Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Review The War In The Cradle of The World

Egan, Eleanor Franklin, The War In The Cradle of The World, New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1918


Eleanor Franklin Egan was an American journalist who travelled to Mesopotamia to see the British war there during World War I. She left for Japan, sailed across Asia, and then travelled up Mesopotamia to Baghdad. Her The War In The Cradle of the World is more about her trip than the war.


Egan’s pro-British views are expressed throughout her book. She talked about all the benefits the Arabs gained from the British presence. That started with taking over the Persian Gulf before World War I which she said was out of selflessness to stop slavery and piracy. In Mesopotamia the Brits brought industry and modernity. She claimed the Arabs never worked before but now they were under benevolent rule. The British paved roads, brought railroads, and law and order. She obviously believed in the White Man’s Burden assuming that the Arabs were primitive and the British were civilizing them. This was supported by the British officers that took her around to see all the work they’d done which she lapped up.


In terms of the World War I campaign in Mesopotamia the author goes through some of the main battles. In November 1914 British troops from Indian landed at the Faw peninsula in Basra province without a fight. They then constantly moved north taking all of Basra province before facing a huge defeat in Kut when the troops outran their supply lines and communications and lost an entire army. More troops were sent and defeated the Turks at the ancient site of Ctesiphon and then took Baghdad. Since Egan was for the British she talked about everything as a continuous march forward with victory after victory. She even said the Battle at Kut was a huge success because the British broke through the first two lines of Ottoman defenses before being defeated! This was a continuation of Egan’s Anglophilia. She fully supported the British role not only in Mesopotamia but the world believing it was a great force for good especially in places she thought were backwards like Iraq.


The vast majority of The War In The Cradle of The World is a travel journal. She wrote about going through Singapore, Malaya and India having to battle the insects, commenting upon how entrepreneurial the Chinese were, and the costs of a servant in India. When she got to Mesopotamia she talked about how Arabs were lazy and thieves and needed to be disciplined by the British. She had a whole chapter on all the boats and barges the UK brought to ship its supplies from the Persian Gulf up to Baghdad. She thought Baghdad was completely underwhelming consisting of dark and dreary buildings. One of the only interesting things she brought up was how diverse Baghdad was. There were Persians, Arabis, Jews, Christians, Kurds and African slaves. Each had their own distinctive dress. Egan was surprised by the mix of people probably expecting the city to just be filled with Arabs liked she’d seen in the other places of Mesopotamia. Much of what Egan wrote about was not that interesting. Rather than being a war reporter she was much more concerned about what it was like in Asia. Seeing how the book was published in 1918 she probably felt her Western readers would be more interested in the exotic Orient then just reading about World War I.


Egan’s The War in The Cradle of The World was a disappointing read. It gives a brief history of the start of England’s Mesopotamian campaign during World War I going through some of the major battles. The vast majority however is about what she found in Asia, much of which is mundane like how the British brought roads, ships and law and order to what she considered primitive people and how she had to fight insects both on the boat ride to Mesopotamia and after she landed.


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