reviews and essays

One Hundred Years of Oblivion

Forgotten Aspects Of The First World War

By VEDICA KANT | 1 January 1970

ASKED TO PREDICT when the next great European conflagration would break out, the great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck famously declared that he could not tell, but did know that “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans” would be the spark that set Europe ablaze. He was right. On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, in Sarajevo. Like many other Serbian irredentists, Princip resented Austria’s control of the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a large Serbian population.

Still, a confrontation between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia in the aftermath of the assassination could have remained a circumscribed affair, just a third Balkan war in a region where two previous conflicts had already occurred in 1912 and 1913. The assassination of the Archduke, not a particularly popular figure in Austria or in Europe at large, did not initially grab headlines in the continent’s capitals.

Yet, just a little over a month later, the altercation sucked in Europe’s great powers. Germany staunchly stood by Austria, its sole dependable ally in Europe. Russia, which had become a protector of the Slavs in the Balkans, came to Serbia’s aid. The Triple Entente alliance of 1907 linked France and Britain to Russia. And so, as Austria took on Serbia, soon Germany and Russia, and their respective allies, also squared off.

The sheer unexpectedness of the war is one reason it continues to exercise historians and the public today. When it broke out in August 1914, few military and civilian leaders anticipated a conflict that would change the world forever or last longer than a few months. “We’ll be home by Christmas” was the chant of British volunteers departing for the Western Front in France and Flanders in the early days of the fighting. A Prague journalist, Egon Erwin Kisch, refused his mother’s offer of spare underwear when he set off for the front—this was not going to be a Thirty Years’ War, he said. It wasn’t. But as the opposing camps fought each other to a stalemate that dragged on until 1918, it killed the optimism that had characterised pre-war Europe, whose peoples had lived in relative peace since the 1870 Franco-Prussian war.

More importantly, as the war progressed it engulfed the world, expanding from being “The Great War” to a “World War.” The European powers had large imperial footholds; Britain and France, in particular, had the two largest empires in the world. Each was quick to leverage its colonies for men, money and material. Germany, wishing to acquire its own colonies and to strike its rivals where they were most vulnerable, sought to widen the war. Its alliance with the Ottoman Empire—which spanned modern-day Turkey and large chunks of West Asia and North Africa, and entered the war in October 1914—was a key factor in opening up fronts close to Britain’s prized possession, India.

The other, perhaps more pertinent reason the war is still constantly evoked is the simple fact that, a hundred years after it broke out, we continue to live with its consequences. The war was, as the historian Fritz Stern put it, “the first calamity of the 20th century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” It marked the end of empires (Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian, and German) and created new mandates and states in their wake (including a separate Austria and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Palestine.) With the exhaustion of the European powers, the war led to America’s emergence as a world power; it contributed directly to the rise of Soviet communism by creating economic and social conditions ripe for revolution; and it laid the groundwork for the ascent of Hitler and the start of the Second World War, because the harsh peace terms of the Treaty of Versailles fuelled German resentment. In West Asia, it helped to establish territorial divisions that continue to cause instability and violence today.

The war’s vast theatre has meant that its memorialisation varies widely. In Europe, it is most widely remembered in Britain and France, and these two countries have led this year’s centenary commemorations. In Germany, where public consciousness of the First World War is overshadowed by that of the Second, the conflict is viewed with ambiguity. In Turkey, only the Gallipoli campaign—in which Ottoman forces successfully foiled the Entente’s bid to capture Constantinople—is celebrated. A fuller remembrance would open up uncomfortable questions about the end of the Ottoman Empire, and particularly the fate of its Armenian population. And despite the colonial involvement in the war, the nationalist historiography of postcolonial countries, and their unease about having participated in an imperial conflict, have precluded memorialising the contributions of troops who fought for the empires that ruled them.

