Category Archives: nationalism

Japanese Bayonet Practice in New Britain, 1942

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 2440-2447, 2592-2601:

In 1942 the great majority of Japanese troops carried the 6.5mm Arisaka Model 38, a long but relatively light rifle that boasted almost no recoil. The weapon also had another important attribute, as described in a U.S. Army intelligence bulletin: “The length of the Model 38 makes it particularly suitable for bayonet fighting. When the Japanese infantryman is armed with this rifle and the Model 30 (1897) bayonet, which is also unusually long, he feels that in close combat he is a match for his larger and taller enemies.” The Imperial Army placed a heavy emphasis on bayonet fighting. Recruits spent hours practicing such moves as the “side-step thrust,” the “low body thrust,” and the “body contact thrust.” At this point in the war, few members of the South Seas Detachment, if any, had personally experienced hand-to-hand combat. They didn’t know what it felt like to pierce a man’s body with the thin, fifteen-inch-long blade affixed to the end of their rifles. But on the morning of February 4, many of Noda’s men would find out.

WHEN THE LONG DAY OF KILLING FINALLY ENDED, NODA’S MEN HAD massacred 160 Australians. All were tied up, rendering them completely defenseless, before they were bayoneted or shot. The mass execution, sanctioned by Colonel Kusunose at Rabaul, almost certainly had the approval of Major General Horii. Afterward, the Japanese tacked a chilling message to the front door of the Waitavalo plantation house: “To Commander Scanlan—Now that this Island is took and tightly surrounded by our Air Forces and Navy you have no means of escape. If your religion does not allow you to commit suicide it is up to you to surrender yourself and to beg mercy for your troops. You will be responsible for the death of your men.” Leaving the bodies to rot in the sun, Noda and his troops boarded their landing craft and headed back to Rabaul, taking with them the twenty-two prisoners that had first surrendered on the beach. The 8th Company stopped at Adler Bay and picked up dozens of soldiers waiting there under a white flag, and also stopped at the Warangoi River for more prisoners, including Harold Page and Harry Townsend. All were delivered to Malaguna Camp, part of which had been wired off to form a prison compound.

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Japan’s South Seas Detachment Crosses the Line, 1942

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1125-1147:

Private Akiyoshi Hisaeda, from the Ehime Prefecture of Shikoku, kept a diary as he sailed to Rabaul aboard the transport Venice Maru. He described the conditions as “very cramped and uncomfortable,” and noted that the temperature inside the ship reached 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit). Life inside the other transports was equally awful. There was little fresh water, and the crude wooden benjos (latrines) were up on the main deck, which also happened to be where the meals were cooked. Down below, everyone was tormented by hordes of flies.

The Japanese soldiers were no strangers to terrible conditions or harsh environments. Their rigorous training system, based on the principle of instant obedience achieved through strict discipline, had prepared them well. From the moment they began training as recruits, they were immersed in a culture of degradation and abuse, a rude awakening for people who had spent their entire lives learning group harmony. Not only were recruits cursed and shamed in front of their peers, they were also beaten regularly. Sometimes they were hit on the buttocks with wooden sticks, other times they were slapped, usually with an open hand but occasionally with the sole from a hobnailed shoe. Many instructors were sadistic, barely more than thugs, and they had tremendous latitude to punish recruits with methods calculated to break down every vestige of individuality. Frequently the entire class or platoon received the same punishment: If one suffered, all suffered.

One of the cruelest penalties was meted out during evening meals. Picked at random, recruits were ordered to recite by memory from the Gunjin Chokuyu [軍人勅諭 aka 'Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors'], “Emperor Meiji’s Instructions to the Men of the Fighting Services.” First issued in 1883, it exhorted warriors to carry out their duties with loyalty, propriety, valor, faithfulness, and simplicity. The wording was archaic, difficult to memorize, and if anyone made a mistake or forgot a passage, he was forbidden to eat. For recruits already bruised, exhausted, and ravenous from the day’s training, the denial of food was excruciating. After six months or more of such extreme conditioning, the recruits emerged as well-disciplined soldiers, their “bodies and minds tempered hard as steel.” The men of the South Seas Detachment were no different, and could tolerate anything that nature or the Imperial Army could throw at them.

WHEN THE INVASION FORCE REACHED THE EQUATOR AT 0500 ON JANUARY 20, the South Seas Detachment paused to commemorate a special event. In all of Japan’s 2,600-year history, they were the first army force to cross the line. Miyake later described the scene aboard his vessel: “On the day we crossed the equator, all the men, fully armed and equipped, assembled on deck. ‘At this time, when we are about to … advance into the southern hemisphere, we shall pay our respect toward the Imperial Palace,’ said the commander toward his assembled subordinates. Solemnly, and with overflowing emotions, the men presented arms toward the north.”

