The Hidden Report That Could Have Changed History

“The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”

                                                                                           President Harry S Truman

The Six-Day War, also known as the June War, 1967 Arab–Israeli War, or Third Arab–Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967 by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. At that time,Mike Ungersma was a news producer for WLW-T Television in Cincinnati. He wrote this feature for the Midwestern city’s leading newspaper,The Cincinnati Enquirer in September of that year.


 ‘The Hidden Report That Could Have Changed History’

Sunday 27 September 1967 –

Most Americans are aware that the recent Mideast crisis was deeply rooted in the soil of history, both events of our own time and happenings 4,000 years old.  But few of them know of the crucial World War I mission of Henry Churchill King, the late president of Ohio’s Oberlin College who was chosen by President Wilson for one of the most important tasks ever assigned a distinguished scholar and educator.  King and the businessman who accepted the responsibility with him came with a hair’s breadth of drastically altering the course of history in the trouble-plagued Mideast.

For it was King who was selected to lead a Commission sent after the First War to gather facts needed to implement one of President Wilson’s most celebrated promises of the war: the pledge that subjected peoples would have for the first time in their history the chance to determine their own future.

One of the most important results of the war was the utter destruction of the ancient Ottoman Empire.  A 20th century misfit, the old kingdom was near collapse when the fighting began and was in shambles when the shooting stopped.  Its downfall touched off a behind-the-scenes scramble for the Empire’s abandoned sphere of influence.  Allied with Germany during the war, the Empire paid a bitter price for defeat: the victors carved up its territory, some of the most coveted land in the world.  The carcass included the Holy Land.

It was the myriad of claims and counterclaims for the Holy Land which provoked Wilson to give serious consideration to an idea advanced by a Mideast expert, the president of the American University of Beirut.  Close to the area and appreciating its critical importance to the Peace, he suggested that Wilson and the French and British peacemakers empanel a blue-ribbon commission of experts to visit the Mideast and gather facts on the wishes of the people involved.

The suggestion sat well with Wilson, himself a scholar and idealist who was to conceive the the notion of a League of Nations.  He pressed for the adoption of the proposal at the peace table, and managed to extract the reluctant support of the Anglo-French negotiators.  Their unwillingness stemmed from the secret agreements the French and British already had concluded concerning the Ottoman Empire and how is remnants were to be divided among the victors.

Wilson’s plan included having the peacemakers name two of their most respected citizens to the fact-finding commission.  It didn’t take him long to settle on the American participants.  First he chose businessman Charles R. Crane, afterwards to become Ambassador to China.  Then Wilson tapped President Henry Churchill King of Ohio’s Oberlin College.  As one of the nation’s most highly regarded scholars and educators, King was no newcomer to international affairs.  At the time Wilson called him, he was in Europe having put in a year’s wartime service with a special detachment of the YMCA.  In addition, King had studied in Europe.  President of Oberlin since 1902, he was head of the prestigious Association of American Colleges.

Off to anything but a good start, and plagued by the continuing lack of enthusiasm by the French and British, Crane and King nevertheless proceeded with their plans for the mission.  Unknown to them and President Wilson, it was doomed from its outset.

There was some hint of its fate initially when the British and French dragged their feet in naming appointees to the Commission.  But at the urging of Wilson, and prompted by a frantic telegram from General Allenby in Palestine, the British finally appointed a pair of commissioners. Unfortunately, they never got beyond Paris.

But Wilson persisted, and after a visit by Crane and King in Paris, the President assured them that the investigation he promised the people of the Mideast would be made, and at once. That was May.  Within three weeks, King and Crane has landed in Palestine and begun their work.  They vowed to meet in conference with individuals and groups to obtain the broadest possible sample of Mideast opinion.  And that they did.

For six weeks, Crane and King and their entourage of experts visited one city after another.  From town to town and village to village they patiently listened to the pleas of representatives from 1,500 communities.  They received 1,863 petitions signed by 19,000 people.  Some pre-conceived notions were shattered, others fortified.  Encouraged by the sincere response, they retired to Constantinople on July 21 to prepare their detailed and exhaustive report they assumed would be a guideline for international diplomacy in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Central to their report was the issue of Palestine.  As much of a problem in 1919 as it is in 1967, the venerable region was the home of three religions inclined to the bitterest kind of intolerance of one another.

Then part of Syria, Crane and King suggested Palestine be made a ‘mandatary’ or trustee territory under the new League of Nations.  This internationalization would be supervised by the United States.  If this had been the only question in the Mideast that required the attention of the Commission, it might have been accepted by the peacemakers since there is evidence to indicate France and England would have been content to yield Palestine to some other influence than their own.

But Crane and King had to deal with the Zionists. This international movement hoped to establish a national home for the Jews of the world in their ancient homeland, Israel.  Inspired by the opportunities presented in the War, the politically powerful Zionists obtained an important commitment from Lord Balfour, England’s Foreign Secretary.  Balfour sided with the objectives of the movement on the condition that the rights of existing non-Jewish population there be respected.

When Crane and King came to this crucial matter in their report they admitted they had changed their minds:

The Commission began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians, have driven them to the recommendations here made.

Their recommendations?  That the project of making Palestine a Jewish commonwealth should be given up.  Crane and King gave two reasons.  First, both said they felt that only the force of arms could maintain the Zionist program in Palestine so opposed to it were the Arab populations.  Secondly, Crane and King felt it would be a serious injustice to the Arabs, who had, after all, been in possession of the territory for 13 centuries and had at present an overwhelming preponderance of the population, even if Jews had a prior claim historically.

Their report and its controversial conclusions complete, King and Crane cabled President Wilson late in August outlining their essential recommendations.  It was this point where their product entered the political thicket.  It never emerged intact.

Wilson fell ill just days after having received the report, although there is nothing to indicate he would have been able to press for its conclusions in any case.  The ground had already been cut from beneath the idealistic Chief Executive.  His concept of the League of Nations torpedoed by opponents in the Senate, his political future dealt a fatal blow by his serious illness, Wilson could hardly muster the strength to live let alone energetically govern.

The King-Crane Commission’s Report?  It was unheard of until 1922 when a resourceful newspaperman convinced private citizen Woodrow Wilson that it should be published.  When it was made public, the report carried a sub-heading called, “A Suppressed Official Document of the United States Government.”

And President King?  He returned to Oberlin with a renewed image of a statesman and continued to serve as the school’s president until 1927 when he retired.

His report remains a monument to far-seeing and untiring scholarship and a constant reminder of one of King’s favorite maxims:  “One does one’s best and leaves he rest.”

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