A Peace to End All Peace: the Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. Published by Owl Books 2001
This is one of those books that everyone reads for a foundational knowledge about the Middle Eastern policy during WWI. It is a well-researched and well written book that is an easy and quick read, packed with a ton of information. Like one of my other favorite books: Dreadnaught written by Robert K. Massie, this book focuses on the British war efforts. However, unlike Dreadnaught, this book only focuses on the British war effort. Fromkin writes in the preface, that that was intentional, and while it provides a focused narrative, it doesn’t capture all the nuisances of the Middle Eastern theater. It also obfuscates the role Russia played in shaping the war effort. It also doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the Turkish policy. This is a good book to start if one wants an entry point into the mess that is WWI’s Middle Eastern Front, but it needs to be read along with other books to provide a more holistic and in depth understanding of the war.
That being said, Fromkin does a fantastic job highlighting the inefficiency and stupidity behind the British war efforts. They entered the region without a clear plan on what they wanted from the region and once their forces were trapped in the Middle East, they had no idea how to win or what winning entailed. The War Office, under Kitchener, wanted to create a hands on empire while others wanted a loose confederacy of British states, ruled by locals, but modeled on British officers. Then there were others, like T. E Lawrence one could argue, who took advantage of a situation they were thrust into to their own benefit, altering a region in ways they couldn’t understand.
The British launched the Gallipoli campaign because they were terrified of Russia being pushed out of the war by the Turkish and because they underestimated the Turkish war effort. They thought it would be an easy victory that could distract from the disaster that was the western front. McMeekin, author of The Ottoman Endgame, does a fantastic job describing the true role Russia played in the Gallipoli campaign, while Fromkin only touched upon it. McMeekin also spend far more time explaining the role Russia played in constructing the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Read my review of The Ottoman Endgame here
Fromkin, however, provides the necessary analysis of the interpersonal politics of the British war effort. Like Massie, Fromkin understand people and psychology, and does an indepth analysis of the officers who surrounded Kitchener, the Indian Office, and the War Department as well as the mercurial nature of men like Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. Fromkin also does a decent job balancing the many countries involved in the war, dedicating times to small offenses such as Dunsterforce campaign in Central Asia while keeping the bigger picture in view. He even took time to briefly explain what was going on in the British home front to explain some of the policy decisions the British made.
To learn more about the Dunsterforce campaign, watch this Great War episode
Overall, while the book only focuses on the British perspective, it is a great and indepth overview, providing a good foundation to a very conflicting and confusing front. But it needs to be supplemented with other books.