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Chapter V A Contemporary View Of Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

Lowry Heath W.*
The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

 !ä¿ÀP°="justify">CHAPTER V



Nor was the treatment accorded Talaat Bey by Morgenthau unique in any way. A similar comparison of the comments he made about Enver Pasha (and other Young Turk leaders), and the German Ambassador Wangenheim, with his actual opinions of their characters as recorded in his daily ‘Diary,’ in the ‘Letters’ to his family members, and even in the dispatches he sent to the Department of State in Washington, D.C., establishes a similar lack of veracity in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. The best that can be said in defense of Morgenthau’s rewriting of history is that between his departure from Turkey at the beginning of February, 1916 and two years later when the book was written in 1918, he must have radically altered his opinion about the cause and effect of events on which he had reported. An alternative explanation, and one which seems far more likely, is that he so truly believed in the justness of his goal to stir up public opinion in favor of President Wilson’s war policies, that he convinced himself he was serving the greater good by making crude stereotypes of three individuals (Talaat, Enver and Wangenheim), whose friendship and confidence he had shared throughout his tenure in Constantinople. Therefore he portrayed them as evil incarnate, in his desire to ‘personalize’ the evil of the war.

Did no one comprehend the enormity of the injustice perpetrated by Morgenthau’s book? This is the question which must occur to anyone who systematically compares the written records compiled by Morgenthau in the course of his twenty—six month sojourn in Turkey (a record which shows him to have been a fairly active participant in a very complex game of international politics), with the crude half—truths and outright falsehoods which typify his book from cover to cover. A single letter, fortuitously preserved among the Morgenthau papers in the Roosevelt Library,[105] addressed to the Ambassador by George A. Schreiner, proves that at least one of his contemporaries took strong exception to his efforts.

Dated December 11, 1918, the Schreiner letter, written by a distinguished foreign correspondent who had served in Turkey from February through the end of 1915, literally gives voice to all the queries we must have after this examination. We recognize Schreiner’s name from references to him in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story,[106] in the ‘Diary’ entries for 1915,[107] and from mention in the weekly family ‘Letters’ as well.[108] There can in fact be no question that Morgenthau and Schreiner saw quite a bit of one another in 1915 as the ‘Diary’ records the two men met on no less than thirty occasions between the dates of 9 February and 31 May.[109] In his book, Morgenthau refers to Schreiner as “the well—known American correspondent of the ‘Associated Press,’[110] while in the ‘Diary’ entry for February 9, 1915, he adds the Information that Schreiner was a “special travelling correspondent of the ‘Associated Press of America” whose stories were carried in “937 daily papers.”[111]

Schreiner, whose letter to Morgenthau was occasioned by a chance meeting in the State Department (in December, 1918) as well as by the fact that he had recenfly read Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, addressed him in the following terms:

“...I am writing this letter under the impression that the peace of the world will not gain by such extravagant efforts as yours. Before there can be understanding among peoples each must have the right perspective of things, and that perspective consists of knowing the true proportions of right and wrong...”

“Since I knew Baron Wangenheim probably better than you did, I do hope that future historians will pay little attention to what you said of the man. But it has ever been easy to slander the dead. You know as well as I do that the German ambassador was not at all the figure you and your collaborator have fashioned...

“Nor did you possess in Constantinople that omniscience and omnipotence you have arrogated unto yourself in the book. In the interest of truth I will also affirm that you saw little of the cruelty you fasten upon the Turks. Besides that you have killed more Armenians than ever lived in the districts of the uprising. The fate of those people was sad enough without having to be exaggerated as you have done. I have probably seen more of the Armenian affair than all the Armenian attaches of the American embassy together.

“...To be perfectly frank with you, I cannot applaud your efforts to make the Turk the worst being on earth, and the German worse, if that be possible. You know as well as I do, that Baron Wangenheim all but broke relations with the Turks on one occasion, when to his pleas for the Armenians he was returned a very sharp answer by Talaat Bey, then minister of the interior. Has it ever occurred to you that all governments reserve to themselves the right to put down rebellion? It seems to me that even Great Britain assumed that stand towards the Fathers of the Republic. That the effort of the Turk went beyond all reasonable limits is most unfortunate, but have you ever considered for a moment that in the East they do not view things with the eye of those of the occident?

“...I wonder what your erstwhile friends in Constantinople think of that effort. Enver especially fares poorly, and this after you had made so much of him. Is it not a fact that Enver Pasha was as enlightened a young leader as could be found? Of course, he was rather inexperienced, as you know somewhat impulsive and given to being confidential, often in the case of untrustworthy characters. Apart from that he was in no respect what you picture him. Of course, if we are to take it for granted that we of the West are saints, then no Turk is any good. You will agree with me, no doubt, that the Turks count among the few gentlemen still in existence.

