Hamilton — Ukraine, Istanbul: The lost lessons of World War I
If you watch the 24-hour TV news cycle at all, it is a good bet you have been learning more about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton than learning what is happening with Ukraine. While electing a president to pull America up out of its current morass is vitally important, we ignore at our peril what Russia’s Vladimir Putin is doing in Ukraine.
Conventional wisdom tells us that World War I started because a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo. Yes, that was the spark. But the rest of the story is often told from the perspective of what happened on the Western Front between Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and the United States.
Scant attention is paid to the war on the Eastern Front and how the vital interests of the Russian, Austro-German, and Ottoman Empires were centered on the richness of the grain and minerals of Ukraine and conflicted over the centuries-old desire of the Russian Tsars to control Constantinople and have access to the year-round warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Now, along comes a history that points us to the major underlying cause for World War I, a history that will come as a revelation to many. The book is: The End of Tsarist Russia: World War I & the Road to Revolution by Dominic Lieven (2015).
The collapse of the Russian Empire led to a Communist Revolution, which led to Russia being excluded from the shaping of the Treaty of Versailles, the foolish treaty that caused the instability that led to Hitler and World War II that led to the Cold War that led to Vietnam and to a political and social revolution in the 1960s that confounds us to this very day. For those who understand history as a continuum of events rather than disjointed happenstance, The End of Tsarist Russia is a must-read.
But what if Russia had been among the victors and had been represented in Paris as the Western Allies made the decisions that divided up Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the western portions of the Ottoman Empire, that gave mandates to the victorious powers over North Africa, the Middle East and Africa? Versailles even created a geometrically-shaped Iraq whose made-up borders mixed together an indigestible stew of Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds.
If Russia had been at the peace tables in Paris and Versailles, you can bet your bottom ruble that the post-World War I map of Europe would have looked vastly different. A victorious Russia would have given the Ottoman Turks the punishment they so richly deserved. Constantinople and the Bosporus Straits would be Russian. The Ukrainians, who are only about half Russian, would have been pulled fully into the Russian orbit as would have the almost-all Russian Crimea. The question of whether Russia or Germany would be Europe’s top dog would have been settled in Russia’s favor, making Germany too weak to start another world war, ever.
If Putin is to restore Russia to its former Tsarist glories, he must have Ukraine. After that, Putin must have the Bosporus and Constantinople (now Istanbul). Ergo: If there is to be a World War III, keep your eye on Ukraine and Istanbul.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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