I was 8 years old when the Suez Crisis erupted, so it's not surprising that it passed me by. While I eventually came to understand the basics, I never really got up to speed on the details, although I gathered from many general references in articles, books and films over the years, that it was a time of deep humiliation for the UK and France. Mr. Scott Lucas' fine book has now made me a mini-expert on the subject, which I shall remain for perhaps a week or so, until my retention of my newfound knowledge begins its inevitable decay. But this book will remain on my shelf for consultation as required.
What happened? Well, the villain of the day, in Western eyes, was President Nasser of Egypt. In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The owners, mainly the UK and France, were more than annoyed. Since the end of World War I, great maneuvering for influence and control had been going on in the Middle East by the Great Powers, including the USA and the USSR, and by the "used-to-be-Great-but-still-haven't-realised-that-it's-over-Powers", specifically the UK and France. Eisenhower was the US President, super-sensitive to all domestic opinions in an election year, and neither he nor his administration were willing to back, even through silence, the use of force by the UK or France, in colonial style retaliations against Nasser. The UK under the Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Chancellor Harold Macmillan wanted to invade. France was even more gung ho. This was of course, only 11 years after the end of World War II, of which France and the UK had intense memories of the dangers of, and humiliation associated with, appeasement. Through this flawed filter they viewed the Suez issue. Nasser was their new Hitler, or their new Mussolini at the very least. But without UN, and more specifically US, support they couldn't move. So they fumed and plotted.
This fine and consistently engrossing book tell of how it all developed. But basically, a very few men in the UK and France took their supposed democratic countries to war, without the consent of, or consultation with, their people, their parliament, or even the cabinet in the UK's case. They entered into a deception perpetrated on their respective countries, their own governments, on their US ally and on the United Nations, which was breathtaking in its duplicity and whose catastrophic consequences for the UK and France were compounded by an inefficiency in implementation bordering on buffoonery. The duplicity was based in the agreement of the U.K., France and Israel, that Israel should attack Egypt, and that the U.K and France would then intervene, in the guise of peacemakers, to separate the combatants and to protect the canal, and in so doing to recover the canal.
It all, needless to say, ended in disaster for the UK and France. It didn't mark the beginning of the end of Empire for the UK - that had been inexorably happening since the end of World War I, and more particularly since the end of World War II. But it could be said to mark her time of realization and acceptance that she no longer could have a foreign policy fully independent of US interests. This was when the UK realized, as was acknowledged by Macmillan to Eisenhower, that she was from then on the junior partner in the "special alliance". The sun was indeed setting on Empire.
Today there is an enormous problem facing the human species. It is truly frightening, and all-the-more-so as there seems to be no solution. Our present world has become increasingly polarized between Moslem and non-Moslem. Every move our leaders make, on both sides of the divide, seems to increase the separation and mutual hatred. Suez is just one small example of the lack of vision by the leaders of many countries, which year upon year, incident upon incident, continues to widen the divide. Suez was one of the early blunders and had huge repercussions. Sadly, no lessons were learned. Time and time again the mistakes of history are repeated by elected leaders and tyrants alike, each in their own style, but all resulting in our children's future becoming increasingly jeopardized.
This fine book informs in its content and exhilarates by its style. I unreservedly recommend it to all - and I wish it could be made compulsory reading for all politicians.