The Great War and the Middle East

November 28, 2020
The Great War and the Middle East

The First World War in the Middle East swept away five hundredyears of Ottoman domination. It ushered in new ideologies andradicalised old ones - from Arab nationalism and revolutionarysocialism to impassioned forms of atavistic Islamism. It createdheroic icons, like the enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia or themodernizing Atatürk, and destroyed others. And it completelyre-drew the map of the region, forging a host of new nation states,including Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia -all of them (with the exception of Turkey) under the 'protection'of the victor powers, Britain and France. For many, theself-serving intervention of these powers in the region between1914 and 1919 is the major reason for the conflicts that have ragedthere on and off ever since. Yet many of the most commonly acceptedassertions about the First World War in the Middle East are moreoften stated than they are truly tested. Rob Johnson, militaryhistorian and former soldier, now seeks to put this right byexamining in detail the strategic and operational course of the warin the Middle East. Johnson argues that, far from being a sideshowto the war in Europe, the Middle Eastern conflict was in fact thecentre of gravity in a war for imperial domination and prestige.Moreover, contrary to another persistent myth of the First WorldWar in the Middle East, local leaders and their forces were notsimply the puppets of the Great Powers in any straightforwardsense. The way in which these local forces embraced, resisted,succumbed to, disrupted, or on occasion overturned the plans of theimperialist powers for their own interests in fact played animportant role in shaping the immediate aftermath of the conflict -and in laying the foundations for the troubled Middle East that weknow today.