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Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1

Celebrating our 140th Anniversary

The Italian Attack on Beirut. Part 4/4

Report Sent to the Board of Trustees, New York
February 27, 1912
Howard Bliss

Mrs. Professor Nickoley was down at the market at nine o’clock when the serious firing began. She said that the excitement was indescribable. Shops were closed. Hundreds of people poured into the streets. Animosity against suspected Italians was fierce. She saw two persons fall as a result of revolver or gun shots or other attacks. A Russian Jew, supposed to be an Italian, was attacked, but he was not killed. It is probable, however, that the people were more frightened for their own safety than bent upon revenge.

I asked Professor Nickoley to carry telegrams to the telegraph office in order to reassure the parents of our students that the students were safe. Such telegrams were sent to New York, Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Sidon, Cyprus, Tripoli, Zahleh, Hums, Damascus, and Alexandretta. Professor Crawford accompanied Professor Nickoley, and they secured a cavass at the Consulate, but found that it was not necessary to keep him. They had no difficulty in sending off the telegrams. They saw the bodies of fifteen or twenty who had been killed by the explosion of a shell near the port. Some of these [people] had been killed by the collapse of a balcony on a hotel near the Custom House. They reported the city as comparatively quiet.

In the meantime I had received visits from representatives of the Bayom, Ghandour, and Beidun families, who are among the most prominent families in Beirût, asking my opinion in reference to what was likely to happen, and asking for shelter for their families in case there should be a general bombardment. I assured them that special arrangements would be made for them in case there was any danger, and not only for them but for any who might wish to find shelter in the College grounds. I notified the Consulate that upon my own responsibility I was doing this.

While I was at my luncheon, about two o’clock, I went out to see whether the vessels had changed their position, and was surprised to see that they were coming back, and that one of them in advance of the other was making its way to the entrance of the inner harbor. This vessel was evidently ready for further action, and its movements were being keenly watched from the crowded decks of the sister ship. For some unexplained reason the morning’s work had not destroyed the small Turkish torpedo boat, and this second visit was for the purpose of finishing the morning’s work.

The Khedivial steamer from Mersine was entering the harbor at about this time. It had been held up when twenty or thirty miles away from Beirût by the supply ship mentioned above, and its papers had been examined by a boarding crew. Mr. E.O. Jacob, the traveling Secretary for Turkey of the Y.M.C.A. Movement, was on board and states that they remained outside of the inner harbor while the Italian warship took up its position at the entrance. The warship directed its fire against the torpedo boat and soon sunk it. Among the five or six shots that were fired was another shell that went screeching over the city and landed, presumably, on the sands near the Municipal Hospital.

Immediately after firing the shots the Italian warship withdrew, and together with her sister ship sailed away, remaining, however, within sight of the College, fifteen miles to the northwest. A rumor which gained considerable credence was to the effect that they had sent a statement to the local Government saying that within twenty-four hours, unless the city surrendered and allowed Italian troops to land peacable [sic], a forcible landing would be made. This report was believed by many because of the appearance of the supposed transport ship in the early part of the day. Toward evening Dr. Dray brought the report from the British Consulate General that there was no truth in this proposed landing plan, and that the Italian vessels were waiting in the vicinity only until they were assured that trouble was not breaking out in the city.

The withdrawal of the Italian ships, owing to the fact that the Turkish vessels had been destroyed, had a quieting effect upon the populace and many of these who had been planning to remain upon the College grounds were persuaded without any difficulty to go to their homes. Five or six recitation rooms in the Collegiate Department were, however, used by our neighbors; also several rooms in Daniel Bliss Hall and one or two rooms in Fisk Hall. Special watchmen were instituted. A guard was sent up by the Government, and a comparatively peaceful night followed. The Government had the order of the city well under control, and all through the night the tram service was in operation, each car containing a number of soldiers.

The city is now under Martial Law. One of the chief objects of this measure seems to be

the recovery of the weapons that obtained such wide distribution on Saturday. Every inhabitant is positively forbidden to carry weapons of any sort whatever. None are allowed to appear in the streets and roads after midnight without special permission. I do not anticipate, myself, that there will be any serious trouble in the city.

As far as I can learn forty people have lost their lives in connection with this bombardment, and eighty persons have been more or less seriously injured.

In closing this account several observations may be made: First, we have all realized, even in so brief an experience, the horrors of war. On a day which was perhaps the lovliest [sic] day we have had this year, when all nature was at its best, these war vessels before our very eyes opened fire. After the shots from the distance the cool, steady, deliberate approach of the tarantula looking instrument of war to the very entrance of the harbor, where at closest range of a few hundred yards it could most effectively strike at its enemy thrilled us with a sense of the awfulness of such a combat.

Second, we gratefully realize that the College stands as a symbol of kindly protection in the minds of the people of Beirût, both Moslems and Christians. In the excited mob, in which Mrs. Nickoley found herself in the morning, the one word which she understood was ‘Al-Kulliyeh, Ras Beirût’ repeated again and again, - not in anger but in gratitude that there was such a place in the city where refuge might be had.

Third, not only were our doctors able to render assistance in this time of the city’s need, but I received many requests from our Senior and Junior Medical students that they should be allowed the privilege of caring for the dying and wounded among their fellow countrymen. I was very glad to be able to convey this message to the authorities of the city.

Whatever may be the shortcomings of Turkey, and however much she may be at blame in creating the conditions which produced this war, I feel more deeply convinced than ever that this war is an offense before God and Man; that Italy by the cool audacity of her attack upon Turkey merits the utmost condemnation of civilized men and women, and that if the civilized world has any concern for its reputation for fairness and justice a protest should be made so effective and so loud that Italy would be compelled to recognize the wickedness of its claims and cease this iniquitous war.

“In closing this account several observations may be made: First, we have all realized, even in so brief an experience, the horrors of war… Second, we gratefully realize that the College stands as a symbol of kindly protection in the minds of the people of Beirût, both Moslems and Christians. Third, not only were our doctors able to render assistance in this time of the city’s need, but I received many requests from our Senior and Junior Medical students that they should be allowed the privilege of caring for the dying and wounded among their fellow countrymen.’’

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