Monday, September 29, 2014

The Modern Russian Problem with Monarchy

I have been quite amazed by the number of people who identify as monarchists or who are at least interested enough in the subject to read what I write who are such unabashed admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin. How can a man who is a former KGB officer of the Soviet Union, the President of a republic who bases his rule on being democratically elected (putting aside allegations of chicanery in the voting process) and who is at odds with almost every remaining monarchy in the world able to have any monarchists as his fans? In my experience this usually comes down to the draw of nationalism, Russian Orthodoxy and support for most of his policies as well as the image of Putin as the man standing opposed to the liberal western world that these people despise. Well, on that count, one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger critic of modern, liberal, western society than myself but I want to put it back to the way it was, not see it wiped out or replaced by simply a more illiberal version of “democratic” republicanism. However, if one is a fan of Putin simply because one views him as being the least bad in a cast of bad characters or the tallest dwarf in midget land, I can at least understand that and will start with something positive.

Putin with his old boss Yeltsin
Restricting oneself to the current Russian political establishment, to those who have a realistic chance of gaining power and ruling the country, I have said in the past that Putin may well be the least bad option. This is a country in which the second largest political faction is the Communist Party that thinks the height of Russian greatness was the Stalin era. God knows the last thing anyone would want would be to see those cretins in power. Furthermore, in his domestic policies, there has been some things that I have agreed with Putin on and there are instances in which I think he has done the right thing. He has privatized the economy somewhat, he has encouraged Russians to have more children (as the population is shrinking fast) and he has shown more favor to the Russian Orthodox Church than past governments. Some things were just personally satisfying for me like arresting those annoying sanctimonious Green Peace activists in the Barents Sea or that ridiculous girl group that was desecrating churches. However, I am not prepared to view a politician as the Second Coming just for banning “Gay Pride” parades.

Let me also say that when it comes to foreign policy, while I mostly think Putin has been atrocious in this area, there are areas in which he has a legitimate case. For example, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. NATO, in which the United States carries almost the entire military burden, has moved in right next door to Russia by accepting countries such as the Baltic states as members. Given how NATO is set up (one goes to war, we all go to war) this was effectively a war guarantee to these countries from the United States. Let me stress that I have nothing against the Baltic states and do not wish any harm to come to them but the idea that the United States should go to war on their behalf is absurd. These countries, much like Ukraine, were part of Russia for hundreds of years and it had no impact on the United States at all. There is no reason for it and it antagonizes Russia just as the United States would be outraged if Russia gave a war guarantee to a country like Mexico. Perhaps even worse as Putin has talked a good game when it comes to warning the west not to mess with his allies but he has never actually been willing to risk a confrontation by defending them. NATO has never been put to the test so it remains probably more threatening because it has never had to back down.

So, there are certainly areas in which Russia has a just case and in which a bad attitude at least, on the part of Russia, is totally justified and a not unnatural reaction to overreach by western Europe and the United States. The problem, at least for pan-monarchists like myself who want to protect the few remaining monarchies in the world, is that, despite how stridently anti-American I know many monarchists are, most of the monarchies of the world are officially or unofficially under the protection of the United States. Virtually every monarchy in Europe save for perhaps Liechtenstein is a member of NATO or is under the protection of a NATO member. For a pan-monarchist there is no getting around the fact that, in the world as it is today, the United States is defending the few remaining monarchies and the Russian Federation is defending their enemies. In the Middle East, the Arab monarchies are on friendly terms with the United States whereas the regimes on the most friendly terms with Russia are the stridently anti-monarchy Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogate in Syria. Likewise, in East Asia, the United States is allies with the monarchies of Japan and Thailand with ties strengthening with Malaysia while Russia is on friendliest terms with the People’s Republic of China. This being the same Communist China that positively despises Japan, has territorial disputes with them, Malaysia and even little Brunei and which inspired the overthrow of the monarchy in Nepal.

However, for those coming at things purely from a nationalistic or religious perspective, none of that must matter. They are not pan-monarchists and must believe that monarchy can exist in a vacuum and/or that it can still come back even if the last monarchy on earth is extinguished. Fine, but even from that standpoint I still cannot understand what would turn an Orthodox Christian and Russian nationalist with monarchist leanings into a starry-eyed Putin fan boy. First, on the nationalist front, I will agree that Putin may well be, once again, the only viable option available but that is a far cry from being someone worthy of enthusiastic support. I will give Putin credit for being better than post-Soviet regimes that went before him (I take it for granted that anything is an improvement over the USSR) as these regimes really were horrible and brought nothing but shame and despair on Russia and which did often allow themselves to be exploited by despicable players in the western world. That being said, I still see nothing that Putin has done that warrants such adulation as he often receives in terms of Russian nationalism and he held office in those dark days under Yeltsin and his first act on becoming president was to make sure that his former boss would not face prosecution for the corruption that left Russia in such a sad state. He often talks a good game, but I have yet to see him deliver anything concrete.

Putin and Chinese president Hu Jintao
Take, for example, an issue in which I am in full agreement with President Putin; the secession of Kosovo from Serbia. Did he stop this or do anything actively to reverse it? No, in fact he has recently given a sort of legitimacy to Kosovo independence by using that as a precedent for the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. This is also symptomatic of a habit Putin has of justifying doing what disreputable things other countries have done on the lofty grounds of, “well, they did it first”. This tends to lessen his image as being simply “the lesser evil” of the leading world figures when he interferes in the affairs of other countries just as his western counterparts do and with his constant harping on being in lock-step with the UN. His nationalist credentials are also certainly not helped by his infatuation with Communist China. He has effectively sold out Russia to a country that even the Soviets never trusted when they were both officially communist. Since officially signing his BFF treaty with China, Putin handed over Tarabov Island, Zhenbao Island, and half of Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island to China, a follow up to the 1991 agreement that also saw Russia cede territory to China. This caused the forced relocation of Cossacks living in the region but has been routinely ignored by professed Russian nationalists. Then there was the recent sell-out of Russian mineral reserves in Siberia to Chinese exploitation at far below market value. Combine this with the demographic disparity in the region between the two countries and he may as well have tossed them the keys to the whole of the Russian far east while he was at it.

Finally, we have the issue of the monarchy which, to my mind at least, is inextricably bound up with the Russian Orthodox Church. For me, this is the most paramount issue because, as some evidently fail to notice, I am a monarchist (feel free to have a drink if the shock of that is too much for you). Putin has done some good things on this front which I freely acknowledge. However, my biggest problem with him and all those like him is that he is the illegitimate leader of an illegitimate regime. I cannot and will not give my full, enthusiastic support to any Russian leader who is not a proper Czar of the Romanov dynasty nor to any government that is not the government of the Russian Empire. Every post 1917 government in Russia should not exist and has no right to the loyalty of the Russian people as far as I’m concerned and, in a way, the things Putin has done which are positive in regards to the Russian Orthodox Church and the former monarchy only highlight this.

