Empires in World War I by Richard Fogarty and Andrew Jarboe by Richard Fogarty and Andrew Jarboe - Read Online

Book Preview

Empires in World War I - Richard Fogarty

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1





Andrew Tait Jarboe and Richard S.Fogarty

World War I was a conflict fought by empires to determine the fate of those empires. Only a month after the guns in Serbia, Belgium and France had signalled the commencement of what would become the world's most destructive conflict to date, The Times attempted to reassure its readership that the British Empire stood united, prepared to withstand the ordeal. ‘History has never recorded so splendid and universal a rally as is now being witnessed throughout the British realms,’ the newspaper proclaimed on 10 September 1914. ‘Gifts are pouring in, and men will soon be pouring in, and the stream of help will flow unceasingly until the world-ambitions of Germany are crushed and the soil of France and Belgium is freed from the invader.’ What began as a conflict in Europe, in other words, was rapidly transforming into a world war, not because of any cajoling on the behalf of Whitehall but because of a willingness and desire on the part of colonial subjects to rally to the cause of the British Empire. ‘The Indian Empire has overwhelmed the British nation by the completeness and unanimity of its enthusiastic aid,’ the Times continued. Likewise in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and ‘plucky’ Newfoundland, men rushed ‘to the Empire's standards’ to stand in arms against a common foe.

From the ends of the earth armies are gathering to write in letters of blood the doom of Kaiserism … When the illimitable resources of the British Empire, our grand Fleet, our unconquerable Army, the flower of the manhood of these islands, our heroic kinsmen from overseas, our chivalrous Indian troops, are all placed in the scale in this mighty struggle from which we will never flinch nor falter, who can doubt what the end will be?¹

The German military spent much of the next four years proving that economic determinism makes for a poor predictor of battlefield outcomes.² Still, there can be little doubt that the resources of the British Empire – however inefficiently they might have been utilised – when combined with those of its imperial allies (the United States included) ultimately tipped the scales against the Central Powers. In total, Germany mobilised 13.2 million soldiers in the course of the war, nearly 85 per cent of its male population between the ages of 17 and 50. These men faced off against armies of a truly global make-up. By the end of the war, the British Isles had mobilised some 4.9 million men for the army. Not counting men who served in labour contingents or as bearers, the Empire supplemented its metropolitan fighting population with 1.4 million men from India (some 138,000 of whom fought in France), 458,000 Canadians, 8,000 Newfoundlanders, 332,000 Australians, 112,000 New Zealanders, 136,000 South Africans, 16,000 West Indians, 34,000 East Africans and 25,000 West Africans.³

The mobilisation of so many men from the British Empire alone illustrates just one aspect of the war's truly global nature, and makes plain the primary wartime function of empires: the extraction, movement and deployment of imperial resources – the bodies, affections, raw material, commodities, finance and ideas of empire – within and across imperial boundaries in order to extend the life of those empires. Without listing all the facts and figures for each combatant in the war, we will merely note here that France, too, made extensive use of its colonial empire, recruiting over 500,000 colonial subjects – from North and West Africa, Madagascar and Indochina – to fight in its army between 1914 and 1918, some of the eight million men to serve in that army during the war.⁴ Of course, Germany's main ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, did not possess or recruit from a tropical colonial empire, but it too mobilised millions of men of different ethnicities and nationalities, as did the third member of the Entente, Imperial Russia. The Germans, British, French and Belgians also recruited hundreds of thousands of Africans to serve as soldiers and carriers in their protracted campaigns in Africa.⁵

So the war was an imperial contest, and contemporaries recognised this. Echoing The Times's confident claim that residents of the colonies gave their aid enthusiastically to the struggle among the Great Powers of Europe, proving the unity of metropole and overseas possessions, French Senator Henry Bérenger declared in 1915 that ‘colonial France and European France are no longer separated. A pact has been signed in blood for the same honour and the same flags.’⁶ After the war, Albert Sarraut, whose long political career included periods serving as Governor General of Indochina and as Minister of the Colonies, published an encomium to the past, present and future value of the French colonial empire, La mise en valeur des colonies françaises. The starting point for his argument was the manifest contribution the empire had provided to the war effort between 1914 and 1918. The war, despite its terrible costs and trials for the French people and nation, had at least had ‘the clear advantage of making the colonies known to the French public’, and making known that the herculean efforts of the men who had conquered and administered the colonies ‘had not been in vain’.⁷ Even in Belgium, whose Congo colony seemed only marginally involved in the war, former opponents of the nation's colonial endeavours recognised that the war had only cemented metropole and colony more tightly together, and that Belgian rulership over the Congo was ‘a done deal’.⁸

