tv World War I in the Middle East CSPAN July 22, 2018 9:00am-10:01am EDT
recently traveled to alaska to learn about its rich history, learn more about alaska and other stops on our to her at -- on our tour at c-span.org. >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend every weekend on c-span3. announcer: next on american history tv, u.s. army command & general staff college professor brian steed talks about the impact of world war i on the middle east and how the outcome of the war continues to play a role in present-day conflicts. he explores the defeat and dissolution of the ottoman empire, which was the dominant power in the region and how their former territories were allocated. the national world war i museum and memorial in kansas city, missouri, hosted this one-hour event.
>> now it is my pleasure to welcome lieutenant colonel brian l. steed, who after more than 28 years in the united states army, has retired, but has continued on in his role as an historian and specialist in the middle east. he served eight and a half consecutive years in the middle east and was a jordanian army officer and liaison to the israeli force, which helped shape his scholarly perspective. he has written widely on military theory and history and cultural awareness, and has recently published "voices of the iraq war: contemporary accounts of daily life, voices of an era." and "bees and spiders: cross-cultural inference."
colonel steed is also a phd student at the university of missouri, kansas city. ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming lieutenant colonel brian steed. i [applause] col. steed: ok, first, i want to thank everyone for coming out and i want to go back a slide. this is such an honor to be here and speak to you tonight, a tremendous honor to be in this facility. this is a marvelous location. this is the second time i have spoken in the pershing series. the first time was three years ago, and i did not get the opportunity to present here. that time, i talked about gallipoli and the great war in the middle east in 1915 and 1916. tonight, i will address the great war in the middle east in 1917 and 1918 and the ramifications of that war on our present environment.
when i teach students at the command and general staff college, i describe world war i as the most important war in human history. and i am going to give just two of the reasons i give for that statement tonight. the first is that war caused the downfall and destruction of four great empires. the russian empire, the german empire, the austrian empire, and the empire we will talk about most tonight, the ottoman empire. additionally, the actions during that war and at the end of that war created many of the problems currently present in the balkan peninsula and the middle east.
many years ago as an undergraduate history student, i became enamored by the events i will recount tonight. world war i seemed to me to be such a boring and dirty war. trenches and mud. yuck. even the movie "wonder woman" showed it pretty much as such. why would anybody be excited about that? we don't usually as americans talk about the events i will discuss tonight. those events include the greatest cavalry charge ever recorded on film and it included the fastest mounted advance, up to that time in history, and really all the way up to 1991. and we also get from this area and this period of the war, i think, the greatest movie ever made about the middle east, "lawrence of arabia." the fastest advance included one of the shocking events of a bengal lancer regiment -- if you are familiar with what they were, they were a regiment of
indian soldiers on horses with lances, and during this charge, the bengal lancers actually impaled german machine gunners during the attack. that was an event that shocked and amazed many at the time and still does so today. so, much of what you watch on the news concerning the problems in the middle east can be traced back to the events in this region during this period. this was a period of unprecedented accomplishments and exciting developments. we have a lot to cover and i hope to do it all justice. the collision of empires in the reshaping of the middle east was not a foreordained set of events. what i will discuss tonight has ripples and repercussions at multiple levels. so, the operational repercussions come in four areas. they also overlap with the strategic, regional, and global as well.
