DB5041 1. Briefly explain the role that faith played in U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East prior to the Civil War, including the religious ideas and movements that informed USFP during this period. Staying with Oren’s template of power, faith, and fantasy, can you distinguish which American views expressed faith, and which fantasy? Chapter 13
EMPIRES AT DAWN
AWAKENING AT SUNRISE ON JULY 11, 1882, THE INHABITANTS of Alexandria, Egypt, could see an ominous line of silhouettes stretched across the Mediterranean’s horizon. Word of the mirage-like sight filtered quickly through the city and soon throngs of curious citizens gathered on the docks. Peasants, clerks, and merchants gazed wordlessly out at the specter hovering just beyond the harbor, while platoons of anxious artillerymen scurried around their guns. Many of them understood that the history of their nation, if not that of the entire Middle East, was about to be altered. The political upheavals that had long shaken Egypt, fracturing its pride and its dreams of independence, were erupting.
The tremors had intensified over a three-year period, during which the European powers declared Egypt insolvent, ousted Khedive Isma’il, and installed the more malleable Tawfiq. This flagrant interference in Egyptian affairs sparked opposition from the swelling ranks of Egyptian nationalists led by a charismatic colonel, Ahmad ‘Urabi. Of peasant stock and a strict Islamic background, the brawny, broad-nosed, and mustachioed ‘Urabi was Egypt’s highest-ranking native officer. Vowing “Egypt for the Egyptians,” he sought to oust the Turkish elite that still controlled the army and free Egypt of all its foreign debts. The khedive and his European creditors consequently conspired to have ‘Urabi arrested. The colonel would not be silenced, however, and by 1882, he was threatening to unseat the khedive. Riots in support of ‘Urabi broke out in Cairo and Alexandria and spread toward the Suez Canal. Fearing for the safety of its nationals in Egypt and, above all, for the security of its precious canal, Britain resolved to intervene.
The phantomlike forms aligned off Egypt’s coast that July morning gradually came into focus: British battleships. At precisely 6:50 a.m., blinding flashes suddenly illuminated their decks. Seconds later, with deafening shrieks and numbing explosions, salvos of large-caliber shells smashed into the twisting alleys and elegant parks of Alexandria. The spectators on the docks instantly scattered and the city’s famously bustling streets emptied. But the Egyptian army held its ground. Over one hundred guns, many positioned strategically in well-camouflaged bunkers built by the American Civil War veterans, raked the British fleet. Yet not even Alexandria with its redoubtable fortifications could withstand a concerted bombardment from the Royal Navy’s ironclads. One by one, the shore batteries were silenced, and their shell-shocked defenders dispersed. By 5:30 that evening the battle was over. Hundreds of people—soldiers and civilians—had been killed and multiples of that number wounded. The British occupation of Egypt, destined to last some seventy-two years, had begun.
Gruesome though it was, the invasion of Egypt was merely one milestone in an imperialist process that would bring about the conquest of a quarter of the world’s landmass, seven million square miles of it by Britain and France alone. Europe’s domination over vast tracts of land and numerous peoples presented the United States with fundamental dilemmas, particularly in the Middle East. If, during the Greek war of independence, Americans had to choose between pursuing their strategic interests with Turkey and preserving democratic principles, they now had to decide between their two strains of faith, sacred and civic. Should they side with Christian Europe against a despised and allegedly decadent Islam or with the victims of the same colonialism from which the United States had wrung its own liberation? Could the United States, a champion of freedom for Middle Eastern peoples, ingenuously condemn Europe at a time when Americans were settling their own continent and coveting territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific?
Americans began asking these wrenching questions as early as 1829, when the French invaded Algiers. David Porter, who was slated to man the U.S. consulate in the city, refused to serve under a French occupation and was instead made the minister in Istanbul. In Porter’s place, the State Department sent Henry Lee, the grandson of the Revolutionary patriot Richard Henry Lee. The new consul professed nothing but esteem for “the Frenchman [who] fought by the side of Americans under the Standard of Washington” and hatred for the descendants of Algerian corsairs. “I do not know that I ever experienced a prouder glow of sympathy and triumph,” Lee recalled, “than when I first beheld…the victorious Christian troops driving the Barbarian hordes before them.”
