The Spoils

His Britannic Majesty's Government's Colonial Office
Secret Policy Note · March 25th, 1915

The document that follows was in all likeliness penned by British Colonial Secretary (i.e. Minister of the Colonies) Lewis Harcourt and can be found in the British National archives. There are several reasons for publishing it at this point in time—May 2009, soon one hundred years after the beginning of the most encompassing and concentrated constellation of massacres hitherto committed by mankind upon itself.

Above all, the intention is to pay a tribute, albeit a modest one, to the work of this remarkable author and journalist of our time, Robert Fisk, more specifically with reference to his 2005 book The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Not only because we find in Harcourt's memo, glaringly documented, the duplicity and the arrogance of the lords of the world's empires upon which Fisk has elaborated in depth, but also insofar as this document is exemplary of a notable aphorism:

“The key to understanding the present lies in our understanding the past, and the key to understanding the past lies in our understanding the present.”

Little doubt is there that a Robert Fisk would promptly discern the parallels between the policies and strategies of our time and those that emanate from this piece of archive. Very likely, he would also lose no time in pinpointing the seeds of our day's focal points of injustice and conflict that were being sown back then in the furtive secrecy of the British Empire's corridors. In particular, we should take note of the fact that Harcourt wrote this memo two-and-a-half years before the infamous Balfour Declaration, generally considered as a prominent landmark in the process that has brought immense distress to the people of the land known as Palestine.

What this document clearly discloses is that
the continuity ascertainable in contemporary matters of economic, military and cultural dominance—a continuity which spans over the decades—did not emerge from an existential void.

Ironically, Harcourt's lack of far-sightedness is no less significant than his blunt display of imperial hubris, in consideration of the indebtedness of His Majesty's Empire to U.S. banks by the end of World War I—much later than he was expecting—in November 1918, as well as samesaid empire's de facto demise within the subsequent four decades or so. At the time of this writing, twenty years have passed since one of the two entities that took Britain's place on the scene has also fallen apart, and the whole planet is currently witnessing (and enduring) the death throes of the first nation-based empire that believed it could dominate the entire planet. Whether a trans-national empire (Atlanticist or of another ilk) will be able or not to stride in its steps remains to be seen.

Harcourt, as evidenced both by the tone of this document and his
Wikipedia entry (for a cursory overview only, cautiously peppered with the proverbial grain of salt: reliance on Wikipedia, a service notable for being susceptible to easy manipulation by characters with less-than-respectable agendas, is not hereby being condoned), was a distinctly unsavoury type. Yet, his supremacism differs by no means from that of his colleagues-in-arms at the helm of the British Empire, not excluding Winston Churchill, nor for that matter from the supremacism of the countless platforms which at some time or other in history have trodden upon the weaker of their fellow contemporaries.

Anyone inclined to gloat over the decadence of Harcourt's world would do well to remember that History, in essence, is a never-ending story.

March 25 1915    

  [This Document is the Property of His Britannic Majesty's Government.]  

Printed for the use of the Cabinet.     March 1915.  (1915) 13.   

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WE seem to be forced by the possible capture of Constantinople into a premature discussion of a division of the yet unacquired spoils of the whole war.
As I am specially concerned with German colonies, I am drawn into the consideration of the whole question.
The following observations are based on the presumption that the Allies are completely successful and able to dictate any terms they choose to Germany, Austria, and Turkey.

1. I assume that we shall retain some part of Mesopotamia, possibly as far as from the Persian Gulf to Bagdad, mainly on the ground stated by Lord Crewe that this fertile land would give an outlet for Indian emigration.
2. If Persia became involved it would be desirable that part of of the neutral zone containing the oil fields and the province of Fars should pass under British control.
3. It would also be an advantage, in view of Russian predominance in Northern Persia, if the capital and seat of Government could be transferred from Tehran to some more southern or eastern town.
4. It has been suggested that, if Russia is at Constantinople, we should occupy Alexandretta—

(a.) to command the Bagdad Railway terminus,
(b.) as a naval base to protect Egypt and our sea
route to India from Russian attack.

5. (a) Seems to necessitate our control or occupation of all Mesopotamia and the Bagdad Railway, which would be a costly and onerous obligation, though with great expenditure on irrigation the valley of the Euphrates would probably be made very fertile and perhaps remunerative.
6. As to (b), Alexandretta does not seem by any means an ideal naval base for the protection of Egypt against Russian attack.
It is an open roadsted and the cost of a harbour would be considerable.
For purely naval purposes the fine harbour of Marmarice on the mainland due north of Rhodes, or the island of Mitylene, with its great land-locked inlets, would seem to be preferable. Mitylene commands the exit from the Dardanelles and the Gulf of Smyrna.
But I am very doubtful whether we should be wise to add to the number of our hostages to fortune in the Mediterranean.