For one thing, while I am frequently annoyed with those in the west who try to portray Putin as the worst monster on the world stage (including the same old tired comparisons to the dead-horse named Adolf Hitler -which, again, Putin responds to by surrendering the moral high ground and stooping to the same level) which he certainly is not and is often responding to unjustified meddling by others in his own backyard, I am also only further put off by the gushing tributes of his starry-eyed fan boys. This is because their attitude tells me that Putin is doing something, in a way, worse than anything even the Soviets did which is to make republicanism in Russia seem acceptable to normally loyal people. I don’t want Russia to be comfortable with republicanism, I don’t even want it to be a stunning success as, while certainly wishing no harm to come to the Russian people, I don’t want anyone to settle for anything less than the restoration of the Orthodox monarchy and Russian Empire. This is something that has been talked about, the subject being tossed around every few years, but which never seems to come to fruition. If Putin is so popular, if he is so beloved and trusted in Russia, there is no reason why he couldn’t do it if he so desired. That brings me to the subject of Generalissimo Franco. What?

It's Franco -don't act surprised
I have been asked by some of the enthusiastic Putin fans how I can have such a positive opinion of Generalissimo Franco but not President Putin. Allow me to explain; I think it may be helpful. In the first place, I have never considered Franco an ideal figure by any means but have always, I think, been clear that I consider him to have been a *necessary* figure. He was not perfect, his regime was not terribly effective (the speed of the collapse in support for his politics after his death revealing that his values had not really taken hold in the public) but he prevented Spain from becoming a communist state, brought down the republic and enabled the Spanish monarchy to be restored. True, Don Juan Carlos did not become King of Spain until after his death but, it is often forgotten, Franco actually restored the monarchy legally in his own lifetime so there was no doubt about what was going to happen. He also did his level best to eradicate the enemies of Spain and keep them from ever gaining power. Putin has done none of these things. Now, to be fair, I think it is because Putin thinks he can achieve greater unity by just taking the wide view of “Russia” with no real distinction for the Czarist era, the Soviet era or the Federation era but the fact remains that he has not broken with the republican government nor has he managed to stop the Communist Party from remaining the second most powerful political force in the country. Franco was an anti-communist and a nationalist who would not compromise even if that meant Spain had to stand alone. Putin, on the other hand, professes to be anti-communist while showing nostalgia for the Soviet past and allying with communist regimes from Cuba to China.

However, the greatest good deed Putin has done is also, in a way, the deed that most condemns him from my perspective. That good deed was the official rehabilitation of the martyred Romanovs of the Imperial Family in 2008 (after three previous refusals to do so). Giving Putin credit for this, just as an aside, can be a double-edged sword though as it rather undermines the independence of the legal system and would give credence to those who accuse him of using the courts to punish his political enemies. However, it was a good thing to see justice done to the martyred members of the Russian Imperial Family. The problem is that it makes the lack of a restoration of the monarchy all the more infuriating, particularly if Putin, as his fans so often claim, has been pushing for the rehabilitation. If the Czar did nothing wrong, if the Russian government is admitting that his murder was unjust; then what exactly is the basis for their continued refusal to restore the monarchy and all the property unjustly seized from the Imperial Family?

HIH Grand Duchess Maria of Russia
I expect republicans to be the enemies of monarchy; if you believe in the ideals of republicanism and revolution then you *should* oppose monarchy but it is positively infuriating to me to have someone say that they believe in Orthodox Christianity, a cornerstone of which was the sacred role of the emperor, that they think Czar Nicholas II and his family were innocent victims of political repression and that their murder was unjust and yet still not restore the Russian Orthodox monarchy! It reminds me of the Biblical passage from St James 4:17, “To him therefore who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin”. If Putin were as sincerely devout as his fans claim him to be, the restoration of the monarchy would be underway right now because a Russia without a Czar is a positive sacrilege. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia as head of the House of Romanov, has said she is, “ready to respond to a call from the people” to become Empress of Russia. There is no impediment to this if Putin, with his long-standing dominance of the political scene in Russia, wished it to be so. If the Czar and his family were treated unjustly, if they were innocent of the crimes they were accused of, as the Russian courts have recognized, then there is no reason even by their standards why the Romanov dynasty should not be restored to their rightful place with the sincerest apologies of the government.

Holy Russia -accept no substitutes
For me, that is the bottom line and the non-negotiable point. I certainly don’t think Putin is the worst leader in the world, I don’t think countries far removed from his should be meddling where they have no business and in certain areas I think he is perfectly right to push back. However, I certainly do not regard him as being worthy of admiration. When he says the right thing, he has so far failed to actually do anything about it, he has surrendered Russian territory and resources and aligned himself with the most atrocious of regimes. But my biggest problem with him is that he is, to repeat, the illegitimate leader of an illegitimate regime and if he really is the secret sympathizer of “traditionalists” that I continue to be told that he is, it makes his failure to restore the monarchy all the more deplorable. I don’t want nationalists or conservatives or traditionalists or anyone to become comfortable with the Russian Federation, I don’t want it or any other illegitimate republican regime to thrive or succeed, I want them to be restored to their rightful sovereigns as soon as is humanly possible. I am not prepared to compromise on the issue; I will have a Russian Empire with a Romanov Czar and will settle for nothing less. Any leader of any sort of a republican Russia will never be acceptable to me and the only Russian president I will ever have a kind word for is the one who finally wipes away the crime of 1917 and restores the Orthodox monarchy of Imperial Russia.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Consort Profile: Queen Victoria of Baden

The young lady who would one day become Queen consort of Sweden was born Princess Sophie Marie Viktoria on August 7, 1862 in Karlsruhe to Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden (who had a Swedish mother) and Princess Luise of Prussia (the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm I). Perhaps strangely for a woman later known as a staunch conservative, she spent her childhood in fairly liberal surroundings, her father disliking court ceremony but having no animosity towards a little democracy. While still a teenager it was decided that she would be wed to the heir to the Swedish throne, Crown Prince Gustaf of Sweden and Norway. It seemed a natural choice. Her paternal grandmother was Princess Sophie of Sweden who was herself the daughter of a Swedish King and a Princess from Baden. In fact, because of these long family ties, she had ancestry in the old Swedish dynasty, the House of Vasa, which made the match quite popular in Sweden. To a limited degree, the marriage would mean the mingling of Vasa and Bernadotte blood for the future royals of Sweden. She was in her nineteenth year when she was married to the Crown Prince in Karlsruhe on September 20, 1881.

By this time, the German Empire was well established and, given that the Baden royals had also married in with the Prussian Royal Family, the wedding had the full support of the German government as a way of bringing Sweden and Germany closer together. Kaiser Wilhelm I and Kaiserin Augusta of Saxe-Weimar attended the ceremony as a display to the international community that the ties between the Kingdom of Sweden and the German Empire were strong. It all must have seemed quite idyllic. When the couple came home to their two kingdoms they were given an enthusiastic welcome in both Stockholm and Oslo as the people cheered their dapper crown prince and his charming young bride. The problem was that, while arranged royal marriages have worked out quite well (probably more often than one today might think), this one did not. The pair never really hit it off and it soon became obvious to those around them that this marriage was not destined to be a happy one. The reasons for this have been the subject of much speculation, usually revolving around the gossip concerning the sexuality of the crown prince but there were also rumors of infidelity on the part of the crown princess. However, both were products of royal training that stressed duty before personal happiness so there was never to be a divorce and their marital problems remained strictly private.

