The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Berlin-Baghdad Railway Part Zwo
The "Eisenbahn zum Mesopotamia" ran short of funds, friends, money and time--and helped exacerbate frictions between Europe's Great Powers

German locomotive captured on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, 1918. From

A part of the equation to the success of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway is how the Germans, through the Deutsche Bank, couldn't afford to finish the road without extending themselves to their rivals, the French and British. They altered the course for the Russians, fine, but how could one of Europe's most prosperous nations--perhaps the must industrious--not have the jack to build this railroad?

True, it was in remote, rough country and entailed tunnel building and station construction, but seems to me--like most everything leading up to the historic World War I--this could've been handled better.

I say, to the vainglorious Willy Deuce, build a cruiser or two less and quit this stupid naval race that Tirpitz has put you on, that you cannot win with Britain, and finish the railway where you can subvert their Mesopotamia strategy and run troops right down to Egypt's doorstep. I mean, Willy Nilly and the Junkers are trying to latch on to some grand militarist scheme to capture the national imagination to dilute the power of the Social Democrats and the growing middle class: big ships with big manly guns that go boom-boom. The naval expenditure bills were tough fights through the Reichstag, anyway. Some votes go this way or that way, or somebody does some back-room dealing to emphasize rail strategy over capital battleships...

The British are going to object to the railroad by 1903 anyway and through the French force concessions ,and the rail line will be delayed more than a decade. Germany needs that road built according to schedule.

David M. Castlewitz in his blog summarizes this crucial dysfunction in the B to B plan -- German arrogance overmatched by German undercapitalization:

Oddly, Britian, ensconced in Egypt, their sights on their Indian Empire, welcomed German influence in the region. It acted as a counterweight to French activity in Syria and Russian ambitions. But German dreams were just as vast. By 1903, with the first stretch of the railway to Baghdad complete, the economically sinister aspects of the enterprise began percolating to the top. Following the historic highway of the ancient caravans, emerging from the Taurus Mountain Range onto the plains and through the Cilician Gates and across Amanus, east to Mosul and south to Baghdad, the iron freeway promised to be just that -- free.

Germany had no intention of paying customs as it crossed the borders. From Baghdad, through Anatolia and across Eastern Europe, the route was to be duty free. Germany would control land rights wherever the rails lay and the prospect of the Reich gorging itself on the riches of the Ottoman Empire alarmed the European Powers to the same degree as had Russian military machinations.

Luckily for the European Powers, they exerted more than a small degree of leverage. Turkey's finances were administered by the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, an organization created to the foreign debtors who panicked everytime the Sultan's enemies, ranging from recalcitrant Greeks to plotting Turks, went to war or mounted the barricades. Bonded together by the West's desire not to see the Ottoman Empire dissolve into anarchy and chaos through mismanagement, the organization consisted of representatives from Great Britian, France, Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. As representatives of the foreign bond holders, they exercised absolute control over the Turk's taxes and expenditures. The Ottoman Empire was not just the "Sick Man of Europe," but an economically enslaved invalid as well.
So the Ottoman Turks are kind of like the South after the Civil War. Lands and businesses are bought up by outside interests and the revenue stream heads elsewhere. Or, how in Richmond, Virginia, when New York Dutchman ex-Confederate tobacco tycoon Lewis Ginter failed to grasp the practicality of the cigarette rolling machine--after he sponsored a contest to have one built.

Ginter sold the rights to James Buchanan Duke, whose American Tobacco firm was denied a corporate license by the General Assembly, and all those profits got siphoned off to New York. Richmond in a fundamental way became a vassal to outside commercial interests.

The Ottomans lacked an industrial base with which to produce the sinews of war, their decentralized government did not promote effective administration and their military was not well led and riven by secret societies (some of which were pan-Ottoman) and low morale. Yet, as one historian has noted, the Ottoman military (with German command assistance) defeated the Allied army in the Dardanelles, held off British forces in Iraq for several years, and kicked out the French, Greeks and Italians from Anatolia in 1920. That they were able to do anything at all is due to the intensive activities of he reformist Ottoman Freedom Society that evolved into the Committee of the Union of Progress (CUP) that in 1907 merged with the Young Turks organization.

A delay in the outbreak of general war prevents the disastrous Ottoman winter offensive against the Russians in December 1914-January 1915 that led to reprisals against the purported fifth columnist Armenians, and the eventual genocide about which Hitler seems to have made a later and infamous observation in defense of his own pogroms, "Who now remembers the Armenians?" Well, in our new world order, neither the Anatolian massacres nor Hitler's rise occur.

Armenians of Eastern Anatolia were farmers and their destruction, in the end, prevented the Ottoman army from receiving proper supplies.

