Why were we at war with Turkey?

It’s now more than 100 years since Australian troops landed on a Turkish beach to take part in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, which ended with nearly 30 000 Australians dead or wounded, among a total of up to half a million on both sides. For many of those years, I’ve been observing Anzac Day and mourning those losses. But in all that time, it’s never occurred to me ask why we were at war with Turkey, or rather why Turkey had chosen to join the German side in the Great War.

The answer is that the Ottoman government wanted an alliance with Britain and France, but was turned down. Russia, also allied with Britain and France, offered terms that amounted to a protectorate (it was the desire to keep Russia in the alliance that motivated the French rejection).

So, Germany was the only possible ally if Turkey went to war. While many in the government still sought neutrality, the pro-war faction, led by Enver Pasha, won out. Enver Pasha was also the main planner of the Armenian genocide which began at the same time as the Dardanelles campaign, and which Australia still does not recognise.

Once the war started, the Allies made secret plans to divide up the Ottoman empire among themselves (the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Constantinople Agreement). The Constantinople Agreement signed in March 1915, assured the Russian government that it would be given the Ottoman capital after an Allied victory.

There have been increasing attempts to recast the Great War as a fight for freedom rather than the pointless slaughter it actually was. The pro-war apologists have demonstrated clearly enough that the Central Powers were aggressive militarists. But the conduct of the Allies with respect to the Ottoman Empire, the only area where they stood to make any real territorial gains, shows that they were little better.

The heroism and the sacrifice of the Anzacs, and of the Turkish defenders they fought against, should never be forgotten. But neither should it be forgotten that they died in a brutal and pointless war in which they could equally well have been allies, if not for the vagaries of imperialist politics.

69 thoughts on “Why were we at war with Turkey?

  1. An analysis of the First World War should be a required topic in any school history course. It should cure people forever of any inclination to believe politicians act rationally in matters of life and death.

  2. Why were we at war with Turkey? We can’t discount Mearsheimer’s “offensive realism”.

    Copying from Wikipedia we have;

    “1. Great powers are the main actors in world politics and the international system is anarchical.
    2. All states possess some offensive military capability.
    3. States can never be certain of the intentions of other states.
    4. States have survival as their primary goal.
    5. States are rational actors, capable of coming up with sound strategies that maximize their prospects for survival.”

    “In international relations theory, anarchy is the idea that the world lacks any supreme authority or sovereign. In an anarchic state, there is no hierarchically superior, coercive power that can resolve disputes, enforce law, or order the system of international politics. In international relations (IR), anarchy is widely accepted as the starting point for international relations theory.”

    [End Quotes]

    Of course the “rational actors” clause reminds one of the like clause in economics. Our rationality seems to be much exaggerated in these theories.

  3. @Ikonoclast
    Reifying ‘states’ as if they are actors setting goals and making decisions independently of their internal political processes is another flight of fancy that seems more useful for constructing elegant models than for explaining real-world behaviour.

  4. We are at war with reality because our one dimensional so called leaders and msm are such total gooses.

  5. “There have been increasing attempts to recast the Great War as a fight for freedom”

    If by “freedom” it is meant that the gilded age ruling class on all sides be free to carry on as usual enslaving, exploiting, dominating, and colonising everyone else, then yes it certainly was. If it is meant that any wider population would have more “freedom” from such things then the whole filthy thing was intended as anything but.

    Regarding the Dardanelles campaign it is particularly clear it was in no way about freedom. “Our” side’s whole plan was to topple one despotic ruling system, the Turkish Ottoman regime, and replace it with another, the Russian Czarist regime.

    For another thing, 5 million Indians were deliberately starved to death in India when the monster Churchill diverted grain supplies already shipped there from Australia to be stockpiled in the eastern Med to supply a half baked intended follow up campaign that never eventuated against Germany through Greece.

  6. Thank you for a thoughtful contribution to Anzac Day. Reading the linked article, it is depressing because it’s so obvious. The issue of the taken-for-granted, that which we can’t see because it’s normal. Patriarchal states in which a handful of men gain power, dress up in uniforms, fight over territory, form alliances in secret and so forth. Not all that much has changed.

    Weber thought this was the essential nature of politics – that men would fight over land, cattle and women, etc. It isn’t and it doesn’t have to be, there have been and are societies in which people resolve differences non-violently, but we don’t seem to have serious public conversations about this.