The South Seas Detachment [南海支隊 Nankai Shitai], under Imperial Japanese Navy command, was mostly drawn from Japan’s 55th Division, which was recruited primarily from Shikoku and played a key role in the Burma Campaign. The 55th Division’s home base and elite POW camp was Zentsūji. The POWs included about 200 Americans captured by the South Seas Detachment on Guam and Wake Island, a few dozen mostly British prisoners from Singapore, and 60 Australian officers from Rabaul. The Zentsūji POW camp was a Potemkin village to impress International Red Cross representatives with Japan’s humane treatment of its captives. Most of the rest of the men captured in the Rabaul Campaign died aboard the hell ship Montevideo Maru en route to Hainan Island, when it was torpedoed by an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, on 1 July 1942. The loss of those 1050+ men was Australia’s single worst military disaster of World War II.

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Japan’s Navy Guarded Australasia, 1917

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1901-1936:

At a time when the Wolf and the Seeadler were converging on the Pacific and seas around Australasia, neither Australia nor New Zealand had any adequate naval defence, the number of ships available being greatly diminished by war needs elsewhere in the world. In March 1917 the Australian Naval Board, which knew that, if the Australian fleet had not been in existence, then the Emden and any other raider could have attacked shipping out of Australasian ports with impunity. A report on the disposition of the fleet submitted to the Admiralty in London noted that in 1917 the Australia, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were all serving in European waters, that the HMAS Psyche (which New Zealand had had in its waters in 1914 and had now returned to the Australians), the Fantome and three destroyers were attached to the British China Station. HMAS Encounter was stationed to protect shipping off southwestern Australia. Three other destroyers were stationed at, respectively, Jervis Bay, Twofold Bay and Bass Strait for patrols on the main shipping lane between Sydney and Melbourne.

The board noted that at times, due to ships either relieving with the China Station or undergoing refits, Australian waters had been left largely unprotected. It was known at this stage that some sort of raider was at work in the Indian Ocean and on 3 April 1917 the Encounter was ordered to New Zealand to escort a troop convoy to Fremantle, where it was augmented with Australian troopships, and on to Colombo. Australia had nothing larger than a destroyer left in its waters, and the Naval Board, clearly exasperated, cabled London for some help in safeguarding Australia’s coasts and shipping. Three days later the decision was made to send Japanese ships to Australia.

A number of Japanese ships had paid calls to Australian and New Guinean ports in the early years of the war escorting a number of troop convoys and patrolling the main Indian Ocean shipping lanes, particularly those out of Fremantle. As a result of these latest Australian requests, the light cruisers the Hirado and the Chikuma were assigned to protect Australia for most of the remainder of 1917. They spent some months operating out of Sydney and Jervis Bay, and separately visited Melbourne, Hobart, Townsville, Brisbane and, several New Zealand ports as well as patrolling northwards to the New Hebrides, New Guinea and Fiji. Three other Japanese ships made occasional sweeps down the coast of Western Australia during 1917, giving many Australians the lasting impression Japan was solely responsible for guarding the Pacific Ocean and for escorting Australian troops safely across the Indian Ocean. The official history of Australia’s naval role in the Great War later argued that it was misleading to believe Allied naval defence in the Pacific was solely a Japanese concern, but without the vessels from Britain’s Asian ally there would have been no meaningful defence at sea for Australia and New Zealand during much of 1917. Not that their presence was particularly reassuring, especially for the New Zealanders.

The legacy of the ‘Yellow Peril’ fears, which raged in both Dominions at the end of the nineteenth century, was still strong in the minds of many people. New Zealand’s government firmly believed that, while the Germans posed a present and clear danger, ultimately the British Dominions would face peril from Japan. The alacrity with which the Tokyo government had occupied German islands in the mid-Pacific had not been lost on Wellington. Across the Tasman similar fears were held by the Federal government in Melbourne, and both countries were uneasy about a British undertaking to support Japan’s continued occupation of the Marshall and other islands of German Micronesia. In 1918 Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes asked New Zealand’s William Massey to help him oppose the move when it came to a peace conference, but the New Zealand Prime Minister was much more concerned with advancing his own country’s claim to Western Samoa when the time came. New Zealand’s own defences at sea were practically nonexistent after 1915.

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Fear of Germany in the Antipodes Before 1914

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 441-459, 636-658:

The Germans took advantage of the dithering by the British, and raised their flag on the northern coast of New Guinea. The British Government, confronted by this development, was furious. Although not then in the government (but later to be colonial secretary himself), Joseph Chamberlain spoke for British public opinion when he said: ‘I don’t care about New Guinea, and I am not afraid of German colonisation, but I don’t like to be cheeked by Bismarck or anyone else’. Britain promptly proclaimed its sovereignty over the southern part of the island, the territory to be known as Papua.