These differences have also affected scholarship on the war. Postcolonial discomfort with its history has meant that the war’s role in the end of the imperial order has been understated. It has largely been written about through a European lens; its impact on Asia and Africa has received much less attention. The historian Gail Braybon once noted that more books have been written about the English war poets than on the colonial involvement in the war. But the centenary has, perhaps for the first time, focused public attention on the less known and celebrated aspects of the war. A host of new books on how the war made history in lands far from France and Flanders promise to be among the most significant outcomes of the four years of remembrance begun this August.

THE FIRST WORLD WAR was just one conflict in a longer war that marked the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The starting point was the First Balkan War, which erupted in 1912 between the empire and its neighbouring states of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and resulted in the loss of most of the Ottomans’ Balkan territories. Not until the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and the subsequent abolition of the Ottoman Empire, did this conflict finally end. Its toll on the region was immense. A million combatants died. Civilian casualties were not counted at the time, but recent research suggests that between 1912 and 1922 Turkey’s overall population decreased by 20 percent.

Post-First World War political settlements determined the nature of the state-systems that emerged in West Asia. The Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the Ottoman territories into spheres of British, French and Russian influence, at the expense of local Arab aspirations for independence. The Balfour Declaration stated as British policy the establishment of a national home for Jewish people in a Palestine already settled by Arabs. Ottoman Syria was divided by the League of Nations into the French mandates of Syria and Lebanon and the British mandates of Palestine and Transjordan. The British were given a mandate over Ottoman Mesopotamia, where they established the semi-independent Kingdom of Iraq in 1921. Most of the Arabian Peninsula was handed to a British ally, Ibn Saud, who created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The outlines of these arrangements are still in place today, despite a hundred years of deep resentment among the people of the region and the efforts of several movements—guided by Arab nationalism and political Islam—to challenge the status quo. As the extremists of the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant swept into Iraq from Syria earlier this year, they claimed to be smashing the “Sykes-Picot borders”—a telling affirmation of the continued relevance of an imperial agreement hashed out a century ago.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen’s The First World War in the Middle East looks at the conflict’s specific military and political impact on the region. (The Oxford historian Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans: The First World War in the Middle East, which is due early next year,and a forthcoming work by the Georgetown University historian Mustafa Aksakal on Ottoman society during the war, both promise to shed more light on the subject.) In accessible and concise language, Ulrichsen analyses the various imperial interests at play at the outbreak of the war, describes the various military campaigns in the region, and examines the maneuvering and diplomacy that shaped it after the fighting was over

From the outside, and particularly in Britain and its former colonies, views of the war in West Asia have largely been defined by a single man: the British army officer TE Lawrence, who played a key role in the British Arab Bureau by supporting the revolt of an Arab leader from Mecca against the Ottomans, aiming to establish a single unified Arab state on the Arabian peninsula. David Lean’s classic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia created a romantic and often inaccurate perception of the extent and importance of this confrontation in the desert. In this regard, Ulrichsen’s book is particularly valuable for its detailed section on military campaigns, which provides a comprehensive and even-handed analysis of engagements in the Caucasus, Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia—all of which had much broader ramifications than the Arab Revolt.

Ulrichsen’s chapter on the campaign in the Caucasus is particularly important. This campaign is often relegated to the footnotes of history, involving as it did the Ottomans and the Russians—neither of whose empires would survive the war. Yet the Caucasus campaign, and the crucial early battle at Sarikamis between December 1914 and January 1915, are crucial to understanding the violence the Ottoman Empire unleashed on its Armenian citizens in its final years. The overstretched and unprepared Ottomans hoped to retake the eastern towns that had been lost to Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and 1878, and divert Russian forces away from the Polish and Galician fronts. Instead, at the Battle of Sarikamis, nearly two-thirds of the attacking Ottoman force either died in battle or froze to death.

The repercussions of this horrible rout were amplified in the milieu of a fragmenting, multi-cultural empire. After the Russo-Turkish War, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire increasingly saw Russia as the ultimate guarantor of their security. One of Russia’s conditions for withdrawal from Ottoman territory was Russian oversight of reforms demanded by the Ottoman Armenians. Relations between Ottoman Armenians and Turks had deteriorated steadily since. After the battle at Sarikamis—a city in an area densely populated by Armenians—the Ottomans made them scapegoats for the loss.

