Iron Cross and Crescent Press Discussion of the Ottoman Empire in the United Kingdom, 1914-1918 (2019)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Arts
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
First World War historians have increasingly sought to move beyond conventional narratives of a self-contained Anglo-German conflict. It was, after all, a ‘world war’, reflected in the United Kingdom’s four years of nearly continuous fighting against the Ottoman Empire. Despite growing interest in cultural representations of this Eastern theatre, the ‘globalising’ impulses motivating this scholarship have led historians to overlook the remarkable Germano- centrism with which such events were discussed in UK newspapers, both provincial and national. The Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war was attributed to a campaign of intense German intrigue and bribery that, supposedly, brought Constantinople under complete German domination. Praise for its soldiers’ ‘gentlemanly’ conduct at Gallipoli served mostly to criticise German misconduct by contrast, while condemnation of Ottoman atrocities was directed mainly at Germany. Its military defeat was, likewise, valued only insofar as it thwarted German war aims. While such claims have not gone entirely unnoticed, they have been unduly dismissed as deliberately deceitful propaganda or, otherwise, reflections of condemnable racial prejudices regarding the supposed manipulability of ‘backward Orientals’, underserving of further exploration. This thesis argues that such press interpretations, though often demonstrably false, were based upon considerably more complex (if misguided) reasoning than conventionally assumed and gave the Ottoman Empire great, but hitherto unappreciated, importance within the press’ Germano-centric conception of the First World War. Claims that the previously ‘Unspeakable Turk’ upheld ‘civilised’ British values on the battlefield, where Germans did not, deepened the UK’s belief in the righteousness of its ‘just war’ against Germany, as did Germany’s alleged complicity in Ottoman atrocities like the Armenian Genocide. Likewise, Germany’s supposed dominance in Constantinople, secured to achieve its Drang nach Osten towards India, placed the Ottoman Empire at the heart of an Anglo-German proxy-war to decide what the press believed was the main issue of the war: whether Britain, or Germany, would have mastery of the East. This thesis shows that newspapers viewed wartime events in the Ottoman Empire as tremendously important, but only because of their perceived relationship to the broader Anglo-German conflict. Paradoxically, therefore, its attempt to move beyond conventional Germano-centric narratives into a more globalised view of the conflict, in accordance with recent scholarly trends, only highlights the extent to which Germany dominated the UK wartime imagination.
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