Episode 20-Arnold Toynbee: Master of Wartime Disinformation in The Blue Book

In 1915, the 26 year-old historian began working for the intelligence department of the British Foreign Office. The Propaganda Bureau, located in Wellington House, was chaired by Charles Masterman who recruited 25 well-known authors, Arnold Toynbee among the recruits. Toynbee edited the book called “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916, “ also known as “the Blue Book” because of the color of the cover. Lord Bryce, the presumed author of this book, was a longstanding friend of Armenians and enemy of Turks. The Propaganda Bureau asked Bryce, a revered figure both in America and the U.K., for a propaganda volume, and said, “We have this man Toynbee here who is pretty good. He can put it together for you.” The book is 684 pages long and there are so many errors and inconsistencies and the reliability of the sources used in the book so problematic, that it would take another book to explain them all. It suffices to say that the letters submitted by Armenians, Armenian organizations, Armenian newspapers like Ararat and Gotchnag, and American missionaries. The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief was founded in November of 1915. According to the circular that went out, it was a “non-sectarian” organization, but every single member of the board, except one, was part of the American protestant missionary establishment. They began their new mission to aid the Armenians with a pamphlet full of false atrocity propaganda. The pamphlet told of rapes, enslavements, and the “murders of nearly all able-bodied Armenian men above the age of twelve.” The missionaries were so out of touch with reality that they even suggested that the U.S. government to take over Turkey as an American mandate, but luckily the American Congress refused the idea. The Relief Organization engaged in an eight-year policy of vilifying Turks, from 1915 to 1923. But all changed in 1923, once the Turks had won their independence war, as the Mission would not survive unless the missionaries got along with the Turks. Suddenly Turks were being praised by missionaries. There was complete cooperation between the missionaries and the British Propaganda Bureau. Missionaries sent materials to Toynbee; in turn Wellington House gave the missionaries propaganda material to distribute. In 1921, Toynbee became a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, at the height of the Greco-Turkish War. He went to Turkey to observe the Greek occupation of Western Anatolia and wrote the book The Western Question in Greece and Turkey based on that experience. He gave a remarkable insight in that book into the Greek atrocities perpetrated on Muslim inhabitants during the three years of British-induced Greek occupation from May 15,1919 to September 9, 1922. Arnold Toynbee confessed on page 50 of that book that “The Blue Book” he compiled in 1916 on Armenian massacres was a piece of war propaganda. The British government had dreaded that the Indian Muslims would join in a Jihad, a holy war, against the Allies, alongside their Muslim brothers in the Ottoman Empire. If the Turks could be demonized, then the Indian Muslims could be shown that the Muslim Turks were really bad Muslims, not worth fighting for. Same went for the Arabs, hence Lawrence of Arabia. The Turks were an easy target for denigrating, as propaganda material against them was plentiful, although the sources were all dubious. The affection for the missionaries were used as a leverage to counter the anti-Allied feelings among many Americans in 1915, especially among the Germans and the Irish. The Turks were portrayed as the murderers of Christians and the taint passed on to the Germans, allies of the Turks. Indeed, this policy was greatly successful in swaying American public opinion to the British side. Propaganda was not a gentleman’s game. Nevertheless, it was a wartime chore that had to be done and some British gentlemen did it, Bryce and Toynbee among them. All records of the Propaganda Office were destroyed immediately after the war. The few remaining records have been found only by chance. Professor Justin McCarthy has found a number of them as he has gone through Foreign Office documents. They were copies that had been sent off to other offices. Out of 150 sources, 59 were missionaries and 52 Armenians. There were even documents submitted by the Dashnak party, the sworn enemies of the Ottomans. This like including documents from Al Qaeda in a book describing Israel or from KKK describing African Americans. That’s the kind of wartime disinformation and defamation propaganda job Toynbee’s Blue Book is.

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