Gallipoli and Crimea

Thinking about Anzac Day, with the inevitable mixed emotions, I was struck by the resemblance of the Anzac legend to that of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War – the same incredible bravery of ordinary men commanded by bungling leaders to undertake a doomed and futile mission.

There’s another, even more tragic, echo here. Both the Crimean War and the Gallipoli campaign arose from the same cause – the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the struggle over its partition. But in the Crimean War, the British and French were on the side of the Turks against the Russians. In the Great War, the imperial alliances had shifted, and the Russians formed part of the Triple Entente, while the Turks were on the side of the Germans.

Whatever the justice of the Allied cause in the Great War as a whole, the war with Turkey was nothing more than a struggle between rival imperialisms. The British and French governments signed secret treaties with each other, and with the Russian Czar, promising to divide the spoils of victory. At the same time, they made incompatible promises of independence for the Arabs and of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews.

There are no consolations to be had here. The Great War did not protect our freedom, or that of the world. Rather, it gave rise to the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism, and, within Turkey, to the Armenian genocide. The carve-up of the Ottoman empire created the modern Middle East, haunted even a century later by bloodshed and misery.

As we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who went to war nearly 100 years ago, we should also remember, and condemn, the crimes of those, on all sides, who made and carried on that war.

Lest we forget.

75 thoughts on “Gallipoli and Crimea

  1. Katz @ #43 said:

    1. “Liberal” Christians had, during the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries committed acts of deliberate genocide that depopulated large swathes of Central Europe.

    I do not say that “liberal Christianity” was the only, or always the dominant, strain in European political motivation. Only that it was a major one, which appeared to be gathering unstoppable momentum from its early beginnings with medieval knights through civilizing missionaries onto constitutional monarchs. That momentum came to a shuddering halt with the Great War, which essentially militarised & industrialised a satanic form of Paganism which has always been an undercurrent flowing in the darker recesses of Europes id.

    Katz said:

    2. By the end of the 19th century the political classes of Europe were Christian in name only. In fact, their operating principles arose from a triumphalist gloss of social Darwinism.

    The 19thC was probably the high point of self-consciously Christian social reform, particularly in the wake of the Evangelical movement. The political classes of Europe were more Christian in deed than thought, following the “practical Christianity” of Bismarks welfare state policies. Not to mention the huge grass roots popularity of non-Conformist self-help organizations, temperance movements, Christian youth groups, Protestant Masons etc

    Its true that most “with it” political thinkers subscribed to some form of Darwinism, including & especially Marx. And, for that matter, me. But Darwinism does not negate “liberal Christianity” as proven by the example of Darwin himself who was a pardigmatic example of this form.

    At most it sets up an ideological tension in the adherent of these views. But then, so what? Ideological tensions are part & parcel of “growing up in public” during the era of modernity. This one can easily be relaxed by pointing out that Darwinism is a cold-eyed realism about Man’s beastly origins, whereas liberal Christianity nurtures the idealism of “the better angels of our nature”.

    More generally, social behaviour is not “caused” by ideological posture. Rather, institutional groups perceive an interest and select an ideological posture that best articulates this interest. In the 19thC, the dark mans countries were ripe for the taking, so Social Darwinism took off rapidly, in both economic & ethnic form. Liberal Christians could do this with a good conscience as “survival of the fittest” obliged the fittest to “take up the White Man’s burden”, bringing sweetness and light to the “new caught people, half-devil, half-child…The silent sullen peoples, shall weigh your God and you”.

    Katz said:

    Only a fantasist with a grave case of wish fulfilment projectionism could believe that modern Europe ever represented the kinder, gentler aspects of Christianity. The horrors of the Great War weren’t visited upon Europe, they grew out of the continent’s heart and mind.

    Spare us the windy prognostications. The “horrors of the Great War” were generated by Prussian militarists getting too big for their jack boots, see Weber’s “Sonderweg” thesis & Fischer’s archival smoking guns. Obviously magnified ten-fold from previous conflicts due to various armies harnessing industrial technology and institutional sociology. (As demonstrated by the North in the US Civil War or was Lincoln channeling Europe’s “heart of darkness”?.)

    The truly nasty side of Europe’s “heart & soul” did come out until latter in the 20thC, in the persons of Hitler & Stalin. Those two might have been popular with the masses, but no one could say with a straight face that either of them were Christians, liberal or otherwise. Nor would they have fitted in nicely with 19thC military aristocracies. If my memory serves me, the Tsarists exiled Stalin whilst the better part of the Junkers tried unsuccessfully to kill Hitler.

  2. “contingency planning for a war is not the same as deciding to start a war”

    yes indeed, consider these, from 1930 & 1921:-

    in addition to being the bicentennial of the start of ww1, the year 2014 will also be the bicentennial of the end of the war of 1812, which was the last time the countries that made the plans above fought each other. the year 2014 is also the bicentennial of the sack of washington. -a.v.

  3. Jack, as I’ve said before, please don’t flood threads. Anything more than 100 words and one or two comments a day should be taken to sandpits

  4. @derrida derider

    Perfectly true, but Japan was engaged in operational planning. While there’s a whole lot of propaganda in our understanding of WWII, the notion that a country which had attacked all its neighbours except the US, had long been engaged in operational planning for a war with the US, had long been caught up in the myth of the surprise attack as a decisive blow from which the enemy cannot recover, was somehow provoked into acting on its long-formed intent by an embargo that came into force months after the government and military committed to war is an absurdity, plain and simple.

    Nor should Japan’s record of military atrocities be ignored. The Nanjing massacre reached such genocidal proportions that the German consul in Nanjing protested to the Japanese military authorities. He was backed in this by the German government. China estimates that 400 000 noncombatants were murdered over a 6 week period.

  5. Paul Norton @ #42 said:

    [Niall Ferguson’s counter-factual]…which is originally Bertrand Russell’s counter-factual.

    Ferguson’s “what ifs” did strike a distant chord in my undergraduate memory. Russell had a soft spot for Germany as all late 19thC Oxbridge maths & science undergrads had to learn German, since they were so far ahead of the pack in those departments, as in so many others.

    FWIW, I have always admired German thinking and the German way of getting things done. Would certainly not mind it at all if they could clone Bismark and make him the perpetual ruler of Europe. He would know what to do.

    But this is a phantom consolation. Had Germany won the war under Ludendorff does anyone imagine his rule would have been as wise, far-sighted & benevolent as the Iron Chancellor? Luddy was an ideological confrere of Hitler and shared exactly the same dreams of Eastern conquest. Although unlike Hitler he actually made it happen at Brest-Litovsk. Its easy to imagine him or one of his bushy-mustached, dueling-scarred, monocle-glaring brother officers running Germany like a military garrison state, endlessly bent on further conquest, exploitation &, domination.

    Most likely he would have gone easier on the Jews in return for their egg-heads cooking up a few lovely atomic bombs sitting ontop some intercontinental missiles trained at a paranoid US. A Ludendorff-run Germany ruling a cowed Europe and illuminated by the “lights of a perverted science” is certainly a frightening counter-factual, one easily encompassing a nuclear war or two.

    But this kind of thinking is a bit of an academic parlour game. Change one “what” and a whole heap of “ifs” pop up around it, like daisies after a spring rain. Who is to say which one is the right one to pick?

    Even second-guessing a long-dead statesmen is a dubious form of intellectual activity. We can never know the whole picture, still less weigh it in the balance of the day under pressure of events. Monday night quarter-backs are bad enough. But dry-running the foreign policy of whole states with the hind-sight of a century is not scholarship. As Oakeshotte drily observed, its more like necrophilia.

  6. the same incredible bravery of ordinary men commanded by bungling leaders to undertake a doomed and futile mission.

    Now Abbott says ‘Galipoli is the origin of the Australian national identity’ . – sounds ominous .
    I’m tired of politicians soiling the memory of long lost (as well current day) service-people by using them as tools in their ‘history wars ‘.

