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Chapter VI Why Bother With Ambassador Morgenthau's Story Today?

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

 .F™DP="justify">CHAPTER VI



WHY BOTHER WITH AMBASSADOR MORGENTHAU’S STORY TODAY?

“Were this book to have remained simply the memoirs of a successful real—estate developer, turned campaigr fund—raiser, who was rewarded for his efforts not with the cabinet post of Secretary of the Treasury, which he sought, but with the lesser political plum of Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, we could forget Henry Morgenthau as the world would have done half a century ago But this is not the case. In 1990, seventy—two years after its initial appearance, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story is still in print. In the same year it has been repeatedly cited on the floors of the U.S. Congress, by a host of well—meaning Senators, as proof of the fact that the Young Turk Government planned and carried out a ‘genocide’ against its Armenian minority.[123] Currenfly, a number of ‘Genocide and Holocaust Studies Curricula Guides’ which are in use in high schools in the U.S. expose students to passages from the book as furnishing examples of the twisted minds that can plan and perpetrate a genocide, etc. etc.[124] In short, far from having found the well—earned rest it deserves, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story remains today a lynch pin in the body of literature which has and continues to present the Turks as some of the unrepentant genocidal villains of history.

While the purpose of the present study is less an examination of the question of whether or not the fate of the Ottoman Armenians ought to be described as ‘genocide,’ and more of an attempt to distinguish between the reality and the fantasy in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, we must need be cognizant of the broader implications it suggests.

In addition to his role as the U.S. envoy in Constantinople, Morgenthau must be seen as the key figure in disseminating reports to the rest of the world about the wartime suffering of the Ottoman Armenians. Indeed, there are three names generally associated with spreading the Armenian saga while the war continued. They are Lord Bryce, whose 1916 compilation of documents entitled: The Treatment of Armentans in the Ottoman Empire,[125] sounded the first alert; the German Protestant Pastor Johannes Lepsius, whose 1917-18 Le Rapport Secret du Dr. Johannes Lepsius sur les Massacres D’Armenie,[126] spread word to the rest of Europe; and, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, which appeared simultaneously in Europe and the United States in 1918. What is less known is the relationship between these three works, and, in particular, the role played by Henry Morgenthau in each of them.

On July 31, 1915, Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ contains -the following account of the first meeting between the American envoy and the German Pastor Lepsius:

“At 3 p.m. Dr. Johannes Lepsius, from Potsdam, called. He told us a great deal about the Armenian matters and was anxious to know what we knew... Lepsius seems to be really in earnest to do something. He suggests going to Geneva from here and appeal to the International Red Cross, heads of the neutral nations, and Pope join in universal protest.”[127]

The family ‘Letter’ which discusses this meeting repeats the above and adds the following: “I arranged an interview between Tsamados, the Greek Charge d’Affaires and Lepsius, as the Professor wanted to know how the Greeks were treated.”[128] So impressed was Morgenthau by this meeting that on the very same day he sent a cipher telegram to the State Department requesting permission to provide all the information the Embassy had on file to Lepsius. In his words:

“The Doctor [Lepsius] proposed to submit matter to International Red Cross for common action to try to induce Germany to demand a cessation of these horrors. He earnestly requests access to information Embassy has on file. Will give him if Department has no objection.[129]

Though the request for access to information originated with Lepsius, the tone of Morgenthau’s cipher makes it absolutely clear that he concurred with it.

As a follow—up to their 31 July meeting, Morgenthau invited Lepsius to dinner on the evening of August 3 1915. Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ entry for that day records the following on their discussion:

“We had a long and full discussion about Armenian affairs. Lepsius told us about his past activities in the matter... Lepsius thinks little can be done at present to stop the deportations but that he will go to Switzerland, Geneva, to stir up International Red Cross. I told him that he should see Helferich, and explain to him that this will be the economic  destruction of Turkey and that the Germans would find empty husk when they obtained possession. I sent for Schmavonian and he came and participated in the discussion after supper.”[130]

On August 6, 1915, Morgenthau received a cipher telegram from Secretary of State Robert Lansing in Washington which stated that: “You are authorized to use your discretion in matter of giving Lepsius access to files “[131]