    After the two world wars, there were serious attempts to form cooperative organisations through the League of Nations and the UN, but it seems those attempts are downplayed when the horror of world war is forgotten, and societies revert to the model of patriarchal, hierarchical states fighting with each other. I will keep opposing it, but I struggle to understand why more people can’t see it.

    Karen Warren and other feminist or Ecofeminist philosophers spoke of dualisms in thought. There was an emphasis on the mind/culture/male vs emotion/nature/female dualisms, but what I have observed in my research and general observation is a bit different. It’s more like an active/take action/use violence and weapons vs passive/be patient/use negotiation and discussion duality (at least in the context of a discussion about war), which I think is also implicitly coded as male/female and strong/weak. I’ve been puzzling over the connections between masculinity, violence and war (I don’t mean to suggest some essential, biological connection, but rather the empirical connections) and such dualisms and implicit coding seem to make sense of it. It is particularly epitomised in those guys who randomly shoot strangers or mow them down with vehicles – they have been completely captured by the implicit societal understanding that when life is frustrating and difficult, a real man takes action by grabbing a weapon and killing people.

    I’ve been trying to think how I can express my opposition to Anzac Day and what it stands for, while knowing that some of my friends (and apparently you also JQ, though you also question it) genuinely believe it’s about respecting those who died for our country. This comment has at least- even if not well yet – started to put together some of my thoughts, so I might copy it and put it on my own blog, as a starting point which maybe I can develop later.

  7. There is a saying ” History is written by the winners.”

    We are generally mono-lingual in Australia in terms of our language capacities and in relation to the written records readily available to us. So given the outcome of the two world wars and the fact Australia was so much part of the British Empire, I expect the narratives readily available to us are fundamentally British.

    I wonder what the German take is an all these things? Does anyone know of a source, yes in English, on German views of the two world wars. I suppose I should ask Dr Google, but just asking in case some humans know.

  8. I am not of the belief that we in Australia would have had things very different if Germany had won before the yanks joined.
    The Germans would have been very stretched as it is and with the social Democrats in charge would have demanded a land befitting heroes which meant most monies diverting to Germany.

    About the only difference is a more assertive royalty!

  9. “Enver Pasha was also the main planner of the Armenian genocide which began at the same time as the Dardanelles campaign, and which Australia still does not recognise.”

    And we still dont recognise the losses to Indigenous people in the Frontier wars, in QLD alone. “The so-called frontier wars claimed more than 65,000 Aborigines in Queensland.” “Australian Historical Association’s Conflict in History conference last week at the University of Queensland, estimated 66,680 deaths between 1788 and 1930”.
    So there we were, a big mob of our youth, fighting on the other side of the world, at the behest of the British government, under the control of British officers; and for what, glory, political expediency, a shocking and inhuman waste. I mourn the loss of all Australian soldiers and I commemorate the loss on Anzac Day. For me at least it is tinged with a sense of shame, for the millions we have just spent on a memorial museum in France, what pennies and dimes have we spent on memorials for the fallen in our own Frontier wars. Richard Flanagan addresses it all a lot better than I ever could, his Nat press club address should be compulsory reading for every Australian.

  10. @Xevram

    The point too is that $100 million could have payed for more clinics and health care for aboriginal Australians. As another alternative, $50 million could have been spent on aboriginal health and $50 million on war veterans and veterans’ families health and support. Memorials are a complete, indulgent waste of public money. They are usually also part of a propaganda push to tell falsehoods about wars; falsehoods which benefit the ruling class.

  11. There have been increasing attempts to recast the Great War as a fight for freedom rather than the pointless slaughter it actually was.

    I don’t see why it can’t be both. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that it’s commonplace for a war to be both a fight for freedom and a pointless slaughter: the Ionian Revolt, the Lamian War, the Servile Wars, the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the Prussian Uprisings, Gubec’s Rebellion, the Bavarian People’s Uprising, the Fox Wars, Pugachev’s Rebellion, the Australian frontier wars, the New Zealand Wars, the Hungarian War of Independence, the Slovak Uprising, the Aceh War, the Black Hills War: if each of these (or some of them) counts both as a fight for freedom and a pointless slaughter, why shouldn’t the First World War be one of the other examples? Weren’t the Belgians, at least, fighting for their freedom?

    Of course there are also plenty of example of wars which were pointless slaughter with no fight for freedom: the Crimean War, for example, or the Wars of the Roses.

