Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who's in Charge Here?

Of course there was a lot of dissatisfaction against the Pres going, Mostly by people whom he did not take along,... I was in favor of his going because I thought it would give us a chance to find out who was Vice President, But it Dident,...
Will Rogers

The Cowboy Philosopher made a good point: who held down the fort at home during those six months when Wilson was away?

True, the President came back for a week to see if he could rally Congress behind him. That didn't really work out, and he returned to the Conference.

So who was running things? Well, first of all, those were the days before Presidential power was so enormous, before the job became kind of symbol of superhumanity. Even Wilson—as a positivist and Progessive, and frankly an outright admirer of executive power—usually finished his presidential work in three or four hours, at least in the years before the war. But someone had to be in charge, right?

The Vice-President? Well, there was a problem.

Wilson's Vice-President was Thomas Riley Marshall, an Indiana Democrat who really didn't like Wilson very much, and whom Wilson definitely didn't trust or care much for. Indeed, before Marshall, presidents usually used the V-P as a go-between with Senators. But Wilson skipped this step, surprising observers by meeting with Senators without reference to Marshall.

Marshall was indeed a man of little influence, but he thought of himself as something of a comic, a kind of homespun philosopher and jokester—perhaps a political Mark Twain or Will Rogers. Based on the following gags, we probably have to admit that he was no Will Rogers:

"Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state."

Inscribed in a book Marshall gave to Wilson: "From Your Only Vice"

Yet the apparently irrepressible V-P also came up with a lasting one-liner: "What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar."

In spite of this achievement by Marshall, Wilson made it abundantly clear that Marshall was to have no influence on any substantive issues. In fact, it seems that Wilson did not broach the question of interim leadership at the presidential level with his Vice-President in advance of his departure in any substantive way. Just after the Armistice, the Council on Foreign Relations held a meeting at which several experts gave opinions as to whether the seat of the U. S. Government could legally reside on foreign soil. The participants cited several statutes prohibiting this. Still, on November 28, 1918, the New York Times quoted Marshall as saying that he "unquestionably would assume the Presidency of the United States and exercise the duties of that office if a court having jurisdiction directed me to do so."

There was further trouble in advance of the Peace Commission's departure, much of it occasioned by the related issue of Wilson's refusal to add any Senators or any Republicans to the negotiating team. The Commission was strictly partisan. So William Howard Taft, who actually supported much of Wilson's peace plan, was not invited and hence could speak out with concern about the absence of the President.

Wilson clearly would never have wanted Marshall to step into some place-holding leadership role while Wilson was in Europe. But Wilson's increasingly prickly relations with many of his closest collaborators in the Cabinet also prevented the kind of satrap position that, say, FDR might have created. In the event, Wilson armed the Hotel Crillon in Paris with a huge switchboard and telegraph station. Cablegrams were passing back and forth constantly between Paris and Washington. The government just performed its tasks without direct intervention from the President.

An interesting idea!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Will Rogers on the Peace Conference

Will Rogers was a enormous American presence by the end of World War I, known both for his vaudeville act and the movies which he had just begun making. His monologue, of course, consisted chiefly of commentary on current events (a commentary usually accompanied by lariat tricks, with his faithful pony on hand). By the end of the war, he had also begun some writing that would turn eventually turn into a long-running and popular column and eventually a string of books. From his "what I read in the papers" act, he was obviously reading a good bit about the Peace Conference, since it dominated the New York Times and other papers. In 1919 he published his Paris Peace material in a volume entitled Rogers-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on The Peace Conference.

The following a piece of the book covering roughly our time period now (ninety years ago)—that is, during President Wilson's visit home in February.

The jokes are fairly chronological... makes sense when you think about it... all he knew was what he read in the papers!

