Monday, May 04, 2015

Gallipoli 100, History, Humanity, Churchill

Gallipoli, 100 Years On | Power Line:

First the "basic story" -- The British attacked Turkey at the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25, 1915. Over 8 futile months 252,000 allied lives were lost before they gave up. Churchill has sacked from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty in May as a new coalition government was formed. The event came to be known as "Churchill's Folly".

I read the section on the Dardanelles Strategy in the "The Last Lion: Visions of Glory" (the first book) last night -- so now, "The Rest of the Story".

First point -- when you are a bigger than life figure that talks a great game like Churchill, you make all sorts of enemies and when there is a chance to blame you for something, you likely get blamed. The flip side is that if the proper moment arises in history, you may also get credit for something huge that will also be the result of many other events than just you -- Lincoln freeing the slaves, TJR building the Panama Canal, FDR ending the depression, Churchill winning WWII, Kennedy getting us to the moon, Reagan defeating the USSR.

The likely story is that on March 19th, had Admiral De Robeck continued the very successful attack of the previous day, the naval force would have succeeded in opening the both straits and taking Constantinople.

The previous day, the French battleship Bouvet hit a mine and sank quickly with the crew of 600 being lost. Three British battleships were also damaged by mines. These losses caused De Robeck to break of the attack and the strategy converted to land attack which was out of Churchill's purview and under the command of Lord Kitchener, in charge of land forces.

It turns out that the ships that hit the mines hit the same string of 20 mines that had been placed close to the shore on the eastern side. They could have been easily avoided or swept. The Turkish forces were certain they were defeated -- Constantinople was being evacuated. Instead, the attack was halted and 34 year old Mustafa Kemal was given given credit for defeating the mighty Royal Navy and five weeks to prepare to battle and defeat allied forces, allowing him to become the legendary "Ataturk". 

Had De Robeck succeeded, WWI would likely have been over in less than a year, saving more than a million lives, and the shape of Eastern Europe relative to Christian / Muslim and Russian influence would have been MUCH different.  It is likely one of those moments in history of great leverage. But part of that seeming leverage is of course the fact that we can postulate on what MIGHT have happened to our hearts content, but there is no way to actually KNOW that. It is maddening -- it is what God surely knows, but we cannot see. 

As one reads a detailed account like the Churchill  bio, the people involved are fleshed out. Churchill thought he had a good relationship with the Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, but it was likely a mistake to appoint the old man to the position. He had a love/hate relationship with Winston and was at too advanced an age for the responsibility -- he resigned in May in protest over the Gallipoli campaign which brought down the Government and Winston was sacrificed, losing his position as First Lord of the Admiralty. 

Churchill also had history with Lord Kitchener which likely contributed to troops not being part of the March plan. Then there is Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, who had a long running affair with young Venetia Stanley, a woman 35 years his junior to whom he often wrote three times a day and was hugely emotionally attached to. She broke off the affair and suddenly eloped in the midst of the Fisher resignation and political crisis, leaving Asquith a basket case. They tended to keep their love letters in those days -- over 500 from Asquith to Stanley for example. 

Looking at history in the manner that our public schools choose to teach it, it appears as a dry collection of somewhat ordered and tidy events. It appears that a "good government", or "experts" could just get their heads together and make things run "smoothly". It sometimes even appears to be a "story" -- to have some sort of a "narrative". 

All this is illusion.  From our perspective it is at best a  Rube Goldberg jumbled mass of conflicting ideas, personalities, foibles, visions, hallucinations and events, splashed on a cosmic palette by a God whose ways nor plan is possible for us to fathom. Some of us believe his plan is one of hope and truth, while others deny that there is any plan at all -- as said best by Shakespeare: 

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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