The geographical scope of the Commission’s inquiry was intended to be vast, encompassing the entirety of the Ottoman Empire, but focusing on the non-Turkish regions of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Cilicia, and Armenia, which would almost certainly be separated from Turkey. However, given the urgency of the work in the context of the ongoing Paris Peace Conference, the Commissioners decided to limit their fact-finding to Syria and Palestine.3 The Commission assembled in Constantinople, and then sailed to Jaffa, arriving on June 10, 1919. From there, the Commission visited both major urban centers and smaller villages across Palestine, Syria, and the southern region of Anatolia, including Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Damascus, Beirut, Tripoli, Homs, Aleppo, and Adana. Finally, the Commission sailed back to Constantinople on July 21, in order to deliberate and write their report. During these travels, the Commission met with religious and political delegations in each locale, 442 in sum, inviting petitions in order to measure public opinion.
Moved by the statements of the hundreds of delegations with whom they met, King and Crane sent a series of urgent telegrams to Wilson calling for action. In one such message, Crane stated that “[the] situation in Turkey so serious your Commission decided to return to report as soon as it had covered essentials.”4 However, the Paris Peace Conference was nearing its close and the Middle East was sidelined. When the Commission’s final report was transmitted to the Conference and carried to Washington, D.C. by Commission secretary Donald Brodie, it was initially ignored and eventually suppressed.
Though both Henry Churchill King and Charles Crane felt that the Commission’s report should be made public, they believed themselves unable to distribute the report or speak with the press without the explicit permission of either the Department of State or Woodrow Wilson himself. The State Department prevented even other U.S. government officials from seeing the report, stating that, “it would not be compatible with the public interest.”5 Authorization did not come until 1922, after the end of Wilson’s term and the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which partitioned the Ottoman Empire and distributed Arab territories to Britain and France largely in line with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. The publication of the Commission report in the December 2, 1922 edition of the Editor & Publisher allowed the public finally to read the recommendations of the King-Crane Commission. This did not mark the end of efforts exerted by individual members of the Commission.
Commission Secretary Donald Brodie purchased a large stockpile of copies of the report to send to universities and scholars across Europe and the United States. Both Brodie and Commission Advisor Albert Lybyer later aided Harry Howard in researching his volume on the Commission, which was published in 1963 as The King-Crane Commission: An American Inquiry in the Middle East. King, Lybyer, and Brodie, perhaps due to their shared ties with Oberlin College, kept in contact and maintained friendships through the rest of their lives.
The Commission was an important moment in American history—indeed, in Oberlin’s history. Nearly a century has passed since the Commission traveled to the Levant. The region is again facing challenges of self-determination—and the U.S. is again at a crossroads of whether to listen to the voices calling for self-determination. It is therefore an opportune moment to examine the work of the Commission and reflect upon the American role in the region.
4.Charles R. Crane, telegram to Woodrow Wilson, 1919?. Henry Churchill King Presidential Papers, Record Group 2/6, box 128, folder 1, Oberlin College Archives.
5.Letter from Undersecretary Henry Fletcher to Secretary of State Leland Harrison, April 7, 1922. Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, 763.72119/7161, Microfilm Publication 367, Reel 439, National Archives and Records Administration.
[Note: The identification of the writer of the letter has been disputed, as has been Leland Harrison's title. A King-Crane Collection user states that Charles Evans Hughes Sr. was the US Secretary of State at the time, and Henry Fletcher's appointment as Under Secretary was "terminated" on March 6, 1922. Additionally, William Phillips was appointed Under Secretary of State on March 31, 1922.]