The Germans, meanwhile, had marked out their claim. North-east mainland New Guinea became Kaiser Wilhelmsland, New Britain was renamed Neu Pommern, and New Ireland was now Neu Mecklenburg. The village of Kokopo, on Neu Pommern, was the main German administrative centre and was renamed Herbertshohe. But what scared the Australians more than changes of nomenclature was that Germany now had a potential naval base in their backyard (and in New Zealand’s backyard once the Germans acquired the western islands of Samoa).

Where the flag went, so went German trading companies. The most famous was the Hamburg house of Godeffroy which had set up its first trading base in Samoa in 1857. In 1872 an English visitor to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands reported that almost all the white men there were agents of a Godeffroy ally, Weber and Company of Apia. That same year a Royal Navy ship found a Godeffroy agent established at Ponape in the Caroline Islands. In fact, by the end of the 1870s the company had posts and agencies in Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Britain and the Marshall Islands as well. They were out to corner the copra trade. And they were supported back in Germany by an insistent new group, the Kolonialverein, which advocated the importance of trade with colonial territories. German ships traded with non-German islands including Tonga. It was significant that German companies had established themselves in the region well before the imperial thrust from Berlin. Hermsheim Company opened a branch at Yap, part of the Caroline Islands, in 1873 to trade copra. In 1903, the Germans discovered phosphate on Angaur Island in the Carolines (now in the Republic of Palau) and in 1909 Deutsche Sudsee Phosphat AG began mining, production rising to 90,000 tons in 1913.

New Guinea was the poor relation. By the time they were thrown out in 1914, the Germans had still never even come into contact with the majority of their subjects. However, they did achieve a great deal more in terms of economic development, public works and education than did the Australians in Papua. (By 1914 the Australians had not even built a public school.)

The failure of this German colony is adduced by the fact that shortly before the war there were only slightly more than 1,100 Europeans living on mainland New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago combined. It was hot, covered in jungle, peopled by what were seen at the time as savages and malaria was lying in wait for any European. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of marks were pumped into plantations which returned practically nothing. Berlin did not care — it had neither the economic importance of German East Africa, the naval appeal of Tsingtao, nor the emotional tug of Samoa.

But Australia did care about New Guinea. It remembered how the Germans had sneaked in during 1884. It also knew that any German colony, malarial or not, was a safe haven for the Imperial German Navy and, as such, ought to be taken seriously. The New Zealanders had similar fears for Western Samoa — along with the desire to make it the jewel in the crown of New Zealand’s Pacific empire.

On the morning of 6 August 1914 a cipher telegraph arrived from the Colonial Secretary in London addressed to the Australian Governor-General:

If your Ministers desire and feel themselves able to seize German wireless stations at Yap in Marshall Islands, Nauru on Pleasant Island, and New Guinea, we should feel that this was a great and urgent Imperial service. You will, however, realise that any territory now occupied must be at the disposal of the Imperial Government for purposes of an ultimate settlement at conclusion of the war. Other Dominions are acting in a similar way on the same understanding, in particular, suggestion is being made to New Zealand in regard to Samoa.

Australia and New Zealand did not need to be asked a second time. The Dominion governments were behind Britain all the way; the recruits could not wait to sink a bayonet into a German. At the turn of the century, German’s Foreign Secretary Prince von Bülow had stated contentedly that ‘now Germany’s possessions in the South Seas are complete and this treaty (with Spain over the Carolines and Marianas) together with the one with China regarding Kiaochow, are milestones along the same road, the road to Weltpolitik’.

The Australians sailed from Sydney on 19 August. The Australian army force left aboard the armed troopship the Berrima which, together with the navy escort, arrived off Herbertshohe on 11 September.

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Germany’s Lack of Settler Colonies Overseas

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 409-425:

But colonies were attractive for one other important reason. Germany needed new markets if it was to combat unemployment at home. Emigration was a major concern: between 1871 and 1881, some 800,000 people left the newly united Germany; taking the period 1887 to 1906, the figure grows to over one million. But here was the rub for Germany: almost all of those emigrants went to the United States. By contrast, while many British went to America, large numbers also chose Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia; in other words, Britain ‘kept’ the bulk of its emigrants within its empire, thereby enlarging its own export markets and simultaneously increasing the strength of that Empire. For the Germans, by contrast, their emigrants were lost forever.

Chancellor Bismarck had previously frustrated the colonial lobby simply because he did not want to antagonise Britain or France; anyway, colonies were not part of his design for Germany’s future. In 1884, however, he did a volte-face and approved the annexation of five territories: New Guinea (including New Britain, New Ireland and part of the Solomon Islands), South-West Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons and Tanganyika. The Germans were now convinced territories — and a fleet to protect their trade lines — had become a necessity. The phobia that Britain and other foreign competitors would try to destroy that trade was accentuated by ever-increasing German unemployment in the last decades of the century.