the first is the capture of jerusalem in 1917 sent shockwaves through the arab and muslim world. general allen b occupied the city in recognition of its position of respect in the world's three great monotheistic religions. this was still the first time a christian commander led an army into the holy city since 1099. second, the conduct of operations in the battle of , migito was the single fastest mounted advance by any army until operation desert storm in 1991. third, the coordination between conventional and unconventional forces set a standard still referred to today. and fourth, the capture of damascus by an irregular, or unconventional, force created the possibility of a partnership
between such forces, not then considered by western armies. so at the strategic level, what we discuss tonight is whether -- where the objectives of the war changed from a narrow definition of fighting the ottoman empire to the need for the destruction of that empire. this is a radical shift in british imperial policy and grand strategy. regionally, the results of the dissolution of the ottoman empire redrew the map in the middle east and reconstructed the world order. europe tried to make a europe-style wave in a non-european region of the globe. this regional impact caused waves that are still crashing on the shores of the world today as , we will show at the end. and globally, violent nonstate actors that dominate the present news cycle are all trying to narratively connect back to the good old days when there was a single muslim polity. the muslim polity did not
universally accept nor did it respect the ottoman caliph. however in reflection, many people moan about the loss of the single government structure and vision. this is the general order i intend to follow. tonight, i will focus on the strategic level of war. i will address some of the tactical events, but i will not do so in detail. i will also talk more about the british empire than any other. i do this for the reason that lessons learned from the british imperial experience in the middle east from 1914 to 1947 are very instructive for today's u.s. military personnel and american citizens. so, i want to begin tonight with the great game. this was the name given to the series of engagements, battles, and wars waged between the british and russian empires to gain dominance and control over central asia. the great game included fighting in afghanistan, around the caspian sea, and in and around
modern-day iran. the great game was more about a way of thinking and behaving with respect to power politics and international relations than strictly military endeavor. the military was the tip of a spear that was wielded and used in its entirety. in this great game, the two main participants were great britain and russia, but the ottoman empire also played a critical role. both of the other two empires often used, or tried to use, the ottomans as a pawn in their game, to be sacrificed in order to gain positional advantage and maintain control. in this editorial cartoon, you see the british lion questioning the russian bear about his current abuse of persia, which was a common area of conflict in this game. just as a point of interest about why this matters. the cold war was in many ways an extension and globalization of the great game, with the united states replacing great britain
as one of the two primary players. for people in the middle east, this is one of the reasons why the united states is so closely linked with the britain and british errors and blamed for their historic actions. we simply took the seat of that player in the game, and if we are using a poker analogy, we took over all of their iou's. this is something that took me a long time to understand. i lived in the middle east for a while and i would regularly get lectured about u.s. foreign policy. usually by cabdrivers and accountants -- and part of they would do in that lecture is they would regularly blame me, once they found out i was an american, for issues that i recognized were not america's doing. and i could not understand why we got the blame for britain's actions, until i really started to understand the great game and
its transition from the great game into the cold war game. so, each empire had its own particular interest. so, great britain wanted a strong, or at least active, ottoman empire that would keep the russians occupied in the balkans, the caucuses, and the caspian sea basin. great britain's primary imperial interest was always the protection of india. thus, all elements of the great game extended from delhi and its perspective of the world. london intended to acquiesce to that perspective in all things geographically close to the borders of india. as will be discussed in more detail later, the british empire dealt with the middle east from three different locations -- london, delhi, and cairo. they each have a perspective of the world that was unique to that capital. the quote from mark sykes showed the historic importance of the
ottoman empire to great britain. and yes, this is the same mark sykes that will give his name to the agreement to which i will refer later. russia wanted a warm water ports and access to resources. movement through the bosporus and the dardanelles was one other. -- was one option. another was access to the persian gulf, the arabian sea, and the indian ocean. the game often contained events that were solely to create difficulties for the opponent, as was evidenced with russian involvement in afghanistan, which did not seem to serve russian objectives as much as it created problems for great britain. the ottomans wanted to control access to the black sea, dominate the caucuses, and extend their influence into the balkans and europe. the ottoman empire was first and foremost a european empire in the minds of the ottomans and european powers.
their middle eastern possessions were something of an afterthought. the ottoman empire was in severe economic distress in the decade s prior to world war i and was trying to reform its military and governmental structures. there had been a coup that brought a group of ethnic turk leaders into power. these young turks now tried to increase the pace of reform while maintaining the empire. the ottoman empire was dubbed -- the sick man of europe. what this title meant was the other european great power saw in the ottomans a feeble and declining empire, not able to defend or protect itself. the ottomans saw some of this danger themselves. the caliph reached out to the german empire for land force military trainers, the british for naval trainers, and the french for air force trainers. it is important to note the ottoman military was not the corruption riddled and
incompetent organization of a century earlier. in 1914, they were battle tested and had numerous company and field grade officers with combat experience and a hunger to prove themselves on the battlefield. the compelling point is no one entered world war i with the intent or desire to destroy the ottoman empire. it was a competitor for the russians and a necessary tool for the british. however, once the ideal carving -- idea of carving up the ottoman empire started in the minds of the european powers, it rapidly grew until everyone looked at the possibility with greedy and unrealistic eyes. i made no mention of the french to this point, as they played a very small role in the great game. however, they still had an interest in the levant that dated back centuries, so the french had connections that went all the way back to the crusading era. and over time during ottoman
rule, they, the french, gained special rights, economic and religious, for the protection of all catholics initially. and then later for all , christians living in the ottoman empire. so these interests extended to where the french enjoyed special commercial and legal considerations in addition to these religious associations. these economic capitulations to the french and other european countries were a drain on the ottoman tax system and caused a sense of humiliation with respect to european powers. so a final note on the importance of islam in these perspectives. the ottoman sultan was also the islamic caliph. i want you to think a moment which of all the empires we have just discussed have the largest muslim population going into world war i? i will let you think for a moment. it was the british empire.