The Crown Princely couple did their duty by the monarchy to secure the succession and in 1882 a son and future monarch was born, Prince Oscar (later King Gustaf VI Adolf), followed by Prince Wilhelm in 1884 (who later married into the Russian Imperial Family) and finally Prince Erik in 1889. With three sons the future of the monarchy was safe and that mission being accomplished, the two separated in all but name. It was never official of course and, dutiful royals that they were, both put on a good public face and appeared together when necessary but they essentially lived separate lives. Crown Princess Victoria fell victim to post-partum depression after the birth of their first child and she went abroad. This became part of her regular routine and she invariably left the country when the weather turned cold as she found the Swedish winter intolerable. After a bout of pneumonia she was given a medical validation for this and so she spent much of her time in the warmer climate of southern Europe. This, of course, made her popularity drop in Sweden and also caused friction with the King and Queen who disapproved of the length and expense of her absences. This was, probably, at least somewhat unfair as the winters of Scandinavia would be difficult for anyone not accustomed to them and she was always very definite about being the Crown Princess of Sweden.

Nonetheless, her time away from the country undoubtedly led to the popular perception of her as being aloof and rather too “grand” for everyone else. This too is probably unfair. She was simply a very conservative royal who placed great importance on royal status in a way that, in a different time and place, would not have been at all unusual. Victoria of Baden was not the cold woman many made her out to be but she did not approve of royals marrying below their status, was very assertive and decisive and generally determined that things be done and that people behave in the proper way. In fact, she was quite an artistic person. She was an accomplished horsewoman, a good painter, an excellent photographer and a very skilled pianist with a great love for classical music. Even if she did not get a great deal of popular acclaim for it, she also supported numerous charitable works in Italy, Germany and Sweden, particularly after becoming Queen. That momentous occasion came on December 8, 1907 and despite only being in residence in Sweden during the summer time, left no room for doubt that she was the Queen.

Queen Victoria of Baden was not the type of royal who would be merely symbolic or keep her opinions to herself. She was very definite about maintaining friendly relations with her native Germany, was very upset about the separation of Norway from Sweden and detested the rise of trade unions and socialism in Sweden. For Queen Victoria, elected politicians were people who simply had to be tolerated and she had very strong views about keeping the politically class at a distinct distance from the Royal Family. She was a strong, strict, ‘by the book’ type of lady who did not hesitate to have members of the Royal Guard placed under arrest if they failed to salute her. When, on an official visit to Germany, she was made colonel-in-chief of a Prussian regiment (the Prussian army being famous for its iron-discipline) many thought she had missed her true calling. This caused a further drop in her popularity in Sweden after the outbreak of World War I in which Sweden was neutral but during which time Queen Victoria left no doubt that she was definitely on ‘Team Central Powers’.

Once again, this may be overblown and is somewhat unfair. The Queen was from Baden and it should have come as no surprise that she would sympathize with her native land. Nor was she alone in this and she may have been made a scapegoat for that fact as some murmured that she was influencing the King to be partial toward the Germans. Yet, there was really no need for that as Sweden was neutral and would remain so and many Swedes did sympathize with Germany, particularly as Sweden suffered (as did other neutrals) from the British blockade. The Queen made no secret of her own opinions and she sent a gift to every Swede who volunteered to go and fight in the German Imperial Army. She visited Germany a number of times during the war, met with and corresponded with Kaiser Wilhelm II and set up her own committee to raise money for Swedish defense in case the kingdom was forced into the conflict. In fact, Queen Victoria was in her native Baden visiting her mother at the end of the war when the forces of the revolution moved to destroy the monarchy and evict her family from their ancestral home. They had to slip away and take refuge in the nearby home of a Swedish aristocrat and the new republican government gave orders that they were to be protected because if any harm came to the Queen of Sweden it would surely provoke an international incident.

The changes that came to Sweden during and after the war were very much to her disappointment but, with the fall of Imperial Germany, she lost what influence she had previously had in state affairs. Her marriage had been to strengthen ties with a regime that no longer existed and her health, which had never been robust, began a steady decline. Her last official royal duty on behalf of the Swedish monarchy was a visit to Finland and she settled for the rest of her life in the Kingdom of Italy. She did make one final visit to Sweden but it was strictly private. Queen Victoria of Baden died in Rome on April 4, 1930 at the age of only 67. Her remains to moved to Sweden and she was buried in Riddarholm Church in Stockholm.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bombing Syria

The word reached me on Monday night that, for the first time, bombs were falling on the areas of Syria dominated by the terrorist group ISIS. The military effort includes no Europeans with only France participating in the bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq but wanting no part of any attacks on the Syrian side of the border (at least not yet, others may join if they think it prudent later on). The coalition includes the United States of America, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Emirate of Qatar. Yes, ‘one of these things is not like the other’ and, certainly in my opinion, ‘one of these things just doesn’t belong’. An officially secular democratic republic fighting alongside five Islamic absolute monarchies. Why the United States is involved at all is beyond me. It is certainly not because it takes a military superpower to take on ISIS. The lavishly wealthy gulf states have the means to do the job all by themselves and being fellow Arab Muslims also have some advantages that America lacks. In terms of equipment, much of their military tech was purchased from the United States anyway. I would be pleased if the United States stayed out of this Islamic civil war and focused on keeping terrorists off of American soil and weeding out there sympathizers already in residence (which I think would also be good advice for Europe though Europe has more reason to be interested than America being as they are closer to the region and have economic ties with the areas involved).

Standard of Iraq
Having a look back at my posts on Syria last year, I see that nothing has really changed. My position is still that this is none of America’s business and the U.S. President remains bewilderingly inconsistent. ISIS is not a direct threat to America or Europe and bombing Syria and Iraq into little pieces will do nothing to benefit American or European security, only preventing terrorists from gaining access to these countries and weeding out their sympathizers already in residence will do that. However, ISIS does pose a very real threat to the monarchies of the region and I am glad to see them taking at least a partial role in the campaign against them. The problem here, as I see it, is that there is no way to fight one group of bad guys without inadvertently assisting another group of bad guys. The ISIS fanatics are so nuts that they pose a danger to everyone in the region, whether it is the secular republics in Syria and Iraq, the religious monarchies or even the theocratic state in Iran. ISIS has threatened Europe, America and Russia as well as all of their co-religionists whom they deem ‘not Muslim enough’. Taking down ISIS means taking down a major threat to the Assad regime in Syria (which last year Obama told us was so terrible) and would also be doing a big favor for Iran and their allies that have been in control of Iraq ever since Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Standard of Saudi Arabia
This is why I think it is prudent for Europe to stay out of it and would have preferred for America to do the same. No matter who wins, you still lose. What is most concerning is the threat posed to the monarchies of the region and I say that not simply as a monarchist but because these have been the most stable regimes in an otherwise very violent and chaotic region. They are under threat, they should be maintained and they should take responsibility for their own security and handle this problem themselves. There is at least some small excuse for optimism in the fact that, aside from America, all the current participants are Islamic monarchies. It holds out hope that they understand their situation and can, perhaps, offset any temptation by the Obama administration to try some idealistic nonsense that will only make things worse. This is also something that Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular should have a hand in because they must accept at least some of the responsibility for the fact that it has come to this. Each have been in competition with the other in promoting their own brand of religious extremism and lately they have begun to feel the consequences of that. Qatar has been a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood that has helped destabilize the whole region and for that reason the other monarchies have put Qatar on the “naughty” list. The Saudis too have been spreading fundamentalism and, one must assume inadvertently, inspired a crop of fanatics who see even their kingdom as ‘not Muslim enough’.