But then, as economic conditions improved after 1900, emigration from Germany slowed to a trickle. Moreover, getting immigrants interested in the new German colonies was not easy: there were no temperate ones with large swathes of potential farmland, or anything vaguely approaching the appeal of the Cape Colony, New Zealand, Canada or the Australian colonies. The Cameroons and Togoland were seen as tropical hellholes, and South-West Africa was unsuited to farming because so much of it was arid. By 1913, this entire empire was home to just 23,500 Germans, and many of those were serving in the administrations, army or police forces rather than as people making a new home. This lack of critical mass of Europeans in the German colonies also meant these territories never became a meaningful market for manufactured goods from the home country.

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New Arab Kingdoms after 1919

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 10019-10072:

It’s hard to imagine that any of this [alternative history] could possibly have produced a sadder history than what has actually transpired over the past century, a catalog of war, religious strife, and brutal dictatorships that has haunted not just the Middle East but the entire world. That sad history began from almost the moment the negotiators in Paris packed their bags and declared their mission complete, leaving in their wake “a porcelain peace.”

Denied Lawrence’s assistance in the autumn of 1919, a desperate Faisal was forced to accept the few crumbs of compromise the French were willing to throw his way in Syria. When Faisal returned to Damascus, however, he found himself denounced as a traitor for selling the nation out to the European imperialists. Harnessing this popular rage, Faisal renounced his deal with the French and in March 1920 staged something of a palace coup by declaring himself king of Syria. That act, in conjunction with the San Remo conference the following month at which Great Britain and France formalized their partition of the region—Britain taking Iraq and a “greater” Palestine that included a broad swath east of the Jordan River, or Transjordan, France the rest of Syria—set Faisal on a collision course with the French. That collision came in July; after a brief and one-sided battle on the outskirts of Damascus, the French ousted Faisal and cast him into exile. By the close of 1920, the French at last had much of their Syrie intégrale (with the exception of the British mandate in Palestine and Transjordan), but they now faced a populace seething with rage. They also now confronted an external threat; in the deserts of Transjordan, Faisal’s brother Abdullah was massing his followers with the intention of marching on Damascus.

But whatever problems the French had at the end of 1920 were dwarfed by those of the British. In Palestine, tensions between Zionist immigrants and the resident Arab population had escalated into bloodshed. In Arabia, ibn-Saud was once again pushing to oust King Hussein. The worst crisis point was in Iraq. The previous year, Lawrence had predicted full-scale revolt against British rule there by March 1920 “if we don’t mend our ways,” but he had been off by two months; by the time the May rebellion in Iraq was put down, some one thousand British and nine thousand natives were dead. As Lawrence would explain in his 1929 letter to William Yale, at Paris, Great Britain and France had taken the discredited Sykes-Picot Agreement and fashioned something even worse; how much worse was evidenced by the myriad fires that had spread across the region almost immediately.

To combat these crises, in December 1920 Lloyd George turned to a man who had become something of a pariah in British ruling circles, former first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill. One of Churchill’s first acts upon assuming the position of Colonial Office secretary was to enlist the help of another recent outcast, former lieutenant colonel T. E. Lawrence.

At least initially, Lawrence had little interest in rejoining the fray. Immersed in writing his memoirs, and undoubtedly still smarting over his shabby treatment by Lloyd George’s government the previous year, he told Churchill he was too busy and that he had left politics behind. He only relented when the new colonial secretary assured him that he would have a virtually free hand in helping fundamentally reshape the British portion of the Middle Eastern chessboard at the upcoming Cairo Conference. As a result, the Cairo deliberations were little more than a formality, with Lawrence and Churchill having worked out ahead of time, as Lawrence told a biographer, “not only [the] questions the Conference would consider, but decisions they would reach.”

Iraq was now to be consolidated and recognized as an Arab kingdom, with Faisal placed on the throne. In Arabia, the British upheld Hussein’s claim to rule in the Hejaz, while simultaneously upholding ibn-Saud’s authority in the Arabian interior. Surely the most novel idea to come out of Cairo was the plan designed to stay Abdullah from attacking the French in Syria. At the close of the conference, Lawrence journeyed to Abdullah’s base camp in Amman and convinced the truculent Arab leader to first try to establish a government in the Transjordan region of Britain’s Palestine mandate. To Lawrence’s great surprise—and perhaps to Abdullah’s as well—this most indolent of Hussein’s four sons actually proved to be a remarkably good administrator; in the near future, Transjordan was to be officially detached from the rest of Palestine and made an independent Arab kingdom—today’s Jordan—with Abdullah as its ruler. By the time Lawrence returned to England in the autumn of 1921, his one-year service to the Colonial Office nearly over, he had quite literally become the unseen kingmaker of the Middle East.

But if all this brought a measure of stability to the center of the old Ottoman Empire map, it did little to improve matters to the north and south. There, the situation remained uncertain and bloody for some time to come.

In Anatolia, the former Turkish general Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli, had refused to accept the dismemberment of Turkey as outlined by the Allies. Over a four-year period, he led his army of Turkish nationalists into battle against all those who would claim a piece of the Turkish heartland, before finally establishing the modern-day borders of Turkey in 1923. France’s turn in this round robin of war came in the autumn of 1921 when Kemal, soon to become better known as Ataturk, turned his attention to the French troops occupying the Cilicia region. Quickly routed, the French armies in Cilicia beat a hasty retreat back into Syria under the leadership of their commander, the unlucky Édouard Brémond.

At the same time, a bewildering arc of war extended from the Caucasus all the way to Afghanistan as various nationalist groups, Russian Reds and Whites, and remnants of the Young Turks battled for primacy, forming and reforming alliances with such dizzying regularity as to defy both logic and comprehension. Among the prominent aspirants in this crucible were both Enver and Djemal Pasha, and it was no more surprising than anything else going on in the region that Djemal Pasha should turn up in Kabul in the winter of 1921 as a military advisor to the king of Afghanistan.

And then, far to the south, it was King Hussein’s turn. With the British having long since tired of his mercurial rule and refusal to accept the political realities of the Middle East—in 1921, Lawrence had spent a maddening two months in Jeddah futilely trying to get Hussein to accept the Cairo Conference accords—he was all but defenseless when ibn-Saud and his Wahhabist warriors finally closed on Mecca in late 1924. Hustled to the coast and then onto a British destroyer, Hussein was first taken to exile in Cyprus, before finally joining his son Abdullah in his new capital of Amman, Jordan. The deposed king, who had once dreamt of a pan-Arab nation extending from Mecca to Baghdad, died there in 1931 at the age of seventy-six.

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The First Wilsonian Approach to Peace in the Middle East, 1919

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 9950-10001:

IN THE LAST sentence of his memoir, William Yale referred to the Paris Peace Conference as “the prologue of the 20th century tragedy.” Yale served as an expert on Middle Eastern affairs to the American delegation in Paris and, like Lawrence, put forth great efforts to achieve a sustainable peace in the region. As with his British counterpart, with whom he sometimes aligned himself, these efforts were thwarted at every turn. Yale placed much of the blame on his own government. To him, the grand enterprise in Paris seemed a rather perfect reflection of Woodrow Wilson’s peculiar blend of idealism and arrogance. In the American president’s almost comic fondness for tidy enumerated lists—his “Fourteen Points” had been followed by his “Four Principles,” his “Four Ends,” and finally his “Five Particulars”—was the hint of a simplistic mind-set, as if solving the world’s myriad messy problems was merely a matter of isolating them into their component parts and applying quasi-mathematical principles. Nowhere was this more problematic than when it came to Wilson’s cherished and oft-cited notion of “self-determination.” While the phrase certainly sounded good, in the mashed-together cultures of Europe and the Middle East of the early twentieth century, where faith and ethnicity and nationalism were all exerting tremendous and often opposing pulls, just whose claim to self-determination was to win out over others? London and Paris had repeatedly warned Wilson on the dangers of opening up this Pandora’s box, but there had never been any indication that the president was listening.

To William Yale’s mind, all of this was actually symptomatic of perhaps the greatest paradox underlying the American role at the Paris Peace Conference: Woodrow Wilson’s grand vision of a new world order rested on a bedrock of profound ignorance. That was made clear on the very day Yale arrived in Paris and met with his new supervisor, William Westermann, and the other members of the American delegation’s Middle Eastern research section. Granted, the Middle East was a lesser American concern at the peace conference since the United States hadn’t gone to war with Turkey, but it still struck Yale that Westermann, a classics professor from the University of Wisconsin, might have rounded up a panel with at least some familiarity with the region. Instead, they included a specialist in Latin American studies, an American Indian historian, a scholar on the Crusades, and two Persian linguistics professors.

The picture was completed when Yale was handed a briefing book on Syria, a 107-page compendium of historic, economic, and political data that was serving as the principal guide in formulating American policy in the region. The Report on the Desires of the Syrians didn’t require a lot of study on Yale’s part; almost all the citations in those sections dealing with events since 1914 were drawn from a single source, a State Department special agent in Cairo named William Yale.

