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One of the most important events of the 19th century was undeniably the so-called Crimean War (1853-1856), which took place between Russia, on the one hand, and Britain and France, on the other.
The rationale behind this suggestion is that this particular war established the tradition of demonizing Russia in the West, as the ‘land of barbarians’, which continues to affect the geopolitical realities in the world, up until today – something that can be illustrated, in regards to what was the reaction of Western countries towards Russia’s appropriation of Crimea in 2014. In this paper, I will compare what used to be the 19th century’s accounts of this war (contained in the newspaper New York Daily Times 1851-1857) with the contemporary ones.
The editorial The Lessons of War (1855) in the mentioned newspaper, expounds upon what can be deemed the geopolitical significance of the Crimean War to Europe and America. According to the anonymous author, the main of these lessons is that, while waging war on Russia, Britain proved itself utterly arrogant of the most basic provisions of international law.
The reason for this is that, as it appears from the editorial, this country did not have any reservations against setting up the unofficial recruitment offices on the territory of the U.S., so that American citizens would be provided with the possibility to join the British army.
As it was noted: “We find the British Government, which has so often complained of us as a nation of grasping filibusters … is detected coming upon our own shores, and here attempting to organize, upon foreign soil, a military force to be employed against a power with which we are at peace” (“The Lessons of War” 4).
The author of the editorial in question points out to the fact that the U.S. government should warn Brits that the mentioned practice, on their part, is inexcusable and that there will be consequences, should Britain proceed with trying to undermine America’s national sovereignty.
According to the editorial, the main lesson of the Crimean War is that it exposed Britain, as such, that experiences the acute shortage of soldiers, which in turn suggests that the U.K. can no longer be regarded quite as powerful, as it would like people to believe: “So England, after all, is not invincible – her resources are not inexhaustible. There has been no limit to her boasting and arrogance, but an unexpectedly short one is found to her physical power” (4).
In its turn, this created the objective preconditions for the U.S. to realize itself being in the position to be able to replace Britain as the actual ‘master of the world’ in the future. After all, this particular scenario appeared to have been fully consistent with the laws of history: “We have no great standing armies and navies.
But we have all the material and the men to make and man them. We have an abundance of men… glowing with an enthusiastic love of the country” (4). The editorial’s prediction, in this respect, proved thoroughly valid. During the 20th century, America did succeed in becoming the leader of the Western world.
The newspaper’s other editorial, concerned with the Crimean War, is The Western Powers Outbid (1855). The main idea that it is being promoted throughout its entirety is that the war’s outcome largely depends on what would be the position of Austria, in regards to the concerned hostilities between Russia and Britain/France.
The editorial’s author pointed out to the fact that, even though Austria did fight alongside Russia during the course of the Napoleonic wars, it has grown increasingly uneasy with the growing geopolitical influence of Russia. At the same time, however, the idea of joining Britain and France in their war against Russia was not representing much of an appeal to Austria, as well.
The reason for this is that it could potentially set France on the path of trying to impose its dominance over the continent, just as it used to the case when it was ruled by Napoleon: “She (Austria) remembered the disasters of Austerlitz and Wagram, and she no more desired to see a French, than a Russian, supremacy established over Europe” (“The Western Powers Outbid” 4).
At the present time, notes the editorial’s anonymous author, Russian Czar Alexander applies a great effort into trying to persuade Austria to remain on friendly terms with Russia, and to refrain from siding with Britain and France. To support the validity of this claim, the author quotes from the letter of the Russian ambassador in Austria (Nesselrode) to the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I: “Russia views with satisfaction the occupation of the Danubian Principalities by Austria…
The armies of Russia are now as formerly at the service of Austria” (4). Nevertheless, the editorial suggests that Austria’s final decision, as to what should be its stance, in regards to the Crimean War, would depend on whether the Russians will be able to defend the city of Sebastopol against the Allied forces.
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According to it, if Austria ends up becoming allied with Russia, Britain, and France will have no chance of winning the war: “If Austria goes (with Russia)… and when Central Europe takes part with Russia, and two powerful armies are advancing by forced d marches to the relief of Sebastopol, what chance of victory can the Allies have in the Crimea?” (4).
Thus, the editorial in question does deserve to be given credit for being rather insightful, with respect to how it expounds on the would-be effect of Austria’s involvement in the Crimean War. After all, it is named after this country decided to take sides with the Western allies in the conflict, that Russia admitted that it was losing the war and agreed to the peace-terms offered by Britain and France.
The most notable aspect of the earlier provided 19th century’s journalistic accounts of the Crimean War is that they invoke the notion of immediacy. That is, these accounts treat the concerned historical event as a process in the making. This, however, cannot be said about the event’s contemporary interpretations. The reason for this is that their authors tend to discuss the Crimean War retrospectively while specifying what accounts for this war’s relevance to what happened to be the contemporary dynamics in the arena of international politics.
