Alan Overholser's Reviews > A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire And The Creation Of The Modern Middle East

A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin
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's review
Apr 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history

This is an excellent account of how the Modern Middle East was created out of the carnage of the First World War. The author starts with his thesis that it was long assumed in Europe that when the Ottoman Empire inevitably collapsed, one or more of the Great Powers would step in to fill the void. This assumption was "one of the motors that drive history." Then he makes a compelling case for how this assumption guided the decisions made by the allies during the course of the war, militarily and diplomatically. Basically, during and after the war, policy makers in Britain and France divided the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire between them and carved the Middle East into separate entities which eventually became new nation states--Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, essentially "drawing lines on an empty map." There is more to it than that, however, and the author lays out a complex web of people and events that influenced the course of history in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. The sheer volume of characters can be overwhelming at times, but the author does a great job clearly communicating his arguments and demonstrating how the various episodes in his account fit into the big picture.

My critique is that the author spent too much time focusing on British politics. Of course, domestic politics exerted influence on the decision making of Britain's leaders during the war and during the peace negotiations after the war, but he could have done without some of those details where they did not have direct bearing on the Middle East. It seemed like one of his main points was how unfolding events in the Middle East affected the political fortunes of Asquith, Churchill, and Lloyd George. Also, he asserts at the end of the first chapter that no one figure had more influence on the shaping of the Middle East than Winston Churchill. Yet, judging from the content of the vast majority of the book, it was actually Prime Minister Lloyd George who had the most influence on the shaping of the Middle East. He was the only man to serve as a member of the Cabinet from the beginning of the war to the conclusion of the "settlement of 1922." He was the man who made it the policy of the British government to completely destroy the Ottoman Empire, and who strove to claim as much territory in the Middle East as possible, even to the point of attempting to exclude France from the war spoils.

His concluding chapter is interesting, but he introduces an idea that he had not alluded to in the previous sixty chapters. He compares the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the fall of the Roman Empire, and makes the point that it took over a thousand years for Europe to become politically stable after the Roman Empire in the West fell. In the aftermath of the collapse of a large empire, it takes time for the territories which had been ruled by that empire for several centuries to form a new political identity. Great Britain did not have the financial resources, military manpower, or political will to stay in the region long enough to enforce the European model for political organization (secular nation states) that they attempted to impose on the region. I think this is an idea he could have taken more time to develop.

Overall, this is an excellent historical account, and I think it's one of those books that anyone who wants to understand the Middle East should read. Other reviewers have critiqued the book as overly Euro-centric. However, that misses the author's intention in writing the book. It is not an account of the native history of the region; it is primarily an account of how the policies and decisions of leaders and officials in the British government, during and after the First World War, shaped the political destiny of the Middle East.

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