WW1 North of Jerusalem

WW1 North of Jerusalem


“… oppressed by a growing sense of futility that, in the long run, whatever he did would count for nothing against the impossibly convoluted loyalties and ancient feuds in the Middle East.

There a massacre of a thousand years ago could rouse passions as violent as if the slaughter happened yesterday, as if it were even happening now.

There the past infused itself into the present as vivid as a hallucination.”

Dennis Jones


“If everyone fought fire with fire, the entire world would go up in smoke.”

Lemony Snicket







While this is my second post on World War 1 … it actually has its roots in what is happening today in the Middle East.



I admit.



I get a little tired about how everyone bitches about American foreign policy and the Middle East.



And I thought it was a perfect time to comment on it because we are now commemorating 100th year since the beginning of World War 1 <between July 28th and August 6th all European countries involved – and not America – had declared war>.



Take  moment and note.



WW1 was the war President Woodrow Wilson said was fought to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ and, yet, is often viewed as a senseless slaughter that set the stage for an ever bigger war two decades later.


<note: the truth is somewhere in between of course>



On a microcosm type global perspective, in fact, it should be viewed as a precursor to what we see today in the Middle East … because for better or worse WW1 helped shape today’s world <geography and issues>.



Many of today’s <and this generation’s> issues in the Middle East and the Balkans date back to the end of that war.



To begin.


On April 12th 2010 I wrote about the Middle East and began with these words <still good today>:



Understanding the Middle East is complicated <that, my friends, may be the biggest understatement you will ever see on the enlightened conflict site>.

The geography and boundaries are confusing (and complex).

The cultures <and subcultures> and religions <and religion derivatives> are complex (and confusing).

Everything is overlapping because of a long history and some absurd intervention at times by the Western world.


I believe it is important, no, imperative that we try and understand.

And try to put some things in perspective, and have respect for THEIR perspective and become more knowledgeable so that WE have some perspective moving forward (because these issues are not going away).




This is the map I included in that post which suggests solutions to resolving some of the conflict:

middleast  remapped


This map … when issued with the article … was noted as “audacious.”


It is.

It is impractical and practical. Ok. Maybe practically impractical.


I did not include this in that original post but here is the explanation:


Middle East remapped explanation





Suffice it to say … even the solution found in the map ignores the most basic issue — we continue to use ‘western’ solutions to ‘non-western’ cultures.




What do I mean?


Afghanistan … as well as much of the Balkans and certainly the Middle East … countries with “borders” <as designed by the West> constantly chafe with the ‘border/country’ concept because it is contrary to the cultural heritage of a ‘city/state’ structure.


The map comes closest to modernizing a city/state structure to compete in a ‘country economy’ world.

From a western point of view … it seems like we simply feel more comfortable if we can recognize a country higher authority.



We struggle with the idea that tribes and city/states can coexist … sometimes uneasily … without residing in a country construct.



You may not agree … but think about how often you hear all the talking heads on TV babbling about ‘deciding who we should be speaking with.’

We freak if we cannot identify ‘one person’ who can guide the direction.


I would suggest it is more often a clash of cultures when it comes to foreign policy & foreign affairs than it is with any specific policy or behavior.


All that said.


There is enough foreign policy blame to go around.


Pointing fingers and blaming any one person is ludicrous.



Is it Bush’s fault? <nope>


Is it Obama’s poor foreign policy ? <nope>


Do we want to go back and blame Kissinger? <nope>



I am not even sure we want to blame the leaders after World War 1 <albeit they may be more culpable than anyone else>.



Just a reminder about what happened after world war 1.



From January to June 1919, the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and the United States met in Paris to decide the outcome of the war they had just won against the Central Powers <Germany, Austria, Ottoman Empire>.


ww1 1919 armistice meeting

By the end of World War 1 four old multinational empires had fallen – the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman – and all their colonial responsibilities were up for grabs.



The fate of hundreds of millions of people across the globe … and on every continent … was unclear.


The conference not only had to discuss every territorial demand, frontier rectification, ethnolinguistic claim and counterclaim <and there were dozens of them> but they had to consider each territorial discussion had an incredibly long history … some extending back sometimes hundreds of years before World War 1 began <it has been said the American president, Wilson, and the american contingency never grasped this>.


The peacemakers of 1919 had also to pay attention to principles, promises, public opinion and a fast-changing and unstable political scene.



Russia was in revolution and much of central Europe seemed ready to follow suit.


And, lastly, France, Italy & Britain were not only seeking reparations but also seeking to expand their own colonial empires <from which it would seem appropriate to note that while USA is not well liked in the Middle East … former colonial powers – Britain, France & Italy – are also not particularly well thought of>.

<note: there are probably 3 well written books on the post-WW1 peace conference – “Paris 1919” by Margaret MacMillan, ”Peacemaking 1919” by Harold Nicolson & ”The Economic Consequences of the Peace” by John Maynard Keynes>

A nice recap of the conference follows <source: NY Times>:



The French were understandably concerned with keeping Germany down for the indefinite future. The Italians wanted the territorial pound of flesh they had been secretly promised in return for switching sides in 1915. The British sought above all to stabilize Europe’s peripheries and protect access to their imperial possessions farther south and east. Only the Americans had a Big Idea — self-determination. The peoples and nations now released from imperial captivity were each to receive their own spaces, assigned after careful specialist attention to history, geography, language and other relevant considerations. Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Serbs, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Italians, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, even Kurds were to have a place in the sun. Only Germans, and to a lesser extent Turks, were not free to determine where and with whom they would live — the price of defeat.

The idea of self-determination was wonderful, the reality disastrous. As Robert Lansing, Wilson’s secretary of state, predicted:

”It will raise hopes which can never be realized. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives. In the end it is bound to be discredited, to be called the dream of an idealist who failed to realize the danger until it was too late to check those who attempt to put the principle into force.”

He was right. The peoples of central Europe and the old Ottoman empire did not live in conveniently divided communities. They were typically mixed up together.



In the end.



thinker thumbtack

To suggest that the current issues in the Middle East or Afghanistan are reflections of current foreign policy is slightly absurd.



We are discussing countries & cultures who have thousands of years of history <compared to America’s 200+ years>.



And maybe more of us should not only revisit World War 1 history … but more history to better understand why cultures in different countries think & act the way they do.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce