• Turkish Bonaparte
Ataturk. By Wan and Margarete Orga. (Michael Joseph, 30s.) THE best English book addressed to the general reader on the subject of Ataturk is to date the
late H. C. Armstrong's Grey Wolf, which ap-
peared in 1932. It suffers inevitably from having been written while Kemal Ataturk was still alive, and his story unfinished, but, although exces- sively journalistic, it is very remarkable. Iran and Margarete Orga, in their new endeavour on
the same theme, have helped themselves to several of Armstrong's many felicitous passages, and in addition they have two great advantages over him: they write at some historical distance and have been able to research widely in the Turkish language.
Grey Wolf remains much the better book all the same. The Orgas have done some good re- search: the account of the Gallipoli campaign (the foundation of Ataturk's career) is among several episodes which are treated with perception and skill; but their book as a whole is distressingly amateurish. About three-quarters of the way through, the narrative line, never strong, sags miserably, and the attempts at purple patching, and the use of a perfectly horrible set of clichés, get so out of hand that sometimes the basic sense is in doubt. At the end of this most astonishing of all epic stories we are told that Kemal Ataturk 'was simply a man like all other men.' The authors cannot really think that.
Their book leaves plenty of room for another biography of Ataturk, but, in spite of its great faults, it is not to be dismissed. If it provides no interesting conclusions this is not a cardinal fault, for it gives the facts candidly, and allows the reader to draw his own. Though written from a Turkish point of view, this does not result (except where Armenian matters are concerned) in excessive partiality. There is no whitewashing of the hero : his brutality, debauchery, perver- sion and hard-heartedness are all faithfully re- corded, and 1 can find only one major atrocity of his private life that has been suppressed: the drunken ball he gave in Ankara on the night before the hanging of the opposition (which included some of his oldest friends) in 1926: a highlight of Armstrong's book. Ataturk is a fine subject and, despite crude drawing, this is an authentic portrait.
Of all the modern dictators, Ataturk can best claim to have been beneficent, and he was cer- tainly the most interesting. He was a man of great paradox. He was capable of all the crimes of Fascism, but he was not a Fascist and he resented being compared to Mussolini, whom he despised. Like Hitler, he was the `monstrous child of defeat,' but, unlike Hitler, he reacted to defeat not with a hatred and longing for revenge that would stop at nothing, but with a love of his country that stopped at nothing. His private life was entirely repulsive. Loveless, ex- cept for his mother, sordid and obscene, it in- cluded periods of drunken stupor, and yet this man, who did everything to himself that can destroy character, stamina and judgment, never lost the saving virtue rarest among men who are devoured by ambition and wield supreme power: common sense, even selfless common sense.
His road to dictatorship was thornier than that of Bonaparte, and after the departure of the Sultan in 1922 his position was closely parallel to that of the First Consul. He was as prone to self-admiration as Bonaparte, and more ruthless. The dread of foreign governments that he intended a revival of the Empire was mis- taken, but rational. Asia for the Asians was the new cry then, and Kemal's sympathies lay that way. There were many in his own country, and many in neighbouring Islamic countries, includ- ing men in power, to tempt him to proceed to the part of Napoleon in the East. He never seriously entertained the idea of doing so. Great as must have been the temptation, he always had the example of his immediate predecessor, Enver Pasha, to warn him. Enver had played the Turkish Napoleon, with astonishing and transient success, and like Napoleon, only more quickly, he thereby dissipated the strength of his country. That any strength at all was left in 1917 after the follies of his irrelevant Pan-Turkish adven- tures proves how enormous the inherent strength of Turkey was. Ataturk was never interested in world war. Unlike Hitler, he was a real soldier who had victoriously commanded armies in his younger days and knew what world war meant. He remained a First Consul till the end of his life.
He had all the faults of a soldier, and some of the virtues, excluding chivalry but including a real love of 'the troops.' To the peasantry of Anatolia he proved an exacting but most genuinely loving father; to those who worked with him he was a merciless taskmaster or a treacherous and jealous intriguer, often both. He accomplished the immensely difficult task of detaching Turkish patriotism from the glories of the Ottoman Empire and fastening them in a heightened form to the Turkish homeland. He promised to make the Turks a part of Western civilisation as a reward for what they renounced. He kept his word. For all their differences in aim and achievement, the man he most re- sembles in history is Peter the Great.
The story's final point, to which any account of Ataturk must lead, is today a very melan- choly one. In the age in which this great and hateful man of genius lived, European civilisa- tion was little questioned: it was accepted as the crown of thousands of years of human en- deavour, and it was considered self-evident that no other form of civilisation was of equal merit. The horrors of the First World War and the Russian Revolution shook these beliefs, but they remained strong notwithstanding, especially in such a place as old-fashioned Turkey, where the mental furniture of the progressives was purely nineteenth century in character. So it came about, quite logically, that Ataturk's dic- tatorship had as its goal the establishment of an enlightened parliamentary democracy in the Caliph's former heritage. It is an irony of all time that this fierce Turkish tyrant was a spiritual descendant of William Ewart Glad- stone.
Present-day Turkey is not a liberal paradise on earth, but it is a country in which the par- liamentary idea is firmly rooted, and with it a genuine love of liberty. In spirit it is infinitely more healthy and decent and vigorous than those Islamic countries which achieved full nation- hood after Nazism and Fascism had debased the European ideal, and after the intellectuals of the West had progressively begun to abandon what sometimes looks like a doomed vessel. If his life had been set in a later age, the re- making of Turkey might have reflected all that was horrible in Ataturk's character. As it is. modern Turkey reflects something more respect- able than its founder, and which gave idealism to his hard and restless spirit.