The Case of the Soldier-Statesman With a Bloated Belly

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


March 08, 2012


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, although born into an ordinary family, proved to be an exceptionally gifted soldier and an equally gifted politician. At Gallipoli, during World War I, the forces of the Ottoman Empire under his direction defeated the combined Allied armies, thus preventing Allied ships from entering the Bosphorus. Atatürk's bold actions during the Gallipoli campaign led to the unexpected Allied defeat.

At the end of World War I, Atatürk successfully united most of what was considered Asia Minor into a single nation: Turkey. Although remaining Muslim, Atatürk promulgated laws designed to modernize the new country along patterns of Western countries. During several centuries of Islamic rule under the Ottoman Empire, consuming alcohol was illegal, but the new, more secular Turkish government tolerated alcohol consumption. Atatürk's addiction to raki, Turkey's national drink, led to his eventual death from alcoholic cirrhosis. He died about 50 years before liver transplant became an accepted option for treating patients with alcoholic cirrhosis.

Today, Atatürk holds the same position in Turkey as George Washington does in the United States: a soldier-statesman who fought for and eventually became the revered leader of a new country. In commenting about Atatürk, David Lloyd George, British Prime Minster from 1916-1922, summarized the viewpoint of other contemporary statesmen when he said, "The centuries rarely produce a genius. Look at this bad luck of ours, that great genius of our era was granted to the Turkish nation."

Additional Reading

Mango A. Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press; 2000.

Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Available at: Accessed March 5, 2012.


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