Pres had pretty good luck on that 1st trip... they saw his 14 points and raised him -------- ---- more

Says in there, "There is to be no more wars" and then there was a Paragraph a little further down told you where to get your AMMUNITION in case there was one,

Now he come's back to Washington to explain the LEAGUE OF NATIONS to Congress You know those guys cant read anything and understand it,

But after eating out of 15 million dollar Gold Plates and hobnobbing with Kings and Dukes can you imagine how Congress looked to him when he come back,

Had All the Senators up to dinner at White House Took Ham Lewis three days to dress for it,

Not much news from the Dinner Burleson copped the Phones,
On last day went up to Capitol to sign all the bills Congress had passed Well after he had signed the bill,

Then he went before Congress and balled out the WILFUL 37, he was busier than Mcadoo with a new train,

HE and Taft both spoke on same stage first time Pres and x-pres ever agreed,

I still wanted to go along but he said: "wait Will till some other trip and I will take you,"

You know 13 is his lucky number if they dont sign this upon this trip he knows they will on his 13th trip,

You see Congress got sore cause he did not call them in extra session, You know the next Con, is Republican, Be a good joke on them if he dident call them at all wouldent it,

Back to Paris to meet Col House the only man the Pres ever listened too,

MR DANIELS went over. First time they have ever taken Josephus anywhere, He will be allright in a crowd,

Made Mr Hoover food DICTATOR for all the Allies That means that BELG FRANCE and ENG, are not going to get any more to eat than we do,

Conference at 1st gave America Japan Italy France 5 deligates each and England including her Colonies fourteen, Thats all right to allow England for each one of her Foreign Relations, But they did not allow us a single one for Wisconsin,

How would you like to have been on a committee of Englishman to inform Ireland they dident get any Deligates, OH BOY,

Finally got it down to the big TEN now theres only FOUR, speaking to each other,
America dident know till they got over there that those European Nations have had a disease for years called the Gimmes.

England and Japan had a secret Treaty where England was to get everything south of the equator and Japan everything North, Guess they were going to leave the equator for Ireland,....

The book is available complete and online. Thank you Gutenberg Project!!!:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wilson's Return to the United States

Ninety years ago today, Woodrow Wilson arrived aboard the George Washington at Boston. There are some wonderful photographs of Wilson's four voyages on the GW at:

Wow! If anything about the whole picture of 1919 impresses upon us the differentness of that time from our own, I nominate Wilson's whole course of action relating to the Peace Conference.

This President left the United States for the Peace Conference quite early, on December 4, only a few weeks after the War ended. He arrived in France nine days later but toured France, Italy, and Britain for nearly a month. Then to Paris for the Conference opening. Then, worried about affairs at home, especially rumblings about Wilson's plans for the Peace, he headed home and arrived in the United States on February 23. He left again eleven days later, on March 6, arriving in France on March 14. The Versailles Treaty signed, he left for the United States on June 29, 1919, reaching New York on July 8. He had been out of the country for six months all told.

Originally, his plan was to have someone else represent the United States, and Secretary of State Robert Lansing was indeed named head of the U. S. Delegation. But Lansing's resistance to making the League of Nations the centerpiece of the peacemaking caused a rift which widened during the Conference.

Indeed, numerous rifts emerged between Wilson and those close to him in this period. Even as we speak, ninety years ago, trouble is brewing between Wilson and his "alter ego," Colonel House. Much more on that later.

Actually, from the 1960s there has been a running debate on the nature of Wilson's personality and his health, some scholars contending that serious neuroses influenced the increasingly inflexible Wilson, some contending that a series of strokes really did the same thing. The debate is much more complicated, and from any point of view, fascinating. It is also quite redolent of facts about Wilson, his milieu, etc. Some hefty disagreements emerged in the eighties in this debate, with some historical heavyweights weighing in, including Arthur Link, editor of the Woodrow Wilson Papers. (An excellent summary of the various stages of the debate to 1983 is in an article by Jerrold M. Post, "Woodrow Wilson Re-Examined: The Mind-Body Controversy Redux and Other Disputations," Political Psychology 4, No. 2 (June 1983): 289-306.)

One conclusion to be drawn about Wilson is that neither mental nor physical health was robust by the end of the war. Indeed, his natural inflexibility seems to have reached a zenith at the time of the Conference.

