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Video transcript
So far most of what we've been focused on has been Europe and some of you all have argued that, "Hey, why is this called World War I? It should be called Europe War I." In reality, especially because the major European powers had these empires throughout the globe, it really was a world war. The most significant fronts were the Western front and the Eastern front, but we have many, many, many other fronts, many other campaigns. A lot of these helped shape the modern world, especially the world of the twentieth century. You had fronts, campaigns in Africa, between the various colonies that the empires had in Africa. You had a front here in the Caucasus between the Ottoman empire and Russia. You had Japan involved. Japan, in World War I was on the side of the allies. It wasn't one of the major actors in World War I, but it helped provide naval support, it helped against some of Germany's colonies in the pacific and in China. What I really want to focus on in this video is in some ways one of the most interesting campaigns, or I guess several campaigns of World War I, because it really helped shape the modern Middle East and a lot of the way countries are shaped now and a lot of the conflicts we now see in the Middle East to some degree can be tied to what happened leading up to World War I and what happened after World War I. Just as a little bit of context, this entire region right over here, what we consider to be the Middle East now, especially Arabia, was nominally under Ottoman control. The Ottoman empire had been losing power for centuries leading up to the twentieth century, especially if you look at the Arabian Peninsula. It wasn't direct Ottoman control. It was very hard to control the various Arab tribes there. Egypt by this point, as we enter into World War I, in the late 1800s the British occupied, began to occupy Egypt, essentially took control of Egypt. As we enter into World War I, Egypt is officially a protectorate of the British empire. Egypt is, for all purposes, it is British. Egypt is of huge strategic interest at this point in time. In fact, it continues to be of huge strategic interest because it has the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is right over here. It's a man-made canal, made in 1869 by the French, and it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. To see its importance, you just have to look at the map at a more global scale. It's the fastest way to get from Europe by ship into the Red Sea and into the Arabian Sea and to India, which was a significant part of the British empire there, or to go further East, go into the Indian Ocean and go to places further East. It was of huge, huge, huge strategic interest. That lays the groundwork for, essentially, the various campaigns. Oftentimes they would be collectively called the Middle East campaigns, or they're separated sometimes as the Sinai and Palestine campaign and the Mesopotamia campaign. Mesopotamia, that's in modern-day Iraq. The Sinai Peninsula, that's part of modern-day Egypt. Palestine in 1914, what was then considered Palestine, is now part of Israel, part of the West Bank, part of the Gaza Strip, part Lebanon. As we'll see, all of these countries that we now recognize as different countries, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, these were all kind of carved and shaped by what happened during World War I and at the end of World War I. As we get to the beginning, right at the outset in 1914, the British land right over here at the southern end of Mesopotamia. Over the course of the war they just keep driving northward along the Tigris River. They keep driving northward and northward and northward. By the end of the war, they've essentially captured what you would consider most of modern-day Iraq. For the most part, it was a very successful campaign for the British, although they did have some significant setbacks. In particular, at the end of 1915 you have the British who are held up in Kut. They were essentially sieged by the Ottoman empire, 147 days siege. After the 147 days they had to surrender. They were starving in there. They couldn't get supplies. They were dying of sickness. This is actually a picture of an Indian soldier after the siege of Kut, after they were taken by the Ottomans after they surrendered. Even though the Mesopotamian campaign was successful for the British, the siege of Kut is recorded in British military history, or global military history, as one of the biggest humiliations for the British army, where you had that many troops who had to surrender. They were starving, literally, to death. One thing I should point out: I'm going to be talking about the allies, the British troops, but in the Middle Eastern campaigns and the Sinai and Palestinian campaign and in the Mesopotamian campaign, Indian troops, which were part of the British empire, played a significant factor, especially in the Mesoptomian campaign, and so did the Australian and New Zealand troops. When we talk about British troops, we're also talking about all of the various nationalities that were part of the British empire. By 1918, they were able to capture much of what is now modern-day Iraq, or much of I guess you could say Mesopotamia. On the other side of, I guess you could call it on the Egyptian side of the campaign, the first few offensives were actually taken by the Ottomans. They say, "Hey look, the British hold the Suez Canal. If we could take back the Suez Canal, that would be a pretty crippling blow for the British, especially in their ability to get to the various ports of their empire." So in 1915, you have the Ottomans try to make an offensive to try to capture the Suez Canal. It's repulsed. It fails. They try again in 1916. That fails again. After that, the British then take the offensive. Once again, it's the British, but we're talking, they have Egyptian troops, they have Arab troops; well, Egyptians are Arabs. They have Australian troops with them. They have Indian troops with them. They start to make an offensive. That offensive essentially continues through the course of World War I. In 1915 they are able to defend the Suez Canal. In 1916 they defend it again. By 1917, they're making an offensive. After several tries, they're able to take Gaza in 1917. Then they're able to take Jerusalem, which was kind of a major source of prestige. Obviously Jerusalem has a thousands of years history of various armies trying to take Jerusalem. Then they continue on and as they saw that the end of the war was imminent, especially as we get into 1918, the British were, and the allies were, essentially on a land grab. They knew that as soon as an armistice is called, it's kind of your last chance to grab more land, and then it goes to the bureaucrats to start negotiating things. So in 1918 the British are essentially on a land grab, especially the allies. They take Damascus. They get all the way north to Aleppo. By the end of 1918 you essentially have the end of the war. You have an armistice at the end of October with the Ottoman empire. We know that the Austro-Hungarians signed their armistice in early November, and so do the Germans and World War I is over. Now, there's a bunch of interesting things here and I'm kind of doing a very broad survey of these campaigns. One is the famous movie Lawrence of Arabia. It took place during these campaigns. This is a picture of of T.E. Lawrence, who was many, many, many things, but he was this interesting character who helped the Arabs rise up against the Ottomans, against the Turkish rule. He was heavily involved in helping to coordinate the Arabs' uprising against the Ottomans. In this case, the Arabs were helping the allies essentially push the Ottomans back. The most interesting thing, the outcome of this, and we'll probably talk into a lot more detail about this in future videos, is because by the end of the war you have the allies in control of all of this territory ... in control ... let me do that in a better color ... in control of all of this territory, right over here, it was really left to them to carve up the modern Middle East. It was agreed to ahead of time that the French would gain control of what is now Syria and Lebanon. This is roughly, Lebanon's right over there. Syria, we're talking roughly this region, including Damascus, so roughly this region right over here, and it left the British in control of what is now Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. As we'll see as we go into the 1920s, this was all part of the British mandate. They carved it up and a lot of their decisions have led to a lot of what we now see as the modern Middle East, and the French essentially were in control up here in Lebanon and Syria as part of the French mandate.