“I do not want you to look upon this as a declaration of war. My purpose in mentioning these matters Is to let you know that there is at least one human being not afraid to break a lance with an ex—ambassador of the United States. Ultimately truth will prevail. I have placed my limited services at her command... Of diplomatic events on the Bosphorus more will be heard as soon as I can get at my notes and documents now in Europe. I do not rely on memory in such cases, as my book may have shown to you already. Being a newspaper man, instead of a diplomat, I must be careful in what I say.”[112]

Almost seventy—two years were to pass before Schreiner’s claim that “ultimately truth will prevail,’ was to even begin to tarnish the self—image of “omniscience and omnipotence” which Morgenthau attributed to himself in his ‘Story,’ and, before Morgenthau’s efforts “to make the Turk the worst being on earth,” were to be queried. Ironically, it was Morgenthau’s penchant for keeping old letters that accounts for the fortuitous survival of the Schreiner letter,[113]

Schreiner’s analysis of Morgenthau’s aims and objectives was correct. Without being privy to the Wilson—Morgenthau correspondence prior to the Ambassador’s decision to produce his book, Schreiner realized and rejected the rationale that such a work could in any way contribute to the “peace of the world,” due to its failure to distinguish the “true proportions of right and wrong.”

Likewise, he understood and rejected Morgenthau’s efforts to blacken the reputation of the deceased German Ambassador Wangenheim, as well as those of Talaat Bey and Enver Pasha, and the Turks in general. And he did so on the grounds that from first hand experience he knew that this was not the way Morgenthau actually felt while in Constantinople. Further, Schreiner rejects Morgenthau’s treatment of the Armenian persecutions, and charges him with having “killed more Armenians than ever lived in the districts of the uprisings.” In so doing, Schreiner makes the interesting point “that I have probably seen more of the Armenian affair than all the Armenian attaches of the American embassy together.” That he had indeed been an eyewitness to events in Anatolia is shown by an examination of Schreiner’s book on his experiences in Turkey: From Berlin to Baghdad: Behind the Scenes in the Near East,[114] in which he details meeting the first convoy of Armenian deportees (those who had revolted in Zeytun), on the road near Adana on April 26 1915.[115] Upon his return to Constantinople he wrote up these experiences and presented them to Morgenthau, thereby providing the Ambassador the first eyewitness account of the deportations he received. Indeed, the original of this document, dated and signed by Schreiner on May 24, 1915, is still preserved in the Morgenthau papers.[116]

Perhaps we owe the survival of the Schreiner letter in the Morgenthau material to the veiled threat with which it ends. When Schreiner states: “of diplomatic events on the Bosphorus more will be heard as soon as I can get at my notes and documents now in Europe,” Morgenthau may have taken it as a sign of Schreiner’s intent to place before the public the kinds of charges found in the letter. If that was the case, his fears were not rewarded, Schreiner did indeed write a book attacking Wilson’s habit of sending untrained individuals as Ambassadors to European capitals in wartime, and, as might be expected, Morgenthau is one of his case studies of this practice. However, The Craft Sinister, as his book was titled, adds little detail to the charges contained in the letter.[117] This despite a comment in his ‘Preface’ which leads the reader to think otherwise:

“It is to be hoped that the future historian will not give too much heed to the drivel one finds in the books of diplomatist—authors. I at least have found these books remarkably unreliable on the part played by the author, It would seem that these literary productions are on a par with the ‘blue books’ published by governments for the edification of the public and their own amusement, as in some cases I wift show.”[118]

What Schreiner contents himself with doing, in a chapter titled “Diplomacy in Turkey,” Is to detail the close relationship which existed between Morgenthau and his German counterpart, Baron Wangenheim, and, likewise, the very warm friendship in which Morgenthau held Enver Pasha. He prefaces his remarks on the Wangenheim-Morgenthau relationship by saying:

“But the books of diplomatists must not be taken too seriously. The ambassador who avers that from the very inception of trouble he was with this or with that side may be doing nothing more than presenting just one side of his attitude, with slight exaggerations, possibly. The fact in this case is, Mr. Morgenthau was well liked by the German diplomatists in Pera, and, long after the outbreak of the War, was not averse to being known as a friend of Baron Wangenheim.”[119]

As for Morgenthau’s contacts with Talaat Bey and Enver Pasha, Schreiner writes:

“Among the men who especially cultivated the new United States ambassador was Enver Pasha, who was a welcome guest at the teas or luncheons of Mme. Morgenthau long after Turkey had entered the War. Talaat Bey, too, was on the best terms with the American ambassador, and so were a number of other officials and officers.”[120]

Anyone doubting the accuracy of Schreiner’s statements in this regard has only to peruse the pages of Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ and family ‘Letters.’ As late as January 12, 1916, just two weeks before he left Constantinople for good, Morgenthau records the following exchange with Talaat Bey:

“I then tried for Talaat Bey and he agreed to receive me. We called on him and found him in very good humor... In speaking about our not seeing each other, I told him he should come to see me. He told me he could not come until he was Invited. So I asked him for what he wanted to be invited, lunch or supper. He preferred luncheon, so I invited him and asked whom else I should invite. He said Halil [Minister of Foreign Affairs]. I said aliright and he said you need not invite him, I will bring him, I can answer for him.”[121]

Three days later, on 15 January, Morgenthau recorded his reaction to the luncheon in the following terms:

“At 12:30 Talaat and Halil came and we went over our business and then we had lunch at which Philip and Schmavonian joined us. It was a very strange proceeding so to say to have the government come to me to transact business.