Several times Yale saw opportunities for championing the cause of Arab self-determination, but they always slipped away on the tide of American inaction. At a meeting with Faisal in mid-February 1919, Yale was taken aback when the Arab leader bluntly proposed an American mandate in Syria, vastly preferring the supposedly disinterested Americans to the French. By then, however, Yale had already been with the American delegation in Paris long enough to realize that, virtuous principles aside, the Wilson administration was more interested in dictating solutions to the rest of the world than in assuming any responsibility of its own. And there was another problem, one that may not have been readily apparent to non-Americans. Its brief burst of international involvement notwithstanding, the United States was already showing signs of sliding back into an isolationist spirit, with Wilson and his Republican opponents who dominated in Congress increasingly at loggerheads. What it meant for all those in Paris looking to the United States for leadership was that time was not on their side, that the longer things dragged on, the less likely the Americans would have the ability or even the interest to do much at all. Very quickly, for Yale and others in the American Middle Eastern division, there came the deeply dispiriting sense that matters were slipping away. “We fought over boundary lines as if the destiny of the world depended upon it,” Yale recalled of that time. “We fumed and fussed because Wilson and [his chief advisor Edward] House seemed to pay no attention to what we were doing. It all seemed strangely academic and futile to me.”

As the peace conference extended, the folly of Yale’s mission would only grow increasingly absurd. In the late spring of 1919, he was appointed to an American fact-finding committee, the King-Crane Commission, which, in pursuit of Wilson’s self-determination principle, was dispatched to determine the desires of the former denizens of the Ottoman world, “to take a plebiscite,” in Yale’s skeptical view, “of a vast sprawling empire of 30,000,000 inhabitants.” Unsurprisingly, after a tour of two months, and scores of meetings in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, the message the commission had heard in each place was unequivocal: the vast majority of people wanted either independence or the Americans. In light of this, the commission came up with a sweeping set of recommendations that placed the United States at the forefront of administering a solution to the Middle Eastern puzzle. That solution, however, did not at all resemble what had already been secretly agreed to by the British and the French, nor what the Wilson administration was willing to take on. At least here, the administration was prepared to act with great dispatch; the King-Crane reports were swiftly locked away in a safe, not to be seen or read by the outside world for the next three years.

Returning to Europe from that mission in the fall of 1919, Yale would make one last attempt to salvage the situation in Syria, enlisting Lawrence’s support for what became known as the Yale Plan. With the plan drawing support from senior British statesmen, it briefly appeared the coming showdown between the Arabs and French in Syria might be averted. But Yale was essentially acting in a freelance capacity, and once senior American officials learned of it, his plan was quickly scuttled. On November 1, 1919, British troops who had occupied Syria until a final settlement was reached began to withdraw. On that same day, French troops began moving in. Days later, Yale resigned from the American peace delegation in disgust and sailed back to New York.

T. E. Lawrence lost hope at about the same time. As his mother would relate to a biographer, her son slipped into a state of “extreme depression and nervous exhaustion” that autumn, and during visits home he “would sometimes sit the entire morning between breakfast and lunch in the same position, without moving, and with the same expression on his face.”

It all sounds all too familiar, 95 years later.

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Djemal Pasha and the Armenians, 1915, 1922

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2682-2700, 10156-10159:

As for where this potentially vast sea of internal deportees might be sent, Talaat and Enver had already selected a spot: gathered up from across Anatolia, most would be herded down to the barren reaches of northern Syria. The insanity inherent in this scheme, of uprooting a vast population and casting it into a land already devastated by the deprivations of war, would play out to obscene result: by best estimate, some 800,000 of the Armenian deportees were to perish—starved, shot, or beaten to death—en route.

The consensus among historians is that Djemal Pasha stood very much apart from his Young Turk coleaders in his response to the expulsions. In June, the first survivors of the death marches began to trickle into the north Syrian city of Aleppo, a way station toward their intended destination, the “relocation zone” of Deir al-Zour some one hundred miles to the east. Visiting Aleppo, Djemal Pasha was horrified by what he saw. Reiterating a March decree that commanded his army to protect the Armenians, he lobbied Constantinople to impose the order on military units where it really mattered, in Anatolia. That plea was ignored.

Getting no satisfaction from Constantinople, Djemal allowed thousands of Armenians to remain in Aleppo rather than continue their death march, and despite the deepening hunger and food shortages spreading through Syria, he ordered an increase of government food aid to the refugees. Testament to his love of order and regulations, he issued a rash of new edicts directing that the army regulate and maintain the food supply for the Armenians, that cars and horses be procured for their transportation, even that each refugee be given a financial allowance. But implicit in the stacks of documents that the Syrian governor signed in his office each day was the notion that his regime actually had the wherewithal to carry out these initiatives, never mind that all evidence—evidence that started just outside Djemal’s office windows and stretched to the farthest corners of his realm—argued otherwise. It was as if he fancied himself the administrator of a canton of peacetime Switzerland, rather than of a poor and highly fractured region the size of Italy that was being ravaged by war, hunger, and disease. In the face of the Armenian crisis, as with so many other problems that came his way, Djemal responded with a mixture of bluster, threats, and pleas, and when none of that worked, he simply averted his gaze. By September, with the crisis worsening, he issued a new edict, making it a criminal offense to photograph the Armenians.