Then on August 11, 1915, Lepsius once again visited Morgenthau and informed him that he “had expected to have interview with Enver that afternoon but had little hopes of accomplishing anything; that the authorities seemed set upon carrying through their scheme.”[132]

On 14 August, Lepsius visited Morgenthau once again. The ‘Diary’ provides the following account of their meeting:

“Lepsius called, I gave him some of the reports to read and a translation of an Arabian pamphlet. He told me all about his interview with Enver. [He] was surprised how freely Enver talked to him about their plans to rid themselves of the Armenians. Enver told him that this was their opportunity and they were going to use it. He told him about the same thing that he had told me,”[133]

The family ‘Letter’ of August 23, 1915 contains a passage which serves to clarify somewhat the opening sentence of the ‘Diary’ entry, due to the fact that from the ‘Diary’ it is unclear whether Morgenthau simply let Lepsius look over some reports (“I gave him some of the reports to read”), or whether he actually was given copies of the reports from the Embassy files. The ‘Letter’ indicates that in fact Lepsius was provided copies of the materials:

“Dr. Lepsius called and I gave him some of the reports we had received from our various Consuls and also the translation of a pamphlet written In Arabic,”[134]

Even without the above passages, a simple comparison of the accounts published in the Lepsius books with the reports submitted to Morgenthau by his Consuls and the American missionaries alike, would serve to establish that Morgenthau was a key source for the Lepsius work, Given the fact that Lepsius spent only a month in the Ottoman capital during the war, and that the number of German missionaries in the interior of Anatolia was relatively small, it is not surprising that much of his material on the deportations should have been derived from American Protestant missionary sources. The fact that Morgenthau’s “discretion” consisted of giving Lepsius open access to his Embassy’s flies and copies of their contents, suggests that he may well have been stretching the intent of Lansing’s instructions to their limit.

Even more interesting is the fact that Morgenthau apparently chose to interpret Lansing’s semi—approval in the case of Lepsius to mean that he was free to use his “discretion” whenever the occasion arose. And arise it did. Less than a month after receiving Lansing’s cipher, Morgenthau received a letter from Lord James Bryce, with whom he had become acquainted in the course of a 1914 trip to Palestine.

Bryce, who had already lent his name to Wellington House’s propaganda usage of atrocity stories, in the case of the Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages, or the ‘Bryce Report,’ as it was commonly known, after commenting on the reports of “shocking massacres committed on the Armenians,” comes to the real purpose of his letter, He asks:

“If any reports come to your Embassy from the American missionaries scattered through Asiatic Turkey which would cast light on the situation, possibly you would allow me to see them occasionally. Your own consular reports would of course be sent to your own Government only.”[135]

If Morgenthau bothered to request permission in this instance, a thorough examinationof his papers and of the General Records of the U.S. Department of State, where, presumably copies of his cables should be, has failed to uncover it. But he certainly wasted no time in responding to Lord Bryce’s request. Even a preliminary comparison of the documents in Bryce’s 1916 The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, with ‘the preserved copies of the reports submitted to Morgenthau, clearly establishes the extent to which he served as a source for Bryce.[136] Nor was he bothered by Bryce’s reminder (or was it a hint to the contrary?) that his own ‘consular reports’ should of course be sent only to the State Department. For, within a few months of their submission the reports of the American Consul J.B, Jackson from Aleppo were published, albeit anonymously, in the Bryce volume.[137]

That this was no coincidence, i.e., that the British had not gotten hold of this material from other sources, is confirmed by no less an authority than Morgenthau himself, who, writing in the Red Cross Magazine of March, 1919 said the following about his role in supplying material to Bryce:

“I took occasion, in order that the facts might be accurately recorded, to have careful records kept of the statements which were made to me by eye—witnesses of the massacres. These statements included the reports of refugees of all sorts, of Christian missionaries, and of other witnesses... Much of the materiat which I collected has already been published in the excellent volume of documentary material collected by Viscount Bryce.”[138]

