Welcome to Your Historical Compass

"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Ottoman Empire and the Modern Middle East Pt.2

Welcome back. In our last post, we looked at the early history of the Ottoman Empire and how it rose to power. We saw how the empire declined after the battle of Lepanto, and how it made an effort in the early 20th century to reassert itself through the first world war. Let us now discuss the war and aftermath.
World War I Alliances
When World War I broke out, the Ottoman Empire sided with the central powers, namely Austria-Hungary, and Germany. Although this came as a surprise to the British and French, some might have seen it coming. The Ottomans had by this time had a long relationship with Germany. German engineers and manufacturers had helped the empire break into the industrial revolution. German military officers had been influential in mechanising the empire's armies. There was even talk of a great Berlin to Baghdad railway. One other major factor, was that the allied powers (Britain, France and Russia) had more territory that the Ottomans wanted to conquer than the central powers. Britain had taken Egypt from the empire and Russia had always looked at the city of Istanbul with a hungry eye. From a territorial perspective, the central powers were the obvious choice.

T.E. Lawrence
At the beginning of the war, Germany sent military advisers to the Ottomans and many German generals actually commanded Ottoman armies. A fierce campaign was waged in the north as the Ottomans and Russians battled over the Caucasus, but after the Communist revolution of 1917, that front quieted down. The most action was seen in the South where the British launched attacks from their bases in Egypt and India. After hard fighting, the British eventually took Baghdad, and secured the flow of Iraqi oil for the allies. Perhaps the most romantic episode, in an otherwise bleak and desolate war, occurred in the Arabian peninsula when a British captain named T.E. Lawrence inspired the Arabs to revolt against their Turkish overlords and wreak havoc on the empire. Lawrence helped the main British forces in Egypt by destroying Turkish railways, bridges, and communications. The British took Jerusalem in 1917, and when Damascus fell in 1918, the Ottoman government surrendered to the Allies.

What followed was a division of the Ottoman Empire by the allied countries of Britain and France. These countries received mandates from the newly created League of Nations to govern the Middle East. Britain got Palestine (Israel), Iraq, and Arabia. France got the Lebanon, and Syria. Very soon the native Arabs of these countries grew impatient with the Europeans. During the British mandate of Palestine, a large number of Jewish immigrants started to arrive and build their own communities. This trend was increased during and after World War II as the Nazis expelled and persecuted the Jewish people. Eventually the British relented to international pressure and relinquished its control of Palestine and turned the matter over to the newly formed United Nations. The UN divided Palestine between the Arab and Jewish peoples with Jerusalem as an international city. Needless to say, the partition didn't last long. After a fierce war of independence, the Jewish (now called Israelis) people formed the modern state of Israel. The tension between this state and the Arab states surrounding it has been the source of much, though not all, of the tension of the Middle East.

Modern Middle East

Although the regions of the Middle East have large reserves of natural resources and labor pools, the area remains poor due to the instability caused by internal as well as external strife. None of the Arab countries can fully accept the Jewish state of Israel. All of the countries in the region have tense relations with some, if not all of their neighbors. Corrupt and despotic regimes control most of the countries which causes great suffering for the inhabitants and retardation of their economies. Indeed, much of the money that the Middle Eastern countries make, come from petroleum exports. For countries with no petroleum, such as Lebanon and Jordan, the economies remain even smaller. With such a history, peace seems far and elusive for the Middle East. The way that the region went from such glory and riches at the height of the Ottoman empire, to the division and poverty of the current times should serve as a lesson for other countries to study and learn.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Dear readers,
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. The next post will be on the 31st.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ottoman Empire and the Modern Middle East Pt. 1

Much discussion has arisen about the Middle East, and how it became the way it is. How the modern borders were drawn, why the area seems rife with conflict. These things can, in many ways, be summed up in one phrase: The Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire at its Height
The Ottoman Turks were a nomadic tribe that migrated to the west in the early middle ages. They settled in modern day Turkey -Turkey meaning land of the Turks- outside of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. After centuries of conflict with the Byzantines, the Ottomans conquered the Byzantines and changed the name of the capital from Constantinople to Istanbul. From there, the Ottomans expanded their empire into the Middle East and Europe, conquering much of the Balkans and even laying siege to Vienna twice. They moved east and conquered Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula. At its height, the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful state in the western hemisphere. The Empire was a very autocratic state run by the Sultan and a group of administrators, or Pashas. This autocracy had the effect of tying the prosperity of the empire to the Sultan himself. If the Sultan was strong and wise, then the empire would prosper and expand. If the Sultan was weak, then the empire tended to fall into decline.

A significant event occurred when a league of European kings and princes formed an armada to curb the growing power of the Turkish navy. At the battle of Lepanto 1571, the European naval forces heavily defeated the Turkish navy and altered the path of the Empire as a whole. From that date the Empire fell into significant decline and was know by other nations as "the sick man of Europe." By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had fallen behind Europe in the industrial revolution and had seen the British, Russian, Italian, and French nations pick away various parts of the empire. Indeed, the only reason the empire lasted so long was that the French and British could not see the Russians in control of Constantinople.  However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the empire made one last attempt to reassert itself and regain some of its former glory. In 1914, it joined World War I on the side of Germany and Austria. Whether they lost or won, the Ottomans had tied the fate of their empire to the outcome of the war.

Next week's post will feature part 2 of this series and will relate the events that followed the beginning of World War I.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dec. 10 Post Canceled

Dear Readers,

I have decided to cancel the blog post for December 10. I have a final due and my attention must go to it. Regular postings will recommence next week. Have a good week, and God bless.

Friday, December 2, 2011


It has been said that Hawaii is the paradise of the Pacific. This small island chain represents the fourth smallest state in the union, and the only one that used to be a royal kingdom. From its wonderful selection of tropical fruit and beautiful array of flora and fauna to its dangerous volcanic mountains, Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. But what do we know of the history of this state?

Historical speculation suggests that Polynesians crossed the Pacific and settled Hawaii at least a thousand years ago. There, the Hawaiians lived in a simple society of fishermen and farmers. Some research suggests that the islanders traded with the people of Easter Island as well as other Pacific communities. English Captain John Cook discovered the Hawaiian island chain in 1778. In a tragic accident, communications broke down between the islanders and Cook’s crew. A battle ensued, which left Cook and four of His Majesty’s marines dead. King Kamehameha I united the islands in 1810, and his grandson, Kamehameha III, did much to unify and promote Hawaiian nationalism. When westerners started to populate the island, epidemics broke out as Hawaiians had no defense against western illnesses. Western settlers started planting sugar fields and building mills to process their crops. The sugar trade grew immensely and added much to the islands’ prosperity. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the sugar barons had so much wealth that they took control of the government and ended the monarchy. Five years later, Hawaii was annexed by the union in 1898.

During World War II, the islands suffered the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Following the event, Hawaii served as the launching point for all US offenses in the Pacific arena. After the war, Hawaii became a state in 1959 under President Eisenhower.  Since then, Hawaii has been a popular destination for geologists, botanists and travelers. Its rich history, tropical scenery, and delicious cuisine secure the island chain’s place as one of America’s greatest treasures.