Myth and Phobia

Orlando Figes’ new book does much to shed light on a conflict long neglected by contemporary historians and is likely to become the preeminent work on the Crimean War.  However, the book suffers from serious shortcomings that prevent it from becoming a military history of such caliber as Antony Beevor’s and Max Hastings’ works.

Figes characterizes the Crimean War as the first “truly modern war” and the “first war in history in which public opinion played so crucial a role.”  The war itself lasted less than three years (1853-56) and was essentially a war of aggression by Britain and France to prevent the Russian Empire from playing an active role in the Balkans and the Near East and to prop up the unraveling Ottoman Empire.  The book’s strongest point is its account of the run-up to the Crimean War.  The author convincingly shows that British and French Russophobia was the biggest cause of the war.  An unrelenting campaign of paranoia and lies was launched by British pamphleteers and foreign-affairs commentators, culminating in the West’s invasion of Russia’s Crimean Peninsula in 1854.

As Figes acknowledges, Russia had a legitimate interest in protecting pilgrims to the Ottoman-held Holy Land both from Ottoman persecution and Western machinations.  (Anglicans and other Protestants mounted an intensive campaign to convert Orthodox Arabs, an effort that was...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here