Fight On, the Cry from All Sides.
Only Lone Voices in Opposition.
Special to The Great War Project
(24-26 March) Stalemate and deadlock still prevail on the Western Front in northern France and Belgium.
Elsewhere, defeat after defeat, slaughter after slaughter on both sides only steels the determination to fight on. Writes historian Martin Gilbert: “In Petrograd and Vienna, in Paris, London and Berlin, the drums of patriotism beat all the more loudly as the stalemate and bloodshed of the battlefield intensified.”
Despite the miscalculations, and poor communications, and terrible intelligence that lead to nothing but disaster, there is still no push to end the war.
In fact the war is fueling the desire of all belligerents to gobble up more territory and more power.
On this same day a century ago, a senior British official submits a memorandum to the British War Council.
It’s titled with unusual candor: “The Spoils.”
Britain should “annex Mesopotamia [today’s Iraq] as an outlet for Indian immigration,” the memo asserts. Some British officials believe the naval attack on the Dardanelles, which fails spectacularly on the first try just a few days earlier, should be resumed. That operation is part of a British and Russian plot to knock Germany’s Ottoman ally out of the war, thus delivering the Ottoman capital Constantinople to Russia.
In the British mind “The Spoils” even envisions an American slice of the pie.
Britain “should offer the Holy Places [Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem?] as a mandate to the United States.”
At the same time both the British and Turkish military plans are underway near the Gallipoli Peninsula on the western shore of the strategic Dardanelle Straits waterway, the gateway to Constantinople.
The British are preparing a landing; the Turks their defenses.
The Turks are getting help from 500 German officers and soldiers. Some German officers are commanding Turkish divisions. The Turks work feverishly to strengthen their defenses at Gallipoli. “Thousands of Turks work all night like beavers,” reports one British officer, “constructing trenches, redoubts, and barbed wire entanglements.” The Turks dig machine-gun emplacements on the cliffs overlooking the beaches where they believe the British plan to land.
The British preparations are complex and daunting. “The logistics and planning involved in a combined naval and ground operation are infinitely complex,” writes historian Eugene Rogan. “Transport ships had to be assembled to convey troops, mobile artillery, ammunition, work animals, food, water, and supplies to the battlefront.
A beach landing calls for large numbers of landing craft. “British officers scoured Mediterranean ports to buy every small craft available, paid for in cash,” reports Rogan.
There is more, much more. The British have to prepare piers and pontoons and other landing docks. Then there are the medical facilities and hospital ships to receive the wounded.
“The list of details, each essential in its own right,” observes Rogan, “seemed unending.”
Some isolated voices do call for an end to it all. One is Albert Einstein. On March 25th one hundred years ago, Einstein writes to a French colleague, “When posterity recounts the achievements of Europe, shall we let men say that three centuries of painstaking cultural effort carried us no farther than from religious fanaticism to the insanity of nationalism?”