Estimates of the death toll vary widely, but according to most neutral accounts nearly a million Armenians were killed in the genocide of 1915 as a result of death marches, the torching of Armenian villages, and cold-blooded murder. For most of the ensuing century, republican Turkey, always keen to emphasise its break from the Ottoman past, did its utmost to distance itself from this atrocity. But it is likely that the centenary of the war will renew interest in the contested and mostly marginalised history of the Armenians. Their story is entirely representative of the horrors unleashed by the war; Ulrichsen has given it due space and importance.

CLOSELY TIED IN with the West Asian campaigns is another, largely forgotten reality of the war—the magnitude of colonial troops’ involvement. The British campaign in Mesopotamia began wholly as an Indian Army operation, and nearly 40 percent of all Indians in the war served there. Indian troops also played a key role in campaigns in Egypt and Palestine; they were crucial in the capture of Jerusalem in 1917, and Haifa the following year. Nearly one and a half million men from India participated in the war, alongside two million Africans. In total, more than 4 million non-white men were recruited into the armies of the European empires.

So multi-cultural and multi-racial were the combatants that the German sociologist Max Weber said the Entente armies were comprised of “niggers, Gurkhas, and the barbarians of the world.” It put countries such as Britain—to take one example—into a novel situation. Having Indians kill white men in the battlefield could potentially upset the strict racial hierarchies of imperial rule. In the past, the British had avoided using the Indian Army against white enemies (such as in the Boer War of 1899–1902, when they fought the Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics in southern Africa.) In this war, however, necessity trumped ideology. Indians, Moroccans, Algerians and Senegalese Tirailleurs served in key European battles, including those at Ypres, the Somme, Neuve Chapelle and Loos.

The fact that these soldiers, most of them semi-literate at best, rarely left behind written memoirs has only aided in keeping the remembrance of the war largely Eurocentric. But memory and oral traditions still preserve the story of the war in areas where large numbers were recruited, such as the Punjab. These histories indicate that the amnesia about the war does not extend uniformly across the post-colonial world, but they have only recently begun receiving the attention of scholars and critics.

Only a few of the new books on the war deal with the colonial experience. George Morton-Jack’s The Indian Army on the Western Front: India’s Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium in the First World War is an excellent military history, and should be the first reference point for those curious about battles fought by Indian troops in Europe. Morton-Jack’s book isn’t the first of its kind. It covers much of the same ground as Gordon Corrigan’s 1999 work, Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-1915, but outstrips Corrigan’s work in detail and rigour.

This was the first time Indians in such large numbers were exposed to war and to life in Europe. Endless debate has raged in academic and military circles about how they performed in this alien environment, engaging in new forms of warfare. Some critics have deemed Indian involvement a failure—the troops failed to acclimatise to the harsh winter and the mechanised nature of the fighting, which was unlike anything they had experienced in their previous engagements in India’s North-west Frontier Province. As the winter of 1915 loomed the British command became concerned that the prospect of the cold would be enough to cause a drop in these troops’ morale. Indian infantry units were withdrawn from France in October and sent to fronts with warmer climates, serving to prove the critics’ case.

Morton-Jack, like Corrigan before him, convincingly argues the opposite. He lays out the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian Corps and details the various encounters in which they were involved. Indian troops arrived in France in late September 1914, when British forces were suffering heavy setbacks and had no other imperial troops to fall back on. Here, the Indians were vital to holding the line against the Germans. (Other dominion troops only arrived much later since, unlike the Indians, they were volunteers who signed up after the fighting had started.)

