Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Yiğit Akın's "When the War Came Home"

Yiğit Akın is Assistant Professor of History at Tulane University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire, and reported the following:
When the War Came Home examines the catastrophic experience of World War I for Ottoman society. It does so by shifting the focus from the battlefront to the home front and taking the reader from governmental halls to railway stations, private homes, fields, and stables, to shed new light on Ottomans’ wartime experiences.

One of the recurrent themes of the book is the continuous interaction between soldiers and their families on the home front. The war, in many respects, expanded the horizons of the ordinary Ottoman soldier, took him, perhaps for the first time, out of his village or hometown, introduced him to new lands, people, and lifestyles, familiarizing him with new cultures, ideas, and concepts. Nevertheless, his attachment to his particular home region, his village, and his family continued to define who he was. He did everything in his capacity to maintain his ties with his family and community through channels including furloughs, letters, unauthorized visits, and friends.

In the words of a British prisoner who spent the last two years of war in captivity in Anatolia, Ottoman soldiers “were so drawn by ties of family and anxiety for the fate of their relations that they preferred the life of an outlaw near their homes to the uncertainty of awaiting news in distant Mesopotamia or Palestine.” Indeed, soldiers’ concern for their families’ well-being and security was among the most important reasons for desertion.

Page 99 is about this fundamental link between the front and home. More specifically, it discusses violence against soldiers’ families on the home front. Along with extreme privations, hard work, and loss of family members, these families also suffered from frequent assaults and encroachment on their properties. Soldiers whose families were attacked either requested leave or deserted their units in order to go back to their villages, furnish protection against assailants, or take revenge. For these soldiers, military service was at odds with the duty of protecting the family.

War, in this sense, led to the violation of the right of husbands to exclusive sexual access to their wives, hurt the honor of the family, and undermined masculine dominance. While fulfilling the duty of protecting the empire against the enemy, soldiers found themselves unable simultaneously to protect their hearths and homes.
Learn more about When the War Came Home at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue