Britain Saves Us From Another World War
In 1922, just as the Greek tragedy was drawing to its catastrophe and during the fateful two weeks preceding the destruction of Smyrna, I happened to be in London, on my way home from a tour of Europe. There I ran across my old friend, the father of the House of Commons, T. P. O'Connor, with whom I had often, exchanged hospitality, both in England and America. He invited me to have luncheon with him on September 2d. He turned the conversation to the situation in the Near East. This was natural, as the newspapers were filled with big headlines on the overwhelming defeat just suffered by the Greek Army, now in headlong flight back to the west coast of Asia Minor, closely pursued by the Turkish conquerors. "Tay Pay" was of course familiar with my experiences with the Turks while American Ambassador at Constantinople, and he was anxious to have my views regarding the effect of this unexpected Nationalist victory upon the situation in the Near East.
When I explained to him that I did not limit its possibilities to the Near East, but regarded it as a menace to the safety of the Balkans and quite possibly to the peace of all Europe, he was so impressed that he asked me for an interview for the London Daily Telegraph, with which he was associated. He felt that the country at large had no idea of the possible effect of this Turkish victory upon Europe, and that the British public should at once be informed of my views.
Consequently, on the Monday following, Mr. O'Connor called on me again, bringing with him Mr. Geroth-wohl, a writer on the Daily Telegraph. I repeated my opinion of the situation, in detail, and the interview was published in the paper next morning as follows:
"I wonder," stated the Ambassador, "if 400,000,000 Christians in full control of all the governments of Europe and America are again going to condone these offences by the Turkish Government! Or will definite steps be promptly taken to rescue permanently the remnants of these fine old civilized Christian peoples from the fangs of the Turk?"
"Mr. Morgenthau agreed that there were only two methods by which the present emergency could be met. "We should help," he said, "to remove these refugees from Anatolia to Thrace, in view of our pledges to them. The Powers should also be absolutely adamant in refusing to allow the Kemalists to cross the Straits."
"If the European countries have control of Constantinople, they can eventually influence the Turks and keep them in check, because the possession or non-possession of Constantinople determines the status of Turkey. If she obtains Constantinople she becomes a world power again. If she does not, she becomes a succession state. There is the point. Now what sensible person wants Turkey to be a world power again, with increased powers for the making of international mischief? No matter how other countries may differ on other matters, they must unite and agree on this: To keep Constantinople out of the hands of the Turks."
"Constantinople is the sixth largest and sixth most important city in the world, after London, Paris, Berlin, NewYork, and, possibly, Vienna. To put it again into the hands of these people, who can neither govern themselves nor anyone else, would be the most terrible blunder of the age, because it would simply give them a chance to reestablish themselves in a place where for the last one hundred years we have heard of 'the dying Turk,' and where they could tyrannize again. There is no need to recapitulate the doings 6f the Turks— their incapacities, how they have been the parasites of those countries they have attempted to govern. They have never assimilated the people nor assimilated with them, and have always been merely the collectors of revenue, the farmers and the butchers. The Chauvinism of the Turks is so well known and so extreme that, unless restrained, they will not permit the minorities to exist. They will find some new device or resort to some of the old devices for exterminating the non-Moslem populations. The waterway through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus should be internationalized."
This interview in the Daily Telegraph created something of a sensation. An immediate result of it was that the Sunday Times (not to be confused with The Times, the daily of world-wide fame) promptly sent Captain Townroe to interview me for that paper, and this article appeared on the following Sunday—the morning after the Turkish Army, pursuing the Greeks, entered the doomed city of Smyrna. This interview was as follows:
The events of the past week in Asia Minor have increased the magnitude of the task which lies before Great Britain. Turkey is again trying to establish herself as a world power. This new fact is spreading unrest throughout the Moslem world, and in the chancelleries of Europe the new situation is being considered in all its bearings. Still more significant to a war-wearied world is the rustle of the operation maps which naval and military officers are studying.
The immediate outcome of the Turkish threat will be further massacres of the Armenian, Greek, and Syrian Christians if Turkish power is allowed to pursue its course as a conqueror unchecked. The Christian governments of Europe and America must help to rescue the survivors of these unhappy races.
