Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Favorite Royal Images: A Queen's Granddaughter

Congratulations to Zara Philips on helping win the silver medal for the U.K. team in equestrian eventing. She now joins a super elite club -royal, Olympian and medalist!

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Greek Tragedy

Greece is a country that cannot be ignored. That is true in terms of current events but is also just as true when taking a broader, historic view. Alongside ancient Rome, probably no other culture in the world has had so great an impact as Greek culture, much of which was adopted by the Romans. All of our founding ideas about good government, philosophy, reason, medicine, history etc were all built on Greek foundations. Christianity as well, first grew up in the more Greek-dominated half of the Roman Empire and Christianity would have had a much harder time in its formative years were it not for Emperor Constantine the Great who later founded the city of Constantinople and more or less established what became the Greek Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. After the fall of Rome, it was the Eastern Empire, the Greek Byzantines, who continued to hold on, who defended the Church, fought off the invasions that came from every side and under rulers like Emperor Justinian or Emperor Heraclius, even managed to somewhat rebuild the crumbling edifice that was Imperial Rome. But, in a way, the Greeks were TOO successful. The Byzantine Empire became such a tempting prize that coups became commonplace and even the word “Byzantine” became synonymous with intrigue.

Rather than fighting foreign enemies, the Byzantines fought each other for power and external warfare was increasingly left to hired mercenaries while Constantinople became wealthy and prosperous as the hub of all trade with the near and Far East. It is ironic that, during this period of decline, the Turks, who ultimately became the arch-enemy of the Greeks, were actually invited into the Empire by the Byzantine Emperor to help suppress rebellions in the Balkans. Calling in outsiders to deal with internal enemies ultimately proved to be an unwise policy. If the assumption was that the Turks could be easily manipulated and expelled later, they were very much mistaken as to Turkish strength and determination. Unfortunately for the Greeks, once the Turks had their foot in the door, the combined powers of Christendom were never able to force them out again. One also cannot help but notice the difference with today, when Greece is so indebted and in such dire financial difficulty, that the city of Constantine was once the most fabulously wealthy city in the world. How things change. The Greeks spend several hundred years under Turkish rule but, eventually, that changed too. The Greek War of Independence attracted volunteers from across Europe and moral support from countries across the western world. The war was finally won in 1829.

First, Greece was established as a republic, but it proved totally unable to unite and solidify the new Greek state and, after a period of some chaos, a monarchy was established under the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach, which gave Greece their national colors of blue and white. Their first King was Prince Otto, who took the Greek form of King Othon of Greece, who reigned for thirty years but who became quite unpopular due to the actions of his ministers who favored German over Greek traditions. A military coup overthrew King Othon in 1862 and with the cooperation of the international community a new monarchy was established by King George I of the ancient Danish Royal Family. Many liberal reforms were adopted in this time, with the powers of the king being reduced and the vote extended to all adult males. The country was very poor at this time, but the sort of modernization Greece required after so many years of Ottoman rule could not happen overnight, and the situation slowly began to improve. After the defeat of Turkey by Britain and Russia, Greece was able to reclaim some lost territories, though the strategic island of Cyprus was denied them (sure to cause trouble in the future). The fate of those Greeks still living under foreign control continued to be the main concern of the people for some time. During the Balkan Wars, Greece was able to double her land and population, though at considerable cost.

In 1913, King George was assassinated by an anarchist and was succeeded by his son, King Constantine I. Due to the fact that he was the first king born in the independent Greece, and the first to be Greek Orthodox, he was proclaimed by many of his subjects as “Constantine XII” heir to the legacy of the last Byzantine Emperor. Greek pride was still alive and well. However, the reign of King Constantine I was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I in which many wanted to enter the war on the allied side in order to attack Turkey, but in which the King, knowing how exhausted the army was since the Balkan Wars, wanted to stay out of. His preference was to remain neutral but it was a neutrality that the allies did not always respect. Factions emerged, for and against the war, with some Greeks acting on their own to occupy parts of southern Albania. Pressures increased and eventually King Constantine abdicated in favor of his son and Greece did enter the war on the allied side which won Greece some more territory, though they never regained the highly symbolic prize of Constantinople. In the following war with the new secular government in republican Turkey, Greece lost some of her prior gains which caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and government turmoil, opening the era of conflict between the liberal republicans and the conservative monarchists.

