The King-Crane report revisited
How and Why it was Suppressed
Facts are first. The world is askew today because facts have been concealed or perverted. If in 1918-1919, the world had seen the international situation stripped of all camouflage, with every secret treaty opened and every national condition made clear, it would have insisted upon a totally different outcome of events. Today's world tragedy is an illustration of the old teaching that "Where there is no vision the people perish"; and of- the later word, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."
One of the great suppressed documents of the peace-making period was the comprehensive King-Crane Report upon conditions in Turkey. This was the work of the official American Commission sent from Paris when the question of mandates in Turkey was up before the "Big Four." It went out with instructions to report the facts as it found them. The text makes clear why the Report should have been rigorously concealed by a then spineless State Department. Yet if it had been published promptly, as intended, it would completely have altered the current of events in Turkey, and possibly also have changed the whole American attitude toward post-war international responsibilities. Certainly it would have freed us from a flood of unfounded propaganda, and it might easily have saved the lives of possibly a million persons needlessly sacrificed since the war.
There would have been no need of a Lausanne Conference, or of a Graeco-Turkish war, or of a disruption of allied co-operation in the Near East, or of any of the tragic and tremendous events there which now threaten the wreck of civilization, if the King-Crane Report had been published.
Uncolored and authenticated and disseminated facts are more powerful than any of the schemes of statesmen or conclusions of conferences.
The document is one that is needed by every editorial writer in the world; every teacher or student of history; every clergyman and friend of missions and education in the Levant; every person doing business in the Near East; every member of Congress; every foreign office everywhere;-in short everybody who, in a propaganda-ridded day, desires a body of uncolored and unquestioned facts concerning the most important present international issue.
Not all the conclusions of the report are today applicable. Alas, the consequences it predicted have come to pass in many respects. The vindication of the value of the findings lies in the calamities which have since overtaken the Near East. Nevertheless, there is a flood of light shed upon present obscurities by this document.
It tactfully but fearlessly reveals the clashing ambitions of the allies at Constantinople.
It exposes the evils of the secret treaties.
It makes clear the glaring contrast between the solemn pledges of the European nations to the peoples of the Near East and their imperialistic course.
It conservatively portrays the passion of these ancient peoples for America, and their confidence in her integrity, good will and unselfishness.
It shows plainly why America should not have taken a mandate for Armenia alone.
It boldly lays down a project for a Pan-Turkish mandate in three groups, for America; which the allies, who wanted Turkish loot, by no means favored; and which time and events have now made impracticable.
It sets forth, so that even a wayfaring man may not err, the basic conditions of the Near East.
It pronounces the doom of Zionism.
It portrays an incredible co-operation between Moslems and Christians, in pursuit of the goal of "self-determination."
It shows, with uncanny prescience, the effect of the Smyrna massacres by the Greeks upon the reawakening of the Turks.
It proves the untenability of European claims upon Turkish territory.
Likewise it makes plain the unfitness of the old Ottoman Empire to rule or to continue to live.
It nullifies the censorship and propaganda which have veiled the facts concerning the Near East from the eyes of the world.
This report, in the highest sense, is a journalistic triumph. For it shows how a small group of American reporters, or investigators, took an assignment to find out the bed-rock facts upon one of the most clouded and intricate international situations in the world. They went about their task with all the canniness, caution and courage of good correspondents. Moreover, they not only fearlessly discovered the facts and clearly set them forth, but they also followed them to their conclusions.
Ignorance, bias and selfish interests, aided by their trusty handmaidens, censorship and propaganda, had brought the Paris Peace Conference to a standstill upon the disposition of Turkey. There was no agreement upon the fundamental facts of the case.
Thereupon President Wilson proposed that a joint allied Commission should be sent to Turkey to ascertain the true conditions, and especially the desires of the peoples concerned, respecting the nations which should become mandatories, as was the oft-expressed intent of the peacemakers. This, be it remembered, was in the days when the principle of "self-determination" and the other allied war aims still retained a degree of sanctity. So obviously right and reasonable was President Wilson's suggestion that the other three members of the "Big Four" agreed "in principle."
"In principle" is a venerable and invaluable diplomatic phrase, in this case as so often, it meant the opposite of "in practice." For the European nations shilly-shallied for a time and then refused to send out commissions. Apparently, the facts were the last things that were desired in some quarters. So the American Commissioners of the International Commission on Mandates in Turkey went alone, fully accredited.
It cannot too often or too strongly be said that the King-Crane Report supersedes all the views and counsel of speakers and writers who are "Near Eastern experts." Most of the latter, from entirely honorable motives, are partisans of one or more of the many sides of this question which today has the world by the throat.
