First World War


30 June 2019: Opened on 28 June 2019 an exhibition in Arras organized by the Palace of Versailles starts with the proclamation of the German Empire in the same  Hall of Mirrors that witnessed the Signing of Peace of Versailles on 28 June 1919.Today most historians agree however that contrary to earlier legends it was the First World War itself, not the treaty that concluded it, that set loose the forces and ideologies that would convulse Europe and initiate another global conflict. And that for all of Versailles’ problems, it represented a clear end to a major war in a way that we rarely see today. The tribulations and consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.

15 Nov. 2018: While the previous graphic about the First World War shows that most lives were lost on the battlefields throughout East and Western Europe, the role of the war in shaping and creating the state-system of the modern Middle East merits much more than an afterthought. The Ottoman Empire and the Allied Powers signed an armistice on October 30, 1918, which was supposed to end hostilities, even before the armistice in Europe was signed. But the wars in the Middle East didn’t stop with the armistice. Why World War I was pivotal to the creation of the modern Middle East.

4 Aug. 2018: On 11 July 2017 I reported the strivings of Woodrow Wilson during the Versailles deliberations in reference to Eastern Europe and in particular also Poland. To this one could add that not of little importance was the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Mukden Incident. Shantung the Versailles Treaty and the Manchurian episode. Shantung the Versailles Treaty and the Manchurian episode.

With the approach of the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, attention will focus again on the ‘origin’ of the First World War.  Following is the story of an unnecessary tragedy - one that can be understood only by retracing the steps taken by those who went down the road to war. Almost every day it seemed possible that the crisis could be settled as so many had been over the previous decade; almost every day there was a new suggestion that gave statesmen hope that war could be avoided without abandoning vital interests.  With each passing day, we see how the personalities of leading figures such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Emperor Franz Joseph, Tsar Nicholas II, Sir Edward Grey, and Raymond Poincaré were central to the unfolding crisis, how their hopes and fears intersected as events unfolded, and how each new decision produced a response that complicated or escalated matters to the point where they became almost impossible to contain.  A new investigation why the First World War broke out.

The Real Russian Origins of the First World War

Following Christopher Clark's bestseller The Sleepwalkers, about the origins of WWI and where Clark revived the revisionist argument of the 1930's, a new discussion has ensued about who and what started the war of which the consequences are very much present today. Having embarked on a detailed investigation, we now present a concluding set of new answers. One of the issues covered in this first part is that an initial Memorandum of 24 June, before the Sarajevo murder even took place, had already anticipated a war in the Balkans. Major Case Study:  What led to the Frist World War P.1.

It has been noted that the killings of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo had caused nothing - what brought the war about was the use made of this event. Earlier in Germany on 21 June, the Kaiser talked to the Hamburg banker Max Warburg, expressing his concern about Russia's rearmament program and prioritization of its railway construction. He was "more nervous than usual", anticipating that Russia's preparations might lead to war by 1916, and wondering whether it would not be better "to strike out, instead of waiting". Major Case Study: What led to the Frist World War P.2.

On the famous 6 July the Austro-Hungarian representative told the Chancellor of Germany that, although Austria-Hungary considered a military clash with Serbia unavoidable sooner or later, it was prepared to content itself for the time being with closer ties to Bulgaria - "in case Germany believed that a later moment would be more favorable from a European point of view." This would have meant no war at all, local or otherwise, in the summer of 1914, but Bethmann Hollweg reacted immediately to squash this option, promising Germany's "entire might" if Austria-Hungary deemed it necessary to proceed against Serbia. Major Case Study:  What led to the Frist World War P.3.

In the calculations of Germany’s leaders, the crisis was a golden opportunity to test the Entente which they perceived as encircling Germany and its weakening ally Austria-Hungary. The smoking gun, denied by Christopher Clark, in the story of July 1914 is to be found in Bethmann Hollweg's refusal even to consider the scenario put to him by Count Hoyos that Austria-Hungary would desist from attacking Serbia if Germany considered the moment to be unfavorable. Or as Kurt Riezler the top-level cabinet adviser who became the closest confidant and advisor to German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg wrote that; “At least people must concede that he ‘staged’ it [the war] very well. Besides, the war, though not actually willed, was precisely calculated and broke out at the most favorable moment.” What led to the First World War P.4.

