who witnesses the events that transpired.  What’s revealed in these pages is both eye-opening and enlightening.

As to be expected each side has their own convictions about what each side knew.  Whether they were telling the complete truth is something we will never be able to answer.  But what is clear from the book is that the place in Germany in which one lived, played a role in what they knew or did not know.  The authors do not attempt to make any decisions about who is to be believed or not believed.  They simply present the statements for the reader to decide.  From a personal standpoint, I did find that denial is apparent in many of the interviews of non-Jewish Germans while the Jewish Germans unanimously agree that their neighbors definitely knew of the systematic extermination of the Jews and used it as an excuse to plunder and seize what was left over in houses and apartments.  Several of the Jewish survivors vowed never to return to Germany and believe that they never did.  But they were among the fortunate who were able to survive the Third Reich and tell their stories here.

The debate about the knowledge of the Reich’s atrocities by German citizens will continue for an eternity.  But what is clear is that there was much many had knowledge of but preferred not to know.  The stories of what really happened cannot be lost to history and to prevent another Holocaust requires that demons from the past are confronted.  These are the stories of Germany’s survivors who are here to tell you what they knew.

“To sin in silence while others doth protest makes cowards out of men.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

ISBN-13: 978-0465085712
ISBN-10: 0465085717

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