There has been one previous episode about the Allied failure at Gallipoli. It deserved an episode unto itself. Other than that, the series so far has dealt almost exclusively with the Western front, it's trenches, its mud, and its futility.
By this episode, Number 24 in the series, anxious to get out of the filth and stagnation, developing a slight case of trench foot myself, I was wondering, "What the hell happened to Lawrence of Arabia?" Finally, here, in one fell scoop, is Mesopotamia, beginning with a brief sketch of the region's history and a brief glimpse or two of Babylonian friezes. Mesopotamia -- Greek for "between two rivers" -- was of concern to both England and Germany. Germany sold many of her goods to the senile Ottoman Empire, that included Turkey, and had built a Berlin-Baghdad railroad to facilitate traffic. England had the Suez Canal to worry about. And both countries coveted the oil that had been discovered there in 1907. So they fought over it.
The British sent an army to Mesopotamia and found the early victories over the Turks to be so easy that the commanders were ordered to advance to Baghdad. "The lure of Baghdad blinded politicians and generals alike." But the British ranks were thinned by illnesses, heat stroke, plague, malaria, dysentery, and odd tropical fevers. The Turks were entrenched before the city and the British, exhausted and sick, began the 560-mile retreat. They didn't make it, and the general and 13,000 men were captured by the Turks.
Celebrating their victory, the Turks attacked Egypt and the Suez Canal. They were beaten back into Palestine by the British. Celebrating their victory, the British set out to conquer Palestine. They were repelled and settled in for a long wait. Everyone seemed to want to rule Palestine. Not that there was anything there of much strategic value, but the place names had symbolic value. The British finally took both Baghdad and Palestine. They had the invaluable help of Arab irregulars led by T. E. Lawrence. The Arabs were promised independence from the hated Turks but it never materialized.
At times, the whole affair seems a little crazy. Here is the Ottoman Empire of the Turks, about to fall apart, its army deserting and going home, yet committed to a fight against the British before cities like Palestine. But when Russia collapses in 1917, the Turkish government sees an opportunity to establish a Turkish caliphate on the Russian border and withdraws an army to do it.
In the end, the Brits won what they had set out to win. The Ottoman Empire was later carved up among the winners, except for the Arabs, who never got their independence, and the Jews who didn't get it until 1947. It didn't affect the events in Europe but, while an Allied victory in the short run, it set the stage for future conflicts.
Anyone interested ought to read T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." It's not very challenging and it's both informative and sometimes very amusing. Lawrence was a fine writer, a scholar and linguist as well as a soldier. Or just watch the movie, which sticks pretty close to historical reality.
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