  12. Typo alert: the Constantinople Agreement was probably not signed in 2015. Fixed now, I hope – JQ

  13. Even the Armenian genocide was a consequence of the war – the Turks considered them a Fifth Column in their incredibly brutal struggle in the Caucasus with Russia (whole armies would disappear there – they are forgotten campaigns in the west, but they cast a long shadow in the region, influencing present day nationalisms).

    Enver Pasha, along with Conrad of Austria, was indeed one of the great villains of WW1 in a time liberally supplied with villains – both actively sought war and both had nakedly expansionist and racist motives for it.

    But J-D is right – just because the allies did things in bello which were villainous or foolish or (frequently) both, and some of the diggers were participants in these, does not mean that an Allied victory was not better for freedom and democracy than a Central Powers one would have been.

  14. @I am and will always be Not Trampis
    The history of Eastern Europe and the Middle East would have been vastly different if the German side had forced its opponents to capitulate in 1917. The Austro-Hungarian Empire would have remained intact, the Ottoman Empire would have come off life support for a while, and it’s almost certain that coalition would not have tolerated the existence of a communist Russia.

    There may still have been a World War 2 in due course, but the circumstances would have been completely different. You can pretty much guarantee there would have been no Nazi Party, no Hitler and no Holocaust.

  15. The Russian Government was overthrown twice in 1917 largely because of the Ottoman Empire siding against Russia and thus blocking the Russians from shipping imports and exports through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, making the Russian economy much, much worse. It also crippled Romania when it joined the war in 1916.

    Offering unacceptable conditions and/or refusing an alliance with the Ottomans was a likely fatal decision.

    Given the Ottoman Empire was on the Central Powers side, a well run successful Dardanelles campaign opening up the shipping routes to Russia would have shortened the war. Bulgaria would have joined the Entente not the Central Powers, the Romanians would not have collapsed (putting lots more pressure on the Russians), the Austro-Hungarians would have collapsed earlier, the Germans in turn would have collapsed earlier (the Austrian early November 1918 collapse triggered the Armistice with Germany), thw war would have ended sooner and the Russians likely would not have had the October Revolution.

  16. The British had just gifted the Turks two destroyers a few years before the war began and then took them back as war became likely. While hindsight is a wonderful thing, securing Mediterranean access to the Black Sea, home of its ally’s biggest fleet and a vital supply route should have been a no-brainer. Concern with protecting its own direct interests in a huge empire could have made the British less concerned with the fortunes of its troublesome ally.

    The Russian Empire was crumbling and there was never much stomach among western powers to prop it up. A close and careful reading of the geopolitics of the time makes it obvious that going to war with Germany to fulfil Triple Entente obligations to Russia was an excuse to cut short Germany’s push to expand its own global empire.

    Had the British already written off Russia’s ability to contribute meaningfully to a war with Germany and Austria and decided that putting resources into an alliance with Turkey would have been a waste? If so, Britain was proven correct early in the war when, after one or two significant victories, the badly lead, badly equipped Russian army started losing……badly. Did the British then believe that resupplying the Russians through their Black Sea port would have improved this situation? So much so that a highly risky and costly amphibious invasion was thought a rational course of action?

    Looking for such rational reasoning behind military decisions is a bit futile, as is second guessing history. Perhaps the best reason for abandoning then invading Turkey is white man’s arrogance: The ‘Old Man of Europe’ would make a poor ally/adversary. It would be easy to see how racial prejudice blinded the British to the fact that the Turks had were capable of a level of military modernisation (with German help) that white, christian Russia had not achieved.

  17. @derrida derider

    A negotiated peace without annexations or indemnities would have been better than a victory for either side. Of course, it would have been politically disastrous for the leaders on both sides, who therefore dismissed all such proposals with contempt.

  18. @Ken Lovell
    The Austrian-Hungarian empire remaining intact? Are you kidding. It was on its last legs.

    Vastly different? How so given Germany did not have the resources nor the USA to draw on to pursue for much empire building.

    no countries would have tolerated A communist Russia.

    My guess is a German ‘ win’ would have been nothing like the allies win.

  19. @J-D
    “just because the allies did things in bello which were villainous or foolish or (frequently) both, and some of the diggers were participants in these, does not mean that an Allied victory was not better for freedom and democracy than a Central Powers one would have been.”