But the issues involved in the new crisis reach further than Smyrna or Athens. The prestige of the British Empire is far more seriously threatened by the success of the Turkish arms than is, I find, generally recognized in London, except in official circles. The conditions that have arisen are too tangled to be analyzed in one article. I can only hope here to touch briefly on certain points, and to give some reasons for my conviction that Great Britain, France, and Italy must suspend all personal jealousies and prejudices, and in mutual agreement refuse to allow the Turk under any pretext again to control Constantinople and the Dardanelles.
Mistakes occurred when in the peace negotiations the Allies favored Greece and allotted to her Smyrna and part of the hinterland. The negotiators apparently were ignorant of the fact that the Greeks of Athens are entirely different from the unredeemed Hellenes of Asia Minor. Further, the Allies seemingly failed to appreciate the threat to Turkey if the Greeks were allowed to be in occupation both in Thrace and in Asia Minor. When M. Venizelos was displaced by the brother-in-law of the late Kaiser, the Turkish leaders inevitably supposed that before long the Greeks would try to connect their two possessions in Europe and Asia by occupying Constantinople, a city which contains a Greek population of nearly three hundred and fifty thousand.
Faced with this supposed menace, Turkey tried again her old game—a game as old as Aesop's fables. She tried to divide her enemies and so to benefit herself as a result of their quarrels. She found all the Allies foolishly cherishing old mutual jealousies, ambitions, and suspicions. The hard lessons taught by disaster in war, and the value of unity in command, had all too quickly been forgotten in peace. Turkey received help from Italy, and now with French ammunition, guns, tanks, and possibly aided by the directing ideas of French officers—the most capable strategists in the world—Turkey has delivered a knock-down blow to Greece.
Many English people probably have not followed the kaleidoscope of Turkish affairs. Certain main facts must be recognized in order to appreciate the present crisis. The Turks have refused to sign the treaty of peace with Great Britain and so, technically, there is still a state of war between Turkey and this country. Italy has made a secret peace. France, after her troops were in danger of annihilation, signed the Treaty of Angora, which, when fully known, may be called the surrender of Angora. Thus have the Allies been divided by the wily Turk, and, owing to Entente mistakes, the Turks again hold the upper hand in Asia Minor, and will mercilessly use the same.
If only Great Britain and France will even now come to an agreement on the questions over which they have differed, there is time to prevent further mischief. The peace of the Balkans depends largely to-day on the Allies retaining command of the Dardanelles. The door must be kept open in the Mediterranean for the trade of all nations with Russia. Otherwise Russia will continue to be largely dependent on Germany for its supplies and its trade. A false step now, and the Allies may to-morrow find the German military party and the Russian Bolsheviks have again allied to threaten the world's peace. If Turkey, defeated primarily in 1918 by Lord Allenby's army coming through Palestine, and so compelling them to lay down their arms, has so revived in 1922 as to demand a place again as a world power, what may not Berlin and Moscow together accomplish?
I speak without reserve, as the exigencies of the case demand it. If there had been harmony between the Allies, and if the United States had agreed to take part in the League of Nations, I believe the peace of the Near East would have now been secured. During the week thousands of men have lost their lives, and thousands of women have suffered unprintable horrors, because there has been discord among the Entente Powers.
Those Americans who believe in, and have fought for, the League of Nations are convinced that American influence ought to have been at work to prevent this wrong. Instead of pursuing selfish aims, it would have been a wiser policy if the Turks had been definitely relegated to Asia Minor, and the Dardanelles permanently converted into a great international waterway. Constantinople should be under the protection of the League of Nations. The Turks cannot govern an empire, nor have they the revenue to maintain even Constantinople, the sixth most important city in the world. This city should be a storehouse and distributing centre between East and West, and governed, policed, and civilized under the combined control of Great Britain, France, and Italy, and possibly in due time the United States would join.
Those who have heard from French and British lips what a salutary and sane influence has been exercised by Major General H. T. Allen in the Rhineland believe that the time has come when other Americans might take their share in the international task of keeping the Turk in Asia, where he belongs, and assisting in making Constantinople a free city, and the Dardanelles a free waterway for the world. The majority of the residents of Constantinople are non-Turks, and it requires no plebiscite to establish the fact that they are determined not to come again under Turkish rule.
For the present, the chief burden of ensuring the freedom of the Dardanelles rests upon Great Britain. If all Americans understood the terrific task that the British race has on their hands to-day in order to preserve Western civilization in Europe, they would not long withhold their hearty cooperation.
