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Guest Viewpoints

Misconceptions and Inaccurate History Countered by The Gentle American

September 26, 2022
By Ismini Lamb and Christopher Lamb

Note: Ismini Lamb and Christopher Lamb, co-authors of The Gentle American: George Horton’s Odyssey and His True Account of the Smyrna Catastrophe shared the following list with The National Herald in time for this year’s centennial of the Smyrna Catastrophe.

Misconception: that World War I ended on the Western Front, a widespread misconception among the American, British and French publics and historians.

Reality: a breakthrough in Greece and the Balkans, enabled by nine fresh Greek divisions, the largest portion of the Allied forces there, drove four hundred miles in less than eight weeks, knocking Bulgaria, Turkey and Austro-Hungary out of the war and forcing German surrender. Horton was present at the attack and at the Bulgarian surrender. All this is critical for understanding the post-WWI peace enforcement environment.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: for the military details, Under the Devil’s Eye, and for the impact of the breakout and its significance, The Gentle American.

 Misconception: that the 1919-1922 fighting in Anatolia was a “Greco-Turkish” war.

Reality: it was a continuation of World War I, as George Horton explained.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American and The Thirty Year Genocide.

Misconception: that Greek forces “invaded” Asia Minor, a widespread mischaracterization used by even excellent histories of the period.

Reality: Allied Forces, including Greek soldiers, occupied small portions of Asia Minor to enforce compliance with peace terms signed by Ottoman authorities.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American and British Reports on Ethnic Cleansing in Anatolia, 1919-1922.

Misconception: that Greek atrocities in Smyrna ignited Turkish resistance.

Reality: Turkish forces laid a premeditated ambush for Allied troops in Smyrna, and about 400 on each side of the resultant violence were killed.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American and “Greece in Asia Minor: the Greek Administration of the Vilayet of Aidin, 1919-1922.”

Misconception: that the Greek Administration in Ionia was rapacious rather than progressive.

Reality: as George Horton argued in his reporting and book, The Blight of Asia, the Greek Administration restored order quickly, was harder on Greek miscreants than Turkish ones, and was a boon to all inhabitants.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American and “Greece in Asia Minor: the Greek Administration of the Vilayet of Aidin, 1919-1922.”

 Misconception: that Greek and Turkish atrocities were roughly equivalent.

Reality: in scope, intensity and intent, the Turkish atrocities dwarfed anything done by Greek regular or irregular forces.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Thirty Year Genocide, especially pages 475-484.

 Misconception: that the “Megali Idea,” and Greek imperialism led the Greeks on a hopeless quest to conquer Asia Minor that was doomed from the beginning.

Reality: Greece was motivated to provide security for Greek Ottomans as well as hopes of acquiring Thrace and Ionia, and almost did so despite all odds. However, as predicted by Horton, tiny Greece was only up to the task with Allied backing, particularly finances. Venizelos did not secure that backing in writing, however, and Italy and France and eventually the Soviet Union betrayed their former ally, Greece, providing Turkish nationalists with arms, money, and advisors, leading Britain to declare itself neutral, as did the United States, thus isolating Greece completely.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: “Britain and the Greek-Turkish War and Settlement of 1919-1923,” and The Gentle American.

Misconception: that no one really knows or can determine who burned Smyrna.

Reality: for reasons well explained by George Horton 100 years ago, it has always been clear that Turkish Nationalist soldiers burned Smyrna.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: all authoritative, in-depth accounts of Smyrna’s destruction substantiate Horton’s assertion: Smyrna 1922, Paradise Lost, America’s Black Sea Fleet, and The Great Fire.

Misconception: that one man, Asa Jennings, saved the 300,000 refugees on the quay in Smyrna.

Reality: multiple heroes on the scene in Smyrna made the life-saving boat lift possible, and only high-level intervention allowed it to proceed in any case.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Great Fire is best for demonstrating the interaction of the local heroes, and The Gentle American for explaining the high-level behind-the-scenes intervention.

Misconception: that the United States Government (USG) just avoided taking sides and was not involved and never would have become involved.

Reality: the USG was involved, as senior Dept. of State diplomats whitewashed the genocide, promoted disinformation, and covered up Turkish atrocities in pursuit of Turkish approval for oil concessions. Moreover, the USG came closer to intervening than most historians realize, but these same diplomats suppressed Horton’s reporting, which was not seen by the Secretary of State before his decisive meeting on intervention with President Harding.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: American Accounts Documenting the Destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalist Turkish Forces propounds the thesis that there was a Dept. of State cover up, and The Gentle American proves it and the other assertions above.

 Misconception: that the senior American representative in Turkey, Admiral Mark Bristol, was an honorable champion of realism who advanced American interests.

Reality: Bristol was the embodiment of the “the Ugly American,” an irredeemably ethnocentric ambassador uninformed on his assigned country and region who was nonetheless loud and opinionated in the only language he could comprehend— his native English— who said and did things that were jaw-droppingly immoral, stupid, and duplicitous.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: Smyrna 1922, America’s Black Sea Fleet, and most prominently, The Gentle American.

Misconception: that religion played no part in the Asia Minor genocides and Horton’s book, The Blight of Asia, which examines the role of religion, is anti-Turk and Islamophobic.

Reality: Turks, motivated by their religion, targeted Christians because of their religion, just as Horton described and explained. Moreover, his book, The Blight of Asia, is almost universally misunderstood. It was not directed at the Turks, whom he argued had just done what they habitually did, only with more vigor, but at Americans, whom he chastised for their failing moral sense of direction as evidence by the Department of State’s cover up of genocide and some missionaries caring more about saving their buildings than people and souls.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Thirty Year Genocide is the best source for substantiating the role of religion, and The Gentle American for explaining the real purpose and merits of The Blight of Asia.