    Neither does it mean the contrary. The freedom and democracy duo were nowhere to be seen there. They were to be seen on the city streets of Australia with the buried Australian majority that were fully against the war. But that couldn’t last, hard right power would not allow it, and so the white army later arose and marched threateningly through the streets.

    That in some countries, such as former Great Britain, there was some extension of freedom and democracy following the war (eg women got the vote, workers got better employment conditions and pay) happened in spite of the reasons for entering and maintaining the war. The ruling class 1% had broken themselves in their war both financially and politically and weren’t to rise to their former ruling position for some 80 more years.

    WW1, and Australian freedom and democracy?

    For the last several years I’ve found an address, “Fractured nation”, given in 2013 by Marilyn Lake (Professor in History at the University of Melbourne) well worth reading over on this day. A couple of her central and the concluding paragraphs below:


    Fractured nation – ‘During World War 1 Australia lost its way. Its enmeshment in the European war fractured the nation’s soul.’

    “..World War I proved doubly distressing for Higgins (HB Higgins, MHR 1901, President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration 1906 – 1920). After losing his only child he was assailed by a wild and, as he thought, vindictive Prime Minister. ‘The war has upset many of our complacent theories’, he told Frankfurter, ‘and I think much of my boy’. Under pressure of relentless recruiting, unemployment, price rises and two attempts on the part of the English-born Prime Minister Hughes to impose conscription, the country was riven by bitter class, religious, gender and political divisions. The war opened up new divisions between those who enlisted and the ‘stay-at-homes’, who were shamed by white feathers and social ostracism. The division between those who went to war and those who stayed at home would be perpetuated after the war in the new privileges and status accorded returned soldiers, many of whom, however, were also bitterly disillusioned and joined the anti-war movement…

    Australia and New Zealand had pioneered industrial democracy and women’s political rights. ‘While the principles of democracy were first enunciated in the United States’, noted the historically-minded American suffragist, Carrie Chapman Catt, ‘Australia has carried them furthest to their logical conclusion’. Thus did we take our place on the world stage.

    In Australia, it was noted in overseas newspapers, the working man and the voting woman advanced together, during the first decade of the nation’s existence, seeing a steady increase in the Labor vote, until the Fisher Government was elected in 1910. By war’s end, however, the Labor Party had split, conservative forces had triumphed, the British Empire had gained a new lease of life in Australia, imperial servicemen were settled on Australian land and another Labor government would not be elected until 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. Australian women, able to vote and stand for election to the national parliament from 1902, would not be elected to it until 1943. In World War 1 Australia lost its way. Its enmeshment in the European imperial war fractured the nation’s soul…

    The war was destructive for Australia as a nation which lost not only around 60 000 of its young men, with many more thousands left wounded, deranged, shell-shocked and damaged in countless ways, but lost also a sense of itself as a confident, independent, global pioneer in creating an advanced democracy that drew the eyes of all the world to the new Commonwealth. Instead, Australia succumbed in the end to the demand for loyalty, the demonisation of reformers and the revitalisation of the forces of imperialism.

    One hundred years on, Australia has seemingly become the militarist nation Higgins warned about in his essay ‘Australian ideals’. Rather than celebrate the world-first democratic achievements forged by women and men in the founding years of our nationhood, the years that made Australia distinctive and renowned, we are told that World War I, in which Australians fought for the British Empire, was the supreme creative event for the nation.

    On 18 September 2013, Dr Brendan Nelson, the Director of the Australian War Memorial, explained what we should know about the Australian experience of World War I. ‘It’s important’, he said, ‘that we tell the story of who we were in 1914. Why did we join the war so readily? And what happened in Australia domestically through the course of that war? And how did we change, emerging from it, as we did, so damaged but proud in 1918?’ This is a worthy investigation; in pursuing it, let us separate mythology from history.

    Our nation was not born in the carnage of a world war, which left us a tragically fractured nation, divided, disillusioned, disoriented, desolate and dependent on a resurgent British Empire. In the inimitable words of novelist Miles Franklin, writing to her American friend Margaret Drier Robins in 1924,

    it seems to me that Australia, which took a wonderful lurch ahead in all progressive laws and women’s advancement about 20 years ago has stagnated ever since. At present it is more unintelligently conservative and conventional than England and I am sad to see the kangaroo and his fellow marsupials and all the glories of our forests disappearing to make room for a mediocre repetition of Europe.