Over the next fifty years, Europe’s takeover of parts of the Middle East continued to arouse strong opinions among Americans. The memoirs of American visitors to the region were rife with expressions of support for dismantling the Ottoman Empire and dividing it between Britain and France. The yearning was particularly keen among American missionaries, many of whom enjoyed European consular protection and who regarded the imperialist powers as agents of divine will. “Only the hand that moves the world could accomplish all this,” observed the veteran missionary Jonas King in 1865, referring to the buildup of British influence in Egypt and French encroachments on North Africa. But while Americans generally expressed support for Europe’s penetration of the Middle East, some railed in protest. The Kansan Richard J. Hinton, commander of an African American infantry unit during the Civil War, declared that while “the United States must lead in the regeneration of Asia, we cannot follow in the footsteps of our European cousins, and become aggressors.” The Reverend George Potts denounced Europe’s “bloody conquests” in the East as a “great national sin, which calls for…a painful…retribution.” Interviewed by the New York Times in November 1852, Potts, a Presbyterian, reminded Americans of their “duty as a just…and a God fearing nation to treat other nations as their neighbors, and not [to] emulate Europe’s territorial lust.”1
American ambivalence toward imperialism in the Middle East deepened in the closing quarter of the nineteenth century as the region pitched into protracted political turmoil. While the Europeans grappled with the Eastern Question—whether to preserve the “Sick Man of Europe,” as they pejoratively called Turkey, or to safely dispose of its pieces—native nationalist movements from Cyprus to the Balkans sought freedom from Ottoman rule. In an attempt to stem or at least monitor the breakdown, the great powers met in Berlin in 1878. There, Britain received control over Cyprus, and Russia secured independence for the Ottoman provinces of Serbia and Bulgaria. The international situation appeared to stabilize, but only briefly. Germany soon started supplying military advisers to Istanbul, while Italy laid claim to Libya. The Berlin agreements fell apart a mere three years later, in April 1881, when French troops crossed from Algeria into Tunisia, captured Tunis, and placed the entire country under a permanent trusteeship.
“It looks as though the French are coming here to stay,” Dr. George Washington Fish, the American consul in Tunis, sighed. A sixty-five-year-old former Union Army surgeon, Fish had turned to diplomacy after his wife and two children died of typhus. Such hardships may have made him callused, but the sight of French troops decimating the peaceful Tunisians still appalled him. “In plain Anglo-Saxon language…the French are…using the [Tunisian] government for their own purposes,” he protested. In contrast to Fish, though, the American press could barely contain its exuberance over the French offensive, with New York papers proclaiming, “Civilization gains whenever any misgoverned country passes under the control of a European race.” Harper’s magazine extolled the “brilliant and rapid campaign” that had “struck imaginations and revived memories of glorious periods of the past.”2
If divided in their reactions to the French occupation of Algeria and Tunisia, Americans might have been more uniform in their judgment of Britain’s invasion of Egypt. Unlike North Africa, Egypt had never waged war on the United States—relations between the two countries remained excellent—while Britain had twice fought the United States. On the other hand, the United States, with few educational and cultural institutions in the country and little interest in the Suez Canal, had always viewed Egypt as Britain’s bailiwick. American administrations from Grant to Garfield accordingly rejected Egyptian appeals for assistance against British rapaciousness. “What folly it would be for our government to meddle with the Egyptian Debt,” declared Assistant Secretary of State William Hunter in 1879, adding that “there is not a man in America who is interested” in relieving Egypt’s plight.
The bombardment of Alexandria again unleashed crosscurrents of sympathy and disgust in American attitudes toward imperialism. The Reverend Philip Schaff of New York hailed the British attack as a “triumph of the Cross over the Crescent,” but the Los Angeles Times denounced it as “a shameful act of flagrant barbarity.” Ulysses Grant predicted that Britain would emancipate Egypt as the Union had once freed Negro slaves, but Grant’s wartime aide Major General Adam Badeau deplored the invasion as “a reproach to the English nation and an outrage on the civilization of the age.” The depth of this confusion was best illustrated by the New York Times, which lauded the defeat of “fanatic…Arabs who might follow a new Caliph in a holy war,” but also decried England’s “everlasting shame,” fighting, again, for “taxation without representation.”3
Britain’s incursion into Egypt once more compelled the United States to choose between its allegiance to Western civilization and America’s legacy of anticolonialism. Were Americans, moreover, willing to stand by their anti-imperialist principles at the price of their own expanding global interests? Most Americans, viewing the events in Egypt from a distance of thousands of miles, could dwell on these ethical dilemmas. Others, though, witnesses to the British invasion, could not afford to deliberate. For them, ambivalence was an unaffordable luxury.
Reaping Egypt’s Whirlwind
Charles Chaillé-Long, the dandyish American officer who sought fame exploring Central Africa, had just completed his legal studies and received a diplomatic posting to Alexandria when the crisis in Egypt flared. At the request of the State Department, he joined a squadron of four U.S. gunboats attached to Britain’s Egypt-bound fleet. His task was to evacuate the small American community of Alexandria in the event of large-scale violence in the city. Though American warships were not involved in the attack, their very presence in Egyptian waters that July, genially exchanging salutes with British destroyers, indicated the degree to which Washington had resigned itself to Egypt’s inevitable submission.
From the bridge of the USS Galena, Chaillé-Long observed the furious exchange of fire between British and Egyptian guns. The epic scene was soon eclipsed, however, by the specter of flames engulfing the city and driving thousands of its residents toward the sea. Taking advantage of the Egyptian army’s defeat, rioters had rampaged through the most elegant Alexandrian neighborhoods, looting and torching houses and killing anyone they considered foreign—Frenchmen, Italians, Orthodox Christians, and Jews. British commanders, with orders only to bombard the city, not to occupy it, were powerless to stop these atrocities. But Chaillé-Long was incapable of merely watching. He mustered a force of 160 volunteers, sailors, and Marines armed with rifles and Gatling guns to try to secure the U.S. consulate and rescue as many of the survivors as possible.
The first forces ashore in the British incursion were, in fact, American. The scene that greeted them was grisly. “In the sea were a great number of ghastly bodies of men, women and children—swollen and inflated with gas,” Chaillé-Long recounted. Most of the victims, he noted, were “Levantine Jews,” slain as they ran from their burning houses, but among the estimated four hundred dead were also a number of Greek and Armenian Christians. “Men, women and children were seized, bound with ropes and dragged through the streets and after horrible torture and mutilation were killed, and the[ir] flesh…exposed for sale at mock auction.”
The Americans lunged into the inferno. They managed to extinguish some of the more threatening fires, to cordon off the consulate building, and to convert it into a temporary clinic and shelter. They patrolled the city, restoring a degree of order until the vanguard of the British forces finally landed four days later. During that time, some three hundred refugees were shuttled back to the squadron. “I corralled them all in the poop, French, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Syrians,” testified the captain of one of the U.S. ships, the Quinnebaug. “In the whole lot we had three Americans, two missionaries and a judge.”
For this daring operation, the United States received the thanks of several European states. Great Britain, above all, paid tribute to the “sailors and marines who…contributed to the preservation of life and property in Alexandria…when [it] was in the hands of pillagers and incendiaries.” But none of these governments supported Chaillé-Long’s proposal for changing the name of the rebuilt consular district from Place des Consuls to Place des Etats Unis, or for erecting a plaque commemorating “the Americans…who saved many Christian lives and saved the city of Alexandria.” Though he expressed a desire to stay on at the Alexandria consulate, the discoverer of Lake Kioga and the Ugandan source of the Nile was transferred to Korea. His request to remain in Egypt, explained one of the naval officers who befriended Chaillé-Long, must have been lost in the paperwork of America’s mounting international interests. “We dominate one-half of the world, and, in spite of ourselves, we are involved in the colonial interests of the other half.”4
Whatever his disappointments with the halfhearted reactions to his role in the British invasion, Chaillé-Long expressed no reservations about the attack itself. The khedive, he felt, was a corrupt and ineffectual ruler, and Egyptian nationalists were a bloodthirsty rabble of zealots. Not all the Americans residing in Egypt shared these judgments, however. Two men, in particular, both diplomats, adopted a radically divergent stance.
Elbert Eli Farman, the consul at Alexandria who had so adeptly procured Cleopatra’s Needle for New York, was outraged at the injustices he saw committed against Egypt. Farman listed several perpetrators of these crimes, among them the “evil genius” Ferdinand de Lesseps and the “Shylock Jewish bankers” who lured the country into debt. His keenest resentment, however, was reserved for the “aggressive European Powers,” which seemed determined to inflict “gross wrongs against small and weak countries.” As early as 1879, Farman foretold that Britain and France would soon foment domestic unrest in Egypt, creating a pretext for invasion. Later he would claim that the 1882 riots were “instigated by an English subject.”
If thoroughly disgusted with Great Britain, Farman expressed unqualified esteem for Ahmad ‘Urabi. Farman was representative of the growing number of American diplomats who sympathized with native nationalism and abhorred European imperialism. He also subscribed to the romantic image of the liberty-loving Arab, a favorite among American travelers from John Ledyard to Mark Twain. ‘Urabi, whose very name meant “desert-dweller” in Arabic, was a hero for Farman. “No patriot was ever more popular…[and] no patriot was ever less actuated by motives of personal ambition,” the consul declared. “He was the idol of his people.”
Farman was not alone in his adulation of ‘Urabi. Another admirer was Simon Wolf, the U.S. consul in Cairo. The latest example of the now institutionalized tradition of assigning American Jews to diplomatic positions in the Middle East, the Bavarian-born Wolf was the biographer of Mordecai Noah and a Washington lawyer who had cultivated a close rapport with both Lincoln and Grant. Appointed at the White House the day before President James Garfield was shot—the assassin was another attorney, furious over his failure to receive a consular post—Wolf arrived in Egypt on September 9, 1881, the day that ‘Urabi rebelled.5
New to the country and suffering from a stomach ailment that would plague him throughout his tenure, Wolf resolved to “act cautiously and feel [his] way slowly.” The Europeans, he intuited, would seize upon the slightest provocation to occupy Egypt and, in the process, spark a massacre of its foreign population. “Here on this limited chessboard, the game of European diplomacy is more or less played,” he informed the State Department, stressing that it was America’s duty to protect its citizens in Egypt and strive to avert catastrophe. With these goals in mind, Wolf requested the presence of three American warships near the Egyptian coast and sought to make contact with ‘Urabi.
The meeting took place on November 11, at the home of Lieutenant General Charles Stone, the lone remaining American adviser in Egypt. Wolf, solidly built with a shaved head, prominent nose, and handlebar mustache, may have noticed a certain resemblance between himself and ‘Urabi, but the affinity was more than physical. Wolf shared ‘Urabi’s belief that the Egyptians were “the natives and owners of the soil” and deserved to be free from oppression. After assuring him that the United States was “in no way mixed up in European or Levant politics,” and that he spoke as “a fellow-man, as an individual from…a free country…whose citizens had…themselves suffered tyranny and tasted the bitterness of an iron yoke,” Wolf urged ‘Urabi to show moderation and beware of “the Trojan Horse of French and English influence.” The consul then delivered a speech which, even in a nineteenth-century context, surely sounded unique: “As an Israelite, a brother of the Arab branch of the human family, I fully appreciate all [the Egyptians] long for. I feel grateful to Mahammadens for their shelter and protection and [the] freedom my brethren had enjoyed for years in Moslem countries.”