Morton-Jack also argues strongly that these engagements were bracing for Indian soldiers and meant they faced the prospect of another winter in France with optimism rather than despair. If the Indians suffered from a deficit of morale at all, it had more to do with the set-up of the British Indian Army. Indian troops were dependent on their British officers, who had to learn the native languages of their men in order to communicate and command. As they engaged in battle, mounting numbers of these officers—hardly easily replaceable—were wounded or killed. It is telling that despite such losses the British were reluctant to allow Indians into the ranks of commissioned officer. The commander of the Indian Corps in France, General James Willcocks, noted that the Indian soldier is “generally brave, nearly always loyal—but he is seldom if ever fit to replace the British officer.”

Morton-Jack challenges such assumptions about the capability of the Indian soldier. He quotes Evelyn Howell, the head censor of Indian mail who, through the soldiers’ letters, had a bird’s-eye view of the sentiments and morale of the men: “Never since the days of Hannibal, I suppose, has any body of mercenaries suffered so much and complained so little … as the Indian infantry now in France.” Willcocks, always complementary of the Indian soldier’s fighting abilities if not his leadership, tellingly noted, “They have freely given their lives, health, and most cherished ideas for England. Can man do more?”

Perhaps the most important book on the experiences of Indian soldiers is David Omissi’s Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters 1914-1918, an edited collection of the censored correspondence of troops in Europe and their friends and family members in the subcontinent or in other theatres of war. Initially published in 1999, the collection was reissued this summer in a special Indian edition.

To bolster morale, the Indian Army encouraged soldiers to write home to assuage feelings of anxiety, loneliness and despondency. Once a week, on green, self-sealing letter cards, soldiers communicated their thoughts and observations about life and war on the Western Front. While the mediated nature of these letters must be stressed—they survive only in translated form, and were often written by scribes and in full awareness of military censorship—they provide a remarkable glimpse of the mindset and level of engagement of the Indian soldier.

Soldiers wrote about their loyalty to their Sirkar, or government, their personal affinity to the King-Emperor (who makes frequent appearance in these writings), and their gratitude for the care the British took of them. Their letters make clear how important the notions of izzat—honourand namakhalali—loyaltywere to them. They also express their desperation, despondency and fatalism in the face of a war that was not theirs, and had all but doomed them to death.

The men provided lively observations of life in Europe—of the agriculture, the cold, the relationships between men and women, the women in general (with whom they built sentimental and often romantic bonds)—which they often compared to prevailing conditions in India. Some noted the importance given to education in vilayat (abroad), and vowed to educate their daughters when they returned home; others noticed that the Europeans seemed less concerned with caste and status than the Indians were, and wondered if their own nation should not learn from that.

With this reprint, Omissi’s book will hopefully reach the wide audience it deserves. But his book and Morton-Jack’s are exceptions to a frustrating lack of research into the experiences of colonial troops. There is still no comprehensive account available of the involvement of Indian troops in Mesopotamia, for example, or of their time in East Africa. For a more complete account of these campaigns we will need to wait for Santanu Das’s India and the First World War: Objects, Images, Words and Songs, which is due next year. Similarly, there is hardly any literature on the African involvement in the war. A considerable amount of work, therefore, still remains to be done.

By the end of the war, the imperial system that had seemed immutable and unchangeable at its start was on much shakier ground. The war reshaped global politics and heralded the end of an era. The Russian Revolution, with its communist ideals of equality and its anti-imperialist stance, as well as the rhetorical impact of the American president Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which explicitly stated that Allied aims included democracy and the right to self-determination, weakened the notion of imperial dominations substantially.

Having colonial soldiers fight alongside and against Europeans changed the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. In India, the necessities of war caused the British to suspend rules which they struggled to put back in place as the fighting drew to an end. India’s role in the war was directly acknowledged in an August 1917 declaration by the then Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, which stated that British rule would now work towards “increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration, and the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.”

The failure to devolve powers as promised led to some of the most widespread anti-British protests India had yet seen, and laid the groundwork for Mohandas Gandhi’s first national civil disobedience movement in 1919. Many veterans of the war became foot soldiers of the national movement, and were crucial to India’s political awakening. As one former soldier remarked: “Previously we remained satisfied with the existing circumstances. But when we saw various people and got their views, we started protesting against the inequalities and disparities which the British had created between the white and the black.” As the commemoration of the war continues, it is essential that we remember this, too, as one of its outcomes.