Be that as it may, it is difficult to imagine any modern President being gone for any extended period, much less six months. Next time we touch on this issue: "Who was in charge back home?"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Denmark's Territorial Wish List

Ninety years ago yesterday, the Conference heard the claims of the Danish government to a piece of Germany—the northern strip of German territory from the North Sea to the Baltic. The area was called either Nordschleswig (North Schleswig) and Sønderjylland (South Jutland), depending on whether one was looking at the region from the German or the Danish perspective.

We have to work through some details here. And it is significant that this was a region whose complexities were prominent in European politics. The famous British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston once said that only three individuals in Europe had ever fully understood the Schleswig-Holstein Question, adding that one of those was dead, one had gone mad, and that he himself had forgotten about it.

The disputes over Germany's northern border stemmed, in a sense, from the late Middle Ages, when the dukes of two duchies, Schleswig and Holstein, attached themselves to Danish king. These duchies were essentially German polities, and the southern duchy, Holstein, belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Yet in this age before nationalism, or indeed, before the modern state, such issues as ethnic identity were not issues at all. But in keeping with the Medieval ideas of legality and constitutions, the duchies made the deal with Denmark that they would part of the kingdom, but, in their brand of Medieval German, "op ewig ungedeelt," forever undivided, and moreover, with basic autonomy. As modern sensibilities made ethnic identity more important in the nineteenth century, the populations of the two duchies were certainly aware that Holstein was mostly German-speaking, and that Schleswig, the northern duchy, was partly German-speaking, partly Danish-speaking.

This was still fine until the Danish state started a program of centralization at the time of the general European upheaval of 1848 and in the decade afterward. The Danish crown increasingly violated the autonomy of the duchies, at the same time that the German population felt increasingly German. This issue and a dynastic problem allowed Bismarck to arrange a war in 1864, a war of Austria and Prussia against Denmark. This Danish War turned out to be the first of the three wars that set up German Unification in 1871. To skip many interesting events, let me say that Denmark lost the 1864 war.

As a result, Denmark lost both duchies, Holstein to the Austrians and Schleswig to the Prussians. The northern duchy of Schleswig was ceded to Prussia without regard to the strong Danish majority of the population in the north of the region.

In the peace settlement ending the Danish War, the Prussians were obligated to hold a plebiscite in the northern districts before they took over. The treaty language was clear that a Danish referendum victory would mean that this northern territory would remain Danish.
Yet in 1865/66, the Prussians quickly carried out annexation without a plebiscite. The Danish government protested, and Prussia went through the motions of arranging for a plebiscite after the fact, but the vote was eventually postponed indefinitely. About a hundred thousand ethnic Danes were thus brought under the Prussian state and later (when Prussia became the unifying core of the German Empire in 1871) Germany.

Just after Prussian takeover, some 60,000 Danes opted to emigrate either to Denmark or elsewhere, many of them young men avoiding the Prussian military draft. Many contemporary observers viewed this episode as a shabby one. This ethnic injustice was compounded from the 1880s onward by Prussian policies of Germanization. Yet to tell the truth, Germanization related mostly to school policies. Compared to, say, Russianization in Finland, Germanization in Schleswig was fairly soft, or tolerant. No violence marred any of these events. No Danes lost their property; indeed, because of German economic development, property values of even the Danish farmers tended to rise.

Yet, the Danish farmers of Schleswig (and they were predominantly farmers) would undoubtedly have preferred being a part of Denmark, even before Great War conscription and privations, even more so afterward.

Denmark had been neutral in World War I, of course, but this didn't stop the Danes from seeing a great chance at "righting the wrong" of 1864/5. Why would the Allies worry about the claims of a country which had not fought in the war?

Well, as we shall see in coming discussions, delegation had its own agenda. Certainly the Danes were banking on the "self-determination" theory that Wilson had forwarded so prominently in the Fourteen Points. But the Danes also understood that French thinking about territory was really still stuck in an earlier, almost dynastic, mode. Clemenceau, Poincaré, Tardieu, and others seemed to equate greater territorial extent and higher population with greater power. Though this equation had long since ceased to hold in Europe, the French doggedly stuck to the idea.

