paleo Ideofact

Friday, April 11, 2003
The Great War, continued
The first post is here, the second here.

Two maps appear at the beginning of The First World War, the crisp, brief history by Michael Howard. The first shows Europe before the war, the second Europe after the war. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy has splintered into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslavakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. Germany has shrunk, Russia has been replaced by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania appear as independent countries, and France and Romania are bigger.

In the lower right hand corner of each map, Asia Minor appears, labelled in the first "Ottoman Empire" and in the second "Turkey." The seventh map in the book shows the Ottoman Empire, circa 1914. The border with Persia in the east and Russia in the northeast are thick black lines; other areas are labelled -- Armenia, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Syria and Palestine. While the map shows Cairo (in the west it extends to territory that is today part of Libya) the word Egypt does not appear; nor is there any indication of any foreign (i.e. British) presence there. There is no eighth map -- the area occupied by the Ottoman Empire after the war.

Similarly, Howard's discussion of Turkey in the aftermath of the war is limited to a single paragraph, which does not touch on the fate of the lands beyond modern Turkey that were once ruled by the Ottomans. He does note, in an earlier discussion of the Middle East:
Allenby's victories were to establish a brief British hegemony in the Middle East. Among other things they made it possible to implement the promise made in October 1917 by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to establish 'a National Home for the Jewish People' in Palestine. Unfortunately that promise was made without consulting either the indigenous population or any of the Arab potentates who had been promised the territory in return for their military support. Neither had they been consulted about an understanding reached in 1916 by British Foreign Office officials with their French opposite numbers ('the Sykes-Picot agreement') to divide the region between their two spheres of influence. The attempt to reconcile all these irreconcilable agreements was to keep British officials busy, and the region in turmoil, until the Second World War, and created agonizing problems that at the beginning of the twenty-first century still remained unsolved.
This quote illustrates what I meant when I suggested, in the first post, that the current conflict continues the Great War. I began thinking of this in terms of the maps in Howard's book -- and the map not included. Passages like this one, from an exchange of letters between Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, and Husain Ibn Ali, the Sherif of Mecca, were also of interest:
I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubt of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her friends the Arabs and will result in a firm and lasting alliance, the immediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke, which for so many years has pressed heavily upon them.
Aside from the fact that the British were eager to substitute a British (or French, as the case may be) yoke for the Turkish one, I found this interesting because of its appeal to Arab nationalism. But to what nation? That will be the subject of the next post...

Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Sorry about the lack of a post last night, and further, the lack of another Great War post (I'll get to it tomorrow -- promises, promises), but I bought Paul Berman's book, Terror and Liberalism. I started it around 10 p.m. last night, and just couldn't put it down. In a minute or two, I'll start paging through it to offer a quote, but if I were to quote all the parts I liked best, I'd probably end up getting served notice of a lawsuit for violating his copyright. In other words, it's a tremendous book, well worth reading.

Berman's thesis runs something like this: the 19th Century liberal notion of progress (greater material wealth, education, advancement, better living conditions, etc.) was upended by World War I -- mass, industrial slaughter. In the years prior to WWI, while some thinkers (Dostoevsky, Conrad, others) explored the character of the terrorist, and other writers (Hugo, Baudelaire, etc.) glorified it, and still others (Russian revolutionaries, American anti-capitalists, the 'bohemians' -- mostly easternh Europeans, that once upon a time (the 1890s) Harpers thought were a threat to civilization) acted out these ideas. The failure of liberal ideals in the Great War lead to the foundation of a series of totalitarian movements -- death cults one and all. Lenin and Stalin's Soviet Union, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, and of course Hitler's Germany. Berman sees the same totalitarian impulse metastisizing through the Islamic world -- both bin Laden and Saddam are direct descendants of the post-World War One birth of Communist and Fascist totalitarianism. He makes the point (with which I began the Great War series) that 1989 did not represent the end of the 20th Century, but rather that we are still on a continuum that began with an act of terrorism in Sarajevo in 1914.

Okay, I'm not going to quote anything tonight. I still need to mull this over tonight. More tomorrow (promises promises). In the meantime, I highly recommend the book.