WHAT STARTED the First World War continues to be the subject of debate. In his 1975 classic The Great War and Modern Memory, the historian Paul Fussell wrote:

The First World War is a mystery. Its origins are mysterious. So is its course. Why did a prosperous continent at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievements, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it had offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?

Pinpointing the culprits in this mystery is not merely an abstract academic exercise; it brings into question the legitimacy of the peace terms imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919. Today, a hundred years later, we have counter-arguments to every argument, and several shifting narratives that change according to times and circumstances, but still no clear consensus.

The year’s standout books on this subject (amongst a very large crop) are Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 and Sean McMeekin’s July 1914: Countdown to War. The former offers a wide view of European history in the years leading up to the war. The latter is a page-turning account of the “July crisis,” during which European leaders engaged in frenetic—and eventually unsuccessful—diplomacy to avert military confrontation. By both accounts, the war was not the act of any one belligerent nation, but rather a leap into the unknown, for which responsibility was widely shared.

Clark’s book is much more concerned with the process of the war’s breakout than pinpointing any one villain. For Clark, the war did not start with the assassination in Sarajevo. Instead, he begins the story 11 years earlier, in May 1903, when a group of Serbian officers barged into the royal palace at Belgrade and brutally murdered the king and queen of Serbia. The group was led by a lieutenant named Dragutin Dimitrijevic, nicknamed “Apis,” after the Egyptian bull deity, for his imposing physique. Apis rose in power after the regicide, becoming the head of Serbian military intelligence in the years preceding the war, and created the Black Hand—a secret military organisation that advocated Serbian irredentism, and undertook the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Clark charts these connections clearly and precisely. His choice to begin in the Balkans is both valuable and rare. It is commonly accepted that the events in the region ignited the conflict, but the complicated politics of Southeast Europe are mentioned only in passing in most histories, before the familiar figures of Germany, Russia, France and Britain begin to dominate the proceedings. It is usually forgotten, for example, that Austria-Hungary’s unilateral annexation of the Ottoman province of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 opened a Pandora’s box of conflict in the Balkans. Clark argues that this, along with the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, triggered a series of opportunistic attacks on the withering Ottoman Empire across the region both by rival imperial powers and emergent nationalists. It was this that brought the European states closer to conflict with one another.

In comparison, McMeekin’s book about July 1914 uses a narrower lens. He begins with the Archduke’s assassination before zooming in on the complicated diplomatic dance between Vienna, Berlin, Belgrade, St Petersburg, Paris and London in the event’s aftermath. McMeekin delivers an engrossing, almost day-by-day account of the key decisions in the various capitals, and of attempts at a diplomatic peace. Three of the protagonists in this drama—King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas—were related, but familial ties jostled with imperial rivalries, and regal authority faced restrictions imposed by rigid bureaucracies. The modalities of power that came into play during the July crisis are particularly well explored by both authors.

One reason the cause of the conflict is hard to pin down is that its primary actors seemed aware of the importance of maintaining plausible deniability from the very outset. All the parties involved in the July negotiations issued their own version of events to vindicate their actions. However, these documents are difficult to verify. Clark notes that both the Russian and the French governments meddled with official documentation in later years. Both authors also challenge the common narrative that Germany mobilised first by stressing that it was Russia that took the first step. In this McMeekin builds on his previous work, The Russian Origins of the First World War. Russia’s decision to mobilise, he argues, “was one of the most momentous decisions of the July crisis.”

