Review of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East” by Andrew J. Bacevich


The first thing you should know is that by “Greater Middle East,” Bacevich is referring to the oil states and the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf. Not all of these people are Arabs, and not all of the Muslims in this Islamic part of the world believe in the same things. Muslims consist of different and often violently opposed sects, but many Americans just think of all these peoples as “Arabs” – even the Iranians and Turks, the two most obviously non-Arabic states of the region. As a map in the front of the hardcover book shows, the geographic area of interest in the book extends from Turkey in the north to Somalia in the south, and includes Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan, as well as the relatively small area near Israel. Because the U.S. has had recent military involvement in the Balkans, this area also figures into Bacevich’s narrative, but largely to illustrate the points he makes about fighting in and for the Greater Middle East.

The second thing you should know is that this is not only a history; it is also a polemic. However, I enjoyed it precisely for that reason, and undoubtedly because the author and I are in agreement about many issues.

Bacevich received a Ph.D. in American diplomatic history from Princeton but is also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served for twenty-three years as an Army officer. He is not against war generally: he is against wars fought for bad reasons; wars fought ineptly without thoughtful, strategic analysis by a unified command; and wars fought with a mistaken assessment of the enemy, and a “faulty grasp of underlying political dynamics.”

Bacevich begins with the sentence, “From the outset, America’s war for the Greater Middle East was a war to preserve the American way of life, rooted in a specific understanding of freedom and requiring an abundance of cheap energy.” Oil that is: black gold, Texas tea. (Although in this case, the “tea” was from the Greater Middle East.)


The author then discusses the American desire for oil and the widespread conviction that since we want it, and we will use it more than those who actually reside on top of the oil fields, we have the right to make sure we have access to it. It’s a bit like the attitude of early Americans toward Native Americans. On what basis, aside from sheer and shameless audacity, can we claim rightful dominion over the resources of another people? In the early years of America, colonists made the same arguments one hears now about oil: these people aren’t exploiting these great resources to the maximum extent, and we will, so we deserve to have them. Early Americans then proceeded to remove the Native Americans from their lands by laws backed by force. They killed many of them by intention or inadvertently but not innocently, and sent the rest to reservations in land too undesirable to be coveted by them.

These days, Americans cannot commit the same crimes outright, but their attitudes haven’t changed, and in some ways, their behaviors have just acquired a more politically correct patina. The U.S. now claims its’ scope has expanded to “spreading freedom in the broader Middle East” and to “liberating the oppressed.” The U.S. continues in its pattern of “marginalizing or distorting the role of others and ignoring details that don’t fit into an America-centric narrative.” It tends not to have an understanding of peoples in the Greater Middle East, nor of their religious beliefs, nor of their sectarian conflicts, nor of the fact that U.S. intervention often means aiding one side against the other, as in Lebanon.

More importantly, there is, as Bacevich claims, a fundamental misunderstanding in the assumptions pervasive throughout the U.S. national security establishment, one of which “counts on the inevitability of America’s purposes ultimately winning acceptance, even in the Islamic world. The subjects of U.S. benefactions will then obligingly submit to Washington’s requirements and warmly embrace American norms.”

Don’t we see all the young people wearing blue jeans and carrying IPhones? Doesn’t that mean they aspire to democracy?

[“Democracy” of course was and is always understood to mean rule by those who would carry out U.S. policy; when the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh had the gall to challenge British control of Iranian petroleum reserves, the U.K., aided and abetted by the CIA (under a force led by senior CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of Teddy), helped engineer the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, overthrowing Mosaddegh in exchange for the tyrannical Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Iranian people never quite forgave the U.S. for their part in this coup, eventually resulting in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and capture of hostages from the U.S. Embassy.]

1952: TIME names Prime Minister of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh its Man of the Year.

1952: TIME names Prime Minister of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh its Man of the Year.

Alas, outside of the West, as Bacevich points out, “the superiority of cosmopolitan secularism as a basis for organizing societies is not necessarily self-evident.”