  20. This is a sentiment with which I agree. It’s also very bad history.

    The Ottoman Empire was being re-cast as an ethnic Turkish state from the 1890s (the ruling clique were the “Young Turks”). This followed from the loss of the European half of the Ottoman Empire, and meant the Ottomans had an Arab problem, a Greek problem, a Kurdish problem and an Armenian problem (as the new Balkan states had a Turkish problem, which they mostly solved by massacre or dispossession). The same logic was at work in Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany and Britain. They were looking for protection against Russia, which not only had designs on the Straits but was also the protector of the Armenians, and had worries about France (which had long-standing connections with the Christian communities of Lebanon and Syria). There had been smaller, but still brutal, massacres of Armenians before 1917.

    The Turkish-German connection went back well before the war (see Berlin to Baghdad railway, the close ties between the Turkish and German militaries). So they were always much more likely to go with Berlin. If they havered for a little, it was because they were acutely conscious of their weakness.

    There is also a close connection between military mobilisation, democracy and social welfare. All sides were aware of this (one German aristocrat – “the Reichstag was the price of victory in 1870 – what will be the price now?”). German elites instigated the war in large part because they thought this would give them the freedom to crush social democracy at home (and also win an empire in the Ukraine). A similar sentiment was abroad in Vienna and Budapest.

    This does not mean the war was worth it. It means that we have yet to find a way forward on major social issues that does not have a high probability of leading to great violence.

  21. @Peter T

    We seem to be in furious agreement on most points. The fact remains that the Turkish government tried every other option before allying with Germany. Given their weakness, their best bet was to buy off their most dangerous opponents (the Entente) rather than fighting and losing, as they did in the end.

    On your final para, it might be a start to recognise that, no matter how appealing it might seem at the time, war is a disastrous choice which almost always turns out badly for those who make it.

  22. The Armenians think the principal génocidaire was Taalat Pasha, who was Minister of the Interior: ****www.armenian-genocide.org/talaat.html Since Taalat was assassinated by them in 1921, Djemal Pasha ditto in 1922, and Enver was killed fighting Bolsheviks in a random Central Asian battlefield in the same year, we shall doubtless never know exactly their respective shares of responsibility.

  23. Joining one side or the other was not the only option open to the Turks. Franco sat out the Second World War, a much better call, and died in his bed in 1975.

  24. Pr Q said:

    A negotiated peace without annexations or indemnities would have been better than a victory for either side.

    That is certainly true in principle, and was the policy reccommended by a wide variety of political actors, from Pope Benedict (1914+) through President Wilson (Jan 17) through the Reichstag (Jul 17) onto the Petrograd Declaration (Nov 17).

    In practice, all these peace initiatives had one thing in common: their authors had no real power to stop the war. The motor of the World War – both of them! – was the German High Commands (Junker) drive for European hegemony. Stop the motor, you stop the War.

    Even with the best will in the world the Allies could not negotiate any kind of peace with Ludendorff and Hindenburg having the upper hand. The proof of that was their behaviour at the time (Feb 1917) which was to double down on militarism by launching unrestricted submarine warfare, primarily aimed at the US. And even contemplating extending the war to continental America (Zimmerman Telegram). How can you negotiate with a juggernaut?

    Of course given the German miltarys culpability for starting the War, betting on Allied good will is a long shot.

    Thus, in reality, there were only two ways to end the War.

    The short way, by following George Orwells suggestion, “The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”, which was the course of action taken by the Bolsheviks at Brest Litovsk. The motor paused for breath, after swallowing half of European Russia. And then turned its attention to the other half of Europe. So that idea did not really pan out.

    Or the long way, a grinding war of attrition which ended in the physical destruction of the Junker caste. This was the course of action actually taken. The motor was finally stopped in Berlin, then buried at Nuremburg and in the Gulag, with an assist from Hitler who executed about 4000 high ranking officer plotters. It worked, Europe has been at peace for 70 plus years, apart from the Balkans, as one would expect.

    My observation of liberal historians is that they have a difficult time grasping what power maniacs the Junker class were. (Orwell excepted.) Which means they get themselves into an awful muddle when trying to figure out what went wrong in the Great War.

    It would be nice if we could actually play these counterfactual games in real time. But there is no “what if” in Bloodlands history, only “what is”.

