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Post on Dismantling Empires
Created by John Eipper on 01/14/14 11:42 AM

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on Dismantling Empires (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 01/14/14 11:42 am)

I think that the situation in Syria (see Yusuf Kanli, 14 January) must remind us of the usually tragic consequences of the dismantling of empires. I suppose it must be somewhat politically incorrect to say so, but how many new nations which were born out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire (and subsequent British Mandate) have been able to govern themselves? There are a few, of course, but I think they are in the minority. Would not the Middle East--the most conflict-ridden region on Earth--be vastly better off had the Ottoman Empire continued and modernized, rather than being ripped to shreds after WWI? It could have happened, it would have happened, if the Ottomans had simply not made the fateful decision to side with the Germans.

The root cause of nearly all the geopolitical problems of the last 100 years is World War I. The number of different problems which were born out of that unnecessary and pointless conflict are staggering. There would have been no Hitler, no Lenin, and no Stalin, without the Great War. No World War II, no Cold War, no Korean War, no war in Vietnam. No snake pit which is the Middle East. No Israeli-Palestinian conflict. World War I must be one of the sharpest turns for the worst which ever happened to humanity.

I'm just back from nearly a week in Istanbul, so have had occasion to think about the Ottomans these days.

JE comments: Great to hear from our Esteemed Chair, Cameron Sawyer, after a lengthy silence. Regarding Cameron's point on WWI as the cause of (nearly) all Geopolitical Evil that Followed--no disagreement from me; I've said the same thing. But what would have happened to the Ottoman Empire had it stayed out of the Great War? This is too complex a "what if" to address in a sentence or two, but my first thought is that France and the UK would have stoked the flames of tribalism and nationalism, to the point that the Empire wouldn't have endured through the 1920s in any case. The only thing I can say with certainty is that there would have been no meat grinder in Gallipoli...

Cameron is a great admirer of Turkey and the Turkish people. I hope he'll share with WAISworld an anecdote or three from his week in Istanbul.



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  • on Dismantling Empires (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/15/14 3:53 AM)
    Cameron Sawyer (14 January) is extremely correct about his accusations against the Great War, but he is missing the point. It was not WWI that created all the mess in the Levant; it was the greediness and the treachery of two other empires, the French and the British, that created the mess.

    The Ottoman empire was a monstrosity, and many oppressed peoples needed their independence and freedom, but they were not supposed to become divided into silly states dominated from London and Paris. Still now we have the problem of the Kurds divided and oppressed.


    Also the great problems that developed in the 1920s and '30s in Central Europe were not the fault of something strange and indefinite such as WWI; it was the greediness of the government men in France and the UK, who wanted to do in Europe what they had done in the Levant. The real point is that the mistakes of the treaty of Versailles were not the fault of WWI but of those who drew up such treaties.


    By the way, what do Europe and Turkey have in common except 700 years of war one against the other?


    JE comments: My response to Eugenio Battaglia's last question is that Turkey is in Europe, or at least part of it is (Thrace).  Since the geography-geek days of my childhood, I've known that Turkey and Russia are the only nations in two separate continents.  But Eugenio is asking something more:  what is "European" about Turkey?  Interestingly, there were a few centuries during which Byzantium was the epicenter and last "civilized" vestige of European culture.


    As for WWI, Eugenio makes an important point:  the war shouldn't be blamed; the blame belongs to the people who started (and finished) it.  Although this distinction was lost on the cannon-fodder in the trenches, who fought on with a tautological resignation:  "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here..."  (sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne").

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