Bacevich begins his history with the Carter Administration and the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, a big concern of the U.S. was that the Kremlin’s “real objective” was “control of the West’s largest reservoir of oil in the Gulf,” according to columnist Joseph Kraft in “The Washington Post.” The “Boston Globe” concurred, accusing the Soviets of positioning itself “one giant step closer to the biggest strategic prize in the postwar world, the Persian Gulf oil tap.” Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan agreed, calling the Soviet Union “a hostile, imperial power” and promising to make America strong again. And Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977-1981, Zbigniew Brzeziński, who was born in Poland and carried a deep resentment of the USSR, pushed for arming the mujahideen to repel the Soviet invaders; his hope was that a protracted war would help topple the Soviet government.

Zbigniew Brzeziński

Zbigniew Brzeziński

No one seemed to have the slightest interest in the Afghan people themselves, except to characterize them as “freedom fighters” for the purposes of anti-Soviet propaganda. (And because, why wouldn’t the Afghanis share the same “universal values” as Americans?) But in fact, as Bacevich points out:

“…those opposing the Soviet occupation consisted of disparate and mutually antagonistic tribes, many of them deeply anti-American in their outlook. Willingness to accept U.S. assistance [and a great deal of weapons] did not imply that xenophobic Afghan leaders shared Washington’s outlook on anything other than a desire to oust the Soviets. In practice, supporting the mujahedin meant promoting a hidebound and intolerant brand of Islamism that viewed non-Muslims with suspicion if not out outright contempt.”

Mujahideen fighters in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 1987

Mujahideen fighters in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 1987

In addition, no one noticed or cared about the hypocrisy of the position that it was okay if the U.S. wanted control of the “strategic prize” of [someone else’s] oil fields, but any other country with an interest in that area was “hostile” and unacceptably imperialistic. Meanwhile, Afghans saw their country invaded, decimated by war, and their religious concerns mocked or ignored. We didn’t even respect them enough to consider that there would be serious “blowback” for our actions.

After the Soviet and subsequent U.S.-aided conflict was over, there were hundreds of thousands of Afghanis dead (estimates range from 1 to 1.5 million), injured, and displaced (an estimated 6 million fled to refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran). The economy was devastated, and drug warlords took over. Bacevich writes:

In this environment, a radical strain of Islamism spread like a virus. The Afghan mujahedin, still equipped with all the U.S. military materiel left behind, became ‘the vanguard of a transnational jihad.’”

(Years later, Bacevich reports, when Brzeziński was asked if he had any regrets about Afghanistan, he “reacted with astonishment” because intervention had helped destroy the Russians; he discounted any consequences but that one.)

As an aside, journalist and scholar Peter Bergen, in a recent article on the most likely causes of 9/11, credits in part the Afghan War, writing:

While there is no evidence that the CIA trained or funded Bin Laden or his followers, the Afghan war against the Soviet Union nonetheless radicalised a generation of Arab militants. They swapped business cards, gained battlefield experience and came to believe that they had played a big role in the destruction of the Soviet Union. All of these factors would lead to the founding of al Qaeda in 1988, established to take the jihad to other parts of the globe.”

A very notable event during the Reagan Administration was also illustrative of American hypocrisy. In 1988, the USS Vincennes, a guided-missile cruiser, shot down a commerical Iranian plane, killing all 290 passengers and crew. The Vincennes was not in “international waters” as Washington later claimed, but was inside Iranian territorial waters, in violation of international law. The airliner was climbing in its assigned flight path, a clear indication that it did not pose a threat, as also claimed.

USS Vincennes

USS Vincennes

But the Reagan Administration would not admit to any wrongdoing and blamed Iran for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, the U.S. once again promulgated the policy that it is okay for us to kill innocent civilians, but it is terrorism if anyone else does it. Bacevich reports that Vice President George H.W. Bush, interested in winning the upcoming presidential election, remarked:

“I will never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are.”

Efforts to spread “democratic governments” and “open economic systems” were carried out, according to Bacevich, by the counterproductive techniques of bombing, raiding, invading, occupation, and use of proxies. America’s stated goals and U.S. military policy have never aligned in the region, and “U.S. military power, unleashed rather than held in abeyance, has met outright failure, produced results other than those intended, or proved to be largely irrelevant. The Greater Middle East remains defiantly resistant to shaping.”