  7. if anyone is curious about how good counterfactual history is done by a serious historian who draws conclusions from his work i recommend “the world hitler never made” by
    garvriel d rosenfeld which i read last summer.

    this is a serious historical study of the history of ww2 counterfactuals, specifically counterfactuals of the genre “what if the nazi’s won”. its also an example of good history done with popular culture sources.

    his thesis is (i paraphrase) that western society has gone through alternating periods where the nazi past is remembered in all its “orthodox” horror & periods when it is “normalised” (in rosenfeld’s word).

    the genres he examines are short stories, novels, tv programs, films, analytical alternate histories, comic books. authors known to english speakers include len deigthon, philip k dick, newt gingrich (on isolationsism), philip roth.

    the works studied date from before (warnings) & during ww2 to the present. authors are british american, french, german, czech and dutch.

    topics include nazi a-bomb, dilemmas of american isolationism, occupation of britain (resistance or collaboration?), the world without hitler (better or worse?), fugitive hitler. -a.v.

  8. In his secretly kept diary of his yrs in Spandau prison Albert Speer , Hitlers architect , justifies the Nazi effort by comparing it to any empire building period (such as the British empire ). In his mind the main difference being that his side lost and so didnt get to write the history . Millions died in the creation of the Brit empire ,before that Spanish expansion into South America killed many many millions too .

  9. Millions died in the conquest of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Maurya, Gupta, Tibetan, Scythian, Alan, Hun, Byzantine, Sassanid, Kushan, Türk, Islamic, Junghar, Ottoman, Mongol, Mughal, Srivijayan, Timuri, Comanche, Khmer, Aztec, assorted European, etc, etc, empires. Empires do that. Not an exhaustive list. Deliberate mass slaughter for racial/ideological reasons was a twentieth century novelty.

  10. i wouldn’t call the black sea europe. i suppose the gov’t in turkey might but i wouldn’t. i don’t think they considered it in europe in the 19th century. my source for the preparations for the 1915 commemoration of waterloo and the planned emphasis on non-involvement in wars on the continent, is from george dangerfield’s book on the strange death of liberal england. i doubt one could find reference to those preparations now outside of archives. -a.v.

  11. mmm, but then there’s the “sick man of europe”, or “not of europe” when he’s got economic migrants. and when europeans don’t want to refer to “white men” they refer to “caucasians” which is not exactly “in” europe either. -a.v.

  12. Most definitions of Europe run to the Urals and the Caucasus, except for Metternich who is supposed to have said that Asia begins at the road out of Vienna.

    I’d also note that (1) Prussia’s ‘small wars’ cannot have driven the Long Peace because they did not start until 1866, halfway through the period (2) the ‘Wars of Religion’ predate liberalism by about a century so they cannot have been fought by ‘liberal Christians’ and given that both alliances included rulers from all three sects of Christianity and one included the sultan of Turkey they cannot have been all that religious.

  13. Strocchers:

    Spare us the windy prognostications. The “horrors of the Great War” were generated by Prussian militarists getting too big for their jack boots, see Weber’s “Sonderweg” thesis & Fischer’s archival smoking guns. Obviously magnified ten-fold from previous conflicts due to various armies harnessing industrial technology and institutional sociology. (As demonstrated by the North in the US Civil War or was Lincoln channeling Europe’s “heart of darkness”?.)

    1. Do you know the meaning of “prognostication”?

    2. It takes at least two to make a horror. Otherwise the “Prussians” would have achieved another cheap, quick, splendid victory. No one would be talking about a “great” war.

    3. It is doubtless that the Fischer Thesis is correct. This discussion isn’t about causes of WWI. It is about what set of ideas or ethos drove all parties. Your argument is that the German ethos was qualitatively different from that of its adversaries. I say it wasn’t. My evidence is vastly superior to yours.

  14. The point I would raise in response to Jack and DD is one that Bertrand Russell raised in a different text to the one I’ve linked to, and that Ferguson also discusses in The Pity Of War, namely that social democratic and socialist forces, as well as other democratic and liberalising tendencies, were on the rise in Germany throughout the period leading up to World War I, and that had there been either no war or a more limited war that avoided the catastrophic consequences for German society and political culture of the actual war, these would have prevailed, at least to the extent that the train wreck of 1933 and its aftermath could have been avoided. Similar processes could also have been envisaged prevailing in the erstwhile Habsburg Empire and Russian Empire. Whatever Ludendorff’s faults, he was not Hitler, and the Germany he would have had to deal with and try to rule in such a counter-factual scenario would not have been the one that provided such opportunities for Nazism between the wars.