the british empire and british imperial india of that day included the modern-day countries of pakistan and bangladesh and india. and for future quiz show benefit, the largest muslim country by population in the world is indonesia. and depending on which source you go to, the second or the third is either india or pakistan. and bangladesh is very high as well in terms of the muslim population. so, the british -- everything they did with respect to the ottoman empire and the caliph was done with an eye toward their own muslim population because what they did not want to do was anger the muslim population such that they would have internal revolts. now, this will lead to some interesting decisions later, as we will discuss. i want to highlight a couple of issues leading up to world war
i. in 1882, the ottoman empire established a formal relationship with the german empire. this was to provide advisors to the ottoman army. part of the relationship with germany was economic. this included the railway that traveled from damascus to medina. it was completed in 1908. this was the railroad targeted by the northern arab army in "lawrence of arabia." the ottoman maybe began world war i hostilities by attacking russian ports in the black sea. this led to a chain of events that caused the ottoman empire to be brought into the war. after all the efforts to balance power, the empires were brought into direct collision. once it was decided to destroy the ottoman empire, the dreaming began. russia wanted constantinople and the bosporus and dardanelles straits. england wanted control of
territories that protected the suez canal and routes to india , so mainly mesopotamia and the levant. france wanted the levant and syria. before major combat operations, the various governments were already carving up the sick man in their minds. with the plan to carve up the ottoman empire, the british empire was setting the course for its own demise. so, as i previously stated, there was a conflict in the division in the leadership and governance of the british empire. the three capitals typically saw the world differently. initially, only the opinion of london and delhi had weight, but lord kitchener was made secretary of state for war in then cairo was elevated. 1913, he came to cairo and believed people who worked for him saw the middle east more clearly. the challenge was very few people in any of the capitals actually understood the region, had traveled to the region, or spoke the languages from the
region. this was true even in cairo. many posted to cairo rarely spoke with an egyptian other than a master-servant relationship and even fewer spoke with the turks. the arab bureau, which was not established until early 1916, as a result of a recommendations from mark sykes who was one of the few individuals who traveled aggressively throughout the region and spoke arabic and read the koran -- he identified the ottoman empire was much more effective in dealing with narrative than the british governance and it led to an ineffective british narrative. so even though the arab bureau was created and existed, it also included people of specialization, language skills,
and regional experience in the middle east, but they were buried within the intelligence department in cairo. throughout the war, the british perceived the war and their opponents in the middle east through a three-lens kaleidoscope that gave a fractured vision at best. this led to many decisions that appear naive and foolish to us today. the starkest example is they wanted to elevate an arab leader to be a caliph to replace the ottoman sultan. the idea of european power selecting the leader of islam seems ludicrous. until lateand in the war and even the 1920's, there was tremendous effort invested to this end. the british believed that because the arabs were unhappy with the turks, they would be happy with anyone, meaning british, who replaced the turks as overlords. even within the government in london, there were various differences of opinion between
the foreign office, the colonial office, the army and the navy. , just as a reminder of where we are as we begin discussions in 1917, fighting has stalled on the western front and the trench alpss extend from the ou to the sea. the russians started to suffer serious losses in personnel and land. they needed resources and assistance to access shipping lanes. no assistance came. in 1917, there was a revolution in russia that lasted nearly six years, destroying that empire in bringing about the soviet union. the americans entered the war in 1917, but significant forces did not arrive for months. the british empire used colonial forces in the fight in the middle east with some augmentation from british forces. the most significant decision of the empire in 1917 was the transfer of general edmund allenby from the western front to egypt and command of the expeditionary force. the war in the middle east,
especially for the british, was all about protecting routes to as i have already mentioned. and, if possible, finding a soft underbelly for the fighting on the western front. for the ottomans, the emphasis was on protecting constantinople and the dynasty. the british conducted operations directed from all three of the capitals mentioned earlier. the operations at mesopotamia were controlled from delhi. the operations in gallipoli were controlled from london in part. and the operations in levant were controlled by cairo. initially, as i mentioned, this attack was made in gallipoli, but once gallipoli fell, it was decided to attack through the levant along the mediterranean coast.