If our alternative time line is put into place, none of that happens. The Young Turks are able to work without the sped up necessities of war.

If I'm waving a bio-chemical-electro-magic wand over members of the Black Hand to prevent their formation, I may as well tinker with the forces involved in the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

Victorious Germans in 1914 means no Nazis and no Stalin in 1941.

Basically, it's like this:

A) Black Hand lopped off in 1911

1) Synapses of Serbian conspirators rewired by electro-chemical-bio means; get their shot of  "Scrooge On Christmas Day," realize their terror could plunge the entire world into death and destruction, the Black Hand disperses and collapses in the spring of 1911. Likely the Austro-Hungarian secret police get blamed for causing the disruption by who ever is left, and there'll be other sectarian violence -- these things never really end. 

2) Regional conflicts sputter and spark causing conditions to escalate, but a general outbreak is avoided.

3) General war doesn't occur in 1914. 
   A significant way to avoid the outbreak is to have the elderly and dying Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph die of the pneumonia that came close to killing him during early 1914. The more moderate and contemporary Franz Ferdinand then comes to power; though he has problems with the Hungarians. Still, he would've led massive reformations in the power structure, and may have had to defend himself from more conservative plotters. 

Fact is, by this time the Hapsburg monarchy was played out and the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a working model obsolete. The nation was due to fly to pieces, the only question whether it would peaceably deconstruct, or fall down like a tower constructed of a child's blocks.

B) Berlin-Baghdad Railway

1) Germans find the money to build the road themselves without internationalizing the process. They give further assistance to the Ottomans.

2) Germans somehow negotiate way around political obstacles.

3) Reduce level of capital ship construction to appease British--with more magic wand brain rewiring-- because, in the end, the railroad is more important.

C) War

1) Presume something drags Great Powers into conflict around 1917.

2) Germany axes Schlieffen plan, instead, goes into Russia and sustains great victories.

3) Russian regime collapses.
Perhaps Kerensky takes over. In the historic procession of events, Kerensky repealed anti-Semitic laws and removed the boundaries of the "Pale of Settlement" that restricted Jews to certain impoverished sections. But in this alternative worldline, most of this region comes under the control of the Germans, who, in the historic 1917-1918 timeline were far more gracious toward the Jews living in the Pale than their descendants would ever be. The absence of pogroms against Jews, and citizenship within independent nations, would make a huge difference in future history.

[Image from 1917, Kerensky in white uniform, via danielcutler.]

4) A more liberal-minded Germany liberates states from Russia --
--including Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, and sets them up as independent nations allied to Germany. A 1917 German soldier gives sustenance to a Polish Jewish boy, in this image.

The realization of nation status of this group of former Russian lands will cause trouble later, once the Russians get a new government and wants its breadbasket back, and access to the Caucasian oil fields. [Image via Daniel Cutler.]

5) Germany locks up the French
German defense in depth prevents French invasion. Perhaps a more amenable arrangement can be made about German-occupied Alsace-Lorraine; however, accommodation with the French will cause outrage among conservative German militarists, and the revanchists among the French won't be happy  until they burn down the Ruhr factories. This is the situation that could bring down the Kaiser and perhaps give rise to a representation, constitutional government like Weimar. Franco-German industrial agreements -- a half century ahead of their time -- result.

6)Britain and Germany get into proxy wars in Mesopotamia and Africa that threaten again to upset the balance. German covert efforts  to aide anti-British independence forces in India also take place. With the railroad built, Germany upsets the balance of power with the Suez Canal that gives Britain complete access to Mesopotamian petroleum. One way or another, here would occur the first oil-wealth conflict.

Given this situation, the 1916 British compact devised with Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, and the eventual involvement of T. E. "Lawrence of Arabia" may have less probability of working. The tensions within the foreshortened Ottoman Empire and pan-Arabism will erupt, however; it's just a matter of time.

7) Germany meanwhile may see the displacement of the Kaiser and establishment of a less militaristic constitutional republic. With the rise of socialists and the middle class, less desirous of military adventures, there could come a clash between the commercial and Junkers ruling élite -- civil upheaval, if not outright conflict. The communists would have less influence without a ruling soviet in Russia but socialists like Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg would have greater influence in the restive population. Other stirring nationalist forces, though, might prove more attractive among returning soldiers and their families. 

Much depends on what all else is occurring. If Germany is striding Europe as a cultural and industrial colossus, and many of its national aims achieved for the most part through economic and diplomatic means, with some off-stage wars, then there is less demand for a violent revolt.

D) No Great Depression. And the world is a very different place...

The world remains troubled; but with a different set of problems, and without the cataclysms of two world wars and Nazis and Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Kim Jung Il and so forth.

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