*The Great War was an international conflict that pitted the most powerful countries in the world against one another from 1914-1919. At the time it was billed as the war to end all wars.
We now know The Great War as World War I which immediately tells you that it didn’t accomplish the job of ending countries fighting against one another. In fact the war and the outcome of the war actually set the stage for more conflicts between countries as time went on.
As with any war, the winners generally dictate to the losers what will happen with their land. After World War I there was the extra pressure of sorting through what led to the war in the first place: nationalism. To be more specific people who were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire wanted to form their own countries. So at the end of the war, the winning side (France, Great Britain, and the United States in particular) determined that if enough people were being treated poorly in their current country and wanted their own country, then things would be put in place to make that a reality.
It’s not a bad plan actually. The guiding thought was that if everyone was happy in their country, then there would be no reason for revolutions thus avoiding war. In retrospect we see that the problem was that while there was a desire for new countries, there was no new land for these countries. In other words land had to be taken from existing countries. The winning side basically carved up the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to create countries like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. But because these countries were small and relatively weak they depended on France, Great Britain and the United States to protect and sustain them. When these countries needed help it was one of the causes of World War II. And while World War II may have ended in 1945 it forever changed the way the United States operates in the international realm both militarily and diplomatically. Essentially the stance we took as a country at the end of World War I has left us with a perspective on having to defend everyone everywhere. This perspective doesn’t allow for success because there is always another threat to face.
A similar situation occurred in western Asia. The Ottoman Empire happened to be on the losing side of World War I and so it had chunks of land cut out for new countries. This is the origin of countries like Lebanon, Syria, and most importantly: Palestine and Israel. Great Britain basically carved out a Jewish nation from the Ottoman Empire. Again this seemed like a good idea because Jews were historically scapegoated throughout history for the ills of society and were legally second class citizens within the Ottoman Empire. The problem here was that although the land for the Jewish nation was on or near the Jewish nation state from Biblical times, in the 1920s Jewish people were outnumbered there by Muslims.
Again the winners of World War I (specifically Great Britain) were tasked with protecting and sustaining the Jewish state. But the country of Israel was not created until after World War II when the United States was assuming the role of world leader. In addition, while the initial plan was to have a Jewish area and a non-Jewish area in the region, fighting between Syrians and Jews would lead to the non-Jewish area to be occupied and claimed by the new Jewish nation of Israel. So the United States took on the role of world leader just as a critical decision needed to be made regarding the support of a 30 year old plan and the nation of Israel, and just as the United States was adopting the philosophy that it needed to win every international contest. With American support the state of Israel has flourished.
Those who view this from a pro-Israeli perspective can rightfully argue that Jews were not antagonistic toward their non-Jew neighbors and that they only occupied areas not designated for them after being attacked. Such a point of view relies on ignoring what happened before 1947 as well as the support that Israel has enjoyed from Western powers. Taking a slightly longer view at the history of this region reveals why there is such animosity by Muslims toward the state of Israel. Ultimately the sporadic military actions between Israel and Hamas last week were a result of this history. And that history is undeniably linked to the decisions made after World War I. Fortunately for Jewish people around the world and the nation of Israel specifically, they count the United States as their ally.
But this situation is not as simple as “they attacked us, so we can do whatever we please.” A few questions should be answered. what does the United States get from this arrangement? Could Israel continue to exist without American support?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.