initially, these attacks were eventually stopped at the edge of the sinai desert, and this is where we will begin our operational perspective for tonight's discussion. but first, i want to discuss some of the diplomatic efforts that did so much to create our world today. during gallipoli, an increasing passion to defeat the ottoman empire, the british high commissioner for egypt entered a correspondence with sharif hussein of mecca. the sharif wanted to throw off the ottoman yoke, but he wanted british help. the british wanted a replacement for the caliph of constantinople. who better than the custodian of the two holy cities, mecca and medina? it seemed like the perfect match. the sharif wanted british promises and assistance to that end of creating an arab state. as you read the text of the short segment of correspondence between the 2, 1 should see the diplomatic doublespeak. nothing is really being promised, nor are binding
agreements being made. however, for one not well versed in such doublespeak, there's the perception of a commitment, and to this day, almost every arab cab driver you encounter will tell you this commitment was made by the british to create an arab state and protect it. while this correspondence was going on between the sharif and high commissioner, mark sykes was meeting with a french diplomat. what came from this set of meetings was a non-binding agreement that is the most famous of all the disagreements. -- most famous of all the ottoman dissolution agreements. as we will discuss at the end of tonight's presentation, there were a series of treaties that were legally binding. this agreement had none of that. this was an agreement between diplomats for conceptual division of the ottoman territories. as one notes the blue shaded area, it is clear that some of the lands being divided never
were taken from what became the republic of turkey. the agreement included historic imperial interests and this agreement was referred to by the british and french, from the british and french participant'' names, but there was a russian participant in these agreements. and the russians were to get constantinople and the straits. the russian participation that created the diplomatic explosion. once the bolsheviks gained control of the russian foreign ministry, they broadcast the use of the released the text agreement and used the war for furthering imperial interests. the people in the middle east were incensed by the two-faced approach of the british, in particular, who negotiated with the arabs and french to offer the same land to two different people. but the story gets even better in a moment. to finish this part of the story, i refer you to the map and then to the text.
when one reads the text -- and it is kind of small -- this agreement does not look as bad as it often gets painted. this is a division of zones of interest and influence rather than complete control. however, the actions on the ground communicated what the agreement was really about. when the french moved into damascus in 1920 and 1921, they used aircraft to strike the main arab market in the city of damascus to drive the remaining arab leaders from the city. the bullet holes are still observable in the main covering of the main thoroughfare. the son of the sharif of mecca or sharif hussein, he was in damascus, where he planned to govern the new arab state. the french believe they had authority to determine who could or would rule there, and that is
what caused the conflict. so, now i have gotten a little ahead of myself talking about the 1920's. i want to jump back to 1917. so the final of the three offers of the same land to three different people come in the form of the balfour declaration. this is the document where the british government formally acknowledged the return of the jews to a national home in palestine. there is a tremendous amount of history and tragedy between this declaration and the statement of independence issued by what would become the government of israel in may of 1948. but a great many people point to this document as a watershed in the trajectory of establishing the state of israel, both in the negative and the positive. i again direct you to the noncommittal language used. nothing is certain in this statement. in the second and third of the correspondence, agreement, and
declaration, meaning in this case, the agreement and the balfour declaration, the region is seemingly being sold off to foreigners. this is a wound that is still raw today. i want to go back to the discussion on operations. he is one of the main figures and our story tonight. he was a cavalry officer who commanded the british calorie division at the beginning of the war in 1914. he advanced during the war to cavalry corps, the infantry corps, and finally the army command. he was known for having a single emotion -- rage. now there is a touching story about him in that every night, before he went to bed, one of his staff officers who had the responsibility to monitor the wounded, or the casualty list, that staff officer was to report
to allenby every night on the status of his son, who was a field artillery officer at the front. it was only after receiving a positive report that he would go to bed each night. now unfortunately, this seemingly softer side of allenby has a tragic end. that after being posted to egypt, allenby received a telegram from his wife informing the general of his son's death, and he publicly wept, the only time his staff ever saw this display of emotion. when allenby took over command of the expeditionary force, it was 27th june, 1917. he immediately reorganized the forces under his command into two infantry corps and one cavalry corps. he visited the front regularly, and he was a present leader. so this is a picture of allenby entering the city of jerusalem.