Cheerleaders and even some critics of empire neglected to take into account the very real and significant part that violence and coercion would play in the course of extracting, moving and deploying imperial resources in the coming years, preferring instead to represent the Empire's colonial subjects as consenting and eager participants. Yet it is true that metropole and colony (and Dominion) made the Great War global, made it the First World War. Perhaps this truth is itself manifestation of the hegemonic nature of the imperial project, of its ability to gain the consent of those whom it contained simultaneously ‘by rifle butts and napalm’, as Frantz Fanon would later put it.⁹ Be that as it may, any discussion of empires in World War I must attempt somehow to take into account the dynamic between imperial metropoles and colonies. It will not suffice to study the decisions made by power-brokers in Whitehall, for instance, without also studying the decisions made by peasants in India. Nor can we have a meaningful discussion without considering the war's inter-imperial dimensions. Empires and inter-imperial rivalries created the contexts in which imperial subjects from around the globe encountered one another and made connections.¹⁰ Finally, it will not suffice to do what many histories of World War I continue to do, which is to tell the story of ‘the War in Europe’ in one chapter and ‘the war Somewhere Else’ in another. Rather, we must treat the globe as an integrated, if uneven, whole. We must treat distant places and peoples within ‘a single analytic field’, as part of a worldwide imperial system.

This ‘imperial’ perspective in World War I studies is long overdue. By describing the conflict as a ‘Great War’, observers at the time were trying to capture both something of the war's magnitude and its global extent, a characteristic even more explicit in the term some in Germany used to describe the war from the beginning: Der Weltkrieg. Since then, historians have told and retold the story of World War I countless times, and on the eve of the centennial of the war's outbreak popular and scholarly interest in the topic remains unabated.¹¹ From the war's onset to the commencement of World War II, histories tended to focus on military and diplomatic matters. Imperial histories of the war certainly made an appearance during this time, though they tended to be jingoistic and self-serving.¹² In the wake of the Third Reich and the subsequent division of Europe into two polarised blocs, a clear shift in focus began away from matters of diplomacy to social issues such as the home front during wartime and the experience of the trenches. In the past three decades, historians have largely pursued a cultural agenda, placing subjects such as collective memory, violence and the behaviour of soldiers at the heart of their studies.¹³ Scholars belonging to each of these configurations have explored new terrains, blurred previously taken-for-granted spatial and temporal boundaries, and introduced new questions and methodologies to the study of World War I. Yet common to each configuration has been a shared assumption that scholarly attention to conditions in Europe yields the greatest returns. The result is that students of the conflict have lost sight of global dimensions that were apparent to and experienced by the war's participants and contemporaries.

Recent years, however, have seen some indications that more historians are attempting to come to terms with this need to frame the story of World War I in a global, or even avowedly imperial perspective. A stated goal of the recently launched First World War Studies, the journal of the International Society for First World War Studies, is to ‘cleave the many insular, too often national particularisms’ that permeate academic fields in favour of an approach that is without ‘chronological, geographic, or topical constraints’.¹⁴ Hew Strachan's many works on the war are at the forefront of this trend, in particular The First World War (2003).¹⁵ John H. Morrow, Jr.'s The Great War: An Imperial History (2004) integrates the imperial story into the larger history of the war.¹⁶ More recent publications indicate that this trend is likely to continue in general narratives of 1914–18.¹⁷

This is not necessarily to say that studies focusing on the war in Europe ought to give way, nor that the attention Europe has received is without merit. The war was, after all, quite literally won and lost on Europe's Western Front, even if the war's other fronts were undeniably important and stretched across large portions of the earth's land and water surface. Nor is it to say that in order to recapture the conflict's global nature, we must necessarily ‘decentre’ Europe. World historians, for instance, may continue to debate when and why the ‘great’ European divergence happened – as the economies and nations of the West became richer and more powerful more quickly than those of peoples and polities in other parts of the world – but none contest the claim that by 1914 it had happened.¹⁸ ‘Europe was the centre of the world in 1914 for two reasons’, Hew Strachan has written recently. ‘The first was financial and commercial, and the second colonial and imperial.’¹⁹ Thus in the Punjab, on the eve of the war, the Urdu-language newspaper Zamindar could confidently inform its readership that the war between Austria and Serbia would rapidly become a ‘universal war’, one in which ‘all the great empires of Europe will be involved’.²⁰ Understanding the global dimensions of World War I necessarily involves addressing the roles of European empires in one capacity or another. Europe need not be the main focus of a given story, but its role and influence must be a part of the story at the very least.