Perhaps the post-war cleavage between the policies of the Allies and of the United States, and the basis for the King-Crane Commission, were never more succinctly explained than by President Wilson's first allusion in Paris to the network of secret treaties that there were revealed:
"As the United States of America were not bound by any of the secret treaties in question, they are quite ready to approve a settlement on the basis of facts."
Secret treaties largely caused the war; they certainly prolonged it; and . they wrecked the peace. Out of secret treaties has grown that international distrust which is probably the gravest factor in a world full of evil forces. Secret treaties have made war-time allies present-day enemies. They have begotten in America a lack of confidence in the nations of the Old World that is the real reason for this country's holding aloof from international obligations. If it were not for the secret treaties, disclosed at Paris, there would have been a different kind of League of Nations, and the United States would have been in it. There is simply no measuring the harm that has been done to humanity by the perpetuation of this first characteristic of the old diplomacy.
Most of these secret treaties concern Turkey, the choicest bit of war loot for the victors. The first of the lot had to do with Constantinople, and the last- so far as the world knows-dealt with Mosul and its oil, and this treaty was drawn up by the British and French in February, 1919, a month after the Peace conference, with its pledge of "open covenants, openly arrived at," had formally opened. Any honest man may be excused for the use of strong language in characterizing this impenitent diplomacy which stultified the soldier dead and the aims for which they died.
Summarized, the principal secret treaties among the allies, or sub-divisions of the allies, must be borne in mind if the King-Crane report is to be understood.
Ever since the days of Peter the Great, Russia had coveted Constantinople, so, in March, 1915, by a series of three notes exchanged between Russia, France and Great Britain, Constantinople was promised to Russia, after the allies had won the war. The other allies were to have compensations elsewhere in Turkey, and Britain was also to be given the "neutral zone" in Persia, with its rich petroleum perquisites. This treaty also provided for independent rule of the Moslem holy cities, and, if possible, the caliphate was to be taken away from the Turks. By it Britain abandoned her historic policy of nursing "The Sick Man of Europe." When the Revolutionists came into power in Russia they renounced this treaty and made a battle-cry of the phrase, "No annexations and no contributions (indemnities)."
Most sordid and cynical and shameless of all the secret treaties, and described by Mr. Balfour at one of the Peace Conference sessions in a cynical and sardonic speech that is perhaps unmatched in the annals of friendly international negotiations, was "The Treaty of London," .signed in April, 1915. This was Italy's price for entering the war. In addition to giving Italy amazing stretches of territory within the Austrian Empire, and the best port in Albania, and making the Adriatic an Italian lake, plus territorial extensions in Africa, the treaty awarded the Italians the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean, off the shore of Turkey, and territory in Turkey equal to what Britain or France would get! Incidentally, the Italians demanded a share of the German indemnity, and a loan from Great Britain of £50,000,000.
By a later secret treaty in April, 1917, Italy was promised a still larger zone in Anatolia, and Smyrna also, if the Russians agreed. Since revolutionary Russia was about to denounce secret treaties it never approved. Consequently, Paris had heated discussions as to Italian rights in Smyrna; and the squabble ended in the Greek expedition of May 15, 1919, to circumvent the Italians. It was this adventure, with its attendant excesses, which called into existence the Turkish Nationalist movement, which has since become victorious over the Christian powers. If there had been no secret treaties there would be no Near Eastern crisis today.
As early as March, 1916, what is known as the Sazanof-Paleologue Treaty between Russia and France, gave to Russia the land lying between Persia and the Black Sea. It extended France's prospective territory in Turkey over a large section of Asia Minor and Syria clear to the Tigris River.
Two months later came the famous and troublesome "Sykes-Picot Agreement," between France and Great Britain. By this secret treaty, France was to have Syria down as far as the famous Crusader port of Acre. Great Britain was to have Haifa, potentially the best port on the coast. She was also to receive Lower Mesopotamia. The cities of Damascus, Homs and Aleppo were to go to some future "Arab State -and already King Hussein, of the Hejaz, was on Great Britain's payroll! Explicitly, no other nation-meaning Italy-was to be allowed any rights in the Arabic-speaking parts of the Ottoman Empire.