Unfortunately, as Bacevich laments, a succession of American leaders has persisted in the belief that the determined exercise of U.S. military power will somehow put things right. But it hasn’t worked that way. The Iraq mission in 2003 was no different, Bacevich declares:

“. . . .the George W. Bush administration had indubitably broken Iraq. Subsequent efforts to restore that country had proven a bust, the very existence of ISIS testifying to that fact. Here was the second harvest of poisonous fruit resulting from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the first harvest having produced Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

President George W. Bush in 2003

President George W. Bush in 2003

There is also another (ongoing) contributing factor. Bacevich argues that the military-industrial complex pushes for such engagements:

The Greater Middle East was to serve – indeed, was even then already serving – as the chosen arena for honing military power into a utensil that would maintain America’s privileged position and, not so incidentally, provide a continuing rationale for the entire apparatus of national security.”

Bacevich also recounts the history of the ISIS movement and the U.S. response, and quotes various officials again wanting to try to solve the problem with a show of military might. “Would defeating ISIS actually solve anything?” he asks. Probably not, he opines, because the conditions leading to the rise of ISIS are still there.



What about the future? Bacevich suggests that different problems emerging in the 21st Century, such as climate change, are going to take most of our attention. And since these are global problems, they will require global cooperation. In addition, geopolitically, Asia is eclipsing all other regions in importance, he observes, noting: “The War for the Greater Middle East [is] a diversion that Americans can ill afford.” He argues that perpetuating this war “is not enhancing American freedom, abundance, and security. If anything, it is having the opposite effect.” It’s time, he advises, for Americans to awaken to this reality.


Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to think that its concerns are “legitimate” as opposed to those of other peoples and countries. Even worse, by declaring the necessity for a global war on terrorism, the U.S. pretty much has given itself carte blanche to assert its military might anywhere in the world. Our ultimate goal is to render any area of the world with resources we want, into places congruent with American interests and American values. In practice, as argued above, this amounts to rolling all over the interests and values of anyone else.

Evaluation: This is an excellent book, and I can only say that Bacevich has a lot of guts to call out so many actors still on stage. Would that more political actors paid heed to the many lessons he imparts about engagements in the Greater Middle East that just keep repeating the failures of the past.

As a bit of an aside, I would also argue that the vast amounts of money spent on this now continuous, ongoing war is absurd. [Just to take a few examples: an F-16A/B fighter plane had an average cost in 1998 dollars of $14.6 million. We use hundreds of them. A UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter has an average cost of $21.3 million, each. A 2012 article on the high cost of war in The Economist pointed out that one Tomahawk cruise missile cost about $1.5 million, one Hellfire air-to-ground rocket $115,000 each, and so on. The F-22’s we now have in Syria? $150 million each. And all this is not including costs of fuel, tanks, jeeps, or of the costs of training and sustaining manpower to make and operate these weapons.] Imagine if we had even a part of this money to use for improving the infrastructure, or our education systems, or alleviating poverty!

Rating: 4.5/5

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

In general, the narrator, Rob Shapiro does a fine job, and imbues his reading with passion. A few very small cavils about his pronunciation, because he is terrific with so many foreign names. He says “internecine” as in-TER-nuh-cine – I have to say I never heard that done before. Foray, correctly pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, is said as for-AY by Shapiro. Notre Dame the university is definitely pronounced as “noter dame” not “no-trah dahm.” And of course he, like so many other people today, uses “air” when he means “err” (properly pronounced to rhyme with “her”). I know it is now widely accepted, but it still sounds like fingernails on the blackboard to me.

There are some disadvantages to listening to this book on audio. The hardback book has excellent maps, detailed footnotes, and a section of photographs.

Published in hardcover by Random House, an an imprint and division of Penguin Random House, 2016. Audio version available (923 minutes) from Random House Audio, read by Rob Shapiro, 2016.

April 30, 1812 – Louisiana Joins the Union as the 18th State


Louisiana was named by a French discoverer to honor France’s King Louis XIV. Once part of the French Colonial Empire, the Louisiana Territory stretched from present-day Mobile Bay to just north of the present-day Canadian border, and included a small part of what is now southwestern Canada. France ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain in 1762 by the Treaty of Fountainbleau. Louisiana was retroceded to France on October 1, 1800, by the Treaty of San Idelfonso. The United States took possession of the territory on December 20, 1803 by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase. And on this day in history, the Territory of Orleans joined the United States as the state of Louisiana. The larger District of Louisiana was simultaneously renamed the Missouri Territory.

Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana has a unique legal system which is based on the French Napoleonic Code. Rulings in the French-influenced system derive from direct interpretation of the law; rulings in the common-law system give greater authority to legal precedent. (In practice, however, findings in both systems often dovetail with one another.) In addition, the Louisiana political and legal structure has maintained several elements from the times of French and Spanish governance, such as the use of the term “parish” instead of “county” for administrative subdivisions. Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes. (Alaska is the other exception to states with counties; it is instead divided into “boroughs” and “census areas.”)


Prior to the Civil War, New Orleans had the biggest slave market in the United States. According to the 1860 census, 331,726 people were enslaved, nearly 47% of the state’s total population of 708,002. Enfranchised elite whites’ strong economic interest in maintaining the slave system contributed to Louisiana’s decision to secede from the Union in 1861. Louisiana’s secession was announced on January 26, 1861, and Louisiana became part of the Confederate States of America.

The state was taken over by the North relatively early in the Civil War, however, pursuant to Union perception of the importance of the Mississippi and its strategy to cut the Confederacy in two by seizing the Mississippi. Federal troops captured New Orleans on April 25, 1862, and placed New Orleans under Union-imposed martial law.

Racism persisted, however, an in May of 1866, four years of Union Army imposed martial law ended. Mayor John T. Monroe, who had headed city government before the Civil War and supported the Confederacy, was reinstated as acting mayor. The Louisiana Constitutional Convention that summer enacted “Black Codes,” laws passed by Louisiana and other Southern states with the intent and the effect of restricting African Americans’ freedom. On July 30, 1866, a delegation of black New Orleans residents marched behind the U.S. flag toward the convention center. Both the rioters and victims included people who were never part of the original confrontation. By the end of the rioting, estimates of casualties ranged as high as 300, including a number of black Union war veterans. Martial law was immediately reimposed in New Orleans.

The riot in New Orleans – murdering negroes in the rear of Mechanics' Institute ; Platform in Mechanics' Institute after the riot, Harper's Weekly, 1866

The riot in New Orleans – murdering negroes in the rear of Mechanics’ Institute ; Platform in Mechanics’ Institute after the riot, Harper’s Weekly, 1866

The national reaction of outrage at the riots in Louisiana helped Republicans gain a majority in the 1866 national elections for Congress. It also generated support for the Fourteenth Amendment, which extended suffrage and full citizenship to freedmen, and for the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which, supplemented later by three related acts, divided the South (except Tennessee, which had already ratified the 14th Amendment and had been readmitted to the Union) into five military districts in which the authority of the U.S. Army commander was supreme.

Louisiana again saw violence in early 1873, with the Colfax Massacre. The results of the 1872 election were disputed, and blacks occupied the town. Armed whites, calling themselves “The White League,” surrounded the town and began bombarding it with cannon. Eventually, the blacks surrendered and somewhere between 60 to 100 African-American militiamen were murdered in cold blood by the White League.

New York Times, April 16, 1873

New York Times, April 16, 1873

In 1874, the White League staged an uprising in New Orleans (then the capital of Louisiana) to seize control of the state government. (The capital eventually moved to Baton Rouge.) Five thousand members of the White League, made up of Confederate veterans, fought against the outnumbered Metropolitan Police and state militia. Again, federal troops had to come in and suppress the White League.

Between 1890 and 1940, there were an estimated 4,000 lynchings in the United States, almost all of them in the South. The largest group lynching in this period was in New Orleans, but it was a lynching of Italian immigrants, rather than blacks. But the vast majority of those lynched were African Americans.

Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537, 1896), the famous 1896 Supreme Court case establishing the principle of “separate but equal” also came out of Louisiana. A Louisiana state law mandated that railroad companies were to have separate cars for black and white passengers. Remnants of the free black leadership from Reconstruction days organized a challenge to the law. They hired Albion Tourgee, a famous carpetbagger, to fight this case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court, however, upheld the Louisiana law in an 8-1 decision, asserting that laws that separate the races are not a violation of the 14th Amendment and its guarantee of equal protection, so long as the facilities were separate but equal. The decision opened the door to the massive implementation of segregation by law in every area of life in the South.

Albion W. Tourgée

Albion W. Tourgée

The lone dissenter, John Marshall Harlan, was a former slaveowner from Kentucky, but viewed segregation as a violation of the principle of equality established by the Civil War. Harlan argued that freedom meant the right to participate equally and fully in American society; that segregation was a way of stigmatizing one group of citizens as unfit to associate with another group of citizens; and that this in itself was a violation of equality, regardless of whether the facilities were equal or not. (Justice Brown asserted in the opinion: “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” And as for how much “blood” determines to which race one belongs, he added, that’s a matter for each state to determine.)

Justice John Marshall Harlan

Justice John Marshall Harlan

Today Louisiana regularly shows up in lists of “top ten racists U.S. states.” One such list, for example, based on analysis of racist tweets and the number of Ku Klux Klan organizations known to operate in the state, puts Louisiana at number eight. Louisiana Tech is one of the schools being investigated for claims that members of The Sigma Alpha Epsilon national fraternity sang the same racist chant sung by members of the University of Oklahoma Chapter on a now-infamous video. Then there was the well-publicized 2012 incident in which, in the town of St. Martinville, Louisiana, part of a 1973 high school graduation reunion letter specifically asked for “White graduates only” for one of the events. In 2014, Baton Rouge Police Department 15-year veteran police officer Michael Elsbury was caught sending this text message about the mostly black community where he worked: “I wish someone would pull a Ferguson on them and take them out. I hate looking at those African monkeys at work … I enjoy arresting those thugs with their saggy pants.” One could provide many more incidents in this state in which only fifteen percent of white voters approve of President Obama. Louisiana’s Governor denied racism was a factor.

The state motto, shown on the flag, is “Union, Justice, Confidence.”


Louisiana is also notable for having the world’s longest porch swing; the longest bridge over water in the U.S. (The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway); the world’s largest freshwater river basin (The Atchafalaya Basin); and of course for the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras – celebrations beginning on or after the Epiphany or Kings Day and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday.


Louisiana is known for its excellent Cajun and Creole cuisine. The Cajuns are descendants of the Acadians who were driven out of Canada in the 1700s because they wouldn’t pledge allegiance to the King of England. Today, Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana’s population. The Louisiana Cajun descendants speak a dialect of American English called Cajun English, with several also speaking Cajun French, a close relative of the original dialect from Canada influenced by Spanish and West African languages.

Flag of the Acadiana region of Louisiana

Flag of the Acadiana region of Louisiana

Louisiana Creole people are those who are descended from the colonial settlers of Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase, especially those of French, Spanish, African and/or Native American origins. The term “creole” denotes a culture which embraces these cultural influences.

Well-known Creole dishes include gumbo and jambalaya.


April 28, 1758 – Birthdate of James Monroe

On this day in history, James Monroe – the last president called a Founding Father of the United States – was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

James Madison

James Madison

Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, and became a lifelong disciple of Jefferson. An anti-federalist, while acting as a delegate to the Virginia convention, he opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1790 Monroe was elected to the Senate of the first U.S. Congress, replacing a deceased delegate. He was reelected in 1791, but resigned in 1794 after President George Washington appointed him Minister Plenipotentiary to France. In 1799 Monroe became Governor of Virginia, facing a slave insurrection in his first year.

Gabriel Prosser was a skilled slave who was hired out as a blacksmith to other masters in and around Richmond. Prosser became exposed to the freedom rhetoric of the American Revolution, and heard news of the uprising of slaves in Saint Domingue. He came to believe that if American slaves rose and fought for their rights, poor whites and Native Americans would join them.