Djemal Pasha continued his adventurous life in the postwar era, if only briefly. Having escaped from Constantinople along with his two co-pashas, Talaat and Enver, aboard a German torpedo boat in the last days of the war, Djemal wandered the battlegrounds of Central Asia, falling in and out of alliances with a bewildering array of factions. His luck finally ran out in July 1922 when he and an aide were gunned down in the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia. Claiming credit for the assassination was a shadowy Armenian nationalist organization that had vowed to liquidate those responsible for the Armenian slaughters of 1915-16, and which had earlier assassinated Talaat Pasha in Berlin. The following month, Enver, the last of the Three Pashas and Djemal’s coadventurer in the Caucasus, also passed from the scene, shot in a Russian Red Army ambush in Tajikistan.

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Filed under Armenia, Middle East, migration, military, nationalism, religion, Turkey, war

The Wilsonian Reset with Mexico, 1913

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), pp. 77-87:

In March 1913, when he became the twenty-eighth president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson gave every indication of a more cordial relationship with Latin America. He despised the imperialism of his age. He had criticized the interventionist policies of his Republican predecessors and looked upon the regular naval patrols of the Central American and Mexican coasts, which Taft and Knox had stepped up, as manifestations of gunboat diplomacy. Privately confessing the limitations of his knowledge of foreign affairs (though he was the best-informed president on that subject since John Quincy Adams), he was sufficiently alert to America’s role in the Caribbean since the Spanish-American War to issue a polite condemnation of dollar diplomacy. His secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, was even more fervently outspoken against the machinations of private American capital in the tropics. The outgoing team of Taft and Knox, anticipating a reversal of their Caribbean policies, feared that Wilson’s rhetoric might touch off revolutionary explosions throughout the area.

Manifestly, a new era in inter-American relations had arrived. But Wilson turned out to be the greatest interventionist of all in the internal affairs of the Latin American republics. His Mexican policy alone would earn him the badge of infamy among hemispheric critics of the United States.

The new American president already had a reputation for stem views and a personality that brooked little criticism, especially if the critic failed to grasp the truth as it was revealed to him. Much has been made of Wilson’s puritanical bent of mind and its impact on his Mexican policy. He certainly believed Huerta to be an “immoral” man, and his refusal to grant Huerta’s government the diplomatic recognition so earnestly championed by the ambassador (and the British minister to Mexico) rested in part on his own conviction that Huerta was a murderer. But Wilson’s assessment of the Mexican situation in spring 1913 went much deeper than his revulsion toward Huerta. He intended to influence the course of Mexican history, to educate the Mexican people, who, he believed, deserved a better society and certainly a more decent leader than the hawk-nosed general now claiming that distinction.

The policy that evolved would be called “watchful waiting,” political pressure reinforced by the military presence of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico and along the long Texas-Mexico border. An American Naval force had been patrolling the Mexican coast since the fall of Diaz two years before, and the General Board of the Navy was continually updating its basic Mexican war plan, which had been drafted several years before Diaz’s overthrow and called for the occupation of Veracruz and several other ports. Across the broad Gulf, at Guantanamo, a marine brigade readied for an invasion of Mexico. Army planners also figured prominently in preparations for conflict with Mexico; indeed, the Army War College advanced an ambitious proposal that anticipated not only the landing of forces at Veracruz but an assault against the capital (as Winfield Scott had done in 1847 during the Mexican War) and the occupation of large areas in northern Mexico.

A week after the inauguration, Secretary of State Bryan, reflecting the sentiments expressed by Wilson in a major address, declared that the United States would not recognize a government that did not rule with the consent of the governed. The administration would in fact extend recognition to new regimes in Peru and China that failed to meet that test, but it was readily apparent that the principle applied to Mexico. Wilson could not manipulate the Peruvian and Chinese situations; manifestly, he believed he could influence what happened next door in Mexico.