Hence, they hoped to shear off as much territory from Germany as possible—literally, to cut Germany down to size. The adjacent map may be seen in a larger version at Wikimedia and shows a huge "South Jutland" from a Danish conception of 1918, no doubt in preparation for the peace settlement. The French worked very closely with the Danes to work out claims for Schleswig that were in fact, a kind of wish list—not just North Schleswig, but most of Schleswig, including sections that were in fact 100 percent German-speaking.

OK. That's enough for now. We will have to follow this and a dozen other intricate issues. The Devil was most definitely in these details.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Death of Mark Sykes

British diplomat, Conservative "politician," scholarly Wunderkind, English "traveler," and diplomatic middleman Sir Mark Sykes died in Paris, of the Spanish Influenza, at the Hotel Lotti on the evening of February 16, 1919. He was 39.

Sykes's friend, diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson, wrote: "Mark Sykes died last night at Hotel Lotti. I mind dreadfully. He is a real loss. It was due to his endless push and perseverance, to his enthusiasm and faith, that Arab nationalism and Zionism became two of the most successful of our war causes.... He made mistakes, of course, such as the Sykes-Picot Treaty, but he kept to his ideas with the fervour of genius."

Sykes (a militia colonel and a baronet) was born Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes. A child of a rich but somewhat dysfunctional family, he traveled over much of Europe and the Middle East as a child. He attended Cambridge and started publishing books on his travels and other works in his early twenties. (See the Wikipedia entry on Sykes for more details.)

He was, in his late twenties and thirties, parliamentary bureaucrat, traveler, friend of influential persons, and outside-the-box shaper of foreign policy and empire. With the outbreak of the war, Sykes was brought onto the most important of the committees advising the Cabinet on Middle Eastern issues. From this committee, he helped shape much thinking about the Middle East, even reintroducing the regular use of classical names such as Palestine and Syria, to overlay the Arabic and Turkish modern place names (hence rendering the whole region in effect, if not a tabula rasa, still a relatively blank canvas for British designs).

We will be looking a the Sykes-Picot Agreement later, as well as the Balfour Declaration, in which, as Nicolson indicated, Sykes played indispensable roles.
For the moment, his death reminds us of another, often obscured, backdrop to the Paris Peace: the Spanish Influenza.

This terrible pandemic, still being studied intensively, seems to have spread in its enormously mortal pattern as direct result of the war. It killed, in current thinking, somewhere between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. Some experts are saying that something over 2.5% of the human population died from this disease. It killed Sykes and many more influential, well-known individuals: Louis Botha (PM of South Africa); Randolph Bourne (American intellectual and critic of the war and Wilson); John Reed (American leftist); Egon Schiele (Austrian painter, whose pregnant wife had died three days before); Yakov Sverdlov (Bolshevik leader); Max Weber (towering intellectual of social sciences).

Some quite prominent people survived the disease (to be expected--one fifth of the world's population may have had it), including Woodrow Wilson, Prince Max of Baden, David Lloyd George, John J. Pershing, Wilhelm II of Germany, and Walt Disney (!).

Sykes, however, has played a special role. Because he was buried in a lead coffin, recent virus researchers hoped that his remains would be in state in which the virus would be intact. Hence, Sykes's descendants allowed an Oxford virologist and his team to exhume the body in September 2008. The lead coffin had split, however, and the samples were withdrawn through the cracks. It seems that the corpse was in an extreme stage of decomposition.

One more interesting personality at the Paris Peace. More to come.

There is much information online about the Spanish Flu. And excellent site is one from Stanford, "The Influenza Pandemic of 1918." Alfred Crosby's outstanding book Forgotten Pandemic is online with Google Books, or easily available for sale as well. The Wikipedia entry on "1918 Flu Pandemic" is especially good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Borders in the Paris Peace, Primer, Part III

Concerning Alsace-Lorraine

An acquaintance of mine asked a good question about the population of Alsace-Lorraine and its ethnic make-up. You may remember that at the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, that war that unified Germany, the Germans simply took Alsace-Lorraine (or rather, Alsace and part of Lorraine) and made of it a "Reich Territory," which meant that Alsace-Lorraine was not attached to any of the German states.

