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. A rather understudied issue is peace feelers in World War 1 such as by the German chancellor in 1916 and the Reichstag peace resolution on 19 July 1917. Pope Benedict XV also tried to mediate with his Peace Note of August 1917.

    It is harder to get out of a war than into one. The problem is credible assurances that the peace is lasting rather than a chance for the other side to rebuild and come back and attack from a stronger position.

    Many wars including World War 1 were products of mutual alarm and test of will. Schelling and others in the 1950s and after studied World War 1 to learn how to not blunder into wars when nuclear weapons now would be used.

    Wars are like bar fights. Both are about not backing down.

    In moralising about World War 1, you under rate the role of unintended consequences and the dark side of human rationality in situations involving collective action.

  2. “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.”

    Given that the Ottoman Empire attacked the Russian Empire in a surprise attack in late October of 1914 (well, a not terrible-well disguised German fleet under Turkish colours) it is not surprising that Turkey got into the war.

    An there was one reasonable justification, once the war was on, to take Constantinople: A decent all-weather route to supply Russia.

    The plan to carve up the Empire later was not all that different from Germany’s plans to carve up captured Europe or the confiscation of German colonies. Opportunistic imperialism yes, but only after the shooting started.

  3. If i may speculate some. Since Dardaneli were the route for Caucus oil and Galipoli campaign was about Dardaneli control, could the Great War be about oil, first war about oil.
    Two Balkan wars were already about kicking Ottoman Empire out of Europe and Austrian- Hungary were natural benefactor of Ottoman Empire decline.
    I think that by 1914 the global planners had idea about importance of oil and routes that control it. Caucus oil reserve was known by then. Saudi oil was discovered much later.

  4. @Jordan I think that the rationale for most wars is a protection and/or expansion of trade. The US War of Independence was the result of an economic war of blockades and trade barriers.

    France entered into the US War of Independence only to witness the resumption and increase in trade between the US and Britain post hostilities. France’s investment suffered from poor returns and it is said that the debt incurred was one of the major drivers of the French Revolution.

    Similarly it was the US embargo on oil trade to Japan that led to Pearl Harbour.

  5. Well put John.

    The author Doris Lessing writes of her father, who lost a leg in WW1. She describes a man who, once a proud defender of the empire, became depressed and disillusioned with how his nation had reduced them to cannon fodder. Lessing says that this mood was shared by a whole generation of men destroyed and abandoned by either the Kaiser or the King.

  6. Describing Pearl Harbour as the outcome of the US oil embargo rather ignores that the militarists ruling Japan had been making plans for an attack on the US since their seizure of power in the early 30s.

    Japan had been at war with China since 1936. They had briefly invaded the Soviet Union and suffered a spectacular if little-known military defeat at Nomonhan. They occupied Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and most of northern China. Empires do that, they attempt to expand in any direction they can and the other empires, including the USA and the USSR, were no different.

    But looking at the course of Japanese aggression throughout the 1930s and then deciding they were forced, by the oil embargo, into a war they had already been planning is, to put it mildly, an extremely forgiving view of Japanese policy.

    Planning for the Pearl Harbour operation itself began in January 1941. The oil embargo was imposed in July 1941. A later event does not often cause an earlier event.

  7. @rog
    I think that US War of Independence was fought over control of money supply. The British were trying to limit Colonial script as parallel currency.
    From Wikipedia

    The Currency Act of 1751 restricted the emission of paper money in New England. It allowed the existing bills to be used as legal tender for public debts (i.e. paying taxes), but disallowed their use for private debts (e.g. for paying merchants).[6]

    Another Currency Act in 1764 extended the restrictions to the colonies south of New England.

    Just an awesome descriptions on currency evolution in Early American Currency at Wiki

  8. Participants in a bar fight cannot legitimately claim the allegiance of others based on the justice of their cause. Yet this is what the political classes of both sides did during the Great War.

