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Winston Churchill 
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Post Winston Churchill
In the very beginning (the preface I believe -- I'm at a public computer, my book at home...the randomness of moving :\ ), the author talks about Churchill, and how much of the story is going to revolve around him. I have a post-it note in that section, asking myself "But does he like Churchill?" I found Fromkin's take on this famous statesman to be very carefully neutral...guarded respect on some levels, but also a sense that he's going to reveal more.

I thought it would be useful to have a discussion on this main 'character' to develop as we read along.

"All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds."

Loricat's Book Nook
Celebrating the Absurd

Edited by: Loricat at: 6/29/06 12:53 pm



Thu Jun 29, 2006 11:51 am
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
Good call. One of my agendas to day was to start a thread just like this.

One question we might want to think about is whether or not we agree with Fromkin's plan to build the history of the Middle East around a person at all. Is that truly reflective of the way history unfolds? And what do we think of his decision to focus on Churchill in particular?

At one point (I'm taking Norman Cantor's word for this) it was fairly conventional to think of history in terms of great personalities who shaped the fortunes of lesser men. Recently, that idea is falling out of favor, and we're seeing a great deal of history written from the viewpoint of the socialogist or the historian of technological innovation.




Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:06 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
When I read the Introduction and got to the part near the end where Fromkins says "Winston Churchill, above all, presides over the pages of this book..." I was a little surprised. Didn't seem to fit with what Fromkin had just been saying about the subject of the book. Churchill will weave in and out of the story, I presume, but I think if he occupies a place of pre-emminence it is because, as Fromkin also says his "...larger-than-life personality colored and enlivened...[the events]". Churchill is a gift to anyone trying to make a book readable.

Looks like this is a history-from-the-top kind of book. Fromkin examines specific actions taken by the leaders and staff to see how they effected the restructuring of the region after WWI. The desires of common people don't have a place, and, surprisingly, the economic potential of the region because of the newly important demand for oil doesn't have much of an influence on Fromkin's arguments. What Fromkin does look at is the competing point-of-views of the various leaders with an eye toward the forces that dictated them. These points-of-view or worldviews or whatever you want to call them are then examined for how they influenced the strategy for restructuring the Mideast.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 1:43 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
Fromkin makes it clear that he is writing the history of how a few prominent European and American men bungled terribly important decisions (through personal hubris, spite, bad communication, bureaucratic dysfunction, and faulty intelligence) that impacted many millions of people and helped create the 20th Century.

This is clearly not history from the bottom-up, Howard Zinn style, focusing on the struggles for human decency and political freedom of common folk. Those who didn't share in the decision-making process are left out of the narrative...except as backdrop for and recipients of the impossible task his leading characters set for themselves.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:38 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
This is definitely a history-from-the-top book. However, Fromkin spends more time on people who were closer to the action, such as Mark Sykes, than he does on Churchill.

Most history books present the perspective of the leaders. Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East is a very good exception to that rule. I'm currently reading Elaine Sciolino's Persian Mirrors, which describes day-by-day life in Iran since the revolution. Both of those authors are journalists, who have a more immediate exposure to the lives of ordinary people.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 5:02 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
Mad Wrote:
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One question we might want to think about is whether or not we agree with Fromkin's plan to build the history of the Middle East around a person at all. Is that truly reflective of the way history unfolds? And what do we think of his decision to focus on Churchill in particular?

I read the introduction of the book after having read this thread, so I had the question in mind before beginning the book.

In the first paragraph of the Acknowledgements, the author notes that one Jason Epstein suggested the book be "structured around a personality." This statement strikes me as suggesting that a history of this proportion would not be sellable or perhaps pitchable to a publisher without having a unifying thread, a personality, especially one that makes narratives and humor and non-direct historical asides possible.

A quick check of WikiPedia confirms that one Jason Epstein is, in fact, a former editorial director of Random House. Peace is published by a different publisher; however, if this is the same Jason Epstein, and it would seem likely, then my suspicion is the suggestion was in fact made in regards not to a well written history, but rather in regards to making the book accessable and sales worthy. Tisk, tisk.

I do not see the need for using a central personality to base a work of history around. In fact, I believe basing the book around one personality could create a false sense that one personality had more to do with the events than in reality. I do think it is VERY important that a long work of history have some personality, or else it becomes boring facts and figures. I appreciate vibrant history that jumps off the page and creates an image, sets the table that the players are sitting at. The imagery woven may boarder on interpretation, but I can deal with small bits of interpretation to "set the table," so to speak. But I fail to see the need of having a central personality to base the entire book around.

I may come back to this thread once I have read more or concluded the reading to indicate whether I think the idea was successful or not.