Indeed, the region was ruled by a kind of military regime. One of the justifications for taking it was that most of the people in Alsace and some in Lorraine spoke either standard (High) German (a few) or a German dialect called Alsatian (most), or some other German dialect. As a borderland between the German world and France, many people spoke French.

The Berlin-appointed regime was famously insensitive and even contemptuous of Alsatian German-speaking Alsatians, downright hostile to French-speaking Alsatians, and highly supportive of those Germans who had immigrated to the region to find supervisory jobs in the coal and other industries.

Yet if we pose, as my friend did, the sensible question, "What was the ethnic profile?" we might not be too satisfied with available answers.

This is not as simple a question as one might think. First of all, people (especially those in borderlands) are what they are in part because of what scholars call "primeval" characteristics (language and so forth) and in part from self-definition. Hence—people call themselves "Germans" or "French" or "Alsatians" or "Bulgarians" or whatever. Recent issues of race and culture identity in the United States and elsewhere make this pretty clear. So do the fashions of U.S. society which lead one generation to downplay its ethnic identity and another generation to emphasize it. These are not new patterns. Rudyard Kipling wrote a whole novel about a kid in India who just wants to figure out who he is (Kim). All this is intensified in times of war and privation and in cases where people live, in essence, on the edge of two states or in some other marginal situation within the states. Current conditions, especially economic ones, have a lot to do with it.

So the simple question: were they Germans or were they French? Hard to say.
In figuring this out, we tend to fall back on language. But how do we know what language people spoke in 1900 or 1910? All sets of statistics admit error, and indeed the way you gather information (especially language information) can result in wild variations. In provinces of Prussia, the largest of the German federal states, census takers asked folks what language they prayed in--assuming perhaps that you don't really hide your core identity when praying, or at least that is when you try to hide it least (this sounds good, but who knows).

Then again, different sets of statistics yield different "truths." Language ratios in primary schools might (and often do) vary, for example, from census data. We might find one degree of Germanness or Frenchness in school records and another degree reflected in census or other data.

And I have not mentioned that fact that many Alsatians did not consider themselves either German or French. Many thought of themselves as Alsatians. There was a distinct border culture. The capital of the region, Strassburg, seen on the left, was a very distinctive intermixture of cultures. One of the culinary specialties was "Choucroute garni," Sauerkraut with the trimmings--a German dish named in French. There was a pretty strong autonomist, even secessionist movement in the region both before and after World War I, and even a short-lived Republic of Alsace-Lorraine afterward (but there it was, for eleven days!). This particularism, or regionalism, complicates things. As we shall see when looking at one of Germany's eastern stretches of border, borderlanders frequently declared a pox on both houses.

Another not insignificant point of complication would be the question, "Exactly what do we mean by 'Alsace-Lorraine'? Alsace was heavily Alsatian (Alemannic German), but Lorraine was not. And in any case, only part of Lorraine went to Germany to form the Reichsland in 1871. So in answering what seems to be a simple question, we have to specify what territory we mean.

Further: what about intermarriages? If Germans from the rest of the Reich immigrated into Alsace (and a quarter of a million did in the first 25 years of German rule), then how do we classify their progeny?

Of course, you can go look at statistics. A convenient sources is on Google Books, an old publication by a professor of French lit who later made a name for himself at Reed College: Barry Cerf. The book is Lorraine Since 1870 (published in 1919). The author presents quite a bit of useful information, but be careful: his agenda was to show that all the region should be handed back to France (a really loyal teacher of French!) Yet many of his stats are useful—especially useful in making the point that the issue is complicated.

In general, one might say that a large majority spoke Alsatian/Alemannic-German, another percentage spoke some other variant of German. Most of these folks read High German. Many French-speakers had emigrated to France in 1872. Some remained. So one way or the other, the "Germanness" of the region was intensified, but not necessarily intensified all that much in terms of loyalty to the German Reich, which was after all a centralizing regime just like any other modern state. And therefore a regime that structurally acted to break down particularities, local allegiances and traditions, and even local dialects. There is much evidence that what really united the majority of Alsatians in A-L was their dislike of being told what to do by Berlin. And by the way, after 1918, a great many Alsatians didn't like being told what to do from Paris either.