But when Europe is the centre of a given story, the key to an imperial perspective is remembering not to lose sight of ways in which imperial peripheries shaped the war in Europe. In this respect, historians of World War I must follow the lead of historians of European colonialism more generally, who have insisted for the better part of two decades that the histories of metropole and colony are not separate, but part of a whole whose parts are inextricably intertwined and in symbiotic, reciprocal relationships to each other.²¹ Historians following in the footsteps of Edward Said have revealed the centripetal nature of the imperial project, demonstrating that images of the colony and the colonial ‘other’ were ubiquitous within the imperial metropole by the outbreak of the war in 1914.²² Colonial soldiers played a key role before the war in expanding and defending the British, French, and German empires overseas – a fact not lost on metropolitan audiences.²³ While there can be no doubt that national sentiment was very real among the warring powers engaged on various fronts, an imperial perspective reminds us that the major powers fighting World War I were nations within empires, situated at the core of an imperial world system.²⁴ Any metropolitan sense of the ‘nation’ in 1914 was thoroughly entwined with ideas of the empire, for the simple reason that nations, if we might borrow Mrinalini Sinha's term, were themselves ‘imperial social formations’.²⁵

A growing number of recent titles exploring wartime imperial encounters between colonising and colonised peoples within, beyond and between imperial metropoles and peripheries indicate that we may be witnessing the early stages of an imperial turn in First World War studies.²⁶ Historians of the French Empire and of France's colonial troops have led the charge, so to speak, in this endeavour. Reflecting the often dominant interest in the history of West African troops, Marc Michel set the stage with his seminal work, L'Appel à l'Afrique. Contributions et réactions à l'effort de guerre en A.O.F., 1914–1919 (1982).²⁷ Outside France, Joe Lunn helped pioneer renewed interest in the ‘colonial’ experience of the First World War in his Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War (1999), which made extensive use of his interviews with West African veterans of the French army.²⁸ More recently, in Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century (2006), Gregory Mann explores the ways in which service in the French Army, from the turn of the twentieth century to the end of World War II, reconfigured relationships among Africans and between Africans and French colonial administrators in Mali.²⁹ In Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914–1918 (2008), Richard Fogarty posits that while French officials took republican ideals of assimilation seriously – namely, that military service in defence of the Republic could make one French – ideas about race worked simultaneously to keep colonial subjects at arm's length.³⁰

Books by Glenford Howe and Richard Smith demonstrate that work on soldiering, empire and race also have a place in the British story of the war.³¹ Indeed, race, in all its various guises, has become one of the most compelling categories of historical analysis within this imperial turn, and offers a valuable analytic framework with which scholars can make comparisons within and across empires, as a recent edited volume by Santanu Das demonstrates.³² A handful of monographs and articles further explore the encounters and anxieties engendered by the deployment of colonial labourers to Europe during the war, and Philippa Levine has demonstrated the usefulness of both gender and race as categories of historical analysis by showing that the deployment of colonial labourers and of Indian soldiers to Europe resulted in an ‘increasingly alarmist link between racial mistrust and a vision of sexual disorder’, necessitating policies intended to control working-class women and non-white men ‘for the sake of empire’.³³ The post-war deployment of African soldiers to the German Rhineland has also received greater attention lately, reminding us that French imperial policy had repercussions within the German metropole.³⁴

What new understandings might the imperial turn reveal as it continues to develop, and how can this volume make a contribution? One important quality of the present work is that it seeks to combine the global and imperial scope of more general works, while adding detailed examinations of particular, and sometimes unexpected, aspects of the story. Taken together, the contributions to this volume suggest three broad conclusions about World War I. The first of these may seem obvious yet is worth repeating: for everything that scholars have said about nations and national sentiment in World War I, those who took part in and experienced the war did so in imperial terms. Empires framed wartime possibilities and opportunities (see Chapters 4, 5 and 8). As imagined political communities, empires were able to arouse deep attachments even as they reinforced difference and reproduced inequalities (see Chapters 6, 9 and 10).³⁵ Second, non-European empires, and indeed nations that do not always figure on lists of modern ‘traditional’ empires, played important roles in World War I. The United States and Japan feature prominently in this volume as imperial actors. Both took opportunities presented by the war to flex imperial muscle and to make claims on extra-imperial holdings (see Chapters 2, 3 and 12). The United States, for its part, also had to contend with its own interior frontiers (see Chapter 7).

The third conclusion the essays in this volume suggest is that World War I represented both the high point and the beginning of the end of the worldwide imperial system. Scholars have recently made much of the ‘Wilsonian moment’ in the closing years of World War I, of the international origins of anti-colonial movements cloaked in the rhetoric of national self-determination and Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points.³⁶ This volume explores some challenges to imperial rule born of the war (see Chapters 11 and 12), and it is no accident that important (and from the point of view of the imperial powers, troublesome) nationalist movements emerged and gained strength during the inter-war period. But in many important respects, World War I also marked the high point of empires. For one thing, even as the Russian, German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires fell at the end of the war, the League of Nations Mandates increased the physical size of some European empires, notably those of Great Britain and France, as the victors divided the spoils left by their fallen imperial rivals.³⁷ This event reinforced commitment to the imperial project among some who might otherwise have lost (or even never acquired) enthusiasm, and in so doing extended a lease on life to empire (see Chapters 1, 9 and 13).

Contributions to this volume survey the role of empire during the war in Belgium, Japan, India, the Pacific, North America, the West Indies, Palestine, Britain, France, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, West Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa, Central Europe, the Caribbean, Australia, Canada and Jamaica. An edited collection such as this cannot, of course, be truly comprehensive in its coverage, particularly of a global event like the First World War. However, this volume is wide-ranging, as the above list of regions and nations suggests, demonstrating powerfully just how extensive the war was and how multifarious were its imperial manifestations. When read in its entirety, it offers scholars and students of World War I the opportunity to look for connections and make comparisons on a truly global scale.

Each chapter then, in turn, draws out some particular aspect of the conflict's imperial dimensions. In an effort to construct a narrative that is nonetheless globally integrative, chapters are grouped thematically into four sections. Those collected in Part I, ‘Myths and Realities of Imperial Expansion’, demonstrate that World War I presented an unparalleled opportunity for many of the war's participants to realise until-then dormant imperial ambitions. While the story of tiny Belgium's stubborn yet hopeless stand against waves of German Uhlans and infantry in August 1914 finds its way into every account of World War I, Matthew Stanard demonstrates that the war proved central to the formation of a more conscious empire-building and imperialist identity in Belgium. This profoundly reshaped the trajectory of the Belgian Empire, he argues in ‘Digging-in: The Great War and the Roots of Belgian Empire’. Stanard highlights the co-dependency of wartime events in Europe and Africa, while also attending to the activities of Belgian-sponsored colonial organisations during and after the war in order to highlight the centrality of World War I in configuring a ‘new’ Belgian Empire after 1918. Half a world away, the outbreak of war in Europe also represented a moment when the hope of empire stirred strongest in India and Japan, as Maryanne Rhett shows in her contribution, ‘Race and Imperial Ambition: The Case of Japan and India after World War I’. In the shadow of the British Empire, Indian nationalists not only fought for independence, but for their right to create their own empire along the rim of the Indian Ocean. In a similar fashion, the Japanese struggled to prove their civilisation just as capable of an imperial mission as the great Western European powers. Some in both India and Japan used the context of the war to make race-, nation- and civilisation-based claims for their nations' roles as future empires. In fact, as Wm. Matthew Kennedy shows, Japan's struggle for empire itself reflected part of a latter day non-European scramble for empire in the Pacific similar to the late Victorian rush for empire in Africa. His ‘A Pacific Scramble? Imperial Readjustment in the Asia Pacific, 1911–22’, tells how, during the war, Australia and New Zealand asserted themselves as metropoles of their own quite discernable empires; Japan attempted a coup in China, undermining the treaty-port system and its premise of racial inequality; and the United States rewrote the standards of international finance and foreign investment to allow American capital into previously forbidden territories.

The outbreak of war between the European powers thus held out the possibility of imperial expansion even for those who did not necessarily enjoy Great Power status in 1914. But what prospects did the war hold for those who would have to do the actual work of fighting for empires? The subject of colonial soldiers has quickly become a flourishing sub-field within First World War studies and presents a compelling springboard from which scholars can better understand the imperial dynamics of the war. Part II of this volume, ‘Soldiers of Empire, Far from Home’, therefore examines the movement of one of the most basic resources of empire – human beings. Deploying men from one side of the planet to another was a monumental task in its own right. Maintaining the loyalties of imperial soldiers and colonial subjects in the face of the war's upheavals proved no less daunting. In ‘Propaganda and Empire in the Heart of Europe: Indian Soldiers in Hospital and Prison, 1914–18’, Andrew Tait Jarboe compares two sites where imperial propaganda aimed to maintain, or convert, the loyalty of Indian soldiers fighting in Europe. At segregated hospitals in France and England, British authorities worked not only to repair damaged bodies, but also to foster imperial loyalty by impressing upon Indian sepoys the gratitude they owed their imperial hosts. At Indian prisoner-of-war camps, meanwhile, the Germans deployed a propaganda campaign not dissimilar to that of their British counterparts, albeit with the aim of making Germany, not Great Britain, the focus of Indians' gratitude and loyalty. This campaign failed, however, to convert a significant number of Indian soldiers, in no small part because German authorities failed to sever ties that bound sepoys to the British Empire. Exploring the case of France's North African soldiers, Richard Fogarty's ‘Out of North Africa: Contested Visions of French Muslim Soldiers during World War I’ traces the ways various actors understood and attempted to influence Muslim identity. France's use of hundreds of thousands of its Muslim colonial subjects as soldiers in Europe highlighted official French assumptions about the role of Islam in the war, while German and Ottoman attempts to persuade North African prisoners of war to switch sides revealed different, but equally stereotyped visions of Muslim solidarities. In the end, the North Africans themselves resisted easy categorisation of their affinities and manipulations of their actions, generating self-understandings and self-representations that made room for what was most important to most of them: their survival.