“We had a very elegant luncheon, and they both, as I told them ‘the stout members of the Cabinet,’ displayed extraordinary appetite.. “[122]

It is simply impossible to reconcile the above bantering tone, which a scant two weeks prior to Morgenthau’s final departure from Turkey still marked the two men’s relationship, with the portrayal of Talaat Bey as a devil Incarnate which permeates Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story from beginning to end.

The fact is, as Schreiner said so openly In his letter to Morgenthau, and as a comparison between the facts as recorded in Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ and ‘Letters’ and the text of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story so clearly illustrates, the book is a fictionalized account woven around real events and real characters in such a manner as to give it the gloss of factual history.


[105] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Schreiner to Morgenthau letter of December 11, 1918.
[106] AMS: p.225: Interestingly, Morgenthau claims to have “secured permission” for Schreiner to visit the war—zone in the Dardanelles, a statement strongly contradicted both by the testimony of the Morgenthau ’Diary’ entries dealing with his relationship with the journalist, and, in the Schreiner letter as well. In regard to Morgenthau’s claim, Schreiner wrote: “Such minor matters as t hat you were responsible for my trip to the Dardanelles, when that was not at all the case, I can afford to overlook...” (FDR: HMS — Box No. 12) —Schreiner to Morgenthau letter of December 11, 1918.
[107] LC: PHM — Reel No. 5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entries for 1915 show that Schreiner visited on the following dates: 2/9,2/10, 2/11,2/14, 2/15,2/16 (twice), 2/18, 2/20, 2/22,2/23,2/25,2/26,2/27,3/2,3/16,4/5,4/6(twice),4/9,4/13,4/1,4/17, 4/18,4/22, 5/23, 5/24, 5/31, 6/8, 7/2, 7/12, 8/9, 8/27, and 8/29/1915.
[108] FDR: HMS — Box No.7: Family ‘Letter’ of March 15,1915, p.9, where Morgenthau comments on Schreiner, who was covering the Dardanelles campaign at the time of Morgenthau’s two—day visit, in the following terms: “We the;returned to our ship where I was nwt by flue two American reporters, one representing the American Associated Press, and flue other the Chicago Daily News, and I willingly submitted to an interview. They acted like a couple of young fellows off on a fishing trip. They told me they were being very well treated and give;every opportunity to witness the fight. They are both strongly pro—German. Schreiner, of the Associated Press, was born in South Africa and fought against the English there. The ot her one, Swing is flue grandson of a former President of Holyoke College.” (LC: PHM — Reel No. 5: ‘Diary’ entries for February—March, 1915).
[109] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entries for dates between February 9, 1915 and May 31, 1915.
[110] AMS: p. 225.
[111] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for February 9, 1915.
[112] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Schrciner to Morgenthau letter of December 11, 1918.
[113] While scattered throughout several reels of the ‘Library of Congress: Papers of Henry Morgenthau’ material, there are letters dealing with the book, most are clearly in the nature of congratulatory notes. Schreiner’s is the only example of a letter written by a close acquaintance of Morgenthau in the Constantinople period expressing strong disagreement with the views set forth in the book.
[114] Among the numerous publications of George A. Schreiner, that dealing in greatest detail with his assignment in Turkey, is: From Berlin to Bagdad: Behind the Scenes in the Near East. New York (Harper & Brothers), 1918. Strangely, this 350 page detailed diary—like account of the nine month period in 1915 which Schreincr spent in Turkey, seldom if ever is mentioned in ‘Bibliographies’ of books dealing with the period of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. It is an eyewitness account to some of the most significant clashes of the Dardanelles campaign and many other interesting events. (Hereafter: Schreiner, Near East).
[115] Schreiner, Near East: pp. 183—213, a chapter titled: “Armenia’s Red Caravan of Sorrow,” is evidently the earliest eyewitness account of the 1915 Armenian deportations.
[116] LC: PHM—Reel No. 22: A two—page single spaced typewritten document, bearing the title: “Statements concerning Armenians met on road from Bozanti to Tarsus” and signed: George A. Schreiner — Constantinople, May 24, 1915.
[117] George A. Schreiner, The Craft Sinister: A Diplomatico—Political History of tlue Great War and its Causes—Diplomacy and International Politics amid Diplomatists as Seen at Close Range by an American Newspaperman who Served in Central Europe as War and Political Correspondent. New York (C. Albert Geyer), 1920. For American diplomacy in Turkey, see: pp.110—135 in particular. (Hereafter: Schreiner, Craft Sinister).
[118] Schreiner, Craft Sinister: p. xxi.
[119] Schreiner, Craft Sinister: p. 126.
[120] Ibid
[121] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry of January 12, 1916.
[122] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for January 15, 1916.

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