    Of these political classes, first the Russians, then the Germans, leaders of major, powerful nations, lost their ability to compel compliance from their subjects/citizens. The arrogation of the sovereign right to rule ceased to have credibility. Successor states were compelled to renegotiate terms of legitimacy with their citizens. Some of these new compacts were disastrous. However, the destruction of absolutist or statist systems wasn’t in itself an evil thing, despite the fact that the post Great War consequences included totalitarianism.

    In the end, both absolutist and totalitarian conceptions of the state are no longer credible. This achievement came at the cost of the deaths of tens of millions. But on the other hand, the death of a single person is too high a price to pay for anything.

    It is perhaps a consolation that the longer term consequences of the Great War aren’t all negative. The advent of democracy, the rule of law and the concession of civil rights aren’t minor achievements.

  9. That’s the line pushed by the Japanese right.

    But it really is hard to see how a militarist group that had attacked or occupied all its neighbours except the US in the decade preceding Pearl Harbour, and had spent quite a long time planning how to fight a war in the Pacific, can contend that an embargo caused them to attack the only nearby country they had not yet attacked. And the dates are seriously against them.

    One of the divisions within the ruling clique had been whether to strike north at the USSR, seizing the Soviet Far East as far as Lake Baikal, or south at the European colonies. The military disaster at Khalkin Gol/Nomonhan put an end to the strike north idea and they turned their efforts to strike south. Khalkin Gol comes to an end in August 1939 and serious planning for the Pacific War starts. As I said upthread, Pearl Harbour planning starts in January 1941. The embargo does not happen until July of that year.

  10. @Katz Almost the only predictable benefit of war is that governments that launch wars and lose are discredited as a result.

  11. the only good thing i could say about world war one, Katz, is that it averted civil war in the united kingdom over ireland. the geman socialist party was on course to take government in berlin & women’s suffrage was not long off in england. extension of political rights to bohemia was under discussion in austria hungary. the amelioration of conditions & extension of participation in gov’t you speak of were already in the mix. -a.v.

  12. News of an Australian navy ship joining a US ‘armada’ currently in Japanese waters with all the threat of disputed islands with China – not to mention North Korea – has me wondering if all these geo-political war histories is about to repeat.

  13. In 1914 the German parliament had limited influence over the German government. The Reichstag had no right to unseat the government. Moreover, the SPD were chauvinist proponents of war. They showed little inclination to challenge the Bismarckian illiberalism that was the hallmark of the German Empire. It took the catastrophe of the Great War to jolt the SPD out of its deference to the Hohenzollern Dynasty.

  14. I’m a bit confused by your recount of history.
    What does “gave rise” mean why you say:

    “gave rise to the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism, and, within Turkey,
    to the Armenian genocide”

    If you mean ‘preceded’, I understand.
    What do you mean by “gave rise”?

    The carve up drew artificial country boundaries
    that had little relationship to or respect for cultures.
    I seem to recollect that the cultures within the Ottoman
    empire didn’t like each other before the Great War
    and don’t like each other now. Shia and Sunni’s
    always fought, didn’t they? Was there a time when
    the Sunni’s and Shia held hands and sung Kum Ba Ya?

    Wasn’t the Middle East conundrum:

    Egypt, If I remember correctly, was going bankrupt
    in the mid 1800’s (Egypt was an uncontrollable
    obstreperous child of the Ottoman empire and acted
    for the most part independently of Turkey. Nominally,
    Egypt was still part of the Ottoman empire.
    Egypt’s financial woes allowed Great Britain to
    offer help which Egypt reluctantly accepted.
    Great Britain became a large controlling factor in Egypt.
    In other words, at that time Egypt could not manage itself
    in a modern international finance world and sought
    protection from the British. I may have some of these
    facts wrong. If I do, I would be happy to be corrected.

    “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.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I think we should enumerate
    those who made and carried on that war. I don’t think individuals
    are at issue. It is policies, national emotions and those
    who strove to empower those national emotions that should
    be enumerated.

    Just my 2 cents.