One of the first big trouble-makers was Prime Minister Venizelos, a republican, who, after the downfall of King Constantine I during World War I, replaced him with his brother, King Alexander, who died in 1920 after being bitten by a monkey (you can’t make this stuff up!) and King George II came to the throne in 1922. However, the republicans were desperate to ruin the power of the King and to keep George II off the throne. A royalist coup in 1923 gave them the pretext to demand that George II leave the country but he refused to abdicate. The republicans, again, made a mess of things and finally the military took control and held a plebiscite which saw 98% of Greeks vote to restore the monarchy in 1935. King George II happily returned but trouble still remained, particularly as the communist revolutionaries were becoming a force to be reckoned with in Greek politics for the first time. This caused a chaotic and dangerous situation which was not relieved until the coming to power of the former general Ioannis Metaxas, an ardent royalist, who King George II granted extraordinary powers to in order to save the national situation. Subversive groups were suppressed and pride in Greek civilization was encouraged under the new government, known as the “Fourth of August Regime”.

A great deal of negative material has been written about Metaxas and his government, many referring to him as a dictator. However, he never encouraged the sort of cult of personality seen in most dictatorships. Everything was done in the name of the King and the monarchy was always given pride of place in national life. His aim was not to transform Greece but to strengthen the Greek kingdom, defend Greek culture and restore a sense of patriotic national pride among the people. The need for a strong country was clearly felt with the outbreak of World War II in which King George II naturally favored Great Britain and the allied powers. This caused tension with the Fascist regime in Italy and when Mussolini demanded certain privileges from Metaxas he refused and Italy invaded Greece from Albania. Mussolini had expected to make short work of the Greeks but after coming to power Metaxas had greatly strengthened and modernized the Greek military and they were stationed in the right place in excellent defensive positions.

The King and Metaxas rallied the Greek people to war and in the resulting campaign the Italian invasion was halted and Greek counter-attacks cleared their homeland of the enemy and even advanced into southern Albania where the situation stalemated. Britain rushed aid to Greece and Germany rushed aid to Italy and in the end it was the Axis forces that prevailed. The King escaped to Crete but later had to withdraw to Egypt and later Britain when all of Greece was occupied by German and Italian forces. Everyone on the world stage still recognized George II as King but in Greece, alongside the Axis occupation, a civil war simmered with the communists being given great resources to wage a guerilla war against both the German and Italian armies as well as against the Greek royalists. In 1944 the Germans retreated from Greece and Athens was seized by the communists only to later be liberated by British troops. From 1944 to 1949 Greece became the first Cold War battleground as Greek royalists supported by Great Britain and the United States fought a civil war against the communist revolutionaries supported by the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the monarchists were victorious in gaining control of the situation, at least enough for elections to be held, followed by yet another referendum on the form of government. The first elections won a majority of seats for the monarchists and, once again, when the issue was put to the Greek people a majority of 69% favored keeping the monarchy in 1946.

King George II was finally able to return home but it was to a homeland torn by civil war, with a shattered infrastructure and facing economic crisis. Less than a year later George II died and was succeeded by his younger brother King Paul. In many histories today, King Paul is subject to a great deal of unfair criticism. The fact is that during his reign the Kingdom of Greece came roaring back to life with American aid from the Marshall Plan, a surge in tourism and the good relations with foreign countries established by King Paul on his many tours. During his reign, one of the few times there were no major problems with rebels but a period of peace and stability in which the people could enjoy their constitutional monarchy, Greece rapidly recovered, rebuilt and prospered. It was a great success story. But, of course, republicans never take “no” for an answer and they continued to try to encourage discord and to spread every sort of slander against the King and the Royal Family. When economic growth began to slow they were quick to point to the monarchy as the cause of the problems. In fact, King Paul had shown financial common sense and had actually cut his own salary, cut his own expenses and even handed over to the government valuable royal properties. To republican ideologues, of course, none of that mattered.

They didn’t care about national stability, economic prosperity or the new laws giving full equal rights to women, they continued to wage their subversive campaign against the Greek monarchy. This continued after the death of King Paul and the accession of the young King Constantine II in 1964. One of the main sources of trouble was Prime Minister George Papandreou, who had studied in Berlin where he became infatuated with the Social Democrat movement and who had been a republican from early on (Metaxas had exiled him for his opposition to the monarchy). However, he made friendly overtures to the monarchists even though he came to power with the support of the communists when he first became prime minister. Tensions rose between Papandreou and the King, especially after the Prime Minister tried to take control of the army. Papandreou also had ambitions and in-fighting in his own family and the political situation in Greece had fragmented. The turmoil on the left threatened to engulf the whole government and a center emerged that opposed the right and the left. The result was that the Greek government rested on the most unstable of structures; a political tripod.

King Constantine II finally came into open opposition to Papandreou over his effort to take control of the army by naming himself defense minister as well as prime minister. The King offered to appoint anyone Papandreou might choose for the post but refused to allow him to fill it himself. Papandreou refused the offer, ultimately resigned and a succession of weak governments followed as both sides tried to enlist the support of government officials. Papandreou took the radical step of openly trying to rally the people in opposition to the King. The results were mixed but this populism frightened the other politicians and made it impossible for the King to form a stable government. All of this worked together to create a fear by members of the army that the communists would take advantage of the situation to seize power. In 1967 a military coup was launched led by a brigadier general and two colonels. Within a few hours the whole country was under their control with leading problematic politicians and subversives arrested and troops stationed outside the royal palace.

