For centuries, the Ottomans ruled the Middle East. But after “the war to end war,” otherwise known as World War I, Europe dissolved the Ottoman Empire and fundamentally reshaped the region. In his book, Fromkin argues that those changes caused the misery and suffering that now engulf the people who live there. For him, the settlement which ended the war “does not belong entirely or even mostly to the past; it is at the very heart of current wars, conflicts, and politics in the Middle East.” (Page 565) The conflict between Israel and the Arabs, the civil war in Lebanon, the hijackings, the assassinations, the massacres throughout the region, all these atrocities can all be traced back to the end of World War I, according to Fromkin. (Page 9)
The original war for oil
The event that triggered the start of World War I took place on June 28, 1914. Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated. But to understand the cause of World War I, a more important date would be August 12, 1908. On that day, Ford Motor Company finished producing their first Model T. The Model T was the world’s first affordable car. Over the next two decades, Ford would produce over 15 million of them. Those cars, and others like them, were powered by petroleum.
Britain recognized the importance of oil from very early on. They switched their Navy from coal to oil right before the war. (Page 52) Back then, although no one knew how much oil could be extracted from the Middle East, Britain suspected that the region contained large amounts of oil. (Page 141) They were right. The Middle East contains more than half of all the oil in the world.
Were Europe to allow the Ottoman Empire to survive, the Ottomans would become extremely wealthy and powerful because of all the oil buried beneath them. To prevent that from happening, Europe started the war and used it to seize their land.
Throughout the war, Britain repeatedly showed that oil was the primary motivation for every action they took. Right before the war ended, Britain ordered their forces to “occupy as large a portion of the oil-bearing regions as possible.” (Page 364) For only those regions where British troops controlled when the ceasefire took place could Britain lay claim to after the war. Once the war ended, Britain annexed Iraq, one of the most oil rich lands in the world. The Muslims who lived there began to riot. They refused to live under the thumb of the British Empire. Some Britons were exasperated by the riots and wanted their country to leave Iraq. But David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, was determined to stay.
“If we leave we may find a year or two after we departed that we have handed over to the French and Americans some of the richest oilfields in the world,” said Lloyd George. (Page 509)
Towards the beginning of 2011, a few months after the Arab Spring began, the Financial Times published an editorial called “The feeble monster.” The newspaper urged Europe to implement a common foreign policy rather than allow individual European nations to act in contradictory ways.
“Above all, [Europe] must start acting like a responsible force in world affairs, not a many-headed monster,” said the Financial Times.
Unfortunately, to some extent, the Financial Times let Europe off the hook. They never explained their analogy. They never explained how Europe is like a many-headed monster. In my opinion, each individual country of Europe is one head of the monster. The different heads act in seemingly contradictory ways. But in fact, the heads are all working together. Their actions are all coordinated by a single heart, a monster's heart, a heart that belongs to Britain.
In World War I, by secretly controlling Europe, that allowed Britain to control both sides of the conflict. You may be wondering, if Britain could control Germany and Austria, then why fight at all? Britain suffered a tremendous number of casualties during the war. About a million British soldiers died. But because of the war, Britain added a million square miles to her empire. (Page 401) Britain gained about one square mile of territory for each fatality. For Britain, that was a price worth paying, especially when that territory contained the richest supply of oil in the world.