Monday, June 22, 2015

Gallipoli by Alan Moorehead

From the time of the Crusades onwards, Western military interventions in the Near and Middle East have nearly all been disastrous; in the long run – just look at Iraq today – but usually in the short term too. The Gallipoli adventure of 1915, a disaster in every way, was dreamed up after Turkey sided with Germany in the Great War. Churchill’s cunning plan was to cut through the ghastly stalemate of the Western Front with a morale-boosting attack where Germany expected it least. The idea was to force open the straits between the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara, get to Constantinople, detach the Turks from the Germans, bolster the Russians and shorten the war by two years. It has been suggested that had it been successful it might even have forestalled the Bolshevik Revolution. Wasn’t all that worth a gamble? In the end it failed miserably, with enormous losses on both sides, and the Allied forces evacuating the peninsula in December, leaving much of their matériel behind. Churchill’s reputation didn’t recover for twenty-odd years – ‘What about the Dardanelles?’ they used to shout at him whenever he got up in Parliament – though that may have been unfair: most of the government and the high command, including Kitchener, were initially behind him. Kitchener’s reputation ended up pretty battered too, though he was drowned before it became a problem. Gallipoli has become one of those military cock-ups – the Charge of the Light Brigade is another – that the British seem almost to revel in, even to gain strength from. As Peter Cook said in Beyond the Fringe, ‘we need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.’
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