Impressed by this avowal, ‘Urabi promised to exercise “management and wisdom” and the utmost restraint. Wolf was jubilant. “There is scarcely a native but knows…that the United States are their friend; that we are not here to plunder and oppress but to aid and encourage.”6 By late spring, however, the consul’s autumnal optimism would seem baseless. Whatever self-control ‘Urabi demonstrated proved insufficient to stave off the deterioration of Egypt’s internal politics and to deny the British their justification for invading. In the ensuing melee, the American community in Cairo evacuated the city, with the exception of one family—General Stone’s.
With his silvery Vandyke, gold-braided uniform, and sparkling medals, Charles Stone at fifty-eight presented the image of both the elder statesman and an éminence grise. Behind the formidable façade, however, lay a guileless and intensely loyal servant to the causes in which he believed. In Egypt, Stone had seen his American staff officers defamed and dismissed and his beloved Isma’il exiled. He nevertheless remained faithful to Isma’il’s successor, staying by his side when ‘Urabi’s rebels threatened to burn down the khedival palace and British warships neared the Egyptian coast.
General Stone had another, no less unshakable allegiance. Widowed during the Civil War, Stone had remarried a former Louisianan named Jeannie and raised a family of four children. The outbreak of crisis divided that family, standing Stone and his thirteen-year-old son, John, in Alexandria, cut off from Jeannie and the three teenaged daughters in Cairo. Suddenly, the general was faced with the choice of either deserting Tawfiq in order to reunite with his loved ones or staying with the khedive and leaving his womenfolk to fend for themselves. He elected to stay, hoping to dissuade the British from invading or, failing that, from opening fire before the city’s eight thousand foreigners could be evacuated.
After seeing his son removed to the safety of the American warships, Stone spent the day of July 10 begging locally based British officials to intercede with their navy offshore. He found them “quietly eating their dinners in the city they were about to bombard, and jokingly discussing the probable effect of the heavy gun practice [on Alexandria].” Most British subjects had already left the city, Stone learned, and the bombardment was set to commence in twenty-four hours—too soon to withdraw all the foreigners from Cairo, 120 miles away. Stone now confronted an even more harrowing dilemma: whether to warn his wife of the impending battle and risk setting off a stampede of fleeing foreigners or to remain silent and pray for the best. “I felt that four ladies struggling in a railway station for [a] place, in the midst of a crowd of panic-stricken Europeans, would have but small chance [of survival],” he reasoned. Stone never sent the telegram.
Instead, he dashed heedlessly through the incoming barrage to visit barracks and hospitals, to tend to the wounded, and to urge the police to take action against the rioters. Everywhere chaos raged. “Crowds of women of all classes of society were rushing forth into the open country…the great number carrying each a small child and conducting other children; these, with old men who had hardly strength…to make their way.” When not engaged in humanitarian work, Stone continued to serve the khedive, keeping abreast of the military situation through reports smuggled into the palace in pin boxes or rolled up in pistol cartridges. Throughout, he was haunted by the thought of his family and the unspeakable ordeals they might suffer.
He indeed had much to worry about. Rather than joining the exodus from Cairo, the Stones barricaded themselves indoors, together with armaments and three months’ worth of provisions. Outside, in the street, Egyptian women ululated and pelted the house with rocks, while children cried “death to the Christians.” Even long-employed servants cursed the Americans. Apart from the occasional staff officer who managed to break through to the home, the family had no contact with the outside world and no word from the general. Jeannie Stone, a feisty forty-three-year-old, would not be intimidated, though. “There never lived an Arab who could frighten me,” she declared. Gathering her daughters in the kitchen, Mrs. Stone exhorted them to “be brave and face death like good soldiers” and to protect their virtue at all costs. “I expect you to save yourselves by putting a bullet through your heart,” she said. “Don’t leave it to me to do it.”
