Blood and Sand
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
“The scheming of Britain, France, and the United States over oil, politics, and power helped create and fuel the problems of the Middle East for decades afterward. Nations and peoples were used as assets or weapons. The enemies of enemies were falsely considered to be friends. Lines were drawn in the sand, blown away, and drawn again. All of this was done with precious little foresight about where it might lead.” (p.447, Blood and Sand, Von Tunzelmann.)
The above is a very ominous quote near the end of the book Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace by Alex Von Tunzelmann (2016 HarperCollins). One of the strangest parts of the Cold War is how much people today—especially younger people—have very little understanding of the Cold War. They often see it as an odd period of paranoia their parents and grandparents had to endure. In truth, the Cold War was far from ‘cold,’ and at times, we were closer to full nuclear war than at any time in our present history. Alex Von Tunzelmann’s book Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace is a stunning display of writing and scholarship. It takes you on a roller coaster ride through events that would ultimately shape the Middle East as we know it today—including the crisis issues that we face from terrorism to the Palestinian-Israeli unrest to bloody civil wars.
For terrorism and extreme forms of Islam, the U.S. can take a great deal of responsibility, as it funded and supported the more extreme forms of Islam with the logic that a zealous religious platform would make the leadership and people immune to Communism, as Communism was staunchly atheistic. At the time, it was never considered that one day the very same people we supported would later form groups such as Al-Qaeda who would then orchestrate September 11th. There were tons of moments throughout the book where you could trace our current nightmare in the Middle East (which has currently claimed the lives of thousands of American soldiers and even more civilians) to many of the Cold War policies that were laid out in the nineteen fifties. “The Eisenhower Doctrine  declared that the United States would now assert its primacy as an international player in the Middle East. Britain’s sterling crisis showed how weak its grip in that region was, and how easily it could be lost if the oil dried up. The Suez crisis did not itself trigger political changes such as Britain’s decolonization of Africa and Asia, but it exposed the existing trend of British decline and American ascendancy—and once that trend was exposed, it was unstoppable.” (Blood and Sand, p.448). “Eisenhower singled out the Soviet threat in his doctrine by authorizing the commitment of U.S. forces ‘to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism.’” (history.state.gov)
Essentially, the Suez crisis led to a serious decline in Britain’s economic, moral, and military standing, leaving two giants to turn whole regions into pawns in a game. It was interesting that after all of America’s high ground regarding Europe and colonization, America would exercise a more nuanced form under the Eisenhower Doctrine.
It is wrong, however, to judge historical events in black and white moral terms, as it’s also important to note that while Britain, France, and Israel were embarking on an illegal attack on Egypt, Soviet Russia was fully attacking Hungary, ruthlessly killing civilians, as Hungary had made a strong bid for independence—thinking that the West would back them up. However, the West did not, and the country was then brutally occupied. Eisenhower feared that if he backed Hungary, a full nuclear clash might occur, and so he had a terrible decision to make—which was to solely use the U.N. without any other support beyond condemnation. So, while using regions for indirect chess playing had led us to the war-torn Middle East with no end in sight, the proxy game of chess still kept direct conflict and nuclear war at bay between the superpowers during the Cold War (which was what Eisenhower saw as his primary, moral obligation).
Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace is an amazing book, and I cannot recommend it enough. Alex von Tunzelmann is a gifted writer, and the book reads like a spy thriller. Yet, she has a direct source to back everything she says up. I loved it, and I found I loved having a bit more insight as to how we got into this mess regarding the Middle East—how centuries of European colonization in Africa and Asia, World War II, and the rise of Soviet Russia would all have a role in the forming of our world today. I can honestly say that even though it was a history book, it was nearly impossible to put down—dinner was late every evening in my house, as I could not stop reading. Also note that I checked out my copy at the library, so this need not be a costly adventure—and trust me, the reward will far outweigh any hassle in getting hold of a copy.
Lastly, a note on history. We post a lot of blogs on history here at Twenty-two Twenty-eight. Current events and the future filled with unknowns can often make us feel powerless; however, nothing is more empowering than taking up history. Perhaps if more people did, then— “Many of them did warn their governments of the likely consequences of giving succor to extreme religious organizations, dividing up territories, building up tyrants, and creating wars. Their advice was too often discarded.” (Blood and Sand, P.447)
Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace by Alex Von Tunzelmann, published by HarperCollins, 2016. (Photo Source: Amazon)