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7. France claims Syria and the Taurus, but it is not certain that this is intended to include Alexandretta.
I think it would be unfortunate if France became the guardian of the Christian Holy Places in Palestine.
I should like to see them in British hands, (and perhaps governed from Egypt), or, if that is impossible, I have heard a suggestion that they might be under the protection of the United States.
8. If Italy comes into the war it might be possible, and would be advantageous to us, to exchange British Somaliland, which is contiguous to Italian Somaliland, for the Italian Erithrea, on the Red Sea, which adjoins the Soudan and Abyssinia. we might, if necessary, give them some accomodation at Solum on the frontier of Tripoli and Egypt for this object.
9. All the German possessions in the Pacific have now been taken from her.
Samoa is under the control of New Zealand, Japan is temporarily in occupation of all the islands north of the equator, and Australia all the islands south of the equator. It is out of the question to part with any of the territories now in occupation of Australia and New Zealand.
Japan evidently intends to claim the possession at the end of the war of all the islands she is now occupying, with the possible exception of Yap.
I fear that this will cause great trouble with Australia, especially as regards the Marshall Islands, the trade of which has been, even under German rule, exclusively with Australia.
The United States is not likely to be pleased at Japanese extension eastward in the Pacific.
10. There remain the German colonies in Africa, all of which I assume we shall have captured by the end of the war.
11. If German South-West Africa is occupied by the Union Government, it must obviously be retained as part of the British Empire, unless the Union Government and Portugal were willing to exchange it for the Portuguese possessions on the east coast of Africa, including Delagoa Bay, Beira and Mozambique. This exchange would effect a consolidation of Portuguese and British territory, and probably be to the advantage of each ; but it is not liekely to be acceptable to the Portuguese, who would be incapable of governing the German population.
12. German East Africa forms the missing link in the chain of British possessions from the Cape to Cairo.
It would make an admirable colony for Indian emigration of the class which wants to trade and not to cultivate, assuming that the latter will be provided for in Mesopotamia.
The German railway, now complete, from Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika to Dar-es-Salaam on the coast, will in future tap and carry a large part of the trade of the Belgian Congo, and will deprive our Uganda Railway of much of the traffic which it now obtains from Ruanda and the southern half of the Victoria Nyanza.
13. Togoland is in the joint occupation of French and British forces.
It could be—
(a.) div
ided : approximately half going to the British Gold Coast and Ashantee, and the other half to French Dahomey ; but, in any division, it

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would be difficult to allott the only port, Lomé, and the single railway up to Kamina ;
(b.) giv
en to the French ;
(c.) giv
en to the British, in each case in consid-eration of some advantage elsewhere.

If it was retained by the British, a deal might be made with the French to obtain also the part of Dahomey which separates Togoland from Nigeria, so as to form all our possessions in the Gulf of Guinea into a solid and continuous territory.
14. The Cameroons are being invaded, and presumably captured, by a joint French and British force. France is employing, and will probably continue to employ, a larger land force than ours. But we provided the whole of the naval assistance which alone made possible the initial capture of the capital, Duala, and the railway.
It might be assumed that we should equitably be entitled to half the Cameroons, but at the most I do not think we should require or could usefully occupy more than one fourth of it.
The French will undoubtedly desire a large share of it, and especially that part which was taken from them by Germany at the time of Agadir.
We might ourselves retain very much less than one-fourth of the area, but what it is essential that we should have is the northern railway (about 80 miles) from Duala to Baré ; Mount Cameroon on the coast, which will make a perfect sanatorium for the whole of West Africa ; and the town and harbour of Duala, which in enemy hands could easily be made an impregnable and menacing naval base against our West and South African commerce.
15. We want from France two things—
 (a.) the
ir share of the Condominium in the New Hebrides ;
 (b.) the
ir small settlement of Jibuti opposite Aden, which controls the mischievous arms traffic to Abyssinia and Central Africa.

To obtain these we can offer France—
(c.) thr
ee-fourths of the Cameroons (instead of one-half), plus our half share of Togoland ;
(d.) or,
 if we wish to retain all Togoland and acquire Dahomey, we can offer France all the Cameroons except Mount Cameroon and Duala, and in such a wide settlement we could throw in the Gambia, which is an object of great desire by the French ; but the cession of the Gambia would be very unpopular in this country, and arouse much public and Parliamentary criticism and agitation.

16. Alternatively we might surrender to France our share of the New Hebrides Condominium as compensation, with nearly the whole of the Cameroons, for our possession of Togoland and Dahomey.
This would be an impossible suggestion in ordinary times of peace, owing to Australian prejudices, but as Australia is now to acquire such  a large  amount  of  new

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Pacific territory she might at this moment be induced to agree to it.
In order to sweeten the pill, I should not object to giving Australia also the German island of Bougainville and our adjoining islands of the Solomon Group.
17. And, lastly, we might take this opportunity of restoring to China, with or without a consideration, the costly folly of Weihaiwei.


March 25, 1915.