Monday, April 07, 2003
Check out this piece by Andrew Sullivan, who mentions Paul Berman (whom I mention a few posts down):
Perhaps Berman's most important contribution is to uncover the real roots of today's political ideologies in the Middle East, from Saddam's corrupted form of national socialism to the Islamist revolutionaries waging war against the West and their own autocracies. He notices less a class of civilizations, than yet another instance of Western nihilism and totalitarianism popping up in cultures that had never known it before. There is nothing in Arab culture or history that should lead political or religious leaders to embrace totalitarian terror, as in Saddam's Iraq, or fundamentalist suicide bombing and mass murder, as among al Qaeda, the Taliban or Islamo-fascist Iran. This fusion of totalitarian politics and the methods of terror were imports from the West, Berman shows, from the nihilists of the late nineteenth century, and the fascists and Stalinists of the twentieth. Who is Saddam, after all, but another Mussolini or Hitler, reborn in Islamic guise? Look at the personality cult, the secret police, the mass murders, the purges, the vast and inhuman wars, the scapegoating of the Jews, the vicious genocide against the Kurds (whose only crime was not to be Arabs). This kind of regime was invented not in Mesopotamia but in Europe. Likewise, the roots of Islamism - in the early years of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - are also directly linked to the fascist movements in twentieth century Europe. A man like bin Laden is a classic Western figure, educated in the West, with a vast fortune built on Western oil trade, and methods that have far more to do with Stalin than with Islamic tradition.

What Berman is essentially arguing is that the notion that Arab or Muslim societies and cultures are somehow indigenously incapable of liberal democracy, that they should be consigned indefinitely to rule by fascist tyrants is a form of racist condescension that has no place in civilized discourse, let alone on the left. Iraq is no less capable of becoming an open free society than Germany or Japan in 1945, or even post-Soviet Russia in the 1980s. And what did the defeat of each of those tyrannies have in common? British resilience and American military might. The scenario we are seeing unfold today, in other words, is a starkly familiar one. And who on the left now objects to the liberation of Germany, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia from the totalitarian darkness that covered each for so long?
The whole thing is worth a read...

I've added a few newcomers to the list of Ideofact favorites; I'd add more detail about each now, but it's 1:20 a.m. as I start this and I've got to go to bed. In short order, there's Chronica Majora, ublog (or is that Ublog? Well, capital letters seem more polite) and War Words, which, since it's an anti-war blog, seems a little misnamed (Peace words?).

Sunday, April 06, 2003
The Great War series will continue tomorrow, beginning with a discussion of maps, and then moving into a discussion of the Ottoman Empire. I know this, because I've written about half of it, but just don't feel up to continuing it now.

I found this post from the always worthwhile Cronaca of interest, because it's something I've thought of before. (But before I pontificate, let me suggest that for those who tarry on occasion on this blog to check out Cronaca regularly -- it's a treasure chest of updates from the world of archaeology, anthropology and material culture. I learn a heck of a lot from reading it -- it's the National Geographic of the blogosphere. It's also the Internet's leading source on medieval toilets, although I'm not sure that's by design...

In any case, Cronaca links this story which notes that in the Middle Ages, temperatures were warmer than they are, on average, today:
From the outset of the global warming debate in the late 1980s, environmentalists have said that temperatures are rising higher and faster than ever before, leading some scientists to conclude that greenhouse gases from cars and power stations are causing these "record-breaking" global temperatures.

Last year, scientists working for the UK Climate Impacts Programme said that global temperatures were "the hottest since records began" and added: "We are pretty sure that climate change due to human activity is here and it's accelerating."

This announcement followed research published in 1998, when scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia declared that the 1990s had been hotter than any other period for 1,000 years.

Such claims have now been sharply contradicted by the most comprehensive study yet of global temperature over the past 1,000 years. A review of more than 240 scientific studies has shown that today's temperatures are neither the warmest over the past millennium, nor are they producing the most extreme weather - in stark contrast to the claims of the environmentalists.

The review, carried out by a team from Harvard University, examined the findings of studies of so-called "temperature proxies" such as tree rings, ice cores and historical accounts which allow scientists to estimate temperatures prevailing at sites around the world.

