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The Great War and the Middle East, by Rob Johnson

New York: Oxford University Press 2016. Pp. xxvi, 374. Illus., maps, note, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 019968328X.

World War I and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

Johnson, a former soldier and the Director of the Changing Character of War Centre at Oxford University, examines the political and strategic rationale for, the Anglo-French decision to undertake major operations against the Ottoman Empire, and the problems that decision created for Allied war makers, notably the seemingly ever deepening diversion of resources from the Western Front and the unexpected political, religious, and ethic complexities of campaigning in the region..

Johnson covers the disastrous Anglo-French Gallipoli campaign, the persistent stalemates in Palestine-Syria and Mesopotamia, and the Arab Revolt, all these within the emergence of the broader problems and implications engendered by these campaigns, initially undertaken almost as afterthoughts. So both Britain and France had to cope with the problem of how to wage war against the Caliph of Islam without alienating the many Moslem subjects of their respective? How did these operations affect events on the Western Front? How to maintain support from the Government of India, which ultimately saw little benefit from these operations? How to manage the Arab Revolt and secure the support of Arab leaders and people without disturbing imperial ambitions in the region? And, most importantly, how to organize these territories after ejecting the Ottomans, who had ruled them for some five centuries?

Johnson argues that the Middle East was a critical theatre, not a side-show, as the British and French commitment, far from being an “after thought” reflected their imperial aspirations. He also makes a strong case that despite the perception of the Western powers, local actors – notably the Hashemite leaders of the Arab Revolt – were by no means mere puppets in British and French hands.

As Johnson covers these developments, he gives us many glimpses at some of the more interesting people of the day, such as T.E. Lawrence, Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, Gertrude Bell, Winston Churchill, Nuruddinn Bey, Edmund Allenby, and Mustafa Kemal.

A good read, The Great War and the Middle East is particularly useful as a study guide or as an introduction to the topic.


Note: The Great War and the Middle East is also available in several e-editions.
Our Reviewer:   Independent scholar Dan David is the author of The 1914 Campaign: August-October, 1914 and numerous reviews and articles. Formerly the manager of Sky Books International, in New York, he is a member of the Board of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, and chairman of the NYMAS Book Awards Committee. His most recent reviews for StrategyPage include Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting. Training. and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914, The Indian Army on the Western Front, Gallipoli: Command Under Fire, The Russian Army in the Great War, Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918, Martial Bliss.: The Story of The Military Bookman, and Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin


Reviewer: Dan David   

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