Mcfly Posted on 6:04 pm

Guest Post: “He Who Wins the War, Writes the History” by Jonathan Harries

“He who wins the war, writes the history”

I’ve been using that quote for years and always credited it to the great nineteenth century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Turns out I’m wrong, and so is everyone who attributes the quote to Dan Brown, Winston Churchill, or even Herman Göring, although technically they used a slightly different version to say the same thing. In the end it really doesn’t matter who said it first; what matters is that it’s true. Most accounts of what happened in history are written by the victors. The vanquished are either dead or in no position to make their side heard until much later, when sentiment bends towards the underdog.

Now, I just used a few words from a quote attributed to Martin Luther King Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” According to Garson O’Toole in his wonderful book Hemingway Didn’t Say That—the truth behind familiar quotes, the actual quote can be found in a sermon written in 1810 by Theodore Parker, a unitarian minister and abolitionist. Even Dr. King put it in quotation marks the first time he used it in the article he wrote in 1958 for The Gospel Messenger. He never claimed it as his own, but he used it in such a powerful way that it has become his.

This is what makes the research when tackling historical novels so interesting (and frustrating). People see the same event through different eyes.

My latest novel, The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad, takes place in India in 1858 shortly after a ferocious uprising that the British called The Indian Mutiny and the Indians called The First War of Independence or The Sepoy Rebellion or Sepoy Revolt. There are some Sikh groups who object to the term “First War of Independence” and claim that the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) fought in the Punjab was obviously the first. Their claim is disputed by certain South Indian historians who say the Vellore Mutiny in 1806 was the earliest. While I don’t want to cavalierly dismiss which uprising came first or what it was called, the important part is why they happened in the first place. Once again, the focus depends on which side you’re on.

The British attributed the start of the rebellion to the sepoys—those were the common Indian soldiers—believing the cartridges they were given for their new Enfield rifles had been greased with a mixture of pig and cow lard, an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. In contrast, many Indian historians attribute the onset to the soldiers of the Bengal army having reached the “tipping point of exploitation and humiliation.” Whatever cause you believe, it was a bloody and vicious insurrection that left anywhere between a hundred thousand to over a million dead—depending on which historian you read.

The British saw the murder of civilians by the rebels as unforgiveable atrocities, and the brutal revenge they took in return as righteous punishment.

The Indians saw it the other way round. They were simply fighting to regain what had been stolen from them one hundred years before, when a bunch of storekeepers and merchants known collectively as the British East India Company sent an invading army to begin the looting of the sub-continent.

“War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman (no question on this quote), and what happened between 1857 and 1858 was indeed hell. The retaliation taken by the British army proved that even a nation that considered itself “civilized” could descend into a bunch of blood-crazed savages. The conclusion of the rebellion signaled the end of the rule of the East India Company. The British Crown took over the governing and, though it stopped deposing princes, distanced itself from the Christian missionaries and generally behaved less arrogantly, the British continued to suck the lifeblood from India until independence in 1947.

The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad takes place a year after the conflict ended. It opens when my distant relative, Elias Smulian-Hasson, is summoned to Bombay from Baghdad by the fabulously wealthy David Sassoon, also known as “the Rothschild of the East,” to find and kill a particularly nasty British officer whose brutality against the Indian soldiers who survived the rebellion disgusted even his own men. He took the assignment on behalf of the Maharaja of Kutch, the ruler of a kingdom on the west coast of India who, other than wanting the officer killed for his dastardly deeds, would like his stolen ruby—larger than a pigeon’s egg and the color of blood—returned. Elias pursues his quarry from the Mahakali Caves just outside Bombay to a temple in the southern kingdom of Travancore, where he finds him in a secret vault beneath the temple filled with treasure and giant cobras. In between assassinations and ambushes, Elias is introduced to the cuisine of India and gets to meet the mysterious Mozelle Jacob, a love he’ll pursue to the very ends of the earth.

The Carpet Salesman of Baghdad is a prequel to the first book in this series, The Tailor of Riga, in which the business my family have been in for close to two centuries—assassination, or as we affectionately call it, you pick them, we stick them—is revealed.

I like to think they’re light-hearted and entertaining, and I hope, should I be lucky enough for you to buy them, you will too. Everything I make from the books goes to organizations devoted to saving animals and wildlife around the world.

Prequel to The Tailor of Riga

Book Info

Jonathan Harries

Jonathan Harries’ Bio

Jonathan Harries began his career as a trainee copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding in South Africa and ended it as Chairman of FCB Worldwide with a few stops in between.

After winning his first Cannes Lion award, he was offered a job at Grey Advertising in South Africa, where he worked as a copywriter and ended up as CEO at age 29, just before emigrating to the US. Like most immigrants in those days, he started once again from scratch. After a five year stint as Executive Creative Director of Hal Riney in Chicago, he was offered a senior position at FCB. Within ten years, he became the Global Chief Creative Officer and spent the next ten traveling to over 90 countries, racking up 8 million miles on American Airlines alone.

He began writing his first novel, Killing Harry Bones, in the last year of his career and transitioned into becoming a full-time author three years ago, just after retiring from FCB. He’s been writing ever since while doing occasional consulting work for old clients.

Jonathan has a great love of animals, and he and his wife try to go on safari every year. They’ve been lucky enough to visit game reserves in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, India, and Sri Lanka.

Submitted by Jonathan Harries

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