Well, so much for a simple answer. We have to come back to border issues some more. And of course, we have to figure out what to do with Alsace-Lorraine. But then, we have our Conference committees working all that out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

David Lloyd George, Part I

Simply put, David Lloyd George was too big for any single blog post!

The only British Prime Minister whose native language was not English, David Lloyd George, the irrepressible Welshman, was a phenomenon. Contemporary cartoonist David Low called him, “the best-hated statesman of his time as well as the best loved.” Low continued: “He must have been poison to the old school tie brigade, coming to the House an outsider, bright, energetic, irrepressible, ruthless, mastering with ease the House of Commons procedure, applying all the Celtic tricks in the bag, with a talent for intrigue that only occasionally got away from him.” One observer said that when Lloyd George spoke, “you had to hold onto your seat not to be carried away.” In his book Goodbye to All That, poet Robert Graves wrote: “The power of his rhetoric amazed me. The substance of the speech might be commonplace, idle and false, but I had to fight hard against abandoning myself with the rest of his audience. He sucked power from his listeners and spurted it back at them.”

This startling ability to sway a crowd with his speech seems to have been unsettling to many contemporaries, especially those who were also familiar with his political tactics, his shifts and turns. Lloyd George was famous for his slipperiness in political maneuvers, his loyalty to the common man against “the Dukes,” his unreliability, his sorrow for the men in the trenches of the war that he was directing, his being “a gambler without foresight.”

Coming from a close Welsh Nonconformist family, Lloyd George grew up a strict member of the Disciples of Christ, a part of the Stone-Campbell movement which had started in Ulster, jumped, the Atlantic, and jumped back to the United Kingdom. Its emphasis was on the rejection of creeds and the acceptance of "primitive Christianity." Related no doubt to the behavioral norms of his religious community, this crafty politician was also a famous public teetotaler, and in spite of his quite intimate awareness of the costs of the war, he spent at least some energy during the Great War decrying drink and promoting Temperance. “Drink,” the Liberal cabinet minister said in early 1915, “ is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together.” Inconsistent in much else, Lloyd George seems to have been consistent toward "the Drink Demon."

But mainly, the wartime Lloyd George was the tough war leader—a real analogue to Clemenceau in many ways—who was willing to do the hard tasks which would enable Britain to survive the war. At about the same time he was comparing Drink to Unlimited Submarine Warfare, Lloyd George declared, “All the engineering works of the country ought to be turned to the production of war material. The population ought to be prepared to suffer all sorts of deprivations and even hardships whilst this process is going on.”

When the war ended, he was, as usual, brilliant: “At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruelest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.” In private, his public optimism was missing: "This war, like the next war, is a war to end war." One way or the other, his immediate concern from the Armistice on was the election looming on December 14, 1918. This would be the first election in which women were allowed to vote (and not all of them—only those age 30 and older). It would also be a “khaki election,” since the demobilized (demobbed) soldiers would already be returning to vote. The continuance of the heroism was a necessary and ubiquitous theme: “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in."

One aspect of a Britain fit for heroes, and perhaps the salient thrust of his campaign, was that the Germans would pay. Paying for damage in France and Belgium of course The “hang the Kaiser” spirit was running high, and Lloyd George manipulated it. The result was a victory for the coalition that included Lloyd George’s Liberals: unlike Britain a generation later, the Britain of 1918 did not jettison its war leader as victory materialized. But of course, the victory brought with it the expectation the Lloyd George, having delivered victory in war, would deliver the German payments for the war in its wake. The crafty statesman might dodge and weave, but he couldn't shake himself loose from this constraint.

We have seen something of Woodrow Wilson’s preparations for the Peace. What might we say about those of David Lloyd George? “Diplomats,” he quipped during the weeks before the Conference, “were invented simply to waste time.” Speaking before the Conference plenary in January, the Prime Minister said, “The finest eloquence is that which gets things done; the worst is that which delays them.” His attitude, similar to that of le Tigre, was to move things along. (One gets the feeling that both Clemenceau and Lloyd George were exasperated with Wilson much of the time. Of course, they were exasperated with each other too.)

