What really happened in the Second as-Salt Battle in 1918?
After a month of the war in Ukraine, we must always remember that the truth is the first victim in wars.
Despite the presence of a huge amount of information which includes live broadcasts from the battlegrounds in Ukraine, we need to keep our defenses up before we trust everything we see and hear. It will take years and decades for the truth to be known.
I remembered the saying about the truth and wars during an event in Amman on the publication of an important book entitled “forged under fire.” The coffee table-like book details in photos and text (in Arabic and English) the relationship between Jordan and Australia with emphasis on the joint battles in Amman, As-Salt, and the Jordan valley during the first world war. The book was published by the Australian embassy in Jordan with help from local and Australian experts on the occasion of Jordan’s centennial celebrations.
The event attended by royalty, ministers, and ambassadors praised the relationship between the Jordanians and Australians. But what caught my attention was a line in a speech of an expert on those battles. The Australian expert, James Brew, spoke about mistakes during some of those battles at the beginning of the twentieth century in Jordan between soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries against the Ottoman army.
I caught up with the expert afterward to ask him about those mistakes and he said they were many. But in Brow’s description, the biggest mistakes were not only those on the battlefield but in the forged history of some of those battles. “Do you know that historians mistakenly blamed the Bani Sakher tribe for the loss of the Second as-Salt battle,” he asked me?
According to Brew, most war historians have claimed that the Aussies lost that battle due to the failure of the fighters from that largest Arab tribe, Bani Sakher, from showing up as they had promised. “But the truth is that they never made such a promise, Prince Faisal was never informed of such a request and the truth is that if every single member of the Bani Sakher tribe had shown up the result would not have changed.” Brew explained to me in detail that the battle was not well planned and was totally imbalanced in troops, equipment, and preparation. Tens of Australians lost their lives and historians simply blamed the Arabs.” Brew noted, however, that the official historian of General Allenby didn’t make that claim and he made accurate documentation of what happened, but his accurate description was drowned out by the other historians whose claims have continued to be repeated without anyone setting the record straight.
The following day I went to our media office, and I asked one of our senior editors if he had heard of the battle of As-Salt in the first world war. “Yes, I heard, but too bad it was us Arabs who were responsible for its bad results,” I naturally corrected his information, but I was sorry that the wrong history of a battle that took place in Jordan had become part of the lore, even of Arabs, without anyone setting the record straight.
There is no doubt that truth is a victim of wars, but we need to do much more effort to search and correct these untruths. Most academicians use the concept of peer review to ensure that their publication is accurate and is double and triple-checked by colleagues. Fact-checking has been increased to a higher level today due to the fake news that is all around us. But I never expected to be able to discover such a false history of a battle that wrongly blamed a Jordanian tribe for the loss of the allies on Jordanian turf.
I hope Jordanian, Arab, and international historians will correct the record and ensure that even after 100 years the public has the right to know the correct facts of what happened in as-Salt in April 1918.