The Virginia State Marker on Route 301 of Gabriel's Rebellion

The Virginia State Marker on Route 301 of Gabriel’s Rebellion

Prosser began to recruit others, and by August of 1800 had formed an “army.” They were betrayed however, and Governor James Monroe was alerted. He sent out white patrols to round up the rebels. The arrested were tried and convicted, and 26 slaves were executed by hanging; one more died by hanging while in custody. Of those not hanged, some were transported to other states, some were found not guilty, and a few were pardoned. But after this incident, Virginia under Monroe’s administration toughened existing slave codes, including an act to ban hiring out of slaves.

Monroe was elected to two additional one-year terms as governor, and then in 1803 was once again appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France, this time by President Thomas Jefferson. He also served as Minister Plenipotentiary to England from 1803 until 1807. Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1810 and was again elected Governor on January 19, 1811 but resigned to serve as Secretary of State and then Secretary of War for President James Madison.

He won election as the fifth President of the United States in 1816 was handily reelected four years later. In 1823, he announced the United States’ opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine (largely penned by his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams), which became a landmark in American foreign policy.

James Monroe White House portrait 1819

James Monroe White House portrait 1819

When his presidency ended on March 4, 1825, Monroe returned to live in Virginia until his wife’s death in 1830. He then moved to New York City into the house of his daughter and son-in-law. Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third president to die on Independence Day. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and five years after the death of two other Founding Fathers who became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

April 24, 1915 – Beginning of the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide – the first genocide of the 20th Century, occurred when approximately two million Armenians living in Turkey were eliminated from their historic homeland through forced deportations and massacres between 1915-1918.

As “The New York Times” reports in its overview of the Armenian genocide of 1915:

On the eve of World War I, there were two million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire. By 1922, there were fewer than 400,000. The others — some 1.5 million — were killed in what historians consider a genocide.”

The “Young Turk” movement seized power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908. In March of 1914, the Young Turks entered World War I on the side of Germany, and were defeated by Russian forces at the battle of Sarikemish. The Turks blamed the loss on the Armenians, who the Turks claimed sided with the Russians. The Turks were also interested in eastward expansion, and the historical homeland of the Armenian people was in their path. Third, the Young Turk movement was accompanied by a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and the Christian Armenians were considered infidels. Armenians, like the Jews in Europe, were comparatively better educated and more prosperous than their neighbors, and this fact also created envy, greed, and resentment.

Founders of the Young Turk Movement in 1915

Founders of the Young Turk Movement in 1915

There were precedents for scapegoating the Armenians and staging pogroms against them: massacres took place in 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1909.

After the Sarikemish loss, the Turks began another movement against the Armenians, beginning with what has been described by historians as a “decapitation strike,” intended to weaken the Armenian population by destroying its leadership.

On this day in history, the order was given by the Minister of the Interior to arrest the first wave of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople. Eventually, the total number of arrests and deportations amounted to 2,345. These detainees were later relocated within the Ottoman Empire and most of them were ultimately killed.

The Turks then disarmed the entire Armenian population under the pretext that the people were naturally sympathetic toward Christian Russia. The 40,000-some Armenian men were serving in the Turkish Army were also disarmed and put into slave labor battalions, which had a high death rate.

The decision to annihilate the entire population came directly from the ruling triumvirate of ultra-nationalist Young Turks, who transmitted their orders to all provincial governors via coded telegrams. Mass arrests and killings began with Armenian men, and then continued with the weaker and frightened women, children, and elderly. As with the Nazi practice only two decades later, they were ordered to pack a few belongings and told they were being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. They were actually being taken on death marches heading south toward the Syrian Desert.

Armenians who escaped from the Turkish starvation zone approaching the British lines for protection, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Armenians who escaped from the Turkish starvation zone approaching the British lines for protection, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

It is estimated that one and a half million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923.

To commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide, April 24 is observed as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. First observed in 1919 on the four-year anniversary of the events in Constantinople, the date is generally considered the date on which the genocide began. The Armenian Genocide has since been commemorated annually on the same day, which has become a national holiday in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and is observed by the Armenian diaspora around the world.

