In The Young Atatürk, George Gawrych examines the intellectual development of Mustafa Kemal as a soldier, and looks at how he applied what he had learned about soldiering to the problems of statesmanship. He traces Mustafa Kemal’s intellectual development primarily through his own writings. With access to Atatürk’s personal notebooks, in addition to his published writings, as well as drawing on a vast array of other primary sources and secondary literature, Gawrych is able to follow the ideas Mustafa Kemal was exposed to in his classes and in his personal readings, and see which of those ideas are adopted and expanded upon. Rather than a biography of Atatürk, this is an examination of his characteristics as a leader, explicated through his intellectual journey. Gawrych focuses on three concepts, which he argues were central to Atatürk’s philosophy of life and of leadership: “his, dimağ, and vicdan”, which he translates as feeling/sentiment, mind (cognitive activities), and conscience (pp. xii-xiii). Previous analyses of Atatürk’s leadership, he argues, have focused almost exclusively on the intellectual component, which is too narrow to explain Atatürk’s successes.The book is organized chronologically, beginning with Mustafa Kemal’s early education, and ending with the end of the War of Liberation. Chapter 1, “The Making of an Ottoman Soldier,” covers his military education, as well as his early military and diplomatic experiences in Libya and Bulgaria. Chapter 2, “The Great War and an Imperialist Peace,” covers World War One. The remaining five chapters (“Developing a Resistance,” “The Grand National Assembly,” “A Crisis in Battle,” “Commander in Chief,” and “From Lightning Campaign to Peace”) cover the War of Liberation and the nation-building program that went along with it. It is in these later chapters that Gawrych uses the concepts of “his, dimağ, and vicdan”, which he has introduced, explored, and developed earlier, to analyze Atatürk’s leadership style and explain the military and political successes of Mustafa Kemal.
While the three-part framework is useful and enlightening, there are also other concepts that Gawrych has to appeal to in order to complete his analysis. Part of his argument is that Mustafa Kemal’s success as a politician and statesman, his success in nation-building, resulted from the same skills which accounted for his success as a military leader. It was his recognition of the similarities between war and politics that allowed him to succeed in the latter. These similarities include an ability to be aware of all parts and levels of a battle, to concern himself with strategy and tactics at the same time. They also include the recognition that the soldiers, or the people of the nation, are people, and a willingness to treat them as such, and an ability to appeal to their feelings and emotions. (This is part of what Gawrych means by his feeling/emotion.) Gawrych clearly shows that Atatürk’s understanding of the relationship between military and political matters owed a great deal to his reading of the great Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz.
The chronological organization allows Gawrych to refer back to previous incidents in Mustafa Kemal’s life, explaining how an earlier experience or lesson or idea can illuminate later behavior. This is a tactic Gawrych uses frequently, and to good effect. Frequent references to the triad of “his, dimağ, and vicdan”, in whole or in part, allow Gawrych to make his arguments clear without having to repetitively restate his thesis. The same holds true for references to other concepts, and to Clausewitz and other influences.
The Young Atatürk is not a biography. It is an analysis of Atatürk’s character as a leader, both military and political. It is also an (successful) effort to show where Atatürk’s leadership characteristics came from, how they arose and developed. The analysis of Atatürk’s early military training and its later effects is clear. Gawrych also documents the self-study that played such a large role in Atatürk’s education.
As this is not a biography, it is also neither a panegyric nor a demonization. It will no doubt be criticized both by those who feel it is too critical of Atatürk and those who feel it is not critical enough. Gawrych clearly admires the intellect of Mustafa Kemal, but also provides criticism of his actions in several places. In the conclusion, in his summing up of Atatürk, Gawrych says, for example:
Despite personal vices and questionable private life, Atatürk nevertheless created a professional command climate, striving to embody and instill the values of excellence, professionalism, patriotism, honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice. He commanded by example and led with the force of his personality, an approach and attitude that he learned from his military instructors and literature and that he applied to his role of a political leader…
Yet Atatürk was capable of callousness and ruthlessness… He accepted the loss of innocent civilian lives as a common feature in warfare. There were, therefore, two sides to Atatürk’s character… (pp. 223-224)
The Young Atatürk is a very clearly-written, readable, and deeply insightful analysis of Atatürk’s character as a leader. It will be of value to anyone interested in the origins of the Turkish Republic, or in qualities of leadership. Occasionally, however, Gawrych is betrayed by his closeness to his subject, and seems to be writing for a more limited audience. His mention, for example, of “[t]he famous photograph of [Atatürk] dressed in a Janissary uniform en route to a party…” (pp. 36-37) with no other description of the photograph suggests that he expects his readers to be familiar with the photograph. Similarly, while there is a map of the Ottoman Empire in 1881 provided early in Chapter 1 (p. 2), it has remarkably little detail. Almost all of the remaining maps are battle maps, with the exceptions of a map showing “Foreign Occupation, 1918-19” (p. 70) and one showing the “Treaty of Sèvres, 1920” (p. 117). A more detailed map of Turkey early in the book would have been of enormous help to the non-specialist. Furthermore, readers who do not have a background in military history may find some of the details of troop movements excessive. As these are not given in large blocks, however (never more than a page or so at a time) they do not distract from the larger ideas for the general reader, and serve to provide important evidence in support of those ideas for the military historian.
Scholars and students of Turkish history and politics, political science, military strategy and planning, as well as general readers, will benefit from Gawrych’s insightful analysis of the leadership qualities and characteristics of Turkey’s ablest military and political leader.