  15. Pull a loose thread anywhere, who can predict what might unravel?

    Would the Great Depression have eventuated absent WWI?

  16. Would the Great Depression have happened without WW1?
    Great question!

    How much was America affected by the “treaties” of WW1?
    Excellent study question.

  17. It is fair to say that the world economy and the political economies of major individual nations endured more radical change between 1914 and 1925 than in any comparable period at any other time.

  18. We need to scour the british & french archives for “smoking guns” too before we draw the conclusion that germany was unique among the great powers in fashioning its war plans in response to lobbying of colonial leagues.

    Until someone does that we cannot know whether what fischer discovered in german archives is indeed unique among the great powers at the time. One reason there is open access the german imperial archives is the weimar gov’t decision to open them in response to the war guilt clause.

    The victors did not similarly open their archives at the time & i’m told that certain british and lately french archives, which could shed light on equivalent colonial pressure groups on the allied side, have been progressively restricted since fischer in the 1960s.

    controlling information like this, in the interest of constructing the official state myth out of lies & half truths & omissions, is the dark side of hobsbawm’s “manufacture of tradition”. -a.v.

  19. Different countries faced different choices in 1914. For example, the leaders of Germany and of Austria-Hungary faced a choice between Option A, launch a war, and Option B, don’t launch a war. They chose Option A. The leaders of Serbia and of Belgium faced a choice between Option C, fight back against unprovoked attack, and Option D, surrender to foreign imperial rule. They chose Option C. The leaders of the UK faced a choice between Option E, come to the defence of the victims of unprovoked attacks, and Option F, stand idly by. They chose Option E. And so on.

    Those are some of the real choices people faced at the time. Nobody faced the choice of Option G, bring about the rise of Hitler and of Stalin, and Option H, prevent the rise of Hitler and of Stalin. The rise of Hitler and of Stalin, and all the horrors that came with them, are not things that anybody in 1914 could reasonably have been expected to foresee, and nobody then can sensibly be blamed for failing to factor those possibilities into their considerations.

  20. Serbia could have acceded to all the demands in the Austrian ultimatum. (Serbia was prepared to accede to all of them but one). Then the July Crisis would not have resulted in an Austrian decision for was against Serbia.

    Would Austria have concocted another pretext for war against Serbia? Who knows?

  21. Katz @ #14 said:

    1. Do you know the meaning of “prognostication”?

    Uhmm…I think it means something like pontification.

    Katz said:

    2. It takes at least two to make a horror. Otherwise the “Prussians” would have achieved another cheap, quick, splendid victory. No one would be talking about a “great” war.

    It takes only one to start a horror, particularly if that one is a more or less irresistible force such as say, a von Schlieffen Plan or Manstein Blitzkrieg.

    Who started a fight is always critical in allocating culpability. If a gang of thugs approach your family blazing away with shot guns in order to take your stuff or put you under their thumb then you are not culpable for fighting back with proportionate force, even if many of their number are hurt in the fight.

    Pr Q studiously ignores the fact that the Central Powers started the Great War on all three fronts, and for reasons that were unworthy. On the Eastern front, Austria attacked Serbia to “teach it a lesson”. On the Western Front, Germany attacked Belgium/France in order to destroy the French Army and take the Channel ports. One the Southern Front, Turkey attacked Russia because, well thats what they do.

    Katz said:

    3. It is doubtless that the Fischer Thesis is correct. This discussion isn’t about causes of WWI.

    The discussion is “about the causes WWf”. Pr Q is rehashing Bolshevik agit-prop claiming the war was caused by imperial rivalry or Great Gaming or secret treaties or some such. I made mince-meat of his argument. The Ottoman Empire was just like the Italian Empire, it was attacked because it was “soft underbelly” target, supposed to relieve pressure on our “noble Russian allies”. The secret treaties were a economic consequence, not an strategic cause, of engaging the Turk. Likewise the Entente was a consequence, not a cause, of the threat posed by a resurgent Germany.

    Katz said:

    It is about what set of ideas or ethos drove all parties.

    The debate about the causes of the war is NOT about ethos, unless you want to open the door to gale-force windy pontifications. Nations have intractable institutional interests, ideological slogans are adapted to fit these purposes.

