Forgotten Aspects Of The First World War

One-hundred-years-of-oblivion_caravan-magazine_october-2014-01Vedica Kant at Caravan:

CLOSELY TIED IN with the West Asian campaigns is another, largely forgotten reality of the war—the magnitude of colonial troops’ involvement. The British campaign in Mesopotamia began wholly as an Indian Army operation, and nearly 40 percent of all Indians in the war served there. Indian troops also played a key role in campaigns in Egypt and Palestine; they were crucial in the capture of Jerusalem in 1917, and Haifa the following year. Nearly one and a half million men from India participated in the war, alongside two million Africans. In total, more than 4 million non-white men were recruited into the armies of the European empires.

So multi-cultural and multi-racial were the combatants that the German sociologist Max Weber said the Entente armies were comprised of “niggers, Gurkhas, and the barbarians of the world.” It put countries such as Britain—to take one example—into a novel situation. Having Indians kill white men in the battlefield could potentially upset the strict racial hierarchies of imperial rule. In the past, the British had avoided using the Indian Army against white enemies (such as in the Boer War of 1899–1902, when they fought the Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics in southern Africa.) In this war, however, necessity trumped ideology. Indians, Moroccans, Algerians and Senegalese Tirailleurs served in key European battles, including those at Ypres, the Somme, Neuve Chapelle and Loos.

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