So how did he do this? I have said that David Lloyd George was too big for one post. So tune in later for Lloyd George Part II.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What Happened to the Ottoman Empire?

What about the Ottoman Empire? It was a very important component of the Central Powers. I've touched briefly on some of the Arab politics related to the Turkish Empire, but we should get down the core of things here. Today: how did the war end for the Ottoman regime?

First off, a definition. The Ottoman Empire was an empire led by an Islamic and Turkish dynasty and administration which covered much of what we today call the Middle East. It had its origins a thousand years ago, and it grew by leaps and bounds at the expense of the Byzantine Empire in the 1300s and 1400s. In fact, the Ottomans ended the final vestige of the Byzantine Empire (and hence the final vestige of the Roman Empire) in 1453 by capturing Constantinople (eventually to be called Istanbul). Thereafter, the Ottoman Empire included the Balkans, most of the Black Sea coast, the whole Eastern Mediterranean rim, Syria, Palestine, much of Arabia, Egypt, and even some of North Africa west of Egypt. Plus much island real estate. Huge!

It was, also, a strange mixture of fearful autocracy at the top (the Sultan) and highly variegated society reflecting complex rights, privileges, negotiations, discriminations, dissatisfactions, and satisfactions. The majority of the population was Muslim, but significant minorities were Christian: Greeks, Armenians, etc. Dubbed the "sick man of Europe" by the Russians in the nineteenth century, the Ottomans had gone through three major periods of reform from the 1830s to 1914. This "modernization" thus impacted society as yet another layer of this complex mix. For the most part, ideas of ethnic nationalism grew year by year in the Ottoman Empire as in the other European Empires. And though Turkish elites considered many possibilities of how to increase cohesion in the vast, porous empire, the option of Turkish nationalism—a mode of cohesion based on only one of many nationalities—seemed inevitable. This was especially the case after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 reformed the empire in a nationalist mode.
So Ottoman Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. It fought on many fronts, achieving success that was really amazing in the face of many difficulties. By 1918, of course, Turkish armies were being pushed back on the Russian fronts, in Syria, and elsewhere. Hence, the trio of Young Turk nationalist leaders who had ruled as a troika during the war signed the Armistice of Mudros on October 30, 1918.

What did this Armistice do, apart from stopping hostilities? Well, as the headline of The New York Times put it, "Turkish Armistice Signed: Equivalent to Unconditional Surrender, Opens Black Sea to Allies." Well, yes. The Allies were to have free access to the two straits, the Dardanelle Strait and the Bosporus, at Istanbul itself. And Ottoman forces were to withdraw from certain positions to a more compact version of the Empire, and much of that territory to be abandoned had been captured by the Allies already.

On the other hand, it was not clear from the document which parts of the Empire were to be occupied by Allied forces. The Turks didn't think that Istanbul would be. Neither did the British admiral who signed the Armistice. But one way or the other, French and British forces occupied Istanbul two weeks after the Armistice. And Allied forces proceeded to occupy naval installations, such as Izmir (Smyrna) and strategic tracts of territory. Sultan Mehmet VI, who had been on the throne since 1909, continued to be Sultan in name, but his shadowing presence in the occupied city of Istanbul did not give much confidence to the confused populations of the defeated and occupied Empire.

By the time of the Peace Conference, numerous countries were armed with well-developed plans for parts of the Ottoman Empire (we have seen some Greek and some Arabian statesmen pursuing such goals already), usually based on historical precedent, ethnic unanimity and "self-determination," or recent (in most cases, secret) promise. In the line-up of those seeking pieces of this particular rock were Italy, Greece, the Arab dynasty of Faysal, Persia, certain Armenian political organizations, France and Britain (in line for indirect control of certain areas), and some others.

So this enormously complex picture sits in the background to all the talk about the settlement in the Middle East at the Conference. Two other issues come to mind immediately in discussing all this: the invention of the Mandatory Power system by the peacemakers, and the promises made to various parties during the war. We will be unpacking all this over the next few weeks. But for the moment, we leave foreign armies occupying considerable portions of the shadowy Ottoman government's territories as foreigners are lining up in Paris to talk the Four into handing over parts of the Empire.
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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.