Tuesday, January 6, 2015
After the World Came Apart
Prior to World War II the republic of Liberia was the only independent country in Africa with most of the continent being divided between the colonial rule of France or Great Britain. The end of the Second World War would change that state of affairs and ultimately give us the Africa we know today which contains only three independent monarchies; Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland, none of which are particularly significant compared to their larger and more powerful republican neighbors. In Asia, a continent in which republicanism had been a totally foreign concept for most of its ancient history, the greatest blow struck against monarchy had already occurred with the fall of the Manchu Emperor in China in 1911. Still, before World War II, Asia was an overwhelmingly monarchist continent with the only republics being the French mandates of Lebanon and Syria, China (which had descended into internal disorder), Outer Mongolia (a part of the Soviet Union in all but name) and the soon-to-be independent Philippines. The rest was entirely monarchist, even in Indochina, which was governed by the French Republic, there still remained monarchs on the thrones of Laos, Cambodia and Annam (Vietnam). Every part of the British Empire was under the reign of the British monarch, most with a local monarch as well, Thailand was monarchist, the Dutch East Indies had local monarchs as well as the Queen in Amsterdam and then there was the Empire of Japan which also included Korea which had lost its independence but retained its traditional royal family.
Looking at the major participants of World War II, the five primary Allied nations and three primary Axis powers, the only monarchies were the British Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan. Obviously, since the First World War, monarchies were not so well-represented amongst the great powers of the world and none of these would survive World War II as great power monarchies. Italy and Japan were on the losing side, Italy lost its monarchy altogether after the war was over and the monarchy survived in Japan only by the good graces of the occupation forces of the United States. The British Empire emerged on the winning side but what it actually “won” was more negative than positive in that the conflict doomed the British Empire but the conflict that cost Britain its empire also cost Germany, Italy and Japan their empires as well. It is not unnatural then that some have asked, from the British point of view, if the Second World War was a hill worth dying on. Was Manchuria worth Singapore? Was Ethiopia worth India? Was the loss of the British Empire a sacrifice justified by having a Poland dominated by Soviet Russia rather than Nazi Germany? These are perfectly reasonable questions to ponder and yet they are not often raised let alone given serious consideration due to the nature of the Second World War itself.
For most, World War II was “the good war” and one that can be portrayed in very simplistic terms as good vs. evil with clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys. It was a popular war at the time as is evidenced by how many countries rushed to be included in it even though they were not directly affected by it and despite the fact that they could contribute little to nothing to fighting it. Almost every country on earth was at least nominally involved in the conflict. Before the end of the conflict just over 50 countries had declared war on the Axis powers which is probably the single greatest example in the history of humanity of people agreeing on something. And that attitude survives even today and even with countries in opposition to each other. In the United States, conservatives call even communist regimes like Cuba “fascist” to emphasize their wickedness while communist countries have frequently called all of their enemies “fascists” as well. When western powers want to take down petty tyrants from Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein they compare such leaders to Adolf Hitler, in Russia the official line has been to call the Ukrainian nationalists “Nazis” and in China, bringing up World War II and Japanese atrocities has become practically an official national policy to divert attention and cast themselves in a positive light. Every interventionist accuses their opponents of being modern-day Neville Chamberlains, every political activist accuses their rivals of being “Nazis” to the extent that it can seem like amongst all our differences in the world, the one thing absolutely everyone agrees on (save perhaps the Japanese nationalists) is that World War II was right, the Allies were the good guys and the Axis were the bad guys. Such a dramatic and unprecedented consensus is not to be taken lightly.
The point in considering these difficult issues and asking such questions is to learn something valuable from them and, as often as possible, to have alternatives to present. This has been difficult for many monarchists who, after the tragedy of World War I, have preferred to withdraw in a huff from world affairs, doing nothing more than blaming others and lamenting the passing of the world that existed before 1914 (even though it was rarely up to snuff for such people as these). Yet, not only does such an attitude hinder rather than help, it also surrenders what was a state of affairs, not ideal, but certainly preferable to what came after. In 1939 Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Yugoslavia all had monarchs. Hungary did not but was still legally a monarchy. After 1945 all of these, save Greece, would become communist republics. Italy would become a republic and even for the monarchies that survived or were restored, they were still diminished by the war. In Belgium, for example, the King today has about as little actual power as all of his predecessors and yet, every Belgian king from Leopold I until World War II played a much more central and decisive part in national affairs. The Netherlands, Denmark, even Sweden which was neutral and others have a similar story with their monarchies being noticeably diminished in one way or another after World War II.
All of this is worth looking into. If all goes according to plan, throughout this year, The Mad Monarchist will feature articles about the Second World War and its impact on the cause of monarchy across the globe. How were monarchs and monarchists involved in the war? Why was the British Empire so crucial to how the war came about? What were some viable alternatives to how things developed as far as the monarchies of the world were concerned? In what ways was the war a crossroads for the Italian monarchy? Why is the legacy of the war so particularly dangerous for Japan? All of these are questions that will hopefully be discussed going forward as well as looking at some of the key events and personalities involved. I hope you will look forward to it and, of course, stay “mad”…