Celebrating Our 140th Anniversary
  STRIKE! AUB Students Make History
The Italian Attack on Beirut. Part 2/4
Activism and the Y Generation
Exploring Tripoli
Exhibiting the Past: Priceless
Uncovering the History of Lebanon
Nature in the Design
The Finer Things in Life
A Journey from Geology to Iconography
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Spring 2006 Vol. IV, No. 3

Celebrating our 140th Anniversary

The Italian Attack on Beirut (Part 2/4)

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

Before long the firing from the vessels ceased, but one of them proceeded slowly to the opening of the port, coming within a few rods of the breakwater. The breakwater runs east and west and then at right angles with it another portion runs north and south leaving an opening between the two portions for the entrance of vessels. The Italian vessel took up its position just at this opening and soon began firing upon the Turkish gun-boat which was lying in the harbor. The harbor was singularly free of steamers, but a number of sailing craft were anchored there.
From the College grounds we could easily see the firing, and from the College tower the view was still more clear. Huge columns of water rose up from where the shells of torpedoes struck, and a great volume of smoke arose from the attacked gun-boat.
The report is that the Admiral sent word to the Governor General demanding that the Turkish vessels should be delivered to the Italians, the notification being given in accordance with one of the regulations of the Hague Convention. The statement was that unless they were delivered by nine o’clock the Italians would proceed to use force. It is said that the Governor General asked for time, which was not granted. After firing quite a number of shots the Italian warship withdrew, and with its companion went off in a northerly and then a northwesterly direction, to a point eight or ten miles away.

While all this was happening in full sight of the College the scene on the College campus was unique in the history of the Institution. The College tower was crowded with professors and Staff and members of the professors’ families. Not only were all the students and the rest of the teachers in evidence, but hundreds of people from the vicinity crowded through the gates. This was done by permission, the only condition being that no one should be allowed with arms of any kind, and that all must enter at the central gate. The American flag was placed upon the lightning rod of the College tower, and I sent to the Consulate for six flags to place upon the Hospitals and at the extreme western limits of the grounds on Professor Hall’s house.

The students were particularly orderly, but naturally some of them were excited. Of course all recitations were suspended, although it seemed by eleven o’clock as though the operations were at an end. Meanwhile there were many rumors as to the number who had been killed in the city, and the amount of damage that had been done to the buildings. Many men passed the College armed with rifles, and the report was that rifles were being distributed to all the population, especially the Moslems, from the arsenal.

What seems to be the facts in this matter of arms distribution are these: The authorities were giving out arms to a number of reserve policemen when the excited crowd of men rushed up and either looted the arsenal or compelled those who were distributing arms to give them arms also. It is said that about 2000 guns came into the possession of the populace in this way. Of course in the state of excitement that existed this indiscriminate distribution of guns was a menacing factor in the situation. To be continued...


These texts were compiled by Betty Anderson, an assistant professor of Middle East History at Boston University.  The author of Nationalist Voices in Jordan: The Street and the State (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), she is currently writing a book about the history of AUB in the 20th century, entitled The American University of Beirut (AUB): The Narrative and the Counter-narrative.Texts and photos in this article come from the American University of Beirut/Library Archives.
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