by Mitch on April 24, 2011 0 Comments

The Arab Revolt

Soldiers of the Arab Army in the Arabian Desert carrying the Flag of the Arab Revolt.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War (1832) that a people’s war (Volkskrieg) in ‘‘civilized Europe’’ was a phenomenon of the nineteenth century. He recognized that it was a function of the popular nationalism unleashed by the great French Revolution; it meant that war was no longer merely the business of generals and armies, limited by the rules, conventions, and laws of war. Instead ordinary people would fight with whatever weapons they had, however bad the military odds, to preserve the ‘‘soul’’ of their country. Clausewitz had seen this happen in Russia and in Spain, where the partisans, or partidos, had conducted protracted struggles against Napoleon’s armies in what would become best known as guerrilla warfare, la guerra de guerrillas (literally, war of little wars). It would recur several ...

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The Dervish Warrior

by Mitch on April 23, 2011 0 Comments

The First Mahdist War, this bloody conflict began after the Muslim religious leader Muhammad Ahmad (c. 1843–85) had attracted renown as a holy man, living on the island of Aba in the White Nile, in Sudan. Around him a pious and militant sect gathered, including a core of especially militant Dervishes (as the British called them). Perhaps in response to his own obvious influence, Muhammad Ahmad proclaimed himself the Mahdi, the “expected guide”—in effect a prophet. He declared a jihad (holy war) against Egypt, which was controlled by British colonial forces based in Cairo.


In response to the Mahdi’s declaration, Anglo-Egyptian authorities sent two companies (200 men) of Egyptian troops to Sudan to take the Mahdi prisoner. The troops were attacked by the Mahdi’s now numerous followers at the Battle of Aba on August 12, 1881, and sent into retreat, with the loss of 120 men ...

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by Mitch on April 18, 2011 0 Comments

Congress of the Toilers of the Far East. Representatives from China, Korea, Japan, and Mongolia pose for a photograph during the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, a meeting of Communists held in Moscow in early 1922.


The second era of Western informal empire was characterized by the increasing impact of the West and a shrinking number of imperial powers. The outcome of World War I limited the Western powers in East Asia to Great Britain and the United States—accompanied by an expanding Japan. The treaty system reached its apex as the economic influence of the steadily growing number of Western residents peaked during the 1920s. In China, especially during the years of the unstable republic (founded in 1911), governmental sovereignty was exceedingly restrained by the ‘‘protecting powers,’’ which used their influence and extraterritorial status to pave the way for Western business interests. A huge number ...

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by Mitch on April 18, 2011 0 Comments

Uncle Sam Meets the Boxer. This cartoon by William A. Rogers appeared in Harper’s Weekly in June 1900. In Rogers’s drawing, Uncle Sam dons boxing gloves in the form of battleships, and challenges a caricatured Chinese man to a match. The cartoon advocates a forceful military response to the Boxer Uprising.

Having gained independence from Great Britain in 1783, the new United States looked to Asia for new markets for trade. The American merchant ship Empress of China left New York on February 22, 1784, carrying mostly ginseng, a root that grew wild in the Hudson River Valley and that the Chinese highly prized for medicine. Reaching Canton (Guangzhou) on August 28, 1784, the Empress returned to the United States with a cargo of tea, silk, and porcelain, realizing a substantial profit from the venture and contributing to the rapid growth of port cities such as Providence, Salem ...

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by Mitch on April 17, 2011 0 Comments

The rate of the Japanese advance in Southeast Asia and the Pacific took the Allied forces by surprise. Dutch, British and US territories fell like dominoes until Japan over-stretched itself in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. French Indochina, under the Vichy government, was sympathetic to Japan, as was Thailand. Japan ruled over its new territories with an iron fist and engaged in atrocities against both native populations and European prisoners of war.


The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia developed out of what was arguably the first international conflict that was truly ‘‘global,’’ in that it mounted a challenge to the Eurocentric world system and to increasing American intervention in the region. Japan’s leaders in the occupation championed the fight for Japanese hegemony in East Asia, which they saw as a legitimate right, and led what they conceived as a pan-Asian struggle to throw off the yoke of ...