  25. @James Wimberley
    Actually, Franco was quite keen to join the Axis, if the terms were right. He wanted guaranteed deliveries of arms, food and oil, and a large slice of French North Africa. Since Hitler could not deliver the first three, and had promised Italy a slice, while also promising Petain that French North Africa would not be partitioned, he tried flim-flam. When Franco did not buy that, Hitler walked away spitting. Franco did let u-boats resupply, German intelligence to operate and sent a division to the eastern front (where they fought bravely, committed a lot of atrocities and were mostly wiped out).

  26. @John Quiggin

    War is rarely a rational choice (there are exceptions to this). It’s more like an instinct – if nothing else works, try violence. As for always turning out badly, the Romans, British and many more would disagree. It turned out well for white Americans, Australian settlers, the beneficiaries of the empires and so on – and is still turning out well for us in that we sit comfortably on lands won by war. That it is now both dangerous and rarely successful for anyone is true, but it was not always so.

    The need to find another way is now urgent, but I doubt pointing out that the current cost/benefit ratio is low will work.

  27. Its good to see that there is still some push back against the politicisation of anzac day. Change is inevitable I suppose but the day has almost nothing in common with how it was pre Howard era .There is an undeniable element of exceptionalism and vulgar celebration now .Maybe that is appropriate in today’s world. I have been avoiding the coverage as far as possible so I dont know if they went through with it but a couple of months ago, in possible push back, the RSL was proposing to ban children marching in the place of now deceased relatives. Bugger the black fellers, having an anzac in the family tree is a bit like having a first fleeter -dinky-di aussie. As for me ,my relatives were lucky to avoid being put in internment camps for the duration of the war. I did not escape post WW2 anti German bigotry in the schoolyard though .

  28. @sunshine
    “how it was pre Howard era .”

    I suppose Keating was pre Howard. Keating started the delusional jingoist militaristic revisionism. Keating began stuffing it first with insane amounts of funding, began the ghastly propaganda gravy train, remembrance walls suddenly encompassed the country, schools stuffed with doctrinaire resources… In this, like so much other, Howard merely followed the previous ALP government direction and added a few more bells, whistles, and flag poles to it.

  29. Henry Haszler :
    I wonder what the German take is an all these things? Does anyone know of a source, yes in English, on German views of the two world wars. I suppose I should ask Dr Google, but just asking in case some humans know.

    Writings of the prominent German historians Fritz Fischer and Gerhard Ritter have been translated into English. (They both have entries in the English-language Wikipedia and there’s also information elsewhere on the Web.) You will find that there is not one ‘the German take’; Fischer and Ritter disagreed vigorously.

  30. John Quiggin :
    @Peter T
    On your final para, it might be a start to recognise that, no matter how appealing it might seem at the time, war is a disastrous choice which almost always turns out badly for those who make it.

    Wars turn out disastrously in all but a negligible number of cases; but only sometimes for the particular individuals who make the choice for war.

  31. “But the conduct of the Allies with respect to the Ottoman Empire, the only area where they stood to make any real territorial gains, shows that they were little better.”

    It goes farther that than. In “Peacemakers: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919” (in the US as “1919: Six Months That Changed the World”) Margaret MacMillan shows that France’s Clemenceau had no illusions that everyone involved was trying to protect and/or extend their empires.

  32. When last in Istanbul I noted that the Military Museum had a gallery on the Armenian Atrocities. Well, I thought, we do seem to be coming closer to a consensus. Then I noted that the displays concerned Armenian atrocities against Turks….
    Oppose monocultural nationalism, there and here.

  33. the Armenian genocide which began at the same time as the Dardanelles campaign, and which Australia still does not recognise

    The NSW Government, for obvious reasons, does recognise it.

  34. @Svante
    I suggested that the Belgians, at least, were fighting for their freedom, and the merits (if any) of this suggestion are unaffected by what happened in Australia (or New Zealand or the UK).

    It would also be possible to make a case (although not an equally strong case) that Australia (and New Zealand and the UK) were fighting (at least partly) for Belgian freedom.