During the First World War, British strategy for the Middle East was aimed at protecting India, which meant keeping India’s numerous Muslim subjects tranquil. Initially, this gained Whitehall’s support, as it feared foreign troops in the Muslim Holy Land would make the followers of Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, Emir of the Hejaz and potential British ally, oppose him. From Versailles to the Making of the Modern Middle East P.1: The ‘Arab revolt’, Britain, and the Collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

Mark Sykes returned to England where, almost immediately, he was thrust into negotiations with M. Charles François Georges-Picot, French counselor in London and former French consul general in Beirut, to try to harmonize Anglo-French interests in ‘Turkey-in-Asia’. Picot on the other hand had ‘expressed complete incredulity as to the projected Arab kingdom, said that the Sheikh had no big Arab chiefs with him, that the Arabs were incapable of combining, and that the whole scheme was visionary.' From Versailles to the Making of the modern Middle East P.2: The Arab question and the ‘shocking document’ that shaped the Middle East.

The rebellion sparked by the Hussein-McMahon correspondence; the Sykes-Picot agreement; and memoranda such as the Balfour Declaration (to be dealt with in detail) all have shaped the Middle East into forms which would have been unrecognizable to the diplomats of the 19th century. From Versailles to the Making of the modern Middle East P.3: The Menace of Jihad and How to Deal with It.

French rivalry in the Hijaz; the British attempt to get the French government to recognize Britain’s predominance on the Arabian Peninsula; the conflict between King Hussein and Ibn Sa’ud, the Sultan of Najd; the British handling of the French desire to take part in the administration of Palestine; as well as the ways in which the British authorities, in London and on the spot, tried to manage French, Syrian, Zionist and Hashemite ambitions regarding Syria and Palestine.From Versailles to the Making of the modern Middle East P.4: The ‘Arab’ and the ‘Jewish’ question.

The British authorities in Cairo, Baghdad, and London steadily lost their grip on the continuing and deepening rivalry between Hussein and Ibn Sa’ud, in particular regarding the possession of the desert town of Khurma. British warnings of dire consequences if the protagonists did not hold back and settle their differences peacefully had little or no effect. All the while the British wanted to abolish the Sykes– Picot agreement. From Versailles to the Making of the modern Middle East P.5: The Syrian question.

This is the most important and longest part. Following, a gripping account of the swashbuckling during the Paris Peace Conference deliberations including the Arab/Syrian, the King-Crane Commission, impasses and some breakthrough at the end. From Versailles to the Making of the modern Middle East P.6: The Paris Peace Conference deliberations.

One of the most far-reaching outcomes of the First World War was the creation of Palestine, initially under Britain as the Mandatory, out of an ill-defined area of the southern Syrian boundary of the Ottoman Empire. Considering this, on 16 Nov. 2016, the British Parliament debated the Balfour Declaration and how its upcoming 2017 Centennial should be handled. Yet even professionals are often not familiar with the details surrounding the Balfour Declaration, thus here a detailed investigation. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.1.

Showing the topic is of ongoing relevance, following the British Parliament last week, tomorrow a discussion about the Balfour Declaration is to take place in the House of Commons. My analysis, however, is wholly independent of pro or contra stance and instead focuses on discovering the historical details that have been left out in recent discussions. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.2.

Apart from the strategic consideration that they needed Palestine for the imperial defense of India, the decision by the War Cabinet to authorized foreign secretary Balfour to make a declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations in November 1917, one could ad, was also a curious blend of sentiment (the romantic notion of the Jews returning to their ancient lands after 1,800 years of exile) and anti- Antisemitism (world Jewry was a force that could vitally influence the outcome of the war) also led them to this decision.  The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.3.

29 November 2016 discussion about the Balfour Declaration at the British Houses of Parliament.

As we have seen, in the end, the idea was to use President Wilson’s recognition of the Balkan nations’ right to self-determination – namely, freedom from Ottoman rule – to overcome his opposition to the implementation of this same policy in the Middle East. By supporting Zionist aspirations in Palestine, the Lloyd George Government thus strove to compel Wilson to expand his policy regarding the 'small nations' from the European regions of the Ottoman Empire to its Asian territories. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.4.