They also confirm claims that a Little Ice Age set in around 1300, during which the world cooled dramatically. Since 1900, the world has begun to warm up again - but has still to reach the balmy temperatures of the Middle Ages.

The timing of the end of the Little Ice Age is especially significant, as it implies that the records used by climate scientists date from a time when the Earth was relatively cold, thereby exaggerating the significance of today's temperature rise.

According to the researchers, the evidence confirms suspicions that today's "unprecedented" temperatures are simply the result of examining temperature change over too short a period of time.
I may be reading too much into this, but I suspect that an obvious inference from such reports runs something like this: There were no SUVs in the Middle Ages; temperatures changed dramatically in the Middle Ages; therefore temperature changes are unaffected by SUVs, or much else that humans do.

For the record, I try to be skeptical of pretty much everything, to confess both my areas of extremely limited expertise and my areas of utter ignorance, and let the chips fall where they may. I do not understand climatology, for example, but I do know a little bit about the Middle Ages.

A while back, I read a book called The Little Ice Age, by Brian Fagan, that I was meant to mention but never got around to. He wrote about climate in the long term, and noted the warm temperatures of the high Middle Ages, followed by the cooling that had demonstrable effects (decline of Iceland, abandoment of Greenland). Somewhat inexplicably, he argued that while humans of the period had had no effect on this period, modern humans were pushing climate seriously out of kilter.

I found it odd that Fagan didn't explore the Medieval industrial revolution. Air pollution, for example, first made its appearance as a matter of governmental concern in England, specifically in Southwark, Wapping and East Smithfield, in 1307 (around the onset of the Little Ice Age):
As the King learns from the complaints of prelates and magnates of his realm, who frequently come to London for the benefit of the Commonwealth by his order, and ...of his citizens and all people dwelling there...that workmen [in kilns] burn them and construct themm of sea-coal instead of brush wood or charcoal, from the use of which sea-coal an intolerable smell diffuses itself throughout the neighbouring places and the air is greatly affected to the annoyance of the magnates, citizens and others there dwelling and to the injury of their bodily health.
The King went on to forbid the use of "sea-coal" (which we would simply call coal). The order, quoted from Jean Gimpel's work The Medieval Machine had little effect, in part because the Medieval industrial revolution had so reduced the amount of brush wood available that coal was essential as a fuel. Again, from Gimpel:
The industrialization of the Middle Ages played havoc with environment of Western Europe. Millions of acres of forests were destroyed to increase the area of arable and grazing land and to satisfy the ever greater demand for timber, the main raw material of the time. Not only was timber used as fuel for the hearths of private homes and for ovens, it was also in one way or another essential to practically every medieval industry. In the building industry wood was used to build timper-framed houses, water mills and windmills, bridges, and military installations such as fortresses and palisades. In the wine industry wood was used for making casks and vats. Ships were made of wood, as well as all medieval machinery such as weavers' looms. Tanners needed the bark of the trees and so did the rope makers. The glass industry demolished the woods for the fuel for its furnaces, and the iron industry needed charcoal for its forges. By 1300, forests in France covered only about 32 million acres -- 2 million acres less than they do today. [1975]

There is a remarkable document from 1140 which provides evidence of this onslaught on the medieval forests. Suger, France's first great nationalist prime minister (who said of the English "that they were destined by moral and national law to be subject to the French and not contrariwise"), wrote in one of his books of his difficulty in finding the 35-foot beams that he desparately needed as tie beams for the roof of the central nave of the Abbey of Saint-Dennis, which he was having rebuilt.
Leave aside the bias of Gimpel (he was French; the golden era of French power and dominance lasted, in his view, something like 300 years, while the American era was limited to a mere 35), and focus merely on the information he presents. In the thirteenth century, Medieval engineers were explaining how to build bridges and windmills without the benefit of long planks -- it seems like the wood shortage was real. Deforestation, coal-burning -- it sounds like human activity was fairly significant in the Middle Ages.

Understand, I don't mean to come down on one side or the other of this debate, but rather am only pointing out historical information that seems relevant.