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by Mitch on April 10, 2011 0 Comments

RAF Hinaidi, the main aerodrome in Baghdad. The new Iraqi government needed British military force necessarily to coerce the tribes into obedience. Aid troops recruited among Assyrian Christians that had fled from Eastern Anatolia into Iraq, and the British Royal Air Force took on this task. Tribes were bombed into paying taxes, whereas London was reluctant to give in to demands of the Iraqi government to form an Iraqi conscript army.


There was as little dynastic tradition in Iraq as there was a cohesive national territory and identity. London put Prince Faisal (1885–1933) on the throne, who was the son of Sherif Husayn ibn qAli (1854–1931) of Mecca and military leader of the Arab revolt of World War I. After his troops had captured Damascus in 1918, Faisal had ruled Syria. When the French removed him in 1920, it was a matter of disappointment for all Arab nationalists ...

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by Mitch on April 10, 2011 0 Comments

Basra was already under British control in November 1914. After a severe setback in 1916 at Kut, a town southeast of Baghdad where an entire British army surrendered to the Ottomans, the British captured Baghdad in 1917. Kirkuk in Northern Iraq fell in 1918, and British troops occupied Mosul after the armistice of Mudros in October 1918. After the war, both U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s (1856–1924) plans for the provinces of the Ottoman Empire and the secretly negotiated Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 between Great Britain and France envisaged a partition of the territory into smaller nation-states. The mandate system designed at the Paris peace conferences was, however, a means to reconcile colonial interest with the Wilsonian idea of self-determination. Iraq was already under British military rule when Great Britain was assigned the mandate over it. Now, it was responsible for preparing the country to become independent with ...

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by Mitch on April 7, 2011 0 Comments

Orville H. Platt

Cubans and Puerto Ricans did not participate in the Treaty of Paris of December 1898 that ended both the Spanish-American War and the reign of the Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere by calling for Spain’s withdrawal from Puerto Rico and Cuba. Puerto Rico became a U.S. possession. Cuba became independent in May 1902, but a special U.S.–Cuban relationship was established. The Roosevelt administration granted Cuban independence while maintaining control over Cubans, whom it considered unfit for self-government, through an amendment to the U.S. Army appropriations bill for fiscal year 1902 known as the Platt Amendment. Named for Connecticut Senator Orville Platt, the amendment severely curtailed the new nation of Cuba’s autonomy. U.S. troops left the island only after the Cubans incorporated the amendment’s provisions into the Cuban constitution, where it remained until withdrawn with U.S. approval in ...

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by Mitch on April 7, 2011 0 Comments

The 'Urabi Rebellion (1881-1882) occurred when an Egyptian army colonel, Ahmad 'Urabi, led a movement to subject Egypt's hereditary Ottoman governor, Khedive Tawfiq, to constitutional rule and lessen the country's reliance on European advisors. The rebellion provoked the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, which, although it officially ended in 1922, continued in the Suez Canal Zone until 1956.


Prior to the rebellion, Egypt had become deeply indebted to European creditors as a result of expensive development projects, such as the digging of the Suez Canal. Egypt declared bankruptcy in 1876 and accepted British and French control of its revenues (called the Dual Control) to ensure repayment of the debt. When in 1879 Khedive Isma'il threatened to repudiate the debt, he was deposed and replaced by his more pliable son, Tawfiq. In part because Tawfiq accepted the Dual Control and a financial system that assigned 60 percent ...

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by Mitch on April 2, 2011 2 Comments

Arab Soldiers in the Arab Army during the Arab Revolt of 1916–1918. The Arabs are carrying the Arab Flag of the Arab Revolt and pictured in the Arabian Desert.


Prior to World War I (1914–1918), secular nationalism in the Middle East was largely confined to military and administrative elites with Western educations. In the Islamic and multiethnic Ottoman Empire, such elites established Turkish and Arab cultural associations and secret nationalist societies after the constitutional revolutions of 1908 and 1909. Of the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, only in Egypt did nationalism emerge as something approaching a popular movement before World War I. The country had become almost independent under a dynasty of governors established by the ethnic Albanian, Mehmet Ali (1770–1849).


By the end of the 1870s, bureaucrats, journalists, military officers, and landowners had begun to protest intensive political and economic intervention in Egyptian affairs ...

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