On the day after the Sunday Times printed the foregoing interview I had luncheon with Winston Churchill and his wife at their home. Churchill was full of the Near Eastern question. We discussed not only the news of the day, but he carried the subject back to the World War. He had been chiefly responsible for the British expedition to force the Dardanelles in 1915, the expedition that had failed so miserably; and he had been savagely criticized for it by members of Parliament and the press. In my book about my experiences at Constantinople (published in England under the title of Secrets of the Bosphorus) I had told of the nervousness of the Turks at that time. It was common knowledge to them that if the British had pressed on instead of retiring they would have been able easily to force the Straits and capture Constantinople. Churchill recalled this part of the book, and expressed his gratitude that I had recorded these facts, which vindicated his plan.
Churchill talked with the utmost freedom about the Near Eastern situation. Like myself, he believed the Turkish victory the prelude to a great debacle in the international situation, fearing that the world was in grave danger of a fresh outburst of war.
When I was leaving the Churchill’s I told them that Mrs. Morgenthau would be deeply disappointed at having missed the interesting discussion we had just been having, and said that they must repair this loss by dining with us on Tuesday of the following week. Mrs. Churchill could not come, so he came alone.
Before Tuesday came, however, I had a long talk with Lloyd George, at breakfast at No. 10 Downing Street. Lloyd George had read my interviews in the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times, and he wished to get my ideas at first hand. I arrived at No. 10 Downing Street a few minutes after nine in the morning, and we sat down at once to breakfast. But what a repast, to bear such a humble name! For me, it was the equivalent of a five-course luncheon.
I remarked to Lloyd George on the fact that he spoke to the servant at the table in a foreign language. "There's a method in that madness," he rejoined with a chuckle. "Every servant in the place is Welsh, and not one of them speaks a word of English. There'll be no leaks of news about important political conversations in this place while I am here, on account of some servant's indiscretion!"
Lloyd George was a delightful host. He did not rush at once into the subject he wished most to discuss with me, but talked of many things, and with a most engaging frankness: about German reparations, his own continuance in office (he thought it would be a good idea to get out and let some of his critics see what they could do with the impossible situation they damned him for not settling), about his forthcoming book and his intention to show in it the mistakes made at the Dardanelles, about his solicitude concerning American politics and our attitude toward international affairs after our impending Congressional election, and even about the Underwood typewriter he used in his office. He evidently knew that I was a director of the company —I believe he had pursued the usual method of having me looked up in Who's Who before I called.
In discussing America's international policy, he frequently mentioned his contact with Woodrow Wilson, and several times he characterized one or another of Wilson's traits as "weaknesses." The last time he said this he realized that he had been rather critical of the President and that I was unsympathetic with his attitude, and so he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "But doubtless I have a lot of weaknesses of my own that I (overlook—they're much more obvious to us in the other fellow than they are in ourselves."
At length Lloyd George turned the conversation to the Turkish issue. At once there became evident one of the reasons for his phenomenal success as a politician. Here was a subject upon which he could not be intimately informed, but he speedily emptied my knowledge of it into his own head. I have often been on the witness stand, but no skilful lawyer ever subjected me to a more searching cross-examination than did Lloyd George on the Turkish problem. Question after question was fired at me, and when they were all answered he had secured a picture of the situation that was pretty complete, covering all its essentials. And he was thoroughly stirred by what I had told him. I said to him that the triumph of the Turks was fraught with the gravest possibilities of danger to the peace of the world.
Kemal's government and army, I continued, were a Turkish Nationalist protest against the terms of the peace settlement, which had been dictated by the Allied Powers and which had imposed upon the conquered Turks the most drastic limitations of territory, armament, and power. Kemal and his Nationalist government had rejected these terms and had defiantly retired, inland into Asia Minor, to pursue their own aims in their own way. Now they had suddenly achieved a dramatic military success over the Greeks, to whom the Allies had allotted the Ionian coast and the city of Smyrna. Intoxicated by this success, the Turks would doubtless take Smyrna, in defiance of the Allies, and would doubtless massacre the defenseless Greeks in that city.