To exemplify the validity of this suggestion, we can refer to the 1985 book Why the Crimean War? A Cautionary Tale by Norman Wich. The main idea, explored throughout this book, is that the Crimean War provides us with insight into what the concept of geopolitics is all about. The reason for this is that, as this war showed, it is named, the Realist paradigm of international relations, which should be considered the only valid one.
According to the author, regardless of what happened to be the officially adopted political/social ideology in a particular country, this country may never cease being preoccupied with ensuring its ‘place under the Sun’, as its main priority. What it means is that the actual international agenda of just about any country on this planet is solely concerned with:
- political/economic expansion,
- maintenance of political stability within,
- destabilization of competing states.
Even though that, while explaining Britain’s decision to declare war on Russia, the British government’s top-officials of the time used to come up with the claims that the Russians posed a great danger to the ‘civilized world’, the outbreak of the Crimean War is best explained as the consequence of these people’s understanding that Britain could not possibly win in fair competition with Russia.
Therefore, Russia had to be destroyed before it grew too powerful. Wich concludes his book by suggesting the main lesson of the Crimean War is that, in order to avoid realizing themselves being in the state of war, the world’s most powerful countries must stay in ‘close diplomatic touch’ with each other.
As the author noted: “(The key to peace) is the maintenance of the closest possible diplomatic relations among the great powers so that none should feel threatened or isolated, and so that the means were always available to deal with the crises that are endemic to any international system through negotiation” (Wich 203).
Unfortunately, it appears that, as of today, Western countries have grown forgetful of the lesson of the Crimean War, in this respect – hence, their persistence with imposing sanctions against Russia, which reclaimed Crimea from the failed state of Ukraine in 2014.
Another contemporary account of the historical event in question is the 2008 article Rushing into Print: “Participatory Journalism” During the Crimean War by Stefanie Markovits. In it, the author expounds upon what were the specifics of this war’s propagandistic legitimization in Britain, while pointing out to the fact that the war in question can be referred to as the first instance in the history of Western civilization, when mass Media played an important role in sustaining a military fervor among citizens.
As Markovits noted: “For to an unprecedented degree, the experience of the Crimean War was filtered through print—not just after the fact as with past wars, when poets, novelists, and historians took up their pens to memorialize the experience, but in real-time and by an extraordinary range of writers” (560).
According to the author, during the Crimean War, many of Britain’s newspapers (such as Time), made a deliberate point in trying to dehumanize the Russians as ‘barbaric brutes,’ which in turn was meant to justify the idea that there is nothing wrong about killing them en masse. Therefore, in the aftermath of having been exposed to this Markovits’s article, readers will naturally be prompted to think that there was indeed very little ‘glory’ in Britain’s decision to send its troops to the Crimea in 1853.
Finally, we can mention the 1993 book The Origins of the Crimean War by David Goldfrank, as such, that contains clues as to what triggered the outbreak of the Crimean War in the first place. According to the author, this war came about as a result of the fact that, ever since the beginning of the 18th century, the main principle of Britain’s foreign policy was concerned with preventing the country’s potential competitors from being able to realize themselves being in the position to threaten British geopolitical interests in the world.
As an integral part of this strategy, Britain never ceased applying a great effort into increasing the acuteness of social tensions in competing countries. At times when there were good reasons to believe that the deployment of this particular strategy will not prove very effective, Britain used to embark on launching the full-scale military invasions – according to Goldfrank.
The Crimean War exemplifies the validity of this idea perfectly well. Thus, just as it is the case with the mentioned book by Wich, The Origins of the Crimean War promotes the idea that the actual significance of just about any war should be assessed within the conceptual framework of the Realist theory of international politics, which emphasizes that war is nothing but the ‘radical’ extension of politics.
As was illustrated earlier, there is indeed much difference between the 19th century’s accounts of the Crimean War, on one hand, and those of comparatively recent times, of the other. Whereas the former is being concerned with treating the subject matter in terms of the present development, the latter refers to it, as such, that sublimated the very spirit of the Victorian era.
There is, however, a strongly defined commonality between them, as well – both: the 19th century’s and the contemporary analyses of this war’s significance imply that there was nothing incidental about the factors that sparked the armed hostilities between Russia and Britain/France, in the first place.
Goldfrank, David. The Origins of the Crimean War. London: Longman, 1993. Print.
Markovits, Stefanie. “Rushing Into Print: “Participatory Journalism” During the Crimean War.” Victorian Studies 50.4 (2008): 559-586. Print.
“The Lessons of War.” New York Daily Times (1851-1857): 4. 1855. Print.
“The Western Powers Outbid.” New York Daily Times (1851-1857): 4. 1855. Print.
Wich, Norman. Why the Crimean War? A Cautionary Tale. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1985. Print.