Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Eleventh Hour

Austrian troops marching up Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, 1916. CREDIT: The Library of Congress

We live in a perilous time. According to Charles M. Sennott, veteran journalist and founder of The Global Post and the ground truth project, there are ominous parallels to the years leading up to World War I. Sennott gave a thoughtful talk at the Carnegie Council titled The Eleventh Hour: The Legacy and the Lessons of World War I video.

Sennott spent decades reporting on the Balkans and the Middle East, regions whose borders were shaped by the Sykes-Picot agreement in which France and Britain carved up the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. He begins his story on the bridge in Sarajevo where on June 28th, 1914 a 19-year-old Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Ferdinand sparking World War I. On the same day last year, Sennott read live tweets from ISIS under the hashtag #sykespicotover.

In the middle east, the legacy of colonialism feeds never-ending conflict. Israel was at war with the Arabs upon its founding in 1948, again in the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. At various times, Israel has occupied Palestine, Lebanon and the Sinai. The Iran–Iraq War of the 80's killed something like a million people. Civil wars have raged in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. The Kurds have fought for independence in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. America fought two gulf wars. Sennot advises thinking about the middle east "like a bomb squad; you can't defuse it without knowing how it was built."

In his series of essays, The Eleventh Hour: The unlearned lessons of World War I Sennott seeks to understand how the war to end all wars became the peace to end all peace, asking, "How can peace processes fail and trigger more war?"

Colonial legacy and religion interact with geography. For example, the violent extremist group Boko Haram emerged in Nigeria as the drying of the sahel pushed nomadic muslim herders up against the territory of southern christian farmers - a taste of the destablizing effects of climate change.

To understand how to achieve peace in our own perilous time of rising and falling powers, Sennott calls on us to study up. His recommended reading includes:

  • Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
  • Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
  • Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919
  • Wilson by Scott Berg

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