Misconception: that the Armenian, Pontic Greek, and other Christian genocides were unconnected.

Reality: a succession of Turkish governments between 1894 and 1924 systematically and single-mindedly pursued the ethnic cleansing of all minority Christian populations in Anatolia in a sadistic fashion.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: Horton argued this 100 years ago in The Blight of Asia, but Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, The Thirty Year Genocide, Denial of Violence, and Massacres, Resistance, Protectors, substantiate his thesis with copious details and authoritative scholarship.

Misconception: that Horton and others who assert, explain, and expose the Turkish genocides of Ottoman Christians are bigots.

Reality: Horton was a Christian humanitarian who intervened to aid Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Ottomans throughout his career, and who was investigated after false charges of bias and found to be a model of objectivity by his superiors in the Department of State. Being anti-genocide is not the same as being anti-Turk. Horton argued that it was best for Turks to acknowledge their genocides because only by doing so did they have a chance for an open society with civil liberties and freedom of conscience.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American.

Misconception: that an Armenian zealot named Vahan Cardashian, and to a lesser extent, a former ambassador, James Gerard, alone were responsible for the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the Lausanne Treaties with Turkey.

Reality: Cardashian came by his passion honestly, having served the Ottoman Empire’s New York consulate until he learned his mother and sister had been murdered in the 1915 genocide of Armenians, and by the time the Senate voted, Gerard had stepped back from lobbying against the treaties and Horton had stepped forward, playing a critical but now unknown role in the Senate vote that rejected the treaty with Turkey.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: The Gentle American.

Misconception: that the Asia Minor catastrophe and genocides took place too long ago to matter and are best forgotten.

Reality: truth matters, and always matters. In the years following the Catastrophe, Germans admired the Turks for fighting back against the harsh post-war treaties, defeating the Allied powers, and wiping out “internal enemies” to produce a homogenous, united Turkish national entity. When the Nazis came to power, they emulated the Turks’ genocide. By rewarding the Turks for their genocide, the world got more genocide in WWII. Even today the Asia Minor genocides still matter, as nations like China, guilty of persecuting more than a million Uyghurs in a quest for complete national homogeneity, calculate they have far more to gain than lose from such behavior.

  • Best recent scholarship in support of this thesis: Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination and Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler.

SELECTED SOURCES

  1. Akcam, Taner. Killing Orders: Talat Pasha’s Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

———. and Umit Kurt, “After Lausanne: The Armenians Remaining Outside of Turkey,” in Taner Akcam and Umit Kurt, The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide (New York: Berghahn Books, 2018).

 

  1. Daleziou, Eleftheria. “Britain and the Greek-Turkish War and Settlement of 1919-1923: The Pursuit of Security by ‘Proxy’ in Western Asia Minor.” PhD thesis. (Glasgow University: 2002); https://theses.gla.ac.uk/1578/1/2002daleziouphd.pdf.

 

  1. Dobkin, Marjorie H. Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York, N.Y.: Newmark, 1998).

 

  1. Gaunt, David. Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I (Gorgias Press: 2006).

 

  1. Göçek, Fatma Müge. Denial ofViolence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2015).

 

  1. Gust, Wolfgang. The Armenian Genocide: Evidence from the German Foreign Office Archives, 1915-1916 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014).

 

  1. Hatzidimitriou, Constantine G. American Accounts Documenting the Destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalist Turkish Forces: September 1922 (New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, Melissa International, 2005).

_____. “The Continuing Value of The Blight of Asia by George Horton: An Assessment After Ninety-six Years,” American Journal of Contemporary Hellenic Issues, Vol. 13, Spring 2022 (Washington, D.C.: American Hellenic Institute).

 

  1. Ihrig, Stefan. Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014):

_____. Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016).

 

  1. Kostos, Sofia Kontogeorge. Before The Silence: Archival News Reports Of The Christian Holocaust That Begs To Be Remembered (Gorgias Press: 2010).

 

  1. Lamb, Ismini and Christopher. The Gentle American: George Horton’s Odyssey and His True Account of the Smyrna Catastrophe (Gorgias Press, 2022).

 

  1. Milton, Giles. Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922: The Destruction of a Christian City in the Islamic World (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

 

  1. Morris, Benny and Dror Ze’evi, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924 (Harvard University Press, 2019).

 

  1. Shenk, Robert. America’s Black Sea Fleet: The U.S. Navy Amidst War and Revolution, 1919-1923 (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2017).

_____. and Sam Koktzoglou, eds., The Greek Genocide in American Naval War Diaries (New Orleans: University of New Orleans Press, 2020).

 

  1. Shirinian, George N., ed. Genocide in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, 1913-1923 (Berghahn Books, 2017); particularly the chapters by Tehmine Martoyan, “The Destruction of Smyrna in 1922: An Armenian and Greek Shared Tragedy,” and Thea Halo, “The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks, 1913-1923: Myths and Facts.”

 

  1. Solomonidis, Victoria. “Greece in Asia Minor: the Greek Administration of the Vilayet of Aidin, 1919-1922.” Dissertation submitted for doctoral degree, King’s College, University of London, 1984; https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/2934862/245618.pdf.

 

  1. Ureneck, Lou. The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide (New York: Harper Collins, 2015).

 

  1. Wakefield Alan, and Simon Moody. Under the Devil’s Eye. (Great Britain: Sutton Publishing Pen & Sword Military, 2017).

 

  1. Yeghiayan, Vartkes. British Reports on Ethnic Cleansing in Anatolia, 1919-1922: The Armenian-Greek Section (Glendale, Calif.: Center for Armenian Remembrance, 2007).

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