War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I. – Review – book review
War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I. By Donald M. McKale. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998. Pp. 332. $39.00.)
German and British policy toward the Middle East during the early twentieth century has been labeled “war by revolution” by Donald M. McKale. He cites the French support of Scottish and Irish rebels in the eighteenth century as well as the German support of anti-Austrian nationalities in the mid-nineteenth- century Habsburg Empire to suggest that “waging `war by revolution’ was nothing new to the West” (233, ff. 13). Yet, if modern usage of the term “revolution” amounts to the transformation of government and/or society, the early-twentieth-century leaders of the Middle East, much less their backers in Berlin and London, were not revolutionary. Therefore, it appears likely that historians will continue to characterize the movements of some Arab leaders and others in the Middle East as mere revolts or rebellions. The term “collaborators” seems a better term than “revolutionaries” for classifying those Middle Eastern leaders who were tied either to the Germans or to the British during World War I.
McKale’s account of German activities in the Middle East from 1904 to 1918 is useful and takes us beyond the earlier works of Fritz Fischer, Gregor Schollgen, and Ulrich Trumpener. McKale demonstrates how deeply impressed Kaiser Wilhelm was by the Pan-Islamic movement, which was taken seriously by assorted German consuls and officers then serving in Cairo and Istanbul, or moving in and around India and northeastern Africa. Such individuals regarded Islam as a potential weapon to be used against the British, but their views had limited influence upon prominent German officials and officers until 1914. The outbreak of war in Europe led Berlin to make diplomatic and military overtures to the Ottoman Empire and to send much gold to the pro-war faction of the Turks eager to fight Russia and her allies. Yet, when the Ottoman sultan-caliph duly called Muslims to wage a holy war, the modern jihad proved itself to be a myth. Some Turkish, Arab, and Persian leaders did take money and arms from Berlin and show themselves loyal to the Turkish war effort as long as the Turks and Germans were winning. Yet, once Britain and the Allies eventually proved victorious in Europe and the Middle East, the collaborators left for Germany and Switzerland, where some continued to be subsidized by Berlin after the war. McKale’s analysis of German activities in the Middle East is based on thorough research in German archives and a full grasp of recent German scholarship, which is to be expected from McKale, who has recently published two articles in The Historian on German policy in the Middle East during World War I, and in the late 1980s published his biography of a German diplomat and an edition of that official’s papers.
McKale’s treatment of the British is less useful, for it is based upon the work of others. While some British policy-makers and their officers posted abroad were indeed worried about upsetting the Muslims in India and the Middle East before and during the first months of the war, the course of the war itself, particularly Britain’s devastating defeat at Gallipoli in 1915 and the British conquest of Baghdad in 1917, as well as the huge British wartime military investment in the Middle East, including a half-million soldiers from the British Empire, were historically much more significant than Muslims calling for a holy war or German-backed rebels whose military and political reach proved limited.
Roger Adelson Arizona State University
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