King & Queen of Jordan
Many liberal critics of the “War on Terror” in the west liked to point out that Osama bin Laden and most of the 911 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. What they failed to mention was that these same people are not loyal to the government there and want the monarchy overthrown in favor of something similar to what ISIS has tried to establish; a fundamentalist theocracy. Through a combination of force and the largesse their oil wealth gives them, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states have been able to fend off any radical unrest within their own borders but Jordan has had a more difficult time. They have long been the most politically moderate regime in the neighborhood but they also lack oil wealth and bad economic times have been seized on by religious radicals to stir up trouble. This adds further stress to a system already pushed to the limit by refugees flooding into Jordan every time there is a crisis and the Syrian civil war certainly counts. For many in the country, the close ties between the monarchy and the United States and Great Britain and social things like the Queen being best buddies with Oprah and the like all work against them. This places Jordan, and to a lesser degree the other states in the region, in a difficult position. If they try to please the west, they anger the radicals which makes them dependent on western goodwill all the more whereas trying to please the radicals angers the west who then might not come to the rescue if there is trouble.

Prince Ra'ad bin Zeid of Iraq & Syria
These countries need to make up their minds what sort of countries they want to be and forge ahead boldly. Trying to play both sides of the fence has not worked to their advantage. The west, particularly America, would also be well advised, in my view, to stop meddling and drop the conceit that they are responsible for any of this or have any solution to the problems in the region. As someone else recently said, speaking of Iraq, if money and military force could solve the problems there the country would be a paradise by this point. Right now, the only goal is (at least insofar as one can interpret the inconsistent rhetoric of Obama) to defeat ISIS and not to bring down Assad in Syria or do anymore nation-building. However, all the ingredients are present for “mission creep” in Iraq and arming Syrian rebels who started this war by fighting Assad and expecting them to drop that ambition in favor of focusing only on ISIS would be, in my view, unrealistic. What I would like to see would be for the west to wash its hands of the whole nasty business in the region and let the locals handle things. Sell the legitimate monarchies all the weapons they ask for but make it clear that they have to do the fighting. Iraq, like all the others, needs to put on their big boy pants and stop expecting American military power to come to their rescue whenever there is a crisis.

The Emir of Qatar
So, by all means, let the ISIS killers be wiped out but the Sunni monarchies need to take care that what follows does not end up strengthening the hand of Iran and their pliant friends in Iraq and Syria. That would set things up for further instability and conflict. My preference would be for the monarchies to take a more broad-based approach, let the minorities (ethnic and religious) know that they will be better off with them than with the Iranians or their puppets. If Assad should fall, I would not shed a single tear for the vicious tyrant, but would hope that what replaces him would be a restored Kingdom of Syria under the Hashemite heir. Perhaps they might even expel the Iranian puppets from Iraq and redraw some borders to extend some of the existing countries and more of the old Kingdom of “Greater Syria” under the said monarch. There is an opportunity here for something better for the Middle East but I do wish the western world would learn that it has to be something they take in hand themselves, it cannot be imposed by force. That is not to say it couldn’t be done but most western countries as well need to decide what they are going to be first just like those in the Middle East (and other parts of the world for that matter). At this point, all one can do is hope though, under the circumstances, that is a rather difficult thing to do. The idea that any of the countries mentioned above, certainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, acting in accordance with any of my preferences seem extremely remote indeed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Russian Army in World War I

Like some other powers, there are a great many misconceptions about the part played by the Russian Empire in World War I. This is true generally but also in regards to the Russian Imperial Army with about the only thing every historian seems to agree on being the courage and endurance of the average Russian soldier. As was not uncommon in those days, but particularly so in Russia, the army also had a special bond with the monarch, Tsar Nicholas II, and many of the misconceptions about Russia and the Russian military necessarily involve the Tsar. In the first place, there is a misconception as to the overall quality of the Russian Imperial Army at the start of the war and a misconception about the part played by the Tsar in, if not starting the war, at least escalating it from a regional conflict into a world war. In some ways, the two are linked as both are often related to the most recent conflict Russia had fought prior to August of 1914; the war with Japan. In both instances, the Tsar was accused of being recklessly aggressive and the army was, in both instances, accused of performing rather poorly. In fact, the opposite is true. In East Asia, just as Russia had earlier taken up the role of defending China, and so gain an ice-free port on the Pacific, so too did Russia move to defend the Han Empire of Korea from the Japanese. As master of the vastly larger power, in land, population and resources, the Tsar was confident that Japan would not resort to war over Korea.

Russo-Japanese War poster
If there was to be conflict, Russia was not about to take any action until at least the Trans-Siberian railroad was completed and so St Petersburg was shocked and horrified when Japan initiated hostilities with a surprise attack on Port Arthur. The army there put up an incredible resistance, holding out against fierce and repeated attacks as Japan knew that they stood no chance unless they could win quickly before the full strength of Imperial Russia could be transferred to the east. So, they were willing to accept horrendous casualties in repeated attacks to force the issue to a close and drive Russia out of Manchuria. Russia simply could not move men and material fast enough over such a vast distance and, in the end, the total defeat of the navy would have negated any such victory by the army anyway. Still, it would be a mistake to think that the Russians underperformed on land. Caught unaware and with severe logistical handicaps, they actually came very near to winning the war by inflicting such devastating losses on the Japanese and driving the still burgeoning Japanese economy to the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, it was only a last-minute loan from sympathetic businessmen in the United States that saved Japan from being forced to accept defeat due to financial collapse (and this was not common knowledge at the time so, ironically, many in Japan blamed the United States for Japan not coming out better in the peace negotiations when, in fact, it was not the overwhelming victory they had been led to believe it was).

The Tsar inspecting his troops
The faithful of Russia must surely have felt that no good deed goes unpunished for the Russian Empire has been criticized for aggressive behavior in the last two wars it fought and both were fought on behalf of smaller countries that were threatened by larger neighbors. As Korea was in the east, so Serbia was in the west and just like before, the Tsar has been accused by some of being a warmonger who was looking for a fight. After losing one war, he had to repair the prestige of his country by winning the next one. Certainly, that feeling was prevalent in some sections of Russian society but it was not as widespread as one might think. The Russians, apart from the navy perhaps, did not feel themselves to be a defeated people. They had fought until a negotiated peace was arranged and came out losing relatively little. Even then, they were just as likely to blame Britain and America rather than feeling sorry for themselves as all throughout the war the Empire of Japan was commonly portrayed in Russia as simply being the puppet of Great Britain and to a lesser extent the United States. The Russian Empire and certainly the Tsar, did not feel he had anything significant to prove and he was not anxious at all for another war.