After more than two weeks of confinement, Jeannie decided that the only way to save her children was to lead them out herself. The staff officers who heard this plan were thunderstruck, convinced that all four women would be murdered. Their warnings went unheeded. “For once in our lives we created a sensation,” her youngest daughter, Fanny, recalled of the family’s carriage ride straight through the center of Cairo. “Every man, woman and child seemed petrified with astonishment on seeing four Christian ladies driving boldly through the streets.” On August 8, tired and dusty, but far from daunted by their experience, the Stones reached Port Sa’id, where their anxious father, waiting with outstretched arms on the bridge of the USS Quinnebaug, embraced them.7
That same month, a 20,000-man British expeditionary force under General Garnet Wolseley landed at Alexandria with orders to crush the ‘Urabi revolt. The decisive battle took place on September 13, at Tel el Kebir, where the British decimated almost all of Egypt’s army in roughly forty minutes. Captured, ‘Urabi was at first sentenced to death for sedition, but later exiled to Ceylon. Wolseley received the thanks of Parliament and a peerage from the queen. Tawfiq honored him with the Order of the Osmanie, Egypt’s highest distinction.
Elbert Farman, by contrast, was horrified. “Tel el-Kebir,” he wrote, “was a slaughter, rather than a battle.” He, too, was decorated by the khedive for meritorious service to Egypt but could not stand to watch as Wolseley’s troops invested Cairo. As soon as he completed his responsibilities helping to assess damages to the foreign community of Egypt, Farman returned to his law practice in Warsaw, New York, and became active in civic causes. Chaillé-Long also left Egypt an embittered man. ‘Urabi, in his eyes, was “a very bad soldier and a very poor prophet,” and the slogan “Egypt for the Egyptians” was little more than a “deception and a snare.” Simon Wolf, too, departed Cairo and resumed his life as a Washington attorney and philanthropist, a friend to Presidents McKinley and Wilson. Disgusted by what he regarded as Britain’s perfidy against ‘Urabi, Wolf predicted that the Egyptian people would someday rise up and cast off their European yoke. “The cup is full to overflowing,” he sermonized. “And he who sows the wind must reap the whirlwind.”8
Among the last of the Americans to exit Egypt was the redoubtable General Stone. Though awarded the Star of Egypt medallion for his meritorious service during the revolt, he felt “that Egypt had become a British province and all hope had vanished as to the building up of an independent state.” He continued to hold Britain responsible for provoking the massacre of Alexandria’s foreigners, while disparaging ‘Urabi’s prowess as a leader. In December 1883, Stone took his family and what remained of his library and papers—most had been ransacked by the British—and returned to his home on Long Island. He resumed his previous career as a civil engineer and soon began work on his life’s most monumental achievement, providing a timeless symbol for Americans and a beacon for the peoples of the Middle East.
Enlightening the World
The project was the brainchild of a man whom Stone had once met in Egypt, an Alsatian sculptor ten years his junior, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The idea originated in Bartholdi’s excursion to Luxor and his fascination with the area’s ancient statues. “Granite beings of imperturbable majesty,” the awestruck artist called them, remarking how their eyes appeared to be “fixed on the limitless future.” At that moment, the handsome, dark-haired Bartholdi resolved to replicate that magnificence and so ensure his own immortality. Inspiration again graced Bartholdi at the lavish opening ceremony of the Suez Canal. He would carve the likeness of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch of freedom. The monument, twice as high as the Sphinx, would guard the waterway’s entrance and perhaps double as a lighthouse. Its name would be Egypt (or Progress) Bringing Light to Asia.
Bartholdi spent two years making sketches and terra-cotta models of his concept and persuading Khedive Isma’il to finance the construction. By 1871, however, Isma’il was bankrupt and incapable of servicing his debts, much less investing in statuary. Distraught, Bartholdi sought solace in a cruise to the United States. While sailing into New York harbor, he passed the egg-shaped Bedloe’s Island and suddenly envisaged a new location for his icon—and a new meaning. Years of back-and-forth negotiations produced an arrangement in which the Americans would pay for the pedestal and France for the statue itself, to be constructed by Gustave Eiffel. There remained only to find a chief American engineer for the undertaking. Bartholdi remembered Stone.
The general, who had been imprisoned on Bedloe’s Island early in the Civil War, knew the area well. He acquired the assistance of James Morgan and Samuel Lockett, both veterans of the Egyptian service, and began erecting the eighty-nine-foot-high pedestal …