But, I continued, even that would not be the most serious result, viewed from a world perspective. The Turk would not stop there. He would also cross the Dardanelles, invade Thrace and seek an alliance with the Bulgarians, who likewise were smarting under the sting of defeat and who would be only too glad of a chance to recapture ports like Cavalla and Dedeagatch, which the peace settlement had allotted to the Greeks. Worse yet, both Turks and Bulgarians would be glad of a chance to even old scores with the Greeks by an invasion of Greece itself, which would be a perfectly feasible enterprise, once the Turks got into Thrace. In other words, I concluded, I foresaw a violent reopening of the whole Balkan question, with the possibility behind that of a renewal of the whole European war—unless the Turks were at once forcibly prevented from crossing the Dardanelles back into Europe.
At this point I became quite emphatic. "You must," I exclaimed, "prove to the Turk that you mean business! Words are not enough. The only language he understands is force. He must be told that if he attempts to pass the Dardanelles he will be met with the armed might of the British Empire and hurled back into Asia!"
"Mr. Morgenthau," rejoined Lloyd George, "I simply can't do it. The Labor crowd and the pacifists right now are trying to make me demobilize the entire army—even trying to make me withdraw the troops in Palestine. They wouldn't stand for a government's spending a shilling on anything that involved a military expedition for any purpose."
"But you don't need to spend much money," I retorted. "All that is needed is a threat. That threat will be no good if the Turk knows it is a bluff. But if he thinks you mean it nothing more than the threat will be needed. And if he is not stopped he will produce a situation in Europe that even the Laborites will have to admit will compel Britain to intervene. The real interest of Labor is to back you up in an effective threat, so that no expensive, forcible action may become necessary. Why not call in Ramsay Macdonald and explain the situation to him, and get his support in a stiff warning to the Turks ?"
"That's a good suggestion," Lloyd George replied, and I'll follow it up."
Later, I learned that he did so. He sent for Ramsay Macdonald and explained to him my view of the possibilities of the Turks invading Europe again. Macdonald was deeply impressed. "But," he said, "this is too serious a question for me to undertake to commit the Labor Party on it. I will bring a group of Labor leaders here and have you explain the situation to them."
So seriously did his followers regard the matter that when Macdonald brought his delegation to Lloyd George they were so numerous that they filled to overflowing the big reception room at No. 10 Downing Street. Lloyd George laid the situation fully before them and satisfied them that no force need be sent from England, as the local British troops quartered at the Dardanelles would be able to handle the Turks if prompt action were taken. The Laborites agreed to support the government, with the result that not a word of criticism of its subsequent action was later heard in Parliament. The British at once fortified Chanak, on the Straits, and notified the Turks that if they attempted to pass the Dardanelles or come within fifteen miles of Chanak the British guns would shell them. The Turks disregarded this warning to this extent: they approached to within twelve miles of Chanak—they had learned that this was the effective range of the British guns! But they did not approach nearer. And they did not pursue their intention to invade Greece. Thus, thanks to Great Britain's prompt action, another Balkan outburst was prevented.
That I had a good deal to do with this result was indicated to me that very evening. When Lloyd George and I had finished our breakfast and our conversation he accompanied me to the entrance hall. There, as I was leaving, I encountered Winston Churchill, who was just arriving, and we stopped long enough to exchange greetings.
That evening Churchill came and talked with delightful freedom for hours, and I enjoyed his conversation thoroughly. Soon after we got under way in our tete-a-tete, he said abruptly: "By the way, I want you to know that I agree perfectly with everything you said to Lloyd George about the present Turkish situation." I was astonished and asked him, "How do you know what I said to Lloyd George ?"
He laughed and said: "When I ran into you in Downing Street this morning I was on my way to a Cabinet meeting, and Lloyd George took quite a bit of time at the meeting in giving us a synopsis of what you had just said to him. I wouldn't say that it determined our position as to what the British Government intends to do in that quarter, but it certainly had a strong influence upon it."
I soon received additional confirmation of what Churchill had said about my having influenced the British decision. A few days after our dinner Lord Lee of Fareham invited me to have luncheon with him at the Admiralty. Other guests were Sir James Grigg and two admirals, one of whom, Admiral Webb, had recently returned from Constantinople. They devoted a large share of the luncheon hour to quizzing me about the Turkish situation, and it was clear that Lord Lee, following the discussion of my views in the Cabinet, had arranged the luncheon in order to get these views at first hand for the information of the Admiralty. Thus it came about that a social call from my old friend T. P. O' Connor led to newspaper interviews, that led to conversations with the Prime Minister and Cabinet officers, that somewhat influenced a decision of the British Government, that undoubtedly prevented a fresh Balkan outburst and a possible rekindling of the war in Europe.