Still, other parties were perhaps just as guilty. McMeekin apportions blame across all quarters, and is unwilling to single anyone out. At this remove, this appears to be the most reasonable judgment we can deliver. In his conclusion, Clark writes, “The protagonists of 1914 were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.” In the aftermath of the Second World War, Germany was blamed for instigating the First in its bid for global dominance. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US president John F Kennedy, deeply influenced by Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, which was critical of military leaders’ influence in leading Europe into the First World War, pointedly noted, “I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time, ‘The Missiles of October.’” Clark and McMeekin’s version of the war’s origins—a messy, uneasy affair that proved much longer and more devastating than anyone anticipated—is the one that best reflects our times and its conflicts

ASKED TO PREDICT when the next great European conflagration would break out, the great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck famously declared that he could not tell, but did know that “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans” would be the spark that set Europe ablaze. He was right. On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, in Sarajevo. Like many other Serbian irredentists, Princip resented Austria’s control of the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a large Serbian population.

Still, a confrontation between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia in the aftermath of the assassination could have remained a circumscribed affair, just a third Balkan war in a region where two previous conflicts had already occurred in 1912 and 1913. The assassination of the Archduke, not a particularly popular figure in Austria or in Europe at large, did not initially grab headlines in the continent’s capitals.

Yet, just a little over a month later, the altercation sucked in Europe’s great powers. Germany staunchly stood by Austria, its sole dependable ally in Europe. Russia, which had become a protector of the Slavs in the Balkans, came to Serbia’s aid. The Triple Entente alliance of 1907 linked France and Britain to Russia. And so, as Austria took on Serbia, soon Germany and Russia, and their respective allies, also squared off.

The sheer unexpectedness of the war is one reason it continues to exercise historians and the public today. When it broke out in August 1914, few military and civilian leaders anticipated a conflict that would change the world forever or last longer than a few months. “We’ll be home by Christmas” was the chant of British volunteers departing for the Western Front in France and Flanders in the early days of the fighting. A Prague journalist, Egon Erwin Kisch, refused his mother’s offer of spare underwear when he set off for the front—this was not going to be a Thirty Years’ War, he said. It wasn’t. But as the opposing camps fought each other to a stalemate that dragged on until 1918, it killed the optimism that had characterised pre-war Europe, whose peoples had lived in relative peace since the 1870 Franco-Prussian war.

More importantly, as the war progressed it engulfed the world, expanding from being “The Great War” to a “World War.” The European powers had large imperial footholds; Britain and France, in particular, had the two largest empires in the world. Each was quick to leverage its colonies for men, money and material. Germany, wishing to acquire its own colonies and to strike its rivals where they were most vulnerable, sought to widen the war. Its alliance with the Ottoman Empire—which spanned modern-day Turkey and large chunks of West Asia and North Africa, and entered the war in October 1914—was a key factor in opening up fronts close to Britain’s prized possession, India.

The other, perhaps more pertinent reason the war is still constantly evoked is the simple fact that, a hundred years after it broke out, we continue to live with its consequences. The war was, as the historian Fritz Stern put it, “the first calamity of the 20th century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” It marked the end of empires (Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian, and German) and created new mandates and states in their wake (including a separate Austria and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Palestine.) With the exhaustion of the European powers, the war led to America’s emergence as a world power; it contributed directly to the rise of Soviet communism by creating economic and social conditions ripe for revolution; and it laid the groundwork for the ascent of Hitler and the start of the Second World War, because the harsh peace terms of the Treaty of Versailles fuelled German resentment. In West Asia, it helped to establish territorial divisions that continue to cause instability and violence today.

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2 thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Oblivion”

The author writes- ‘Most of the Arabian Peninsula was handed to a British ally, Ibn Saud, who created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 ‘. This is false. It was the Hashemites who were British clients. Ibn Saud & the Wahhabis invaded and defeated the Hashemites who were accommodated by the British with the thrones of Jordan and Iraq. Britain used air power to defeat a Wahabbi invasion of Iraq.
St.John Philby (father of the infamous spy) who was at Cambridge with Nehru was a double agent serving Saudi interests who managed to get the British to pay a large subsidy to Ibn Saud without any quid pro quo whatsoever. It was the Americans who got the oil contracts- in return for agreeing not to offer sanctuary to escaped slaves!

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