  35. @John Quiggin


    It’s bad history because it’s an unreliable source and does not situate the diplomacy in context. There was no continuous “Turkish government” over the period in question. There was a coup by the Young Turks in 1908 which ousted the sultan from real power, then a split between pan-Turkish nationalists and a more liberal wing, which after various manoeuvres led to a nationalist triumvirate taking power in 1913. The diplomatic overtures were part of an internal struggle, and which way Turkey went was determined by that struggle. You can see much the same happening today – people like Erdogan and Orban are distancing themselves from the west not because the west rebuffs them diplomatically but because their internal policies are incompatible with a close alliance with the EU (Trump’s America is of course fine).

  36. @Peter T

    How does Turkey differ from, say, Britain in that respect? Read The Strange Death of Liberal England for heavens sake. Or, if you already have done, refrain from pointing out what’s trivially true always and everywhere.

    No country, or government, or governing party is a unitary actor, but if I spelt that out at every point in the OP it would be 1000 words long at least. I allude to the divisions at various points, and assume a charitable readership will take the broader point as implied.

    Shorter JQ: A blog post is not a bad history book any more than a history book is a bad blog post.

    Shorter Shorter JQ: Category error.

  37. @Peter T

    because their internal policies are incompatible with a close alliance with the EU

    Yet it was not so long ago that there was a serious push to admit Turkey to the EU, an idea that was dopey and deluded. The argument went that inclusion in the EU would make Turkey more liberal, respectful of human rights etc. Never would have happened, as Hungary and Poland have grimly demonstrated.

  38. In some views, there were three world wars. World War 0 included The Napoleonic Wars, 1805 – 1815 and the “War of 1812” in North America. Basically WW0 was over hegemony in Europe and hegemony over North America.

    Although a military stalemate, the War of 1812, laid the groundwork for effective US hegemony over North America and eventually over Meso and South America, so the Americas in total. No nation in the Americas can challenge the USA.

    Europe required three major wars to more or less settle the issue of hegemony over Europe. The great powers were Britain (sea power) and France, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Prussia was an important secondary power and later Germany become a great power in the European context. The Napoleonic wars were really about whether France or Russia would dominate Europe or whether there would be a balance of powers. Austria-Hungary was knocked out the game relatively early.

    I need not recount the histories of WW1 and WW2 in this context as they are more often canvassed. But again they were about whether France, Germany or Russia would dominate Europe. The upshot was decided by Britain (broken by the effort), Russia (did the heaviest lifting by far to defeat Germany) and the USA (which came out world-dominant).

    Russia is again contained on its western border, Germany-France, in that order, dominate the EU economically, and USA allied with Britain, EU-Nato dominates Western Europe in the strategic military sense.

    The next strategic change coming is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Look it up.

  39. Note: I should have said Russia “did the heaviest lifting by far to defeat Germany in WW2”. France, Britain and the Commonwealth did a lot of the heavy lifting to defeat Germany in WW1.

  40. @Cameron Pidgeon
    No, they didn’t gift them destroyers. They built two full battleships for them, fully paid for by Turkish public donations, which were literally in the process of being handed over when Germany invaded Belgium. Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty confiscated them without compensation, interning the new Turkish crew and adding the ships to the Royal Navy.

    This, along with naked Russian and British imperial ambitions, was another thing that made the Ottomans look very darkly on the Entente. The German gift of replacements, made at very considerable risk (a British admiral was court-martialled for not preventing it, the charge being “failing to pursue an enemy then flying”), convinced the Turks that the Germans alone were trustworthy allies.

  41. @Svante
    “Keating started the delusional jingoist militaristic revisionism”
    I’m actually no fan of the man, but this is definitely unfair. He did not like the Anzac religion at all, partly because of his tribal Irish Catholic Labor background and partly because he correctly considered it a force for monarchy and Toryism (the same reason Howard fostered it). Try and get hold of his Remembrance Day speech at the internment of the unknown soldier – it is often considered his best, precisely because he set out to tackle the traditional pieties.

    As everywhere else, WW1 was an utter disaster for social progress in Australia – Svante is right about that. Its just that I think a Central Powers victory would have been even worse.

  42. “a Central Powers victory would have been even worse.”

    For the world as a whole, that’s only true if you think the result would have been a French or British Hitler, or an even worse version of Stalin.

  43. @John Quiggin

    Why, for heaven’s sake. would you assume I have not read Dangerfield?

    You have a habit of using bad history to make a good moral point. In this case, your argument is “Turkey went to war with the Entente because it was refused an alliance by Britain, France and Russia (who by the way went on to partition the Ottoman Empire).” It’s not even supported by the article you link to if you look at the people and times mentioned.