You can read a more thorough history of the genocide at the website of the United Human Rights Council, here.

On the April 23, 2014, Turkey’s Prime Minister offered his “condolences” to Armenians who had family members that died during what the Prime Minister described as “the events of 1915”.

On the April 23, 2014, Turkey’s Prime Minister offered his “condolences” to Armenians who had family members that died during what the Prime Minister described as “the events of 1915”.

April 20, 1946 – The League of Nations Is Officially Disbanded

The League of Nations had been formed in 1919, and the final version of the Covenant of the League of Nations became Part I of the Treaty of Versailles, and could only begin to function, formally and officially, after the Peace Treaty of Versailles came into effect. Thus, the League of Nations was not officially inaugurated until January, 1920.

The 32 original Members of the League of Nations were also Signatories of the Versailles Treaty. In addition, 13 additional States were invited to accede to the Covenant. The League of Nations was open to all other States, providing they fulfilled certain requirements.


The League was marked by notable failures, most glaringly, in preventing the invasion of Manchuria by Japan, the annexation of Ethiopia by Italy, and the onset of World War II. The powerlessness of the League contributed to the alienation from it by the Member States.

It did have a number of successes, however, including cooperative ventures that were transferred to the United Nations.

April 18, 1864 – Battle of Poison Springs, Arkansas

On this day in history, during the American Civil War, Confederate troops overwhelmed a Union wagon train at Poison Springs, Arkansas, and massacred the wounded black soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.


The black troops faced odds of approximately four to one. Also, a severe artillery cross fire played on them during much of the battle. Nevertheless, they repelled the first two attacks, but ran low on ammunition and were beaten back by the third.

The Confederates would not take the wounded black soldiers as prisoners, but instead brutally killed, scalped, and stripped them. In all, the regiment lost nearly half of its numbers. Estimated casualties were 301 for the Union troops and 114 for the Confederates. The First Kansas suffered most, losing 41 per cent of its personnel. With 438 men engaged, the Negro regiment had 117 killed and sixty-five wounded.

For black soldiers in the west, “Remember Poison Springs!” was a battle cry for the remainder of the war.

First Kansas Colored Infantry flag, after conservation treatment

First Kansas Colored Infantry flag, after conservation treatment

April 16, 1883 – Frederick Douglass on Current Events

On this day in history, the great intellectual and orator Frederick Douglass delivered a speech commemorating the twenty-first anniversary of emancipation in the District of Columbia. In his speech, the last one he gave, he looks back with unfortunate prescience on the condition of blacks since emancipation and reflects on new challenges.

Frederick Douglass, circa 1874

Frederick Douglass, circa 1874

He observes:

While a slave there was a mountain of gold on his breast to keep him down–now that he is free there is a mountain of prejudice to hold him down. . . . If his course is downward he meets very little resistance, but if upward, his way is disputed at every turn of the road. If he comes in rags and in wretchedness, he answers the public demand for a negro, and provokes no anger, though he may provoke derision, but if he presumes to be a gentleman and a scholar, he is then entirely out of his place. He excites resentment and calls forth stern and bitter opposition. If he offers himself to a builder as a mechanic, to a client as a lawyer, to a patient as a physician, to a university as a professor, or to a department as a clerk, no matter what may be his ability or his attainments, there is a presumption based upon his color or his previous condition, of incompetency, and if he succeeds at all, he has to do so against this most discouraging presumption.”


It is a real calamity, in this country, for any man, guilty or not guilty, to be accused of crime, but it is an incomparably greater calamity for any colored man to be so accused Justice is often painted with bandaged eyes. She is described in forensic eloquence, as utterly blind to wealth or poverty, high or low, white or black, but a mask of iron however thick, could never blind American justice, when a black man happens to be on trial. Here, even more than elsewhere, he will find all presumptions of law and evidence against him. It is not so much the business of his enemies to prove him guilty, as it is the business of himself to prove his innocence. The reasonable doubt which is usually interposed to save the life and liberty of a white man charged with crime, seldom has any force or effect when a colored man is accused of crime. Indeed, color is a far better protection to the white criminal, than anything else.”


You can read the entire speech here.


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