i will mention this again in a moment. i want to keep this picture a little bit in your mind. his forces captured the line through a combination of excellent deception an maneuver panache. the charge of the light force brigade against the eastern thenses is captured in thumb "the light horsemen." the movie is a little cheesy, but the charge scene is probably one of the best in film. as a young former lieutenant at the armor officer basics course, i and my classmates were shown this film when we were introduced to cavalry operations, and i have been in love with it ever since. so i direct your attention to the film clip playing in the background. this is only about a minute of a n almost 10-minute segment of the film.
the line had defended against british attacks twice before. the events of the film happen at the end of the third battle. the command decided to send a mounted force to flank the defenses. the risk was they traveled with limited water and would have to attack without resupply. the assault was made while mounted, which was a change for the austrian light force, who typically fought as mounted infantry. of course, one cannot charge modern machine guns or artillery with horses -- or can you? in this case, they charged and rapidly overwhelm the defenders with only 45 or so killed and 45 or so wounded. so, if you watch the entire 10 minute segment in the film, you will see about every one of the casualties, because they seem to show just about everybody was getting killed and wounded. but the scope and scale of the achievement of capturing the at
caused the ottoman forces to pull back. so, a month later, on 11th december, 1917, allenby and his force walked to jerusalem on foot. in 1898, kaiser wilhelm ii rode into jerusalem on horseback, and doing so, deeply offended the populace. allenby learned from that and adjusted his behavior accordingly. that was the picture i showed you two slides previous. i show you the entirety of this message to the entirety population, declaring martial law as a sense of his cultural sensitivity and understanding of the historic nature of his achievement. it's interesting to note how many british newspapers at the time linked this event to the crusades.
allenby's forces attacked toward oman, what is now the capital of jordan in march and april of 1918. they were repulsed on both occasions. allenby wanted reinforcements to continue his attacks, and for those of you world war i historians, you know the spring offensives were happening at the same time, so allenby was not going to get many reinforcements from europe. he would have to wait to get reinforcements from somewhere else and those would come from the colonies. so, after receiving colonial reinforcements, he initiated the in 1918. megiddo theuse of its size and connection with the biblical area it happened, some people have labeled this, the battle of armageddon. for some who do not know -- this is a hebrew lesson.