    World-historical events are driven by the conjunction of more or less stable instinctual endowments and the always evolving institutional environment. In the German case, the Junkers militarist will-to-power crossed with the Protestant industrialist gift for high-trust organization.

    Katz said:

    Your argument is that the German ethos was qualitatively different from that of its adversaries. I say it wasn’t. My evidence is vastly superior to yours.

    Since I don’t claim that “ethos” is a critical variable in the debate over war causes, it follows that any evidence you provide, whether “superior” or concocted, is irrelevant to my argument.

    Yes, the German “ethos” was, in a windy nebulous, untestable, vague hand-waving sense, the same as the British, French and Russians, The governing classes all the Great Powers subscribed to various forms of imperial nationalism. With a more or less hereditary class officering the military and administering the colonies. Whilst the bourgeois classes subscribed to forms of Social Darwinism in their competitive drive towards economic modernization.

    But this “ethos” of imperial nationalism applied to non-combatant Spain as much as belligerent Germany. So it obviously has no useful testable implications for explaining the Great War.

    The German difference was investigated by Weber who more or less worked up the Sonderweg thesis to explain how Germany went off the rails laid down by Bismark. Mainly due to Germany never developing a bourgeois civic culture, everything being dominated by an uber-aggressive Prussian military caste sitting atop an extremely obedient Protestant industrial class. Germany got too big for its jack-boots, which thereupon stomped on Europe.

    This had profound strategic implications which upset the post-Napoleanic European balance of power. Germany’s latent colonial ambitions were intra-, rather than extra-, European. The Junkers were greedy for Russian resources, as shown by the annexation policy at Brest-Litovsk. Whilst its manifest military posture was the Kaisers “a place in the sun” Weltpolitik, deliberately challenging the Royal Navy through a Dreadnought arms race.

    Neither of these strategic positions was compatible with general European peace. As a consequence there was a general European war.

    The Great War did not stop until the German problem was solved by the entry of extra-European powers into the conflict. The Junkers military caste were liquidated (by battle, purging, execution, suicide) by the Allies in WWII. And the EU harnessed the German industrial class to the European political administration.

    Even after all that, plus subsidizing Israel and rehabilitating East Germany, the Germans are still on top and calling the shots!

    No wonder they sing Deutcheland uber Alles.

  22. 1. Do you know the meaning of “prognostication”?

    Uhmm…I think it means something like pontification.

    There’s your problem. It’s difficult to argue with anyone who assigns *ahem* idiosyncratic meanings to words.

  23. An interesting bunfight about the causes and culpability for WW1. If you want to get into causation then every event in the universe has complex chains of causes right back to the Big Bang. (Assuming the Big Bang hypothesis is essentially correct.)

    The existence of complex contributing causes and an almost endless regression of causes of causes for large historical events means that arguments about causes are essentially insoluable and undeterminable. Since arguments about cause are so often used to support attempts to assign culpability this makes the latter occupation look rather fruitless too.

    Better than looking for causes and culpability is the search for Laws. I mean Laws in the scientific sense. Strictly speaking Laws do not assign causation but merely express relation. Of course, general laws of history would be a tough nut and perhaps an impossible nut to crack. Failing that, accurate acounts of what happened and the discernment of recurrent patterns in what happens are more useful rather than attempts to strictly assign cause and culpability.

  24. Identifying which people are morally capable (or, if you prefer, immorally capable, or amorally capable) of starting a war is one thing, and identifying which people actually did start a specific war is something different. Saying that one side actually did start the war doesn’t mean that the other side was (in any general sense) any better, or would never start a war like that. Maybe the French in 1914 were just as capable of starting a war with the Germans as the other way round. But as a matter of fact it’s inescapable that Germany did start the war with France in 1914 and not the other way round. Austria-Hungary did start the war with Serbia. Germany did start the war with Russia. Germany did start the war with Belgium. On the other hand, Germany did not start the war with the United Kingdom–that was the United Kingdom’s act. In 1915 it was Italy that joined in the war on Austria-Hungary, not the other way around. And so on.

    The point isn’t that getting these facts straight automatically settles all the important questions. The point is you can make no progress towards settling the important question without getting those facts straight first.

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