Tsar Nicholas II
As we have talked about here before, virtually none of the monarchs of Europe wanted a war in the summer of 1914 and Nicholas II was no different. He has more responsibility to bear than some to be sure but few care to notice that it was Russia which urged the Serbs to not be defiant. They recognized that, with the murder of the Archduke, Austria was the injured party and so advised the Serbs to act accordingly. It was probably thanks almost entirely to Russia that Serbia did what they were not naturally inclined to do and agree to almost all of the demands made by Austria in their infamous ultimatum. There again, few care to remember that Tsar Nicholas II tried to calm the situation and avoid war by having negotiations to settle the differences between Slav and Teuton based on the good will Serbia had shown in response to the ultimatum and with the fair warning that Russia could not be indifferent if Serbia were attacked by Austria after being so amenable to Austrian demands. Unfortunately, Austria rejected the proposal. Britain almost simultaneously made a similar suggestion which was rejected by the Germans. As mentioned here many times before, when it comes to the start and spread of the First World War, almost everyone shares a measure of blame, at least in terms of governments.  The Tsar did not want war any more than any of his fellow monarchs did but he refused to leave Serbia to stand alone and so, under immense pressure, the die was cast.

General Nikolai Ivanoff
The Imperial Russian Army was, undoubtedly, one to inspire confidence that such a struggle could be won. Russia had the largest army in the world and it was a much more advanced force than most realize. Russia had been training military pilots since 1910 and when World War I began had the second largest air force in the world. Although off-topic here, Russia also fielded the first military submarine fleet in the world at Vladivostok. It is true that in terms of industry, infrastructure and armaments, Russia was at a severe disadvantage but the Russian Imperial Army also shocked the world with what it was able to accomplish. They had done good intelligence work that enabled them to know most of the Austrian plan ahead of time and when the Austro-Hungarians launched their opening offensive to cut off the Polish salient, despite early setbacks, Russian forces under General Nikolai Ivanoff launched a counter-attack that smashed the Hapsburg forces and inflicted devastating losses that Austria-Hungary never fully recovered from. At the same time, their attention was diverted by cries for help from France to take pressure off the western front by attacking the Germans. The result was a minor opening victory and the invasion of East Prussia by Army Group Jilinsky. We all know how that turned out eventually but it is worth taking the time to consider a few things.

Backbone of the army
The Germans were taken completely by surprise with this offensive. No one had expected the Russians to be able to hit so hard so fast given how slowly most rated the Russian capacity for mobilization. In fact, the opening Russian victories, minor though they were, threw the German commander into a total panic which led to his replacement with the winning team of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The resulting Battle of Tannenberg was a stunning defeat for Russia with heavy casualties but a few things should be kept in mind. This was the first big battle between the Germans and Russians and not even one the Russians had planned on fighting. It represented a change in plans to come to the aid of France and in that regard it did, somewhat, have the intended effect as the Germans diverted troops from the critical western front to the eastern front (a mistake as they did not even arrive in time to participate in the battle). Why pick on the Russians? The French had only one front and one enemy to worry about and their initial plan failed and cost them immense numbers of casualties. Even the German plan (though it was not followed to the letter) ended in failure. So did that of the Austrians. Early battles by inexperienced troops often have this result so Russia should not be singled out for undue criticism. Likewise, against Austria-Hungary they performed quite well after the initial shock and while their drive into East Prussia had failed, they still ended the first round in control of the vital Galicia region and with the Austro-Hungarians pushed back to the Carpathians. Toward the end of the year even German Silesia was under threat and this only subsided due to the logistical problems of the Russian armies which was always a major hindrance.

Fighting in the snow
In 1915, the first German offensive out of East Prussia was defeated by the Russian forces but then came the surprising and crushing offensive of Gorlice-Tarnow which saw Austro-German forces under August von Mackensen punch through the Russian lines and ultimately capture Warsaw. It was a painful loss with Russia losing about two million men, yet, the Russian Empire displayed remarkable tenacity and war production actually increased. The losses were made good, more supplies began to arrive at the front and less than a year later Russian generals felt prepared to take the offensive again. Few other armies on earth could come back so strong from such a major defeat and yet, Russia was able to. Relatively few people also consider how Russia was forced to fight on so many different fronts. Whereas other powers, like France, had only one front to concentrate all their strength on, Russia faced the Germans to the northwest, the Austro-Hungarians to the southwest and the Turks to the south. Oftentimes the threat of the Ottoman Empire is ignored altogether (possibly because some wish to avoid the Armenian issue). However, there again was a case of the Imperial Russian Army performing very well. Despite being hard pressed elsewhere, they successfully defended the Caucasus against a major Turkish invasion. The Turks had planned it for some time and were aiming for the Baku oilfields but the fierce Russian winter and determined Russian resistance brought about a massive Turkish defeat. In fact, out of an invasion force of about 95,000 men only 18,000 Turks survived their clash with the Imperial Russian Army.

General Alexei Brusilov
Stung by such a horrendous defeat, the Turks never attempted a major offensive against Russia again, however, it should not be forgotten that minor attacks and raids in the Caucasus region continued for the next two years, forcing Russia to keep troops deployed in the south that could have been used elsewhere. The Germans, for their part, had rather underestimated the Russian army (again) and figured that after the punishing defeats of 1915 they could count on a respite to focus on the western front. However, though many overlook this, in 1916 the Russians had expanded their industrial output, had begun to make up for their previous deficiencies in weapons and war material and by the spring of 1916 were prepared to take the offensive again. The Tsar was in command and, despite what some detractors insinuate, was not averse to new ideas and approved the unorthodox plan put forward by General Alexei Brusilov of the Southwest Army Group. For the first time, the Russian forces made use of things like aerial photography, offensive trench systems and became highly adept at concealing their reserves (the build-up of which usually tipped off an enemy that an attack was imminent) and began to coordinate their artillery with the advancing infantry.

Postcard celebrating 1916
Despite being about equal in numbers with their Austro-German enemies, the Russian series of attacks known as the Brusilov offensive, was a stunning success. From June 4 to June 12 the Russian Imperial armies had advanced 50 miles and captured 200,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners as well as huge amounts of weapons and supplies. Brusilov called for assistance and was prepared to press on even further and if he had been given the support he wanted could almost undoubtedly have done so. However, such assistance could not reach the front fast enough. As would happen to the Germans themselves, the Russian offensive had been so successful that they had outrun their supplies and the drive ground to a halt as more German forces were diverted to stave off disaster. However, once his troops had caught their breath and supplies caught up to them, Brusilov resumed his offensive in late July and early August. Once again, the Russian Imperial armies surged forward and by September the Germans had lost 150,000 men to them and the Austro-Hungarians a crippling loss of over 600,000. By simple attrition the Russians were finally forced to halt but in this one offensive they had come within a breath of knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war completely.

Victorious 1916
The Germans were forced to divert forces from the western front to rush to the rescue in the east and prospects for an Allied victory looked so good that the Kingdom of Romania was induced to join the war against the Central Powers with promises of vast swathes of Hungarian territory at a time when it looked like it would all soon be over. Unfortunately, this proved to be no help to the Allies and actually quite damaging for Russia. In fact, it helped ensure that the 1916 offensives would be the last of the Russian Empire. General Erich von Falkenhayn arrived from the west (reassigned after the Verdun bloodletting) to command a combined force of Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Bulgars that basically curb-stomped Romania. The kingdom was conquered and Russia, already exhausted by the great victories under Brusilov, was forced to greatly extend their lines to guard the borderlands of now occupied-Romania. The strain at home began to show, the Bolshevik plague was released on the home front by Germany, bread riots began to break out (due to transportation problems rather than any serious lack of foodstuffs) and, as we all know, the revolution erupted soon after and by March of 1917 Tsar Nicholas II was deposed and the Russian Empire collapsed, replaced by a provisional liberal government that proved easy prey for the godless Bolsheviks.

