Prepping for a tourist pleasure trip to the Middle East (yeh, I know), I’ve been rereading David Fromkin’s “A Peace to End All Peace,” subtitled “The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East." I first read it when it was new in 1989, just before my own first trip to
But here is a takeaway point: the criminal/comical ignorance—coupled with brazen arrogant indifference—of the British, about their foes. Those who cared at all—and there don’t seem to have been many—were mostly braised into a great paranoid stew, equal parts Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Lex Luthor, like something out of a John Buchan novel.
Hardly surprising when you consider that one of the chief architects of the British worldview was John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and Greenmantle (1916), novels chock-full of comic-book conspiracy. Buchan capped his literary success by becoming at wartime Director of Information. The Buchan-like mind-set led the British high command completely to misunderstand the
Time has put paid to at least the last of these misapprehensions.
Ignorance was part of the problem. But arrogance finished it off. Here is information minister Buchan, as quoted by Fromkin, in Buchan’s novel Greenmantle:
The truth is that we are the only race on earth that can produce men capable of getting inside the skin of remote peoples. Perhaps the Scots are better than the English, but we’re all a thousand percent better than anybody else.
These days, we have a name for that sort of thing.