- The Great Betrayal: Economic Imperialism and the Destruction of Christian Communities in Asia Minor
The publishing pedigree of this book (first published in 1924 with the subtitle "A Survey of the Near East Problem") indicates that it is a reprint sponsored by the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago, with the support of the Pan-Pontian Federation of USA and Canada, a book "dedicated to the memory of all victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide." In the twentieth century, billed as the age of modernism and the apotheosis of enlightenment, we witnessed such carnage of innocents as to prompt one of the century's most astute students, Albert Camus, to express the horrors of its "polemic and insult" as a veritable rebellion against the always finite (or "absurd") essence of the human condition itself. Agitation for human rights becomes more and more futile as the mass graves of innocents expand everywhere—no measure of best intentions can match the alarming escalation of victims. To this dark realm belongs the fate of Christians—Greek and Armenians—who perished or were displaced in the years immediately after the First World War, the "war to end all wars," amid the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in the Anatolian peninsula and its immediate environs. They were sacrificed in the shadow of the Lausanne Conference and the stillborn Treaty of Sèvres, put to death and scattered at the hands of Turkish nationalists led by a foremost proponent of twentieth-century secular modernism in the Mediterranean region, Ataturk, aka Mustafa Kemal.
The author of this book, Edward Hale Bierstadt, was neither Greek nor Armenian but the executive secretary of the Emergency Committee of Near East Refugees as well as an author, drama critic, and criminologist living in New York City. The emergency [End Page 122] committee he headed comprised US nonprofits (as we would call them today) representing churches and other charitable societies operating to relieve those in the Near East suffering from dislocations following the First World War and the redrawing of its regional map by the Great Powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. To be sure, many of these victims were Greek and Armenian Christians.
What Bierstadt noted about US policy toward Near Eastern chaos after the Treaty of Versailles was a sharp contrast between long-standing humanitarian and economic interests in the region, with economic imperialism most often trumping humanitarianism. This was especially evident in dramatic changes following the defeat of the Democratic Party by Warren Harding in the 1920 presidential election, which marked a shift of Washington policy toward the economic side of US interests. Quite simply, this proved a major change in direction vis-à-vis Greece and Greeks in Anatolia from the State Department headed by Robert Lansing to that of Charles Evans Hughes, later to become chief justice of the US Supreme Court. Not only was this shift evident in US positions at the Lausanne Conference—positions that seemed closer to the British and French than was the case at Versailles—but in the "hands-off" orders from Hughes to US diplomats and soldiers in the region. They were advised to adopt a so-called neutral position on Kemal's offensive against the Greek military expedition in Anatolia when it came to the way Turkish forces treated Greeks—military and civilians alike—as Kemal transformed himself from a mere army general into supreme leader Ataturk, after the slaughter, displacement, and enslavement of tens of thousands at Smyrna.
In my view, the two central chapters of Bierstadt's graphic narrative of what turned out to be a top story of the twentieth century—mass graves—are chapter 2, "The Truth about Smyrna," and chapter 7, "The Part That Greece Has Played." At the core of the Smyrna catastrophe, involving a preponderantly Greek population in the city itself and in the surrounding...