Amy E. Grubb and Elisabeth Hope MurrayAug 2, 2022
British Responses to Genocide
The British Foreign Office and Humanitarianism in the Ottoman Empire, 1918-1923
When I was an undergrad, the chronology of World War One was simple. The war began in August of 1914 and ended in November of 1918. Now, of course, we know it's not that simple. Perhaps (perhaps) it began in 1914. But the violence lingered on well after the armistices of 1918. So did the complicated questions of how to address that violence and the suffering that accompanied it.
Amy E. Grubb and Elisabeth Hope Murray are interested precisely in that moment where the official violence had ended but the real life violence continued. Their book British Responses to Genocide: The British Foreign Office and Humanitarianism in the Ottoman Empire, 1918-1923 (Routledge, 2022) asks a simple question: How did diplomats in London and on the ground in the Ottoman Empire attempt to achieve British goals in the maelstrom of violence following the Armistice of Mudros. Their answer is not quite so simple. They argue that the British response consistently prioritized human rights and human suffering. But in an environment of decreasing resources, interallied tensions and increasingly fierce resistance from Kemalist nationalists, their ability to pursue these priorities steadily shrunk. Eventually in the memorable words of the authors, British policy makers in London decided to embrace ethnic cleansing as a means of stopping genocide--exactly the opposite vision possessed by most modern leaders.
Grubb and Murray provide a thorough examination of the ways national leaders can fail to protect human rights despite their own desire to do so.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University.