  15. Egypt’s nineteenth century financial woes were largely a product of British and French intervention, culminating in actual military occupation in 1882. Britain and France spent most of the first half of the century sabotaging the modernising and industrialising efforts of a string of Egyptian rulers. Britain may have been deeply and genuinely concerned about the probity and viability of Egyptian financial administration, but they were also just a teensy bit interested in a certain canal.

  16. As I mentioned, my recollections might be off-base.
    is there a book or link you can provide for your statements?

  17. After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 John Darwin.

    The discussion of Egypt is actually a little patchy, but Darwin’s discussion of the recurrent nineteenth century pattern of financial crisis followed by battleships and chaps in pith helmets is instructive. The strange Habsburg empire of Mexico is probably the most notable example, although China, Iran, the Ottoman empire and Egypt had very similar experiences.

    Although the austerity mantra had not yet been invented, strangely enough it was the universal cure for ailing nineteenth century marginal states, especially when it came to education, industrial development or naval construction.

    In Empires of the Silk Road Christopher Beckwith touches some of the same issues although obviously his main focus is different.

  18. @Katz

    The German constitution did not give the Reichstag the power to unseat a government, but nor did the constitution of any other European monarchy, including Britain. What happened throughout the nineteenth century was that there would be a constitutional crisis, the monarch would give in and thereafter the government would answer to the parliament. Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries had all been through this process and their monarchs had all surrendered their power to seat and unseat governments. Even Austria-Hungary, by most measures, had a kaiser who reigned but did not rule. Wilhelm II was fairly eccentric on the subject but so were a number of other rulers, including Queen Victoria.

    The SPD was not particularly deferential to the imperial house and Germany would probably have achieved responsible government fairly soon if the war had not happened.

    One of the more unfortunate outcomes of the war, to my mind, was splitting the Ottoman and Habsburg monarchies into conveniently small, poor and ineffectual nation-states on the Western European model, a decision that continues its evil consequences in the contemporary Middle East and the Balkans.

  19. Alan:

    Under certain conditions, after 1688, the British Parliament certainly did claim the right to remove the monarch.

    But more generally, removing the government is not identical to removing the monarch. In Britain, several ministries fell at the vote of Parliament, while the monarch reigned on.

    What might have happened counts for nothing. The point is, it didn’t.

    Being “not particularly deferential” is in the case of responsible government like being slightly barren. Either a government is responsible to the legislature, or it isn’t.

  20. I didn’t speak about removing monarchs, just unseating governments. I’ll just mention there was no British parliament before the Acts of Union in 1707.

    The deposition of Charles I was the act of an English parliament, and one that had been subjected to a military purge. The deposition was done over the passionate protests of the Scots parliament and was disavowed by the English parliament in 1660. James II was not removed. The parliament declared, not unreasonably, that he had abandoned the throne when he fled the country.

    I am unsure why you are arguing that a change of government does not involve removing the monarch when no-one else has argued the contrary.

    Of course responsible government did not exist in Wilhelmine Germany, but the country was moving in that direction along exactly the same trajectory as had the other European monarchies with the exception of Tsarist Russia.

  21. Well yairs, the Act of Settlement of 1701 was passed by the English Parliament. No subsequent British Parliament has made important amendments to it. Under its provisions any monarch rash enough to turn Catholic, marry a Catholic, or raise his/her children as Catholics could be removed.

    Thus I am correct about the British Parliament having the legal right to depose a monarch. And you are incorrect.

  22. The British parliament could probably make a law removing a king or queen, if and only if, they had the unanimous consent of the parliaments of the Commonwealth realms. Judging by the way the legislation to change the succession is moving through various Commonwealth parliaments I’m not sure that consent would be all that easy to get.

    And I really have no idea how any of this relates to Gallipoli, Crimea, or Germany in 1914.

  23. John Quiggin :
    @Katz Almost the only predictable benefit of war is that governments that launch wars and lose are discredited as a result.

    Usually the terms and conditions of the treaty set by the conqueror over the defeated is uneven or unequal thereby laying the grounds for the next war.

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