harmegiddo, means mountain, and we anglicized it into armageddon. if you study history or just go on to wikipedia, you will find that dozens upon dozens of battles have been fought there over time. so the idea that the final end battle will be fought in the valley, certainly anyone reading the book of revelation, would not have been surprised. because, hey, that is where all big battles happen. and, it so happened in world war i as well. so, the way this occurred -- the initial attacks of the infantry -- you see on the left side the yellow highlighted, that is the desert mountain corps. a so the infantry opened whole end of the desert mounted through.rged charged, they charged through damascus. the city of damascus fell to arab forces under the command of
prince faisal. as part of this advance, the cavalry forces covered more terrain faster than any force previously in military history, and they continued the attack north, taking aleppo on october 25. possible invasion of anatolia, the ottoman empire capitulated on october 30, 1918. so, before discussing the various treaties and dissolution of the ottoman empire, i want to step back in time and move to the east and discuss the actions of the great arab revolt. this was an irregular action funded and resourced by the british empire. the forces were commanded by the prince faisal, the son of hussein sharif of mecca. , the force conducted irregular attacks on the lines of communication. of course, most of us know about these events through the
lt. col. steed: so the success of this force in securing the railroad that connected the ottoman leadership to these places was significant. it is certain that the great arab revolt was neither as successful as its most active and public promoters, lawrence among them, would have you believe, nor was it as unimportant as many detractors often state. lawrence was the ideal foreign officer. i know this is crazy small for some of you in the back, that but these are great. these are ones still use today, in teaching army advisors, sort of the 27 lessons from lawrence. so, he is the ideal foreign officer. he spoke the language, valued the culture, history, and religion of the locals. andespected the bedouin that respect was returned as he
demonstrated his capacity for supporting their efforts. i would suggest the greatest lesson from lawrence, is helping the locals accomplish the goals that were important to them. in so doing, one can ensure they will be more inclined to support one's own interests. the lesson of note from his 27 points is the criticality of unremitting study, something that speaks to me as an officer -- a foreign area officer and student of the region. the most important film to watch if you want to understand the middle east is "lawrence of arabia." the sweeping scenes and vistas help to communicate the nature of bedouin patience and the beauty of the desert. the lines of language are very arab and arabic. i cannot express enough the importance of this film and helping one to understand the region. the race to damascus is portrayed in "lawrence of arabia" as a competition between the british led forces and their arab partners to the east. there's a lot to this
characterization, even if the details of the film are slightly inaccurate. the arab forces reach the city first, and they were unable to govern without british technical assistance. at this point, there was a trust amongstk of the various parties, as the agreement had been released from the bolshevik government in moscow. the status of forces and the redrawing of boundaries was not fully a result of the picot agreement, though the borders of syria jordan, iraq and tend to follow the outlines sketched out by two functionaries. the borders will evolve through several treaties. first, i want to remind the audience that it was only a few months after entering the war , that the ottomans attacked into the caucasus region. throughout world war i, the plu
rarity of ottoman forces was committed to the caucuses and the fight with the russian empire. the ottoman forces were throughout the caucuses at the end of the war. the british also had multiple fronts with advances in mesopotamia and attacks in syria and azerbaijan. british captured baghdad in april 1917, and continue to attack north with eyes on capturing mosul. the concern with respect to mosul, was controlling the christian refugees already flooding south in the eastern portions of anatolia in what is often termed the armenian genocide. it was thought if the british controlled mosul, they could keep the refugees in the north and prevent any further expansion of attacks on the christian populace. a second reason for attacking north was to control the refills providing most of the green for people in baghdad and basra. grproviding most of the
ain for people in baghdad and basra. the british commander of mesopotamia continued north without informing his soldiers that the war was actually over. many of the units advancing on mosul learned of the war's end from turkish soldiers under white flags. there was only on november 8 that turkish forces were forced to abandon the mosul governorate. such successful action encourage similar movements ata.rds alexandr it was held by mustafa kemal, and he wanted to fight. constantinople ordered him to withdraw. the capitulation of the capital in the face of post-armistice advances gave additional support for those turks who believe the d the ottoman government to be corrupt. even before ascending to his ultimate position as president of turkey, mustafa kemal ataturk invited all turks to enter a national pact to only accept the lines drawn at the armistice, laterros, rather than the
illegally seized lands. it's fascinating that president almost 100 years later, president erdogan reminded the turkish people of the national pact when campaigning in 2017. some have suggested the present turkish actions in northern syria and northern iraq are designed to achieve just this end. alexandrata was later regained by the turkish republic before the treaty was discussed. so, the first of these treaties we will mention is the treaty of sevres, signed on august 10, 1920. this was a treaty where the allman empire ceded non-turkish possessions. this allowed for the designation of a league of nations mandates for syria and palestine. one can see from this map the brutal carving the treaty required. following the treaty, there was a revolt of officers in a series
