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UC San Diego Professor Discusses Lasting Impacts Of World War I

A U.S. Army 37-mm gun crew man their position during the World War One Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France, Sept. 26, 1918.
Associated Press
A U.S. Army 37-mm gun crew man their position during the World War One Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France, Sept. 26, 1918.

Sixteen million people were killed in World War I.

Sunday was the 100th anniversary of an armistice between Germany and the Allies that ended the war.

UC San Diego history professor Michael Provence’s book, "The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East," details the unfortunate results of that armistice on the Middle East.

Provence joins Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss the lasting impacts of the Great War on the Middle East.

UC San Diego Professor Discusses Lasting Impacts Of World War I
UC San Diego Professor Discusses Lasting Impacts Of World War I GUEST: Michael Provence, author, “The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East”

Sunday was the one hundredth anniversary of the armistice between Germany and the allied forces that ended the First World War. Sixteen million people were killed in World War One in a new book. UC San Diego History professor Michael Provance details the unfortunate results of that armistice on the Middle East. Michael I want to thank you for joining us today. Thanks for having me. First for some of us it may have been a while since our last history class remind us of the reason for the first world war. The obvious reason was the assassination of an heir to the Austro Hungarian throne in Sarajevo in 1914. But the less obvious and more important reason is the competition between Britain and Russia and France and Germany over the entire world really now you know when world leaders gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the president of France in a speech to those in attendance denounced the resurgence of nationalism which President Trump and others have embraced. Would you say that nationalism was a factor in causing the first world war. It was it was a factor in causing the war. It was also a factor in providing the soldiers the conscripts the volunteers who who died and there were hundreds of thousands all over the world. So nationalism was the was the method that governments governments had their own kind of priorities. Expansion of Empire things like that. But for ordinary soldiers nationalism and patriotism and the idea that they belong to a community that was exclusive got them into uniform. Now remind us of the armistice that ended the war. So the armistice happened on the 11th month the 11th hour the 11th day the 11th month of 1918. So this past Sunday was the one hundredth anniversary the armistice was kind of an anticlimax in a way there was no I mean the German army was in the process of collapsing. There were two other armistice in the east one with Austro Hungarian Empire one with Ottoman Empire. So there were a series of armistice which were really just ceasefires not surrenders. And your latest book is about the results of the armistice that ended the war. How did you go about doing that research for this book. Well I lived in the Middle East and especially in Syria but also in Lebanon where there was also the First World War and the partitions and the defeat and dismemberment or partition of the Ottoman Empire which really covered the entire region. It's something that people still talk about and still affects people everyday. So the results of the war the first world war are more pronounced today in the Middle East than anywhere else. And so when I lived there I heard people talking about this I witnessed it and then I went and spent time in the archives first in the Middle East then in France and Britain and Germany and Switzerland. The League of Nations archives and the effort to kind of discover how the post-war settlement and the partition of the Middle East happened and how the conflicts that are there today unfolded was something that that kind of drove me forward as I was doing the research and and the writing. And you write that World War One planted the seeds for many other conflicts in the world. Tell us about that. Well there's lots of examples of course. I mean the most obvious example is the second world war the Treaty of Versailles which was negotiated starting in December of 1918 really. So the seeds for the second world war. But in the Middle East the partition and the the the decision to parcel the Ottoman Empire this vast bi continental empire into a multitude of small national states with weird borders and strange colonial ruling arrangements. This led to all kinds of conflicts the most obvious of course is the conflict over Israel between Israel and the Arabs and the Palestinians. This is a direct result of the First World War and the agreements that accompanied it pretty much almost every Middle Eastern conflict on some level has its roots in the first world war and the settlement. Right and you say you know the Middle East was one of those areas that was most impacted by the First World War. Tell me a bit about what it was like before the war and then after the war. So the Middle East was unified for the most part as I say as the Ottoman Empire with the capital in Istanbul. So as the war unfolded this kind of big multi lingual multinational multireligious empire was the object of the war for the British but also the Germans and the French. I mean they considered the the objective of expanding their empires in the Middle East as a principal objective of the First World War interests. Now those impacts in the Middle East they're still very present today aren't they. Well they are. I mean for one thing we can say that the borders for the most part resemble the borders that were arranged secretly between Britain and France in 1916 in the famous Sibeko accord. And you bought a medallion and with you that holds a significant meaning. Tell me about that. So this is a little brass metal I think probably many of your listeners have them although they don't remember or they don't know what they are. It says the Great War for Civilisation and then it has a list of countries on it. The great United States Great Britain France Russia so on. And this is a medal that every victorious I put that in quotations because I think victory is the wrong word to use for. First World War. But every victorious power and every soldier or the survivors of a soldier of whom there were millions of course received one of these medals. It might be in French or in Serbo-Croatian or in English or whatever. And this made the claim that the sacrifice of these young men and their families had been in the Great War for Civilization. It says The Great War for Civilisation because no one could say or would say among the political leaders of the victorious countries that it was actually a war for empire a war for world domination a war for expanding capital markets a war for oil a war for natural resources a war for colonial labour. But these in fact were the things that especially the British but also the French to a lesser degree the Americans were actually fighting for during the war. But of course like I say it wasn't a message that was suited for public consumption. So we it's good to peel back the layers and understand what's really going on what the policies are really aimed at. When we hear this kind of rhetoric. All right Michael Provance author of the last Ottoman generation and the making of the modern Middle East. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me.