Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

London: Gomidas Institute, 2016
310 pp, photos, maps,
ISBN 978-1-909382-21-3, paperback
UK£20.00 / US$28.00
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Henry Morgethau was United States ambassador to Ottoman Turkey between 1913 and 1916. In 1914 he witnessed the Ottoman entry into World War I, followed by the Allied Dardanelles' campaign, and the genocide of Armenians. His memoir, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, was written in 1918 with the authority of a first hand observer and remains one of the classic accounts of World War I.

Ambassador Morgenthau's Story is part of the Gomidas Institute's Armenian Genocide Documentation Series. The series includes
* the diaries of another observer at the American embassy in Constantinople in 1915, Lewis Einstein's Inside Constantinople: A Diplomatist's Diary During the dardanelles Expedition, April-September, 1915
* Morgenthau's actual diaries on which Ambassador Morgenthau's Story was based United States Diplomacy on the Bosphorus: The Diaries of Ambassador Morgenthau, 1913-1916
* US consular and diplomatic records related to Morgenthau' understanding of the Armenian Genocide United States Official Records on the Armenian Genocide 1915-1917

From Ara Sarafian's Introduction to the New Edition of Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

In November 1917 Henry Morgenthau asked President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing for clearance to publish his memoirs. Morgenthau had been the United States ambassador to Ottoman Turkey between 1913 and 1916 and wanted to write about his experiences in Constantinople. He was already in good standing with the American press as the former American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. There was also great interest in the United States regarding the Great War, including the persecution of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, an issue with which Morgenthau was well acquainted.

Throughout his ambassadorship, Morgenthau had regularly reported on developments in the Ottoman Empire, so that President Wilson and Secretary of State Lansing were familiar with his views. Given his track record, American officials could expect the proposed memoirs to support the interests of the United States. Once given permission by President Wilson himself, Morgenthau proceeded to sign a contract with Doubleday, Page and Company on December 5th, 1917 and began his project.

Morgenthau’s memoir, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, was written in a methodical manner. It was based on his diaries and official correspondence from Constantinople. It also benefited from hindsight and reflection. Today, one can still see the marginal notations that identified different paragraphs of his diaries for inclusion in his book, as well as additional notes, reports and correspondence in his private papers. When writing his memoir, Morgenthau also had the support of key individuals: Burton Hendrick, of Doubleday, Page and Company, was his editor; Arshag Schmavonian at the State Department (also former dragoman and legal adviser at the American Embassy in Constantinople) checked facts and provided background information; and Secretary of State Robert Lansing read his drafts and made suggestions to ensure Morgenthau did not compromise any vital interests of the United States with his disclosures.

Morgenthau’s final account was written in a popular style and appeared in nine installments in World’s Work between May 1918 and January 1919. The memoir took stylistic license, such as reconstructing conversations, collapsing some time lines for a better flow, and adding a propagandistic tinge to its narrative. However, the substance of the work remained solid, with practically all assertions traceable to primary sources, including those on the genocide of Armenians. The final eight chapters of the work – the climax of his book – dealt with the Armenian issue in unequivocal terms, as Morgenthau indicted the Young Turks for the mass murder of Armenians.

Practically all of Morgenthau’s statements regarding the persecution of Armenians were based on his diaries and State Department records. Morgenthau’s private papers give us a real measure of how his views of the persecution of Armenians were shaped by his consular correspondence and other witnesses; how he probed the issues at hand when they arose; and how he reached his conclusions. Such records show the hundreds of reports Morgenthau received from different sources concerning Armenians, including those he personally forwarded to the State Department under his own cover notes. Morgenthau also discussed the Armenian issue with Ottoman and German officials, eye-witnesses who came to him from the provinces, and other well informed individuals. An examination of his diaries shows that the word "Armenian” became one of the most common proper nouns in his daily entries starting in the summer of 1915.

Morgenthau also examined the Armenian issue with, or in the presence of, over 100 individuals during this period. These interactions were at official meetings, private gatherings, and social events. It is quite remarkable that, starting in April 1915, the ambassador of a neutral United States was preoccupied with saving the lives of Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

While Morgenthau’s understanding was initially undermined by the denials and misinformation provided by Turkish leaders, the key turning point in his understanding of the systematic destruction of Armenians was recorded in his confidential telegram to the Secretary of State dated July 16th, 1915:

"Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenians is increasing and from harrowing reports of eye-witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under the pretext of reprisal against rebellion. …nothing short of actual force, which the United States are not in a position to exert, would adequately meet the situation."

As important as the Armenian issue was in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, so were other themes that preceded it. Morgenthau had a great deal to say about German militarism and ambition, especially the role played by the German ambassador to Constantinople, Hans Von Wangenheim, in laying the foundations of German domination of the Middle East. The secret Turco-German alliance paved the way for an extraordinary set of developments in 1914, such as the passage of the German warships Goeben and Breslau into "neutral” Ottoman waters, or the fortification of the Dardanelles by Germans before Ottoman Turkey entered World War I. Other important themes were the Allied failure at Gallipoli, the changing alliances in the Balkans, and the flow of armaments between the German and Ottoman Empires. It was against this background that the Young Turks entrenched their power, contended with German influence, and carried out their destructive policies.

One of the most sensational disclosures Morgenthau made in the press, as well as his memoir, concerned a secret meeting that took place in Germany in July 1914 attended by German leaders regarding Germany’s readiness for a major war. When questioned by the Secretary of State about this assertions, Morgenthau reiterated with a succinct note:

"Wangenheim informed me that he had received telegraphic orders to come to Berlin and that he was present at a conference at which the question of entering into the war was discussed. That representatives of the Military Staff and of the Navy as well as the Industrial and Financial communities and several other German Ambassadors were present. That all were asked whether in their opinion it was a propitious time and as far as possible their departments were concerned, whether they were then ready for an immediate war. Wangenheim stated that all answered in the affirmative, but that the financiers requested that they be given a short additional time to enable them to sell foreign securities and also to arrange some loans. Baron Wangenheim did not treat this as a confidential communication and made a similar statement to Marquis Garoni who was then the Italian Ambassador to Constantinople."

Morgenthau thus argued that the Germans had not drifted into war in 1914 but had carefully prepared for it militarily, financially, and politically.

Morgenthau also provided several chapters to present portraits of key actors in the Ottoman capital, such as the German ambassador Wangenheim, Ottoman Minister of Interior Talaat Bey, and Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha. His account also includes humorous sketches, such as good natured horseplay of Turkish officials duping an elderly Fuad Pasha into drinking eau-de-cologne while on a visit to Gallipoli.
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