of battles and wars intended to regain control of what we know as turkey today. it's fascinating that of all of the empires killed by world war argue, the could empire that did the best in preserving itself in terms of , or someidentity semblance of its former self, in terms of territory and cultural identity was the one dubbed "the sick man of europe." it was the treaty of lussane, lausanne, signed on july 20 4, 1923, the end of the ottoman empire and establish the final borders of the modern republic of turkey, as seen here. one could argue that the modern middle east's tensions and problems is a result of the decisions made during and immediately following the end of world war i, by the various european powers. there is no israel and palestine without the balfour declaration. the present borders cut across
tribal, ethnic and linguistic boundaries as they were drawn by distant governmental functionaries with little understanding of the long-term implications of their actions. the rise of nationalist turks and the establishment of artificial nationstates infused nationalism into a region that had been previously governed by faith. the community of believers was replaced by a collection of nations and nationalist identities. so the images of isis destroying the borders between syria and iraq, as they referenced saxby saxe-picot provides ample evidence for the challenges of what was created by world war i. israel is viewed as a crusader'' state, created by the same army that entered jerusalem in 1917. the actions of imperial powers throughout the regions are fighting to maintain -- not what the region wants -- but lines drawn by distant powers. so, this clip comes from "vice news." this is an interview they are
doing. well, actually, let's see. [video clip] >> senior islamic state leaders were keen to show us how they are literally dissolving borders. >> [speaking foreign language] >> nearly 100 years ago, britain and france divided up the region that was once known as the ottoman empire. strange as it seemed to be getting a history lesson in the middle of the desert from a hard-line fighter, the effects the sykes-picot
agreement is key to the anger and rage. just a few weeks earlier, this was a checkpoint manned by iragi soldiers, then i.s. overran it. as is common, they filmed the action and published the results. col. steed: for those of you who speak arabic, and i hope that is all of you, you will notice the translation was wrong. the speaker does not say "syria or iraq." he says ashan, or the land of the two rivers. he did this because syria and iraq, which are arabic words, are words derived from the world war i agreements. lands that did not exist in the days of the prophet mohammed. so i show this final video to express how the events discussed tonight, shaped the narratives of those we have been fighting over the last several years. for those of you who are concerned, this is a portion of an isis recruitment video. if you join later, it is not on me.
i am just giving that disclaimer. ok. [laughter] ofdemolish the symbols palmyra. for there is no honor to be found here. the difference between an arab and a non-arab or a black man and a white man, except through piety. this is the glorious space that unites us. >> the reference is obvious. the emphasis on piety, rather than nationality or ethnicity being the defining characteristic of a muslim, also harkens back to world war i and the rise of nationalism. world war i began in 1914. until did not really end 1918. as aftershocks and tremors had from that cataclysm have been felt during every decade since.
i would argue, it is true with the fight against isis, which one can say began 100 years after the anniversary of the beginning and ending of world war i. so i do invite you to check out haveof the material that i -- most of my focus is on isis and understanding the middle east. i have a lot of material that is available to access in terms of recommended articles and videos. so, i will conclude there and invite questions. >> [indiscernible] [no audio]
>> how did the turks so successfully defeat the british in gallipoli and later fall apart? >> that is a great question. without going through the story of gallipoli, which i think there is there are a couple of dynamics that are different. one, that gallipoli is a very isolated environment geographically, and the british, by focusing on that isolated urography, made it easier for he -- isolated geography, made it easier for the turks to defend. from a geographic military problem it was easier for the turks in gallipoli than it was , for example, in mesopotamia or in palestine, or elsewhere. the other part that was different was the leadership, the turkish leadership in gallipoli was particularly
strong. mustafa kemal, who was in lieutenant colonel, a division commander. in part, one could write the turkish narrative of that battle was that the actions on one particular day of mustafa kemal ataturk when he committed his , reserve division into the fight with absentee orders from above, was what actually allowed them to hold gallipoli. that dynamic turkish leadership was not necessarily present in all of the other locations. once things started falling as 1918, it wasate very difficult to hold together all the pieces, because it was happening in mesopotamia, in the levant, in the caucuses, it was happening elsewhere. once again, it is important to realize, what is happening in mesopotamia fascinating it was
