"The Street Called Straight" in Damascus, Syria, was said to be the oldest street in the world's oldest city. War and revolution had been nothing new to Syria. It was understood, "Since the dawn of civilization Syria has been blessed and cursed by its location." The National Geographic Society had explained, "Syria lies on the land bridge linking Asia, Africa and Europe. Syria's strategic location, as well as its agricultural resources, repeatedly tempted other powers. Conquerors have occupied the land almost continuously." Syria was, as one historian noted, "A kingdom that has rarely managed to exist." Part or all of Syria had been held at times by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mongols and Christian Crusaders. However "immigrants have followed caravan routes into Syria. Wealth and infusions of new cultures, ideas, and religions have enriched the region for centuries...In 1516, Salim the Grim conquered Syria for the Ottoman Turks, who ruled until 1918 when British and Arabs occupied the country. Syria was under French mandate between the two World Wars, and won full independence in 1945. Political coups toppled Syrian governments often in the past 15 years (between 1945 and 1962)." The Mediterranean Sea, forming part of Syria's western boundary, supplied a water route west.
During World War II, Kirk Bates of the Milwaukee Journal gave the public an insight into Syria: "From the dim dawn of history and probably before the Four Horsemen have galloped back and forth across that unhappy land. A blood bath, even Axis style, would be no novelty to Syrians, for they have been massacred by Turks. Their ancestors knew what it meant to be conquered by Alexander, later by the Greeks, the Romans. But there were other conquerers and oppressors, a long list of them. Because it contained Phoenicia and Palestine, ancient Syria Assyria it was called then has been of greater significance to mankind spiritually than any other land. It is the home of the 2 great monotheisms (Christianity and Islam) that have spread round the world, and it is a near neighbor of a 3rd (Judaism).
"Within the borders of that ancient land – quite a bit larger than modern Syria – are spots sacred to all 3 religions. Syria was and is – the resort of pilgrims from nearly every country in the world. It has been said that the 'nerves of all 3 great religions quiver in the soil of Syria.' But Syria was also the storm center of the ancient east, the battlefield upon which civilizations clashed, mingled and found a common deflection westward via the isles of the Mediterranean.
"Syria is the north end of the Arab wall, and within its borders were fought the first wars between Egypt and Assyria 1700 years before Jesus Christ was born to walk the shores of Galilee, also within the borders of old Assyria. The trouble started way back there in 1700BC when the Hittites moved south from Asia Minor and the Egyptians came north, and the 2 met in unhappy Assyria. There followed periodic overflows of populations into Assyria from Arabia for 300 years. The invaders mastered the center and south of the land, but within a century the kings of Egypt had restored order.
"Ramses II brought about peace; the Hittites got the north and Egypt got Palestine. The Arameans came next as invaders of the north country. But they were not the only ones that came. The ancient Jews came also, and the Philistines. Among those Hebrew tribes, fresh from the desert, there was no central authority. The individual tribes made peace or war. It was the period of judges and there was no king of Israel. The Philistines, who had a strong king, became masters of inland Palestine and held it until the tribes of Israel grew King Saul, who drove the Philistines back into the western lowlands. King David consolidated the tribes into one nation, but they split up again on the death of David's son, Solomon.
"In the 6th century BC the Babylonian kings took over Syria as part of their realm. In 332 Alexander conquered it and placed his beloved marshal, Seleucus, satrap of Babylon, as overlord of the land. There followed many pagan conquerors. In the first century before Christ the Romans came and made Syria a part of the vast Roman empire. And a real Roman colony it was, too, with Roman settlers, Syrians in the Roman army, military roads built and rings of forts to protect the more civilized areas. The nomad Arabs were encouraged by the Romans to adopt a more settled form of life. The Jews were numerous and some amalgamated with other tribes and lost their racial identity. Through the birth of Christ and beyond, Rome hung on, with its rule jeopardized by military aggression now and then, until the 4th century. In 632 the Moslems conquered the land, but in 1104 the Crusaders from western Europe won it back. In the 13th century most of Syria was united with Egypt. In the 16th century the Turks were back, but in 1798 Napoleon's armies occupied a lot of the land. In 1832 it was again a Turkish province.
"The modern history of Syria might be said to have started in 1860. That was the year of the horrible Lebanon massacre, a crime that sickened the civilized world. No less than 3000 Christians were put to the sword by the 'unspeakable Turk'. The world was aghast, but the Sublime Porte would do nothing about it. Nothing, that is, until the European powers sent in 20,000 troops to see that the killings were ended. The Porte was forced to agree to a policy that lessened the quarrels between the Druzes and Christians. Lebanon became a privileged province under the protection of England, France, Italy, Austria and Germany. The Governor of Lebanon, the peace terms provided, must be a Christian. Western Europe had a foothold in Syria. After the World War the peace conference set about stripping Turkey of her non-Turkish possessions.
"The Syrian problem was studied carefully by the victors, It was learned that in 1915 the British had promised to recognize Arab independence, provided the Arabs revolted from Turkey. In 1919 the American peace mission at Paris sent the King-Crane commission to study the wishes of the near east peoples in regard to mandates. The report was never published, but it was learned that the people of Syria wanted a United States mandate. But our country (the U.S.) was not sticking its neck into the near east. France got the mandate. Neither the Syrians nor the French have been too happy under the arrangement. Under the mandate, custom barriers have been set up north, east and south, hampering Syrian trade and industry to a considerable extent.
"By its very nature, Syria is a country that cannot be too happy. At one of the world's crossroads, it is heterogenous to an extreme degree. slightly less than 60,000 square miles, it contains some 3,500,000 people (as at 1941). The majority are Moslems, but the Christians are a strong minority. And of the Moslems, there are some 4 varieties, none of which gets along very well with the others. The Christians are mostly Greek Catholics, but the Druzes and Roman Catholics are strong and the Coptics' minority adds to the confusion. There is a liberal sprinkling of Jews.
"Racially the country is mostly Arabic, but there are strong Turkish, Jewish, Greek, Roman admixtures, as well as the bloods of the ancient peoples and conquerors of the land. It is a polyglot (using several languages). And of the Arabic majority there are both the nomadic Bedouins and the settled Falahins, and still others who are hybrids, half nomads, half peasants.
"Geographically the country is so cut by mountains and valleys and transportation is so poor that a single administration is very difficult. Most of the people are farmers, producing wheat, tobacco, fruit, wine, silk, and raising sheep, goats, camels, oxen and asses. But in the coastal cities live the shrewdest traders in the world. To add to their other troubles, the Syrians, being Orientals, resent European rulers. The French never had any great gift or colonial administration among Eastern or African peoples. They did not send their best administrators to Syria and they always kept a bigger army in the country than the Syrians had expected. In fact, it at last dawned upon the Syrians that they were being treated more as an occupied than as a mandated land. The mandate did not end in 1936, as had been tacitly agreed upon, although Syria had set up a government that had taken over most of the functions of administration. Under such circumstances it seems impossible for Syria to take the strain of the present (World War II) chaotic world condition quietly. The wonder is that the revolt has not already started."