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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: April, 2010|
Brother England & Gallipoli
|Fianna Fail Minister, Martin Mansergh, has decreed that England is not a foreign country. He has not denied that all the other countries in the world other than England are foreign. He might have denied it on the grounds that the very notion of foreign countries is alien to the universalist ideology of the United Nations. He has not, as far as we know, denied that European countries are foreign countries. It is only England that is not a foreign country. The celebration of England's wars, which Ireland has been indulging in recently, follows naturally enough from this view. If England is not a foreign country then its wars are Our Wars too.
Thousands of Irishmen were killed by the Turks when we took part in the attempt to invade the Turkish mainland at Gallipoli. That invasion attempt was represented as a crusade on the Taoiseach's website. A crusade is a war against the heathen. The Turks were undoubtedly heathens. Francis Ledwige — who abandoned narrow Irish nationalism to take part in the great British escapade against Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Turks, and Greeks—wrote a poem, in which he rubbed home the point about its being a Holy War. And now the President has led a Pilgrimage to the sacred site.
This war, in which Gallipoli was an incident, came about because we (that is, the non-foreign British) wanted one bit of the Turkish state and Russia wanted another bit — and then, when we got the war going, the French wanted a third bit. So we called off our conflict with Russia so that together we could squeeze the Turks.
Russia joined us in the war against Germany and Austria in August 1914—in fact we joined it, because it was Russia that started it so that we could join in—with the object of getting Constantinople (Istanbul). The whole world knew that what Russia wanted was Constantinople. The dogs in the street were barking it. We had earlier fought a war against Russia to stop them getting it. That was the Crimean War. We were not yet ready then to take our bit of Turkey, so we had to stop the Russians taking the bit they wanted. But we were ready in 1914, and we went into action together with the Tsar.
A letter in the Irish Independent (April 25) says that, in making war on Turkey, we "were fighting, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, to make the world a safe place for democracy". We were fighting for democracy, and the big army in that war for democracy was our ally, the absolutist Tsar.
Influential American opinion at the time was of the view that the main reason for the war on Germany was that Germany was helping the Turkish state to strengthen itself, and thereby to obstruct the expansionist ambitions of the Tsarist Empire and Our Empire to take Constantinople and the Middle East.
Three years later America entered the war on the side of Britain and France and it defeated Germany for them. Britain and France (the Entente) had got very heavily in debt to the US in 1915-16. The Germans and Turks proved much harder to beat than was expected. The Entente was unable to supply itself with arms. It had to buy from the US, and to borrow from the US in order to buy. The Turks were holding their own, and the Germans, despite being greatly outnumbered, were in danger of winning, or of forcing a negotiated peace — which would have been a victory for Germany, which had no territorial claims, and a defeat for Britain and Russia, which had. And, if Germany had won, the US would have had to write off the massive Entente borrowings as bad debts.
So the US entered the war and defeated Germany—but made a point of not joining the Entente in its war against Turkey. So Woodrow Wilson must have thought that Turkey was an OK state. So the "Our War" which we celebrate at Gallipoli is exclusively a British Empire War, recognised as such by the USA.
Turkey declared itself neutral in the European War of 1914, and in the World War which followed quickly when the British Empire joined in, blockaded Germany, and seized German trade and German possessions. The Turkish object was to survive the World War, despite the fact that Russia and Britain had designs on it. And it kept up this neutral stance despite British provocations. Two warships built in Britain for Turkey, bought and paid for, were seized by Britain in July 1914, before anyone had declared war. Then, in August, two German warships caught in the Mediterranean were shepherded by the Royal Navy into Turkish waters. The Germans made a gift of them to the Turks. Britain declared this a breach of neutrality and blockaded Turkey. But it did not declare war at that point, nor did Turkey—though the blockade was an act of war.
The war in Europe stabilised in the Autumn. Both sides dug themselves into strong trenches along the entire Western Front, and the Russian Steamroller was stopped to the east of Germany. That was when the war on Turkey was launched.
What actually went on between Turkey and Russia in the Black Sea is a matter of speculation. The certainty is that Russia was in the war to get Constantinople and everybody knew that. And it was a good guess, and later an established fact, that Britain had agreed that the Russians should have Constantinople.
It was also no secret that Britain was in expansionist mode in the Middle East. Egypt was British. And in the years before 1914 maps were being published which coloured in Southern Persia (Iran) as part of the British Empire. (Britain had allocated Northern Persia to Russia.) And it was coming to light that the British Empire had crossed the Gulf and gained a foothold in Arabia by means of a secret Treaty with a Sheik in Kuwait, who owed allegiance to the Turkish Empire and had no authority to make Treaties. A continuous land Empire from India to Egypt was in process of construction.
With Britain and Russia in connivance, Turkey had no realistic prospect of sitting out the war as it wished to do. Russia declared war on 2nd November, on foot of some incident, or alleged incident, in the Black Sea. Everyone knows that the pretext for the British war on Germany was the march of the German Army through Belgium. It's in all the history books. But the Black Sea incident has been rather coy about presenting itself.
About fifteen years earlier Britain decided to have the Boer Republics, and set about building pressure on them. It squeezed the Republics until they decided the only thing to do was to hit out: and that was the moral justification for their destruction. Britain is skilled at this casuistic morality—a kind of morality which at an earlier stage in its development it denounced as the immoral morality of Rome.
The incident in the Black Sea, whatever it was, no more obliged Britain to make war on Turkey than it obliged the USA a couple of years later. But Britain itself was intent on having a piece of the Turkish state, and it also had a secret agreement with Russia, and so it too used the Black Sea incident as an excuse for war.
And then it demanded that Greece should make war on Turkey and offered it a fourth bit of Turkey as bait. When Greece refused to declare war, Britain declared it to be a German agent, invaded it, overthrew its Government, set up a puppet Government which did declare war—and suffered heavily a few years later as a result.
While Britain was in the course of conquering the Middle East the Tsarist State collapsed, and the middle class state that followed collapsed because of its attempt to keep up the Tsarist war.
Once Russia declared war on Turkey, the Turks engaged in active combat. They were caught between Russia and Britain in the Middle East. When the Russian Armies dissolved, Britain extended its operations into the Russian sphere. It had allocated Northern Persia to Russia, but now Britain had to hold the Front in that region.
A recent book about this says that up to ten million people died in a Famine caused by the mode of British operations in Northern Persia in 1917-19, Mohammed Gholi Majd: The Great Famine And Genocide In Persia 1917-19 (University Press of America 2003).
We are being urged to embrace Our War. So let us at least find out what we are embracing.
Greece is not having an easy time just now. Let us do something to cheer it up. Let us explain what a good thing it was for us to invade them, to free them from the Hun-lovers that were keeping them out of the wars, and to force them into war with the Turks, with all the good things that followed from that.
This year Gallipoli; next year Smyrna! How about it Mary? (But whatever happened to Smyrna?)
The President says that making war is a good thing and should be celebrated regardless of the purpose of the war. The Irish Times supported her view (25 March) and quotes a Ledwidge poem saying Gallipoli was a war for peace. It does not quote his lines saying it was a Christian Crusade against the heathen. And the Middle East is still trying to recover the peace which our war on Turkey shattered.
And the Latvians are celebrating their war, in which their heroes fought in the Nazi SS against Bolshevism in 1941-4, but we don't seem to approve of that. Why not? The Latvians had at least been ruled by the Bolsheviks. We were never ruled by the Turks.