Distrusting the American ambassador but unable to replace him because such a move would imply recognition for Huerta’s government, Wilson sent a ["]journalist["; not unlike today's ilk—J], William Bayard Hale, as special emissary to Mexico, the first of almost a dozen executive agents the president sent there. Hale was to report on conditions and, specifically, to check out the persistent reports about the role of Ambassador Wilson in the tragic ten days of February. Hale arrived to find an embassy halfheartedly pressing Wilson’s conditions for recognition: new elections and Huerta’s pledge that he would not be a candidate. If these were met, Wilson offered to mediate between Huerta and his numerous enemies. Hale’s report on the Mexican situation also included an indictment of Henry Lane Wilson‘s role in Madero‘s ouster and death. The ambassador was ordered home for consultation and, back in Washington, dismissed from the diplomatic service, convinced to the end that the origins of America’s troubles in Mexico lay in the refusal to recognize Herta.

But in the fall of 1913 Wilson had informed the secretary of the British ambassador to the United States: “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!”

Wilson was not going to commit the first act, however; Huerta would have to do something so despicable, so outrageous, and something that would be such an affront to the laws of nations and proper international behavior that American retaliation would be manifestly justifiable…. Yet, surprisingly, the incident that would precipitate American action occurred not by Huerta’s hand or even by Wilson’s but by an unthinking Huertista officer in Tampico and a zealous rear admiral in the American navy.

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Filed under democracy, Mexico, military, nationalism, U.S.

The Mexican Republic’s First Century

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), pp. 77-79:

The Mexican republic that Wilson so desperately sought to reform commemorated in September 1910 the centenary of the grito de Dolores, the ringing of church bells in the village of Guadalupe signaling the revolution against Spanish rule. In the nineteenth century, the republic had been governed by savants and opportunists; by statesmen with visions of a peaceful society, where politics would be infused with reason; and by despots who ruled in the tradition of central authority inherited from the Spanish monarchy. American observers considered Mexico an arrogant nation misruled by such unscrupulous leaders as the “crimson jester,” Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, until the republic lost almost half of its territory in war with the United States. After that, many Americans, notably rising Republicans like Abraham Lincoln, thought of their neighbor as a ravaged society, wasted by internecine civil war or preyed upon by European interlopers. The one figure of nineteenth-century Mexico who conveyed a statesmanlike image was Benito Juarez, who in the 1850s fought the power of the church and military and in 1867 overthrew Maximilian’s monarchy. Yet Juarez, for all his dedication to political ideals Americans cherished, remained essentially an inscrutable Zapotec Indian with suspicion of anything foreign and harbored deep distrust of the rambunctious republic to the north.

Juarez, at least, made Mexico the example of a republic that threw off its European trappings. One of his lieutenants in the antimonarchial struggle, Porfirio Diaz, who became president in 1876, presented to the world a stable, prosperous republic. He began by convincing a skeptical American government that the border between the two countries must be secured against marauders, so that the American army would not have to cross the Rio Grande to chase cattle thieves, Indians, or bandits. Resisting American pressures to send patrols into the wastelands of northern Mexico, Diaz started policing it with rurales, who kept the peace and earned Diaz American plaudits.

In the 1880s, as he centralized his authority, Diaz opened the country to speculators, engineers, and promoters of all stripes. Mexico would be modernized with foreign technology and talent. The republic joined the list of “civilized” nations on the gold standard. Its foreign trade jumped markedly; its exports diversified. And its economic ties to the United States multiplied: In 1872, when Juarez died, Americans purchased 36 percent of Mexican exports; by 1890, 75 percent. American capital and technology poured into mining, railroading, and oil exploration. The American presence was fittingly symbolized in 1881 when the New York legislature incorporated the Mexican Southern Railroad and named Ulysses S. Grant as its first president.

And Diaz patronizingly protected the foreigner, removing legal obstacles to foreign concerns and assuring a ready supply of unskilled labor for their use. Privilege went to foreigners to such degrees that it was commonly observed that Mexico was the parent of aliens and the stepparent of Mexicans. By 1910, fully 75 percent of the mines and 50 percent of the oil fields belonged to Americans.

After 1900, as his power became more entrenched, Diaz grew increasingly apprehensive about the large American presence in Mexico. His Central American gestures on behalf of Zelaya were in part aimed at offsetting American influence, and he provided concessions to British oil interests as a way of countering the enormous amount of American capital invested in Mexican petroleum.

But it was not American capital that brought Diaz down eight months after the 1910 celebration. As he aged, he became mellower; his associates, uncertain about the succession, began maneuvering furiously behind the scenes. They became even more frantic after Diaz declared in 1908 in a famous interview with an American journalist, James Creelman, that he had guided Mexico into the twentieth century and the nation was now ready for democracy. His retirement would coincide with the centennial in 1910. In the aftermath of the interview with Creelman there was a flurry of political activity. New parties appeared, and angry voices, silenced by Diaz for thirty years, spoke harshly against the political system the dictator had created.

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Filed under economics, Mexico, nationalism, U.S.