Little Father & soldier
Many try to portray the Russian Imperial Army as coming completely apart in those days and, while it is true that there was considerable unrest and mutinous behavior, it was not until the Tsar was gone and the provisional government was in charge that things completely fell apart. The provisional government tried to continue the war but it was to no avail. With the Tsar and the Russian Orthodox empire, the men had something to fight for, something to inspire and motivate them but the provisional government could offer none of these things and the situation degenerated into chaos. Whereas the Germans would become famous for their propaganda about the “stab in the back”, this was what really did happen to the Russians. They were betrayed by revolutionaries on the home front, traitors to the war effort and because of that, the new leadership had every motivation to blame all problems on the Tsar. Those Russians who believed this lie fought for the Reds while those who rejected it fought for the Whites in the Russian Civil War that soon followed the humiliating peace terms of Brest-Litovsk.

Wartime postcard
Taken altogether, the Russian Imperial Army put up an incredible fight. They deserve much more credit than they usually receive. Despite immense industrial and infrastructure deficiencies, the Russians surprised everyone with the speed and strength of their initial attacks. They recovered from defeats quickly and won stunning victories on multiple fronts. They adopted new ideas and adapted to new technologies (it was actually a Russian pilot who was the first man in history to bring down an enemy aircraft) and were a cohesive and tenacious force. On the Caucasian front, Russians, Georgians, Armenians, Caucasus Greeks and others all fought together to inflict devastating defeats on the Turks, it was the Russians who put Austria-Hungary at a considerable disadvantage right at the outset and which came close to putting the Dual Monarchy out of the war completely as early as 1916. With around 2 million dead, the Russian Empire sacrificed more than any other of the Allied Nations and it was collapse at home rather than defeat at the front that took the Russian Empire (if not Russia herself) out of the war. Some generals were inept but some were also masters of their trade and the Russian soldier was, like those who had gone before him, tough, determined in defense, fierce and fearless on the attack and possessing of a level of endurance to hardship that was so amazing some considered it almost inhuman.

The Martyred Tsar
Today, even after the fall of the communist system that shackled Russia and retarded Russian progress for decades, it is still the communist mentality that prevails when it comes to celebrating more than any other the defeat of Germany in World War II. None have been so lionized as the participants of what is still called the “Great Patriotic War”. This has meant that the Russian Imperial Army of the First World War is often neglected but it should not be so. Participation in the war (as with most countries) may have been a mistake, and I certainly believe it should not have happened, but it was done for noble reasons and the soldiers who fought did so with immense courage and fortitude and for a much more ancient and honorable motivation that was symbolized by their faith and their beloved “Little Father”. The Soviets went to war when they were turned on by their previous partner in crime, the Russian Imperial Army, however, went to war, once again, in defense of a weaker neighbor, with heads held high and with a heartfelt determination to make any sacrifice and endure any hardship for God, the Tsar and Holy Russia. Their service, their considerable accomplishments and their painful sacrifice should never diminished and never be forgotten.

"Why Aren't You In The Army?"
Additional Note: The fact that the Imperial Russian Army was a cohesive and determined force is also proven by the ensuing Russian Civil War in which anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces fought on until 1921. The accomplished General Ivanoff, a staunch monarchist, led a Cossack army against the Reds until his death in 1919. The celebrated General Brusilov, out of an attachment to order, went along with whoever was in power but was, also, always a royalist at heart. Finnish General Mannerheim, who would become so famous in the "Winter War" was a Tsarist officer who took the side of the Whites. After fierce fighting in 1919 in southern Russia, a temporary revival began that carried the war into 1920 under the command of General Pyotr Wrangel (the famous "Black Baron") but the instability of their military and civil leadership had taken its toll on the White Russian forces. Still, elements fought on in Central Asia and the Russian Far East under men such as Grigory Semyonov and the notorious "Mad Baron" Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. Especially in the eastern areas, Russians were often a minority in these armies and yet they fought as one, enduring extreme hardship, unsupported and often isolated. That they carried on for so long is a tribute not only to the men themselves but the ideals that motivated them. It is no coincidence that it was the most monarchist factions of the White Russian movement that carried on the struggle longer than any others. Some, in a non-military way, even to this day. God bless them.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thoughts on the Referendum Results

It is all over now, Britannia prevailed and the United Kingdom has survived, as predicted. Given the last-minute, desperate promises “Call Me Dave” Cameron made to the Scots about having even more powers devolved to Scotland (how many more could there be?) one might wonder if what was decided was no more than a matter of words with Scotland being, in the end, “independent” in all but name anyway. However, lest we forget, the vote was never for genuine Scottish independence in the first place nor is there anything for Scotland to become “independent” from. It is not as though Scotland was some conquered province, though many people seem to have been led to believe that. Just for a brief refresher, the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England first came together because the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, never got married and had children so that the King of Scots became King of England as well. In all the years since, Scotland has never been the victims of England and it is wrong, and I would say insulting, to portray them as such. Whether one looks at the horrible Cromwellian period or the glorious Jacobite uprisings, the Scots themselves were partly to blame for their own suffering. The Scots had been the first to take up arms against the King, clearing the path for the English Civil Wars and in each of the Jacobite uprisings there were plenty of Scots who fought against the Stuarts, in fact, sometimes more Scots fought against the Stuarts than for them.

There was, undoubtedly, considerable pressure applied to Scotland to obtain its consent to the Act of Union but there is also no doubt that Scotland benefited immensely from the arrangement. The country became an industrial powerhouse in Great Britain and Scots tended to have high positions in the private sector, the army and the government. The sort of Scotland that the SNP envisions is nothing at all like the Scotland of old but rather is an insult to everything that previous generations stood for and believed in. A number of “Yes” supporters, speaking on American television said that they were simply following the example of the United States in wishing to be independent of England. I doubt that, but, if so, they are betraying all that the Scots of that time fought for because whether it was the highland regiments in the British army or the loyalist highlanders of the piedmont region in the Carolinas, the Scots fought for King George and the United Kingdom in that conflict, just as they fought for it on battlefields all over the world for centuries. The Scots were not victims of the British Empire but partners in it. Of course, in those days Scotland was known as the land where religion, frugality and loyalty prevailed. Today it is more a land with a Maoist First Minister promising a land of socialism, secularism and environmentalism though still funded by the oil industry.

It is the Labour Party that must bear the responsibility for having brought Scotland to this confused state as it was their members which first started spreading the socialist disease in the country; the country that had previously produced Adam Smith. They managed to engrain socialism so deeply in Scotland that they turned what may have been the most fiscally conservative country in the world into a country dependent on government benefits (what Americans would call ‘welfare’). They vote for the party that promises them more of the socialist narcotic they have been hooked on which is why the Tories could be forgiven for not even bothering to run candidates in Scotland and why UKIP members are attacked by angry mobs when they dare open their mouths. The SNP began to grow amongst those for whom the Labour Party was no longer socialist enough. Their claim to be for the de-centralization of power is easily misunderstood. True, they want the government in London to have less power but they want the government in Edinburgh to have even more. Despite the “No” vote coming out on top, it seems they will still be given the opportunity to be tyrannized by politicians in Edinburgh rather than London.

