The Introduction establishes Beirut and Mount Lebanon as sites of total war and a civilian catastrophe of unprecedented proportion. It outlines the broader contributions of the book: the war's centrality to everyday life in what has been considered a geographic and political periphery. It situates provincial actors as important historical agents who negotiate their power positions and shape the political landscape despite and in response to an increasing interventionist state. It insists that the exigencies of war and famine constituted a generative force. It introduces the concept of politics of provisioning as a competitive engagement in war relief as one of the many arenas in which we can see war as a productive force. In this sense, the book's purpose is to portray the war of famine as simultaneously, and perhaps paradoxically, destructive and formative.
This chapter places the famine into the context of long-term socioeconomic developments and locally and historically specific configurations that determine how civilians in Beirut and Mount Lebanon would experience the war and the accompanying famine. Nineteenth-century economic changes, it is argued, not only rendered Beirut and Mount Lebanon particularly vulnerable to wartime famine but also, combined with increased access to education and the emergence of mass politics following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, broadened access to politics. The result was a particular set of local, national, and international actors in both state and civil society institutions who had varied degrees of access to power and whose social position dictated their capabilities to participate within the political field of provisioning and their potential to mitigate the horrors of the famine.
This chapter analyzes the totalizing process of World War I and the effect it had on food supplies and civilian provisioning on the home front. It outlines the historically specific social, economic, and political relational processes linked directly to the war, with a focus on access to food supplies. While food is indispensable both on the battlefronts and home fronts, political negotiations and military campaigns have dominated the historiography of World War I in the Middle East. In Greater Syria, the famine generated an unprecedented urgency visible in talk and action around feeding Ottoman subjects. It is argued that the famine was a unique event contingent on the caprices of human action in times of war. It was neither a direct result of an absolute absence of food nor an unadulterated natural disaster. International and national wartime strategies, situations, and struggles determined much of individuals' relationships to daily necessities.
The Ottoman authorities at times responded to civilian food shortages, but the central government implemented an empire-wide civilian provisioning scheme only in the spring of 1916. In the absence of organized relief, local actors were pivotal in organizing provisions. Representatives of the state such as the Ottoman governor and Beirut's elites and politicians, many of whom came from a merchant background, were particularly well positioned to take up the responsibilities of provisioning because of their thorough understanding of the subtleties of the local food system. The chapter provides a close look at civilian provisioning as a competitive arena for local and state actors to establish, maintain, and strengthen their legitimacy as power brokers in the provinces. It showcases, in particular, local urban wartime politics by exposing communal dynamics in times of crisis and the intricacies of existing communal and social orders that shaped the experience on the home front.
Examining food distribution in rural Mount Lebanon, the chapter argues that the Maronite Church, despite its many failures, contributed to the reshaping of Mount Lebanon's political landscape through its active role in wartime provisioning. The chapter outlines the church's practices of provisioning and situates them in the larger context of diaspora politics, foreign influence, and the relationship between Maronites, France, and the Ottoman state, which shaped wartime provisioning politics in Mount Lebanon. It argues that the church's existing institutions and personnel, utilized to distribute food in the most remote corners of the mountain, and Jamal Pasha's distinct efforts to sideline its main political competitor, the secular Administrative Council, guaranteed and expanded its political position. The chapter showcases the processes that allowed the Maronite Church to solidify its position as the temporal leadership of the Christians of Mount Lebanon, which guaranteed its seat at the postwar political bargaining table.
Like providing food, combating infectious diseases defined much of the wartime agenda of local officials and municipal offices in both Beirut and Mount Lebanon. The administrative health concerns were not only front-page news but also subject to politics of health provisioning and state intervention. The crises of total war accelerated the consolidation of a preexisting health regime, and interventionist policies focused on making sick bodies a public concern to be reported, isolated, and disinfected. The invasive nature of health provisioning made it a less competitive political space. The state needed local knowledge, and local health administrators needed the power of the military command to back up their work. The state worked in society. The combined work of local municipal agencies and actors and the state to fight disease and implement sanitary measures was exemplar of an increasingly more militant state intervention into civilians' daily life.
This chapter discusses the politics of provisioning in civil society, focusing on the experience of local philanthropic societies run by local elites. These organizations had dominated the social welfare sectors in prewar Beirut, providing education, health care, and material charity. The outbreak of the war and increasing Ottoman paranoia turned such organizations into feared competitors that could undermine the state's credibility, stir up resentment, and possibly be venues for organizing against state authorities. In Beirut, the Ottomans incapacitated male-dominated local charitable organizations by denying government support, raising taxes, or simply closing them. At the same time, government officials encouraged female volunteer work, indicating that the Ottoman authorities did not see Lebanese women as a threat to the legitimacy of their regime. The recruitment of women into relief efforts closely associated with a patriotic discourse and government patronage boosted Lebanese women's political self-confidence, not easily reversed after the war.
This chapter tells the story of war relief rendered by international agents, who had direct experience with the famine's inhumanity and, due to their diplomatic relations with the Ottomans, had continued access to its victims. American and German diplomats, missionaries, and military officials witnessed, recorded, and responded to the local suffering based on their political position in the empire and the international context of World War I. The chapter discusses foreign relief workers and government officials' engagement with or abstention from humanitarian work as a political tool advertising the benevolence and goodwill of their nations to local populations, while at the same time preserving their positive relationship with the Ottoman government. The decisions of foreigners whether to distribute aid, the chapter argues, were based on their position within local society, international obligations, and the careful consideration of short- and long-term economic interests.
In 1919, the victors of war with a stroke of their pens determined the national futures of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Local aspirations proved peripheral to decision making in Europe. The Conclusion argues that 1919 was not only a Parisian year. In Beirut and Mount Lebanon, 1919 was a year of swift changes, hopes, promises, rewards, despair, and disappointments. Wartime suffering and postwar ambiguities persuaded various political groups to articulate and lobby for their preferred postwar political constellation. And their differential and at times competing territorial and political desires entered into public discourse over national independence, Mandatory tutelage, and humanitarian aid. The Conclusion discusses how local and international agents of wartime provisioning, with their main competitors—the Ottoman state—removed from the scene, used accounts of real and fictitious wartime benevolence to construct discourses of legitimacy.