Friday, July 28, 2006
What if? On this day in 1914 ...
My first reaction was "nonsense!" I'm a fervent democrat (small d democrat and registered big d Democrat) who thinks humanity's march towards democracy is our main measure of progress. But once you start thinking about this, it becomes like one of those "What if the Nazis had won?" novels.
It all started on this day in 1914, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Soon, we had the Allied Powers facing the Central Powers in World War 1. The democratic powers against the German Reich, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. When we won, we deposed the German Kaiser and the Austrian Emperor and helped the destabilization of the Ottoman Sultan.
What if after the war we hadn't imposed on Germany such an abrupt, overnight change from the Kaiser and the largest aristocracy in the world to full democracy, leading to the instability of the 1920s? It's reasonable to say that Hitler never would have come to power, and if that's true, 6 million Jews would have been saved from his Final Solution.
What if we hadn't destabilized Central Europe, which became known as Eastern Europe after Hitler conquered it and his Russian foes took it back for themselves? Is there another scenario under which the Soviet Union would have imprisoned Eastern Europe for 45 years?
We didn't depose the Sultan, but we defeated and weakened his empire, and made it easier for the 20th century forces of nationalism to overtake it. Until that time, the Ottoman Empire had encouraged religious diversity, and declared Muslims, Christians and Jews "brothers." Therefore, it didn't allow religious states, and wouldn't have allowed the establishment of a Jewish state, as opposed to a Jewish community, in 1947.
Of course reality is more complex than this few hundred word summary. But we only have to look at our overthrow of Saddam Hussein to see how quickly unintended and unexpected consequences can follow. If we had not broken the balance of power between Iraq and Iran, Hezbollah would not now be firing Iranian missiles at Israel.
Nota Bene, before the comments come in: I fully support Israel's right to exist.
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It's worth noting that at the dawn of the 20th Century, the Ottoman Empire's cabinet (and arguably the Sultan himself) was leaning toward democratizing the Empire, building institutes with which the merchant class would expand into a larger middle class able to sustain a civil society, reforming the laws toward equalizing rights for all of the religious communities in the empire, (starting in 1840 on that action item!) and engaging the outside world non-belligerently. It was the Ottoman bureaucracy's feebleness that brought down the empire, not any fondness for oriental despotism.
If the Ottomans had won, or had not blundered into the war to begin with, the world would be a better place today.
And, a "Jewish national home" did not need to mean a Jewish state. Israel's founder, David Ben Gurion, went to law school in Istanbul because he regarded it possible for the "national home" to be an Ottoman province.
Posted by: Omri at Jul 29, 2006 2:37:34 AM