When one realizes that this material which forms the backbone of what was one of the most effective pieces of wartime propaganda directed against the Turks was supplied to British intelligence by a neutral United States Ambassador where it was published as part of the British efforts to stir up the American public opinion against the Turks and Germans,with an eye to getting America into the war, one can not help but wonder about the discretion of Morgenthau himself.[139] Nor was the Bryce report the only British propaganda effort to make use of the Morgenthau material. Arnold Toynbee, described in one study on British propaganda during the First World War, as “the distinguished historian and member of Wellington House who became something of a specialist in atrocity propaganda, described and condemned the Turks in Armenian Atrocities: Murder of a Nation (London, 1915) and The Murderous Tyranny of the Turk (London, 1917).”[140] What is not mentioned is the fact that many of the atrocity stories published by Toynbee in the 1915 work, were supplied by none other than Henry Morgenthau.[141]

Leaving aside the all important question of the value of the material supplied by Morgenthau, one fact is indisputable, namely, his key role in the genesis of all the wartime atrocity books relating to the Turkish treatment of Armenians. Through his role as a conduit for material flowing to the German Lepsius and England’s Lord Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, et,al., Henry Morgenthau was a major factor in the shaping of American public opinion vis-a-vis Turks and Armenians long before he ever approached President Wilson late in 1917 with the project which ultimately became Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.
 
That such an important book has not until this monograph ever been the subject of a single published study, would be inconceivable in any historical field except that narrow subffield known as ‘Turco—Armenian History,’ where all too often, raw emotion serves as a substitute for dispassionate scholarship, and propaganda passes for history.

What can be said of scholars working on the Armenian ‘genocide,’ who, in publication after publication, over the past decades quote the outright lies and half— truths which permeate Morgenthau’s ‘Story’ without ever questioning even the most blatant of the inconsistencies?[142] This, despite the fact that their bibliographies indicate that they have utilized the Morgenthau Papers in the Library of Congress collections wherein the ‘Diary’ is preserved.[143]
 
One can not help but wonder how many of the young Armenians who turned to the terrorist assassinations of Turkish officials (and bystanders) in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, were influenced by reading Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story? How many of them came to view innocent individuals not even born at the time of the First World War as fair game for terrorist attack simply because they were ethnic descendants of Talaat Bey, who (according to Morgenthau) bragged that he had “accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem in three months than Abdul Hamid accomplished in thirty years.”

The duty of scholars is to find, nourish and preserve truth. It should not be to help perpetuate hate by disseminating fantasy as fact and outright lies as truth. Henry Morgenthau, Sr. has been dead for forty—four years. It is long past the time that his book should likewise be laid to rest. His legacy rightfully lies in the ‘Diary,’ his family ‘Letters’ and his cabled dispatches and written reports in the form of letters submitted to the U.S. Department of State during his twenty-six month stay in Turkey. They, and they alone, are the real Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.