    I don’t expect a blog post to explore the period in detail, but I do expect it to have some better correspondence with the facts than this. The faction at the helm of the Ottomans (a very small group) explored various alliance options between 1911 and 1914. In that time they drifted more and more towards Germany. Still, in July-October 1914, they still had choices. Nothing compelled them into active war (they could have stayed neutral, as in World War II, or held out to see which side would give the best terms, as Italy did).

    So – in July they send a lower-ranked member to France, while sending the most powerful member of the clique to Berlin. France say no, Berlin say yes at the personal insistence of the Kaiser (and over the objections of the Foreign Office). Then in August they commission a German admiral as their naval commander in chief. Then in October (they are still not at war with the Entente), the member of the cabal who had touted an alliance with France personally authorises a naval strike against Russia, which brings them into the war.

    Where in this are Britain and France responsible? They refused an alliance with a group whose position was very shaky (two coups, several attempts in the 3 years prior) and who had an unenviable record. This group then went on not only to launch their country into war, but were the leaders in several of the worst episodes in the C20 – the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek massacres.

  44. @John Quiggin

    Historians are rightly chary of counter-factuals. Still, there are a couple of points worth bearing in mind.

    World War I was both the closing of an ideological contest in Europe over the outcomes of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (which killed a similar proportion, and devastated a much wider area), and the opening of another ideological contest. The first was the liberal enlightenment vs the old regime of estates, aristocracy and limited representation. The latter was not killed until 1918 (people like Arno Meyer are good on this, also David Cannadine for Britain). Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia were on the side of the old regime. Germany in particular went to war to preserve the old regime against what the key people in the German elite saw as an intolerable liberal/socialist challenge (there is a parallel with the Confederacy here – not just in attitudes but in that that contest is still alive 150 years later).

    So a German victory in World War I would certainly have aimed to consolidate an illiberal order – with a sizeable dose of lebensraum. Whether it could have succeeded is a more difficult question. My guess is probably not – in which case another war would be on the cards. Hitler was a wild card in his manic and unyielding extremism, but the German elite pre-1914 had all the same attitudes in less extreme form (and backed Hitler).

  45. As bravely as many Australians fought and died in that pointless war, I think that we should also remember those who stood up and tried to prevent the slaughter from commencing in the first place. This includes many Australian trade unionists, and the anti-conscription activists who twice defeated ‘Labor’ Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ refererenda to introduce conscription.

    On at least three occasions prior to the outbreak of the First World War, popular opposition prevented the outbreak of global war. These are described in “Hell-bent” (1914) by Australian Author Douglas Newton as mentioned here by Professor Quiggin on 21/10/2016.

    The French Socialist Parliamentarian Jean Jaures was assassinated on 1 Aug 1914 for his opposition to that war. In Germany, whilst the majority of Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentarians abandoned their previous opposition to war, some leading SPD members remained opposed to war. These included Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and Karl Liebknecht. In 1916 they helped form the Spartakist League which was subsequently to become the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD).

    In the Spartakist uprising of January 1919, they attempted to overthrow the government which had led Germany into war. The uprising was defeated with the help of German Freikorps mercenaries. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were to be subsequently murdered by the Freikorps on 15 Jan 1919.

    However, in Russia, the Czar, who led that country into that war, were overthrown in November 1917 and held to account. Sadly, the Russian Revolution failed to spread, most notably to Germany between 1919 and 1923. As a consequence, humanity got Italian Fascism, Stalin, German Nazism, the Second World War with another 60 million dead.

  46. Some food (in this case magic mushrooms) for thought:-

    Has Trump’s gonzo diplomacy finally brought the Little Rocket Man to his senses?

    Was Obama’s effete liberalism effectively a green light for the Little Rocket Man to develop his nuclear program?

    Do most countries in the Middle East need to be run by “strong men” to avoid chaos, as the Iraqi Shi’ite Gulf War 1 army deserter who painted my bathroom tell me a few year’s back. Is this not the lesson of Syria and Libya?

    Should the US not long ago have packed up and left South Korea to its own defences? After all, why should we Westerners care about Koreans? Does anyone genuinely enjoy kimchi?

    And finally, is Clive Hamilton right (read Silent Invasion for details)? Should we exercise some slightly unhinged but completely rational paranoia about Chinese office cleaners, given the aggressive way the CCP monitors and manipulates them?

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