From the day of its signing until now, this agreement has been smeared with oil, and other forms of commercialism and imperialistic exploitation, as the reader of the King-Crane Report has seen. One of the rawest sessions of the plenipotentiaries at Paris was held in Lloyd George's apartment on March 20. It was but of this acrimonious discussion that there was born President Wilson's suggestion for the sending of a commission of inquiry to Turkey, which resulted in the King-Crane Report. He said.[NOTE: See "The Turkish Empire as Booty," which is Chapter Four of Volume One of Ray Stannard Baker's "Woodrow Wilson and World Set.]
"The point of view of the United States was . . . indifferent to the claims both of Great Britain and France over peoples, unless those peoples wanted them. One of the fundamental principles to which the United States adhered was the consent of the governed……The present controversy ……broadened into a case affecting the peace of the whole world.... He would send it (the Commission) with carte blanche to tell the facts as they found them."
So against the old diplomacy of secret treaties and intrigues, America opposed the basic journalistic principle of the facts, fully and fearlessly stated.
Looking backward, it now seems rather guileless of President Wilson and America and the little nations to have assumed that the facts of international conditions should determine conclusions. We today understand that the secret treaties, and not the war aims that fired the hearts of the allied soldiers, and not the ascertained actualities, fixed the outcome of negotiations. The poison of those bargains and intrigues so vitiated the atmosphere at Paris that all possibility of true faith disappeared. Distrust supplanted confidence and good will.
America's ignorance of the secret treaties, which nullified all of our guiding principles in carrying on the war, was shared by the peoples of the allied nations.
Even when the Bolsheviks made public these documents which rubbed off the glamour of allied idealism, the world gave no real heed. Trustful America was least of all aware of the existence of these secret treaties: President Wilson heard of them first at Paris.
That is why the Americans thought that a Commission to find out and report the facts would be finally determinative. They could not escape from the dominance of those ideals of self-determination" or "consent of the governed" which had come down from Declaration of Independence days. With a rude jolt our people learned, or will learn after reading the King-Crane report, that the peoples released from Turkey's sway by the war got what they did not want.
This fact-finding commission heard the voice of the little peoples clamoring for American leadership and protection: such is the note that pervades the driest section of the report like an aroma: but their cry fell on deaf ears in Paris.
Throughout the Orient, in thousands of cafes and caravansaries and conferences of neighbor with neighbor, wonderment has been expressed by Turk, Greek, Arab, Armenian, Jew, Syrian, and Druze, not to mention Europeans, as to what has become of the American Mission and its report, which they all dreamed would bring tranquility and a new order to the troubled Near East. They know the reality of the application of the secret treaties and the strife they have caused; they do not understand the disappearance of the Great Hope which the American Commission represented.
After all, the secret treaties, applied, have had their chance, and failed. They have brought no boon to any one of the covetous European powers that its own people would not gladly now have it surrender. The apparent gains have proved to be only real losses and tragedy. Europe is hated today in the East because her old discredited way prevailed after the armistice, instead of the new way of the welfare of the peoples concerned. It needs only a strong drive by the press of America, and by the liberal press of Europe, to make secret treaties forever outlaw and anathema.
Fancy suggests that perhaps the scimitar of the Turk has severed the Gordian knot of diplomatic entanglements which could not be untied at Paris. It may be that there is anew, in a greatly limited sense, an opportunity for the application of certain of the fair, free, fact-based recommendations of the King-Crane Commission.
From a newspaper standpoint, the King-Crane Report may be criticized for its failure to "play up" the sensational zeal for America which it encountered everywhere. By cumulative facts and statistics it does make plain that America is first in the hearts of the people of Bible lands. Modesty and self-restraint doubtless kept it from attempting to tell a tale that is really beyond America's understanding. "They little know of America, who only America knows." General Harbord puts the subject straightforwardly in the conclusion of his report:
"Without visiting the Near East, it is not possible for an American to realize even faintly, the respect, faith and affection with which our Country is regarded throughout that region. Whether it is the world-wide reputation which we enjoy for fair dealing, a tribute perhaps to the crusading spirit which carried us into the Great War, not untinged with hope that the same spirit may urge us into the solution of great problems growing out of that conflict, or whether due to unselfish and impartial missionary and educational influence exerted for a century, it is the one faith which is held alike by Christian and Moslem, by Jew and Gentile, by prince and peasant in the Near East. It is very gratifying to the pride of Americans far from home. But it brings with it the heavy responsibility of deciding great questions with a seriousness worthy of such faith. Burdens that might be assumed on the appeal of such sentiment would have to be carried for not less than a generation under circumstances so trying that we might easily forfeit the faith of the world. If we refuse to assume it, for no matter what reasons satisfactory to ourselves, we shall be considered by many millions of people as having left unfinished the tack for which we entered the war, and as having betrayed their hopes."