Sun Jul 02, 2006 8:45 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
J Seabolt: The desires of common people don't have a place, and, surprisingly, the economic potential of the region because of the newly important demand for oil doesn't have much of an influence on Fromkin's arguments.

I think it's in chapter 2 that Fromkin mentions that oil, during the time when these decisions were being made, wasn't a significant factor in the psychology of European involvement. Europe wasn't yet aware of the reserves of oil hidden there, and most of its oil supplies were coming from elsewhere.

riverc0il: A quick check of WikiPedia confirms that one Jason Epstein is, in fact, a former editorial director of Random House. Peace is published by a different publisher; however, if this is the same Jason Epstein, and it would seem likely, then my suspicion is the suggestion was in fact made in regards not to a well written history, but rather in regards to making the book accessable and sales worthy.

Is that a bad thing. I suspect that Fromkin was also looking for a way to organize the book such that it hung together, that it was a cohesive whole in his own mind as well as in that of his audience. Epstein may have made the suggestion in order to make the book accessible to the reader, but that's no reason to doubt Fromkin's decision to adopt that suggestion. Epstein may have made any number of suggestions.

But I fail to see the need of having a central personality to base the entire book around.

One purpose may be to provide an emblem that represents the whole of people or policy involved. We'll have to see how Fromkin handles his central personality, but it may be that he finds Churchill to be representative of the zietgeist of European (and particularly British) involvement during the period. In metaphorical terms, Fromkin might be suggesting that something of Churchill's character resonates through the whole of modern Middle Eastern history. In that case, Churchill himself provides an easy handle for grasping that character and understanding its machinations and influence.




Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:05 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
eh. i don't think historians should make judgements when writing history. they are free to make conclusions outside of their writen history, feel free. but such conclusions writen within a broad history can shape the history itself and may or may not be accurate. a different person in a different time could have reached different conclusions about such things. just my personal preference, i am sure it works for most people.




Mon Jul 03, 2006 3:58 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
RiverCoil: eh. i don't think historians should make judgements when writing history.

Historians can, must and do make judgements all the time when writing history: who they select as primary agents, which voices are heard, decisions referred to, discussions, debates, conflicts, settings....all of these elements are the result of judgements a historian must make in telling his/her story. I think these are moral choices, and they reflect the alliances and allegiences from which the historian emerges and to whom he/she is speaking to, as well as the kind of world the historian envisions as good and necessary.

Who is put in front and who is left out, why certain characters get prime billing and others are left in the parking lot....these decisions are forever part of the mix and I don't think they are either neutral or objective.

Still, the craft of historical research and writing rests upon many objective goals: accurate portrayal of existing evidence being most prominent. A key problem involves the incomplete nature of human memory: recollection, retention, retrieval, etc. Add to that the roles of confusion, ignorance, aggradizement, and outright deception...as well as purposeful ommission, avoidance and denial...it becomes a complicated endeavor to say the least.

History is full of gaps and it is the historian's task to clarify with the reader where these gaps lie. I think the integration of these gaps into the historian's narrative is largely an imaginative, artisitc leap tied to political allegiences and with moral consequences.

I think Fromkin's choice to accentuate these few men as the primary agents for the birth of the Middle East and the 20th Century has many merits. The greatest of which, as I see it, is the clear incompetency that flows from submitting the lives of millions to the ignorant ambitions of a few persons.





Tue Jul 04, 2006 10:40 am
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
MadArchitect: I think it's in chapter 2 that Fromkin mentions that oil, during the time when these decisions were being made, wasn't a significant factor in the psychology of European involvement.

Fromkin mentions oil in Chapter 2 p. 29 which, according to my reading of it, refers to the pre-WWI era of the Great Game. At the very end of this era the strategic importance of oil reserves was just beginning to be appreciated. For example Britain's new naval vessels used oil and their older ships were rapidly being converted over to oil, and access to supply became important enough that in the Summer of 1914 (before the war) the British Gov't (at the request of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill) took the unprecedented step of buying majority shares in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. During WWI oil and gasoline was vitally important to the major combatants. Fromkin mentions this on p.354-5. He also quotes Lloyd-George in 1922 on p.509 as referring to the widely held belief that Iraq might contain large reserves of oil, and LG uses this as an argument for continuing to stay engaged in Iraq. So, given this, I was surprised that in the Intro p. 17 Fromkin says that in the period 1914 to 1922 "oil was not an important factor in the politics of the Middle East."




Tue Jul 04, 2006 9:53 pm
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Post Re: Winston Churchill
There's generally a delay between the time certain facts become known and the time when top policy makers start taking those facts into account.

If wouldn't surprise me if British diplomats underestimated the strategic significance of Middle East petroleum reserves.




Tue Jul 04, 2006 10:30 pm
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