Maintaining the cohesion and discipline of imperial armies also presented a host of challenges. In ‘The Full and Just Penalty? British Military Justice and the Empire's War in Egypt and Palestine’, Julian Saltman examines military justice, as it applied to British Empire soldiers, in the Palestine theatre of the First World War. Focusing on field-general courts martial (FGCM), he considers how the British military designed the FGCM expressly to convict soldiers and apply maximum penalties, particularly in cases involving soldiers from the empire facing charges of contravening authority. Yet archival research reveals that nearly half of the convicted Empire soldiers in Palestine had their sentences either commuted or partially remitted during a mandatory review process. Drawing on previously unexplored sources, including the transcripts of several court-martial proceedings and the extensive disciplinary records kept by the War Office, the chapter complicates many scholarly assumptions about race and British military discipline. In before ‘It was a Pretty Good War, but They Stopped it too Soon: the American Empire, Native Americans, and World War I’, Steven Sabol explores debates in the United States over what role, if any, Native Americans might play in the war. Roughly 17,000 Native Americans served in the war in integrated units, even though a large percentage did not have citizenship, and in the 1920s and 1930s this service became the impetus to revisit American policies directed towards them. Ultimately, Sabol argues that these episodes demonstrate that the United States exercised an internal colonialism that should provoke us to view the United States as an imperial power alongside its wartime allies, the quintessential empires of Russia, Great Britain and France.

Part III, ‘Thinking Imperially, Acting Locally’, shifts the focus to those navigating or engaged in projects on what one might call the imperial home front. The chapters presented here stress the interplay between the global and the local, and consider ways global empires ‘happened’ in various localities. In her contribution, ‘Citizenship, Military Service and Managing Exceptionalism: Originaires in World War I’, Sarah Zimmerman examines the attitudes of a group of West Africans to service in the army of their French imperial rulers. Men from several coastal municipalities, known as originaires from the ‘Four Communes’ of Senegal, possessed a special status that gave them some of the rights and responsibilities of French citizens but also preserved some elements of their status as colonial subjects. And they valued some aspects of both statuses. Zimmerman argues that originaires' responses to the dramatic wartime legislation governing the terms of military service demonstrate that acquiring full French citizenship was less important to these men than maintaining the civic exceptionalism protected by the colonial legal and political regime. The essay is a powerful reminder that the global upheaval of World War I had important local effects far from the Western Front. Likewise, in ‘For God and Country: Missionary Service in Colonial Africa During World War I’, Kenneth Orosz explores an overlooked aspect of an often-overlooked front of World War I: missionary conscription and service in colonial Africa. The dearth of white personnel and the difficulties of obtaining reinforcements from home meant that colonial authorities conscripted many missionaries and lay brethren into the local military, both as combatants and as chaplains. When Entente forces took control of Germany's African holdings, officials called upon missionaries to open schools and offer language courses to win the hearts and minds of indigenous peoples, facilitate local administration by the occupying forces, and help cement British, French and Belgian territorial ambitions in post-war settlements. Reminding us that wartime empire-building happened in Europe just as it happened overseas, Erin Sassin brings the focus to Germany's contiguous empire in ‘The Visual Politics of Upper Silesian Settlements in World War I’. Her chapter explores the consolidation of ethnic and national identity during the war through the planning of extra-urban settlements (Siedlungen) in an economically important, long-contentious and multi-ethnic region of the German Empire, Upper Silesia. Through an investigation of the visual forms employed in settling and housing single workers, Sassin demonstrates that this model community functioned both as imperial propaganda and as an attempt to consolidate the locality of a mining and heavy industrial region whose residents' allegiances were not to their German