Britain's Moment in the Middle East, 1914-1956

Britain's Moment in the Middle East, 1914-1956

Britain's Moment in the Middle East, 1914-1956

Britain's Moment in the Middle East, 1914-1956

Excerpt

Forty years is a common measure of time in Middle Eastern history and fable, and for almost exactly that period -- from the British capture of Baghdad and Jerusalem in 1917 until the Suez crisis of 1956 -- Great Britain was the paramount power in most of the Middle East. This book is about the establishment of that power, the uses to which it was put, and the reasons for its decline after 1945.

Forty years is only a moment in the life of a region with a recorded history of four millennia. Britain's time of dominance will seem short in the eyes of later centuries. But to those who took part in it, the moment seemed long enough for the performance of services useful both to Britain and to certain Middle Eastern peoples. These British citizens saw their service in terms of their local work: harnessing the Nile, training armies and policemen, teaching tree-planting to halt soil erosion, trying to reconcile Arabs to Jewish settlement, introducing Kurdish highlanders to central government or, if they belonged to the corps d'élite, administering the Sudan. But the basic motive behind all their effort was to keep the route to India orderly and secure. Only after 1945 did it become obvious that they were also helping to hold the Soviet gateway to Africa, and to safeguard the east-west passage of quantities of oil that were becoming indispensable to western Europe.

The present generation is apt to underrate the enormous role played by India in the British scale of values before the Indian Independence Act of 1947. It had a Secretary of State to itself in the British Cabinet, and was an empire in its own right. In the report that inaugurated the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1904, India ranks next after the Royal Navy as a component of British strength:

The British Empire is pre-eminently a great Naval, Indian and Colonial power.

The order of precedence is justified. In the first decade of this century, approximately half the British army was stationed in India, and in addition the Indian army, in which all but the most junior . . .

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