to focus on that, but for the ottoman empire, their number one theater after dealing with gallipoli was russia. it was the caucuses mountain. ns. that was there they tended to have the majority of their force, and there challenges there were logistical more so than purely of leadership. all of this combined to create additional problems for the turks across the other theaters. i hope that answers that question. >> so, like you, this is a subject i became enamored with some years ago. we have read a lot of the same books, i am viewed getting to -- i envy you getting to write a phd on this. sykes-picot the
agreement, which later gets converted to something else. the agreement gets modified and the russians are supposed to take a bunch of territory. i think people would be interested in knowing that after the russian revolution, when wilson shows up at the peace conference in paris. the brits expected us to take the parts that had been assigned to russia, the united states in 1919 was supposed to take over armenia and wilson turned down. could you talk a little bit about that? >> i don't think it was to give sykes-picot agreement handoff in that case. one of the things that is fascinating is that we are never a -- we are a co-belligerent in world war i. we are not allies with the british and the french. we are co-belligerents with them. it creates some interesting differences. as a result, we never declare war against the ottoman empire. as a part of wilson's 14 points, one of which is self-determination of population, particularly -- he was looking at one case, the ottoman empire, and also the german empire -- the challenge was, we sent out one delegation
.n particular one of the things that everybody realizes is that most of the people locally want america to actually administer territory. which is why armenia is one of the things that gets suggested -- why do you guys take armenia? the reason everybody wants us to take it is because they don't know it. like yeah, ok, we have dealt with british, the french, the the british, the french, the russians, we don't like any of them, we haven't dealt with you, you must be better. so the idea was ok, we will just give it to the americans. from the british perspective, they said, hey, you guys can have that headache. wilson won the 1916 election by saying, i kept you out of the war. so the idea of getting america involvedistically with armenia was never going to solve politically. we backed out of that relatively quickly, and are in opposition
to american presence. one of the things that is fascinating when i talked to students about america in the middle east, a lot of people today and of think we have always been in the middle east. they fail to understand that really, up until 1979, we had very little involvement in the middle east. and we tried to keep it that way. , following what is going on in versailles, he is trying to keep the middle east at arms length and trying to avoid any attacks. he does try to understand the commission is what gets named. commission,d the trying to figure out what can be done, but the reality is, everybody basically wants to rule themselves. that is not surprising right. , right? >> i can't do the quote hundred
percent, but i think when it was proposed to wilson, i think his response was, " i don't think the american people have the stomach for that." [laughter] >> right? we can't get enough. >> given the russia's historic ambition to get a port and given the current conditions in the middle east, is it logical to conclude that vladimir putin's maneuvers in syria and persia are a continuation of that effort to move south? ort?et a warm water p >> that is a great question. i absolutely do. vladimir putin is a historical russian guy. he is very much kind of in that model of a czar, he wants to do what russian leaders have always done. that is to have that control. i think that was always a driving russian motivation.
i think vladimir than's actions, nash i think his actions in part, are given to that. it is never that simple though. part of his relations with iran curbing islamic extremism. and there is some evidence to suggest that there has been a deal between russia and iran to that effect. ,he other part obviously, is syria is an old-time russian ally. he believes it is important. and it does not hurt to upset nato -- most people forget that turkey is a nato ally, so anything he does by poking nato in the eye, is happy for him. >> we have time for one more question. >> how does the kurdish issue fit in the greater dynamic? >> that is a great last
question. so much of this goes back to this period, right? the kurdish are one of the people that really cling to wilson's point for self-determination. they really believe that that is their hope, and now is your chance, that they will have the independence they have always wanted, that this is going to work out. as you can all imagine, there is kurdish country that comes out of it. because wilsons does not have the stomach to really invest american imperial capital in the middle east. that is what it would have taken in 1919,and in israel really. so the kurdish get stuck and they are divided up into many
area countries. is fascinating, in that less few months of doing research, there is this story about the emphasis on that. , theow going into mosul aovernor was even a kurd. he is being told to levy a tax, but he has no real authority. in fact, the british in their imperial records, they give no credit to this general for the fact that he actually expanded what is iraq significantly, by capturing the governor of mosul after the armistice. that by doing so, they divided the kurds even more than they would have already been. because in that case, turkey would have had an even greater percentage of kurds. i don't know how that would have
played out in the last 100 years turkey would've had an , even greater percentage. >> folks, on behalf of the national world war i museum and memorial, thank you so much for joining us here this evening, let's give him a round of applause. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] does the our nine week series, 1968, american turmoil is available as a podcast. you can find it on our website, c-span.org/history. this is american history tv only
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