Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Your Country Needs YOU! (to do something stupid)

Gallipoli: Anzac Cove (source: MattGauldie.com)

"The country is much more difficult than I imagined . . .
and the Turkish positions . . . are natural fortresses which,
if not taken by surprise at first, could be held against very
serious attack by larger forces than have been engaged."

(Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener, reporting on his first in-person
reconnaissance of the ground at Gallipoli, November 13, 1915,
 from Rogan,The Fall of the Ottomans, p. 209.)

I've been reading The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East by Eugene Rogan.

Rogan's book is more than just a way to get context before your next viewing of Lawrence of Arabia  -- it really is required reading for anyone who cares about Turkey and its relationship with the countries that were part of that war, or which were born out of that war: Germany, Russia, France, and England; Bulgaria and the Balkans;  Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Israel; and others.

Moreover, the introduction it gives to the key facts surrounding the Armenian genocide are reason enough to read the book.

What I found most disturbing about the book was discovering the way, during World War I, one Western country toyed with "jihad" -- hoping to use the authority of the Ottoman caliph to call on Muslims everywhere to rise up against the other Western countries it opposed. (More on this in a future blog post . . . . )

And it tells the story of Gallipoli . . . .

"Britons (Kitchener) wants you"
UK. Alfred Leete (1882-1933). 1914
(Eybl, Plakatmuseum Wien/
Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0)
Many people are familiar with the British assault on the part of Turkey guarding the route to the Bosphorus, Istanbul, and the Black Sea from the 1981 film Gallipoli.  In a way, The Fall of the Ottomans is dedicated to that part of the conflict: Rogan introduces the book by describing a visit to the old battlefields, and by acknowledging the "terrible waste of ... life," British and French as well as Turkish, that took place there.  He provides these totals at the end of Chapter 8, "The Ottoman Triumph at Gallipoli":

Of the roughly 800,000 men who fought at Gallipoli, over 500,000 were wounded, taken prisoner, or killed in the conflict. The casualty figures were neatly divided between defenders and invaders in the eight-and-a-half-month struggle for mastery of the Dardanelles: 205,000 British and dominion casualties, 47,000 French and imperial soldiers, and between 250,000 and 290,000 Ottomans. As many as 140,000 men died in Gallipoli: 86,500 Turks, 42,000 British and dominion troops, and 14,000 French and imperial soldiers. (Rogan, p. 214)

This entire book -- and especially its account of Gallipoli -- is painful to read by anyone who opposes war and the senselessness of war. But a passage on p. 209 made me stop short. It is the quote reproduced above, a quote by the commander who had ordered it all - Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener, the "great military man" familiar to people everywhere from the British recruiting poster.

Kitchener had been making the decisions about where to attack, and who to send. But he had never been to Gallipoli. By the time he finally got there, it was clear to everyone that the campaign had been a catastrophe and it was time to evacuate -- too late,of course, for the tens of thousands already dead and the hundreds of thousands wounded. Only then did Kitchener actually make an in-person visit to the battlefield he had chosen. He reported, "The country is much more difficult than I imagined . . . and the Turkish positions . . . are natural fortresses which, if not taken by surprise at first, could be held against very serious attack by larger forces than have been engaged."

What the quote tells us is that the system permitted one man to command tens of thousands to go to their deaths, and to do so out of sheer ignorance. The field marshall had neglected to visit the field. The Gallipoli assault turned out to be "much more difficult" than he had imagined.

As observations of the centenary of WWI continue -- for instance, with a performance of Britten's War Requiem in a few weeks here in Berkeley -- it's a good time to continue to point to all the reasons that young people should question the call to battle.

Question authority: so often, staggering ignorance lies beneath.

Related posts

A person may not feel that s/he is another Daniel Ellsberg ... or Paul Revere ... or Otto and Elise Hampel ... or Ai Weiwei ... or Bradley [Chelsea] Manning. But these are heroes we can aspire to emulate.

(See I am (I will become) Bradley Manning )

We need to do several things for our young people. First of all, we need to show them pictures of war and explain: "This is what real chaos looks like." And then we need to ask, "Still think this sounds appealing?"

(See The Few, the Proud ... and the Chaos)

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

An amazing thing that will be happening -- in fact, has already begun happening -- here in Berkeley is a performance of Britten's War Requiem.
(See WAR: Will you hear? Will you perceive? Will you think?)

It suddenly occurs to me that everyone in the US should be studying the behavior of England toward India, and asking ourselves, "What might this tell people in the US about coming to our senses?"

(See PROBLEM: How does an entire country exorcise a national delusion?)

Sometimes you can know a place without ever having been there. I feel that way about Istanbul. It came about because during a few months in 2010, when I was caring for my mother, I read all of the books of the Turkish author (and Nobel Prize in Literature winner) Orhan Pamuk.

(See TURKEY: Terra Incognita No Longer .... )