From Versailles to the Making of the Modern Middle East P.8: British rule, Arab Spring-revolt, and the Syria crisis today.

Sykes-Picot granted Britain the right to administer Syria after it captured the Levant from the Ottomans in 1918.In 1919, London conceded at the Paris Peace Conference both Levantine entities to France that moved quickly and, aware of Hashemite progress, settled on creating Greater Lebanon. From Versailles to the Making of the Modern Middle East P.7: The unresolved sectarian issue in Lebanon today.

The profound effects of the British Empire’s actions in the Arab World during the First World War can be seen echoing through the history of the 20th century. From Versailles to the Making of the Modern Middle East P.6:  The importance of oil, the ‘Arab question’, and the British.

The Great War was seen as a clash of civilisations and a contest of rival `national' values and virtues which the clergy, together with the broader educated classes, helped shape. WWI's Religious Ideology.

There is also no doubt that at the heart of WWI was also a colonial war about resources: From Colonization to de-Colonization.

Underneath, a photo of the tomb in Damascus with Kaiser Wilhelm II 's remains in the Mausoleum of Salah Al Din, with on the right a newspaper illustration at the time showing Wilhelm II with his wife seated in Damascus, before his declaration in the Great Mosque.

That WWI was very much a colonial war is evidenced by the following three color pictures taken in France that time and the image of the WWI German plane in Egypt bottom left. Also it has long been known that it was not the murder of Franz Ferdinand that ignited WWI but rather Germany's generals (von Moltke in particular) who perceived that since war with Russia seemed inevitable later on, it was better to do it now. Then September 2004, a path braking analysis of newly researched documents from the German Secret Service “Skrupullos” by Helmut Roewer took this a step further.

From Shandong to Versailles: China's participation in the First World War

Globalizing technologies is one of the issues that played a role and for example served to intensify relations among Anglo-Americans and indigenous populations. The 1820s and 1830s witnessed the economies and technological transformations that historians have coined the "market economy" and "Industrial Revolution," respectively. The right to compete for advancement in the marketplace became the touchstone of American “freedom" during this period. The 1994 Rwandan genocide finally changed  the way in which we think genocide occurs because it encompassed hatreds that rested on colonial resentments, revenge massacres since 1962, assassinations of political elites, gender and reproduction, and mystifications. The latter also had in common with the Nazi Genocide that a leading motive was a conspiracy theory. Why We were Entering a Century of Genocide.

After World War I, President Wilson's enunciation of his Fourteen Points in January 1918 briefly signaled a more activist American global policy, and inspired hope in peoples the world over seeking to escape from oppressive European colonial rule. In the Middle East, the president's pronouncement was understood as meaning that World War I was being fought in order to help the peoples achieve self-determination. It was heralded as welcome support from a new great power that had never entertained designs on the region and might counter­balance the overwhelming weight of Britain and France and their imperialist ambitions. This was especially welcome coming after the new Bolshevik regime in Russia in December 1917 published the czarist government's secret treaties, revealing among other things the agreements between Britain, France, and Russia to partition the Middle East among them. Continue:  

Russia 1918-23 starting at the end of WWI, more Russians died during the Russian Civil War than during the whole of WWI: The second First World War.

Weimar politics and the reception of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The conspiracy theory that gave rise to Hitler:

The map shows how the borders in Europe changed after WWI:

On 10 January 1920, the League of Nations ratified the Treaty of Versailles, officially ending World War I with Germany. Much has been written about the treaty which concluded the First World War, its competing and sometimes conflicting goals. And as we shall see it also was the beginning of a long propaganda exercise to discredit the victors. P.1 Reparations and the famous Article 231.

Yet it is not without historical irony that the centenary of the Great War was accompanied by civil war in Syria and Iraq, revolution in Egypt, and violent clashes between Jews and Arabs over the Palestinian question, as if to offer proof that many of the issues raised but not solved by the First World War and its immediate aftermath are still with us today. Investigating the never-ending Great War.



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