[123] The’Congressional Records—Senate’ for the dates of February 20—22 and 27,1990 are full of references to Morgenthau’s ‘Story’ as proof of contention that the Ottoman Armenians were victims of a Turkish perpetrat ed ‘genocide’ during World War I.
[124] A good case in point (one of many) is the Margot Stern Strom and William S. Parsons, Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior. Water.town, Massachusetts (International Education), 1982, a curriculum which is widely used in a variety of states throughout the country. In pp.316—382 of this guide a chapter titled: “The Armenians — A Case of a Forgotten Genocide — Do We Learrr From Past Experiences?,” makes frequent use of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, including lengthy quotations on pp. 322—323, 367—68 and 372.
[125] Great Britain: Time Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. With a Preface by Viscount Bryce. London (Hodder & Stoughton), 1916. This tome of over 700 pages in length was actually compiled by the historian, Arnold Toynbee. (Hereafter: Toynbee: Treatment).
[126] Lepsius, Johannes: Le Rapport Secret du Dr. Johannes Lepsius sur les Massacres d’Armenie. Paris (Payot & Cie.). 1918.
[127] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for July 31, 1915.
[128] FDR: HMS — Box No.8: Morgenthau ‘Letter’ of August 9, 1915, p.9.
[129] NA: Record Group 59: 867.4016/83 for text of Morgenthau to Secretary of State telegram of July 31, 1915. Scealso:LC:PHM—Reel No. 7: ‘Paraphrase’ in Morgenthau papers of cipher telegram to the Department of State, dated July 31, 1915.
[130] LC: PHM—Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for August 3,1915.
[131] NA: Record Group 59: 867.4016/83 telegram of August 4, 1915 from Lansing to Morgenthau. See also: LC: PHM — Reel No. 7: ‘Paraphrase’ in Morgenthau papers of cipher telegram from Lansing in Washington dated 4 August and received August 6, 1915.
[132] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for August 11, 1915.
[133] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for August 14, 1915.
[134] FDR:HMS-Box No.8:Morgenthau 'Letter' dated August 23,1915,p.5.
[135] LC: PHM — Reel No. 7: Bryce to Morgenthau letter of August 7, 1915. For a discussion of the manner in which Lord Bryce lent the credibility of his name to the propaganda efforts of Wellington House which were designed to bring the United States into the war, see: Michael Sanders & Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda During the First World War, 1914—1918. London (The Macmillan Press), 1982. pp. 143—144. (Hereafter: Sanders/Taylor, Propaganda).
[136] Morgenthau’s papers, in particular: LC: PHM— Reels No. 7 and 22, contain copies of a large number of missionary, consular and traveler reports, submitted to Morgenthau between early May and the end of 1915.
[137] See, for example, Toynbee, Armenians: p. 547: ‘Aleppo: Series of Reports From a Foreign Resident at Aleppo; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief: Report dated 12th May 1915.’ The “foreign resident” at Aleppo was none other than the American Consul J.B. Jackson, and the passage in question is taken directly from a report he submitted to Morgenthau (See: LC: PHM -Reel No. 7).
[138] Henry Morgenthau, The Greatest Horror in History, Red Cross Magazine (March, 1919), p.8.
[139] Sanders/Taylor, Propaganda: pp. 144—46.
[140] Sanders/Taylor, Propaganda: pp. 145—46.
[141] A comparison of the contents of Arnold J. Toynbee’s: Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation. London (Hodder & Stoughton), 1915, and The Murdero us Tyranny of time Turks. London (Hodder & Stoughton), 1917, with the missionary, consular, and traveler reports preserved in the Morgenthau papers (See: LC: PHM — Reels Nos. 7 and 22) establishes this fact. On the basis of the surviving record it is impossible to state with certainty that Morgenthau passed the material directly to Bryce/Toynbee. He may have done so through intermediaries.
[142] A case in point is the Armenian—American scholar Richard G. Hovannisian, who from his early works such as: Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918. Berkeley (University of California), 1967. p.52 until the recent:
Richard G. Hovannisian, cd., The Armenian Genocide in Perspective. New Brunswick (Transaction Books), 1986: pp.29—30 (in his article entitled: “Historical Dimensions, 1878-4923,” and,again on p.112 in his article: “The Armenian Genocideand Patterns of Denial”), makes frequent use of quotations from Morgenthau. Clearly, Hovannisian, whose current activities focus on lecturing and writing on those who attempt to deny the historical reality of the Armenian ‘genocide’ (most recently, his: “Patterns of Denial Fail to Veil Genocide,” in Armenian ?nternational Magazine. Volume 1., No. 1 (July, 1990), pp. 16—17), might benefit from a more careful examination of the sources upon which he bases his characterization of the fate of the Ottoman Armenians.
[143] Richard C. Hovannisian, The Armenian Holocaust: a Bibliography Relating to the Deportations, Massacres, and Dispersion of the Armenian People, 1915—1923. Cambridge, Massachusetts (Armenian Heritage Press), 1980. On page 13, in alistingof collections of papers preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Hovannisian makes the following reference to the Morgenthau papers: “Henry Morgenthanu, Sr. (includes hundreds of reports about the massacres and the Ambassador’s futile attempts to intercede).” Despite the fact that such ‘reports’ number in the dozens rather than the hundreds, Hovannisian’s statement implies (given the absence of published studies in 1980 based on these papers), that he must indeed have examined the ‘Papers of Henry Morgenthau’ preserved in the Library of Congress
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