Of course, for the faction that was always characterized by being based on emotion rather than reason, the “Yes” side has not been entirely gracious in accepting their defeat. Watching the BBC, the losing “Vote Yes” side immediately began saying, bitterly, that the “campaign of fear” by the “Vote No” crowd was a success. Well, if that is true, it is surely immensely insulting to the Scots as to having any fortitude or courage at all. People who are in a position in which they are truly yearning to be “free” are not going to be frightened off the idea by an ad campaign, particularly not an ad campaign so inept as “Better Together” was. And surely there can be nothing more insulting to the Scottish reputation for courage and heroism than to say that they were actually intimidated by the likes of “Call Me Dave” Cameron and Gordon “Is Alive!” Brown. Give me a break! If that is true, Scotland has fallen far indeed into the socialist morass if the country that produced the highland charge and the “thin, red line” was frightened into voting “no” by the prospect of having to produce their own currency or losing out on some benefits.

What is truly unfortunate is that there seems to be no sign that this socialist mentality will be changing anytime soon. Relatively few people seem to realize what is going on right in front of them. During the coverage of the referendum, I noticed how broadcasters kept repeating, in making predictions, how impoverished areas and areas with the most people on benefits were most likely to vote SNP. That should tell people something, and the same applies to Labour as well as the SNP. Politicians can see such trends as easily as anyone in the media and anyone should have the intelligence to realize that a politician is motivated by a thirst for power and keeping his or her job and if people being poor and on benefits means they keep getting reelected, does anyone really believe such politicians will genuinely work to get people out of poverty and off of benefits? Of course not! Like leftist parties the world over, they do all that is in their power to keep as many people in poverty and dependent on benefits as possible. This is why they want to make benefits as widely available as possible and have them last as long as possible because the statistics clearly show that this means more reliable votes to keep them in power.

Now that the referendum is over, in fact almost before it was over, the new topic of the day became the “English question”. What will England do with Scotland getting so much more autonomy? There has, for some time, been at least some minor grumbling that while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own parliament or assemblies in which the English have no vote, all of them still have votes in Westminster to decide on English issues. Devolution still seems to be the way things are going and, perhaps, there will be at least one good side to that. If a place like Scotland gains total autonomy within the United Kingdom, perhaps they will be forced to deal with the consequences of their own electoral decisions. Perhaps they will learn the hard way that socialism doesn’t work. I have to say “perhaps” because so many still cling to the notion despite the multitude of examples, past and present, all over the world that socialism does not work and cannot work. Take a people as intelligent and technically minded as the Germans, add socialism and you get an East Germany that couldn’t even build a decent car. Take Russia, which had farmland sufficient to feed the world, add socialism and you get a Soviet Union that had bread lines. Take a country with all the oil wealth of Venezuela, add socialism and you get a country that can’t even supply their people with toilet paper.

Decentralizing power, in principle, tends to be a good thing. What the SNP wanted was a disaster waiting to happen because, as I have mentioned before, it was not really independence. They wanted all the powers that go with independence but none of the responsibility, they wanted to break up with England but still be “friends with benefits”. So, they complained that all their economic woes were the fault of England but still wanted to use the English pound and piggy-back off the English economy. Similarly, they complained about being “forced” to go fight in “America’s wars” but still wanted to be part of NATO and so avail themselves of the protection of the American military. They also wanted to a totally non-nuclear, environmentalist “green” country while basing their entire economic model on oil. As the old, and somewhat confusing, saying goes, in every way they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. I do hope the realization of that was at least part of the reason why the “No” vote prevailed by a considerable majority.

Personally, I am mostly pleased that Scotland will remain a monarchy and that the ancient Scottish Crown will not be left at the mercy of the SNP and the “former” Maoist, “former” republican and now (thankfully) former First Minister. I am glad that the other separatists in the monarchies of the world did not get the big boost they were hoping for from a “Yes” vote and I am pleased that, after 307 years, the United Kingdom has survived. Aside from all the further political squabbling that will follow, I hope that the spirit behind the “Better Together” campaign will carry on and will begin to instill in the population of the United Kingdom a deeper sense of pride and patriotism. I hope they will highlight what a great and glorious country they are, what a proud history they have and what a force for good Great Britain has been in the world. Certainly that should also include the system of constitutional monarchy which proved such a success that peoples all over the world once tried to emulate it. Too much has been taken for granted in the UK and many, many other countries. With the dangers facing Britain today, it is absolutely vital that people begin to again have a better sense of themselves, a healthy national pride and a willingness to stand together and to stand up for themselves. Long live Britannia and God Save the Queen!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Scotland Vote, the Queen Speaks

As is seen in this article from the BBC, HM the Queen made her first public comments about the upcoming referendum in Scotland on pseudo-independence, saying that the Scots need to "think very carefully about the future". Previously there had been reports, the unconfirmed sort from 'anonymous sources' that the Queen was worried about the vote but the Queen herself had never spoken about the subject until now. It is very revealing to see how some people have responded to this with the usual suspects howling that the Queen, by this simple statement to a person in a crowd, had violated the policy of royal impartiality. They took this simple phrase as a ringing endorsement of the "Vote No" campaign. Think about that for a moment. The Queen said nothing at all about how anyone should vote, only that they should think carefully before doing so. By their reaction, the "Vote Yes" side has admitted that they are banking on people NOT thinking carefully before casting their vote for pseudo-independence. Of course, this should come as no surprise given how they campaigned for giving minors the right to vote, hoping that the voices of the young and ignorant would drown out those of the mature and experienced. Personally, I have no doubt that the Queen is hoping the vote will be "No" but she has certainly not taken a side in the issue. The fact that so many are taking this simple comment to be indicative of the Queen doing that shows both how they are counting on people voting emotionally rather than thoughtfully and just how little they think of the Queen and the place of the monarchy in British -and Scottish- society.

One can also tell a great deal about what this means for Britain by who has come out in support of the "Yes" Vote by those beyond British shores. North Korean communist dictator Kim Jung-Un has come out in support of the "Yes" side as have a number of people in high places in Russia. In the case of Korea's portly potentate, it is as simple as one Marxist supporting another, in the case of Russia, they want Scotland to set an example that their own partisans can follow in breaking away from Ukraine, as has been done in Crimea and which is trying to be done in the eastern lands of the country. In the Kingdom of Spain, Catalan secessionists are saying that a "Yes" result in Scotland would boost their cause as have their fellow republican separatists in Quebec who are hoping that a "Yes" vote will revive their flagging cause. The result could have an impact on some republics but it is the monarchies I most care about and who seem to be the biggest targets for these types of things. Canada, Spain and Belgium are at the top of every list of monarchies threatened by separatist movements. However, it goes wider than that, reaching even the Far East where a Red Chinese official recently said that the Ryukyu Islands should be independent and not considered part of Japan at all. There has long been a minor separatist movement on Okinawa and China would love to see such a thing happen so as to weaken Japan and strengthen their claim to the Senkakus. Even in Australia, those campaigning for a republic and to abolish the Australian flag have said that a "Yes" vote in Scotland would give them a helpful boost in their own agenda.

That is a common theme throughout all of the reaction to this issue and all those supporting the "Yes" vote in Scotland. It is all being done by people who want to see these monarchies diminished and weakened on the world stage. The European Union would be glad to see existing European countries further divided so that they can expand their power. After all, such small "independent" states could hardly make it on their own and would have to rely all the more on Brussels. It does not matter to them that some separatist movements are being driven by more comparitively right-wing forces or ardently left-wing forces since, whether one is talking about Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders, they have all stated that they will be joining the European Union as soon as "independence" is won, which of course means that it isn't independence at all. They are being totally disingenuous as is seen by how the EU responds when any country talks about leaving. Likewise, it takes no great clairvoyance to imagine how Russia, the DPRK or PRC would respond to any effort by any part of their countries to break away. Obviously, the history of England and Scotland has not always been peaceful and friendly but it is a distortion to think that Scotland has always had the worst of it. Even as early as the mid-1700's many a historian has commented that the British army leadership was dominated by Scots, many PM's have been from Scotland as have many of the biggest forces in business in Britain. Even if we want to go back to when things were a little more tense, it seems lost on many that when Scotland and England first came together it was by a Scottish monarch becoming the King of England and not the reverse. Scots should think carefully about the future and should consider why so many who do not have the best interests of Scotland in mind are hoping they vote "Yes".

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Monarch Profile: Emperor Thieu Tri of Vietnam

As the son and heir of Emperor Minh Mang, Thieu Tri had a tough act to follow. Vietnam had achieved its peak in size and influence but the “Great South” stood precariously on this historical apex. The French were becoming increasingly interested in the region and the slightest mistake could upset the balance and plunge the country into a struggle it could not hope to win. However, when Prince Nguyen Mien Tong came to the throne in 1841, taking the era name of Thieu Tri, this looming threat was not outwardly apparent. The reign of his father had not been free of trouble by any means but it had been great and glorious and it seemed that all Emperor Thieu Tri had to do was follow in his footsteps, steering a steady course and the power and prestige of the Nguyen Dynasty would continue. The country seemed to be in good hands as Emperor Thieu Tri was similar to his illustrious father in many ways. He was highly educated, very intelligent, devoted to traditional Confucian values, a lover of nature, artistic and intellectually curious. He was open to learning from the west but like his father was also determined to keep western influence out of Vietnam and maintain the close relationship with the Great Qing Empire.

the Vietnamese court
In the early days of his reign, everything appeared tranquil. There were no major problems and the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty seemed permanent and unassailable. When it came to foreign affairs, the situation called for concern but not alarm. In China, the Qing Empire was being hard pressed by the British in the First Opium War but they were holding their own at that point and there seemed no danger of this touching Vietnam. Best of all, in Paris King Louis Philippe of the French exhibited no desire for imperial expansion into southeast Asia. But Emperor Thieu Tri faced two very real threats that would soon come together to provoke a major crisis that would change the course of his dynasty and the entire Indochina region forever. The first problem was the persistence of Christianity in the country. Despite the efforts of his predecessor to discourage the new religion, Catholic missionaries, mostly French and Spanish, continued to come to Vietnam and win converts. And, just like before, they did not always restrict themselves to the spiritual sphere but were often complicit in minor peasant rebellions, sometimes even encouraging them because the Emperor was distrustful of Christianity. Naturally, such actions only reaffirmed the belief at the imperial court in Hue that Christianity was a threat to the established order.

On orders from Emperor Thieu Tri, continuing policies already in place, Nguyen officials punished Christians and arrested Catholic missionaries on the grounds that they were spreading “false” and “seditious” beliefs which upset the Confucian hierarchy, disturbed the native gods and ran contrary to proper virtue and morality. Actually, such incidents were handled fairly mildly more often than not and Emperor Thieu Tri was no fool. He realized that if he came down too hard on the Christians that this would be used by the French as a pretext to move against his country. Anti-Christian outbursts throughout East Asia had often been prompted by the fact that European domination tended to come on the heels of those preaching the new religion and the powers-that-be did not want it gaining a foothold. So, to avoid trouble, Emperor Thieu Tri hoped to simply frighten the Catholics into staying away from Vietnam. Time and time again a missionary would be sentenced to death for spreading subversive beliefs only to have the Emperor spare his life and order him deported. Emperor Thieu Tri released many missionaries rather than put them to death but there were those who persisted in always coming back. Eventually, their cause was taken up by the second major threat Thieu Tri faced.

Imperial Decree of Emperor Thieu Tri
The most famous example of this policy was that of the French Bishop Dominique Lefebvre. In 1845 he was arrested and sentenced to death by a Vietnamese court but at the request of a French admiral, Emperor Thieu Tri intervened to have Lefebvre pardoned and released. Unfortunately, his zeal would not allow him to leave the country and ‘shake the sand from his feet’ as he departed (Matthew 10:14) and he returned to Vietnam to be arrested again in 1847 by which time the patience of Emperor Thieu Tri was running increasingly thin. A similar incident involving Lefebvre has almost sparked a major incident with the United States and the bishop was caught illegally entering the country three times.

The second threat to the reign of Thieu Tri appeared in March of 1847 and that threat was the French Navy whose officer corps tended to be very conservative and very Catholic. So far from home, they were also liable to act on their without waiting for instructions from the King in Paris or whatever government happened to be in power when they returned. The French naval forces in Southeast Asia took up the cause of the Catholic missionaries and undoubtedly many of the officers were sincere in their motives for doing this. However, it is equally true that these same officers wanted to see the expansion of French power. They were alarmed at the growing British presence in the region (China, Malaya, Burma etc) and did not want France to lose out to Britain in the colonial race in Asia.

Captain Rigault de Genouilly
It was two French ships under Captains Lapierre and Rigault de Genouilly who entered Vietnamese waters at Tourane on March 23. Deciding on their own to take dramatic action they issued an ultimatum; Emperor Thieu Tri was to release all foreign prisoners and reinstate religious tolerance for Catholics. Hopefully, Paris would back them up after the fact. Obviously, this was something Emperor Thieu Tri could never agree to. It would mean allowing a foreign power to dictate the laws of his country and undermine his own position. Already the more orthodox Confucianists were criticizing him for the mercy he had shown the missionaries, warning him that he was neglecting filial piety by allowing this new religion to dishonor the spirits of his ancestors. Emperor Thieu Tri, therefore, ordered his forces on the coast to be strengthened and prepare to defend themselves against attack. Neither side wished to show weakness and so the French attacked, wiping out the eight Vietnamese junks sent to oppose them with relative ease. They then proceeded to carry out a naval bombardment of the port city of Da Nang. This only made things worse, for the French in the short term and for the Vietnamese in the long-term. It had, after all, been essentially a bluff. The French attack was unauthorized by the government in Paris and they lacked the forces on hand to follow up their victory. Meanwhile, it confirmed to Emperor Thieu Tri that the conservatives at court had been right all along and that drastic measures had to be taken to eradicate all foreign influence in Vietnam.

Temple of Emperor Thieu Tri
In a fit of rage, Emperor Thieu Tri issued an imperial decree ordering the massacre of all westerners in Vietnam without exception. Thankfully, a bloodbath was averted by the cooler heads among the mandarins who simply failed to carry out the order, knowing full well that such action would only guarantee that France would launch an all-out war against them in retaliation. It may have been that all of this storm and stress was too much for the delicate, intellectual monarch and Emperor Thieu Tri died only a few months later on November 4, 1847, leaving the throne to his son Prince Nguyen Hong Nham.
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