Since that time, many have tried to blame King Constantine II for the coup and the subsequent military regime. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While many senior officers were ardent royalists and would have obeyed any order from the King, junior officers, such as those involved, refused to obey either the King or their generals and the instigator of the plot, Colonel George Papadopoulos, had long had republican sympathies having previously participated in an attempted coup against King Paul. Some have still argued that Constantine II could have rallied those forces loyal to him to suppress the colonels but this is mere speculation and the King did not want to bring on another Greek civil war. Finally, in 1967 he decided to take action and organized what he hoped would be a non-violent counter-coup against the junta. Unfortunately, junior officers refused to obey their royalist generals and the plan fell apart. The King and his family left Greece for Rome but was confident that, like so many times in the past, the monarchy would eventually be restored. This time, however, things were different. Colonel Papadopoulos simply declared Greece a republic on his own on June 1, 1973 and the next month held a staged plebiscite. Even long-time anti-monarchists campaigned for a “no” vote but with the regime in control of the whole process the result was naturally a 78.6% in favor of the republic with Papadopoulos as President.

After only about a year of life the military regime came to an end in 1974 and the republican constitution was declared illegitimate. King Constantine II expected to return to Greece but, again, he was betrayed and yet another referendum was organized with the usual troublemakers in favor of keeping the republic but, most troublingly, with many supposed monarchists refusing to take a stand. Again, the outcome was less than honest. The King was not allowed to return to Greece to meet his people face to face and campaign on his own behalf. Not surprisingly the result was 69% in favor of a republic and the King has remained a monarch-in-exile ever since. Since the birth of the new republic, Greece has often resembled a power-sharing enterprise between the Karamanlis and Papandreou families. The socialists have held most political power from the beginning and over the years turned the country into a very top-heavy bureaucratic state. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union and in 2001 adopted the Euro. With easy money on loan from the EU, the Greek government plunged down the road to economic ruin as politicians bought votes by promising more government spending, more subsidies, more lavish pension plans and so on which put the country into massive debt.

Eventually, the EU financiers began to doubt the ability of Greece to ever repay such a debt and the Greek economy went into a nosedive. The only response, so far, has been for bailouts from the EU, essentially more loans, but after a time greater austerity measures were demanded of Greece to get the money. When news of cuts in government spending reached the public there were riots in the streets. Greece has now seen more and more national decisions being made by the European Union and a resulting rise in extremist political parties along with widespread anger among the populace. Suicide rates have jumped up and record numbers of Greeks are abandoning their country to move abroad. Yet, even while their republican rulers have plunged the country into so desperate a crisis that it threatens to drag the Euro-zone down with it, all the years of vilifying the King and Royal Family seem to have been the one republican policy that has worked well. In recent elections, even with Greece in near chaos, openly communist and fascist political parties were allowed to stand for election but those advocating a restoration of the monarchy were banned from the political process.

Can Greece survive this current disaster? The country has certainly survived worse, however, it will require some honesty and hard decisions. The people will have to admit the mistakes that have been done, such as getting rid of the monarchy or thinking one can get something for nothing, and then press ahead with hard work and determination. It will be difficult, but it can be done. If the will exists, there is a way.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Word on King Umberto I

It was on this day in 1900 that His Majesty King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated by an anarchist in Monza. It was a cruel and tragic fate for a man known as "the Good" King. His murderer was the Italian-American Gaetano Bresci who said it was done in retaliation for the so-called Bava-Beccaris massacre in Milan in 1898. For those who don't know, there are many claims and counter-claims and accusations about that event but the bottom line is that there were protests which turned to widespread rioting, endangering lives and property, and all of it pushed by the radical socialists. The government sent in the army to restore order under General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris who ended the rioting by having his troops fire on the crowd. When King Umberto I later decorated the general for his service to Italy and the House of Savoy this so infuriated Bresci that he immediately left America to return to Italy for the sole purpose of murdering the monarch. Despite the horror of the assassination, many have tried to generate sympathy for the murderer by slandering King Umberto over what happened in Milan. This is not only dishonest, it is grossly hypocritical in most cases.

In the first place, it is dishonest because the King, if he overreacted, did so on the basis of false information. He was being given reports of a revolution, not simply in Milan but threatening the whole country with partisan bands gathering at the Swiss border to launch a major attack on his country. What would any other leader have done in his place with those same reports? Biased sources make it sound as though the army went in with the intention to harm helpless, innocent people, something which really should be considered too ridiculous to take seriously. However, there were in fact many traitors, many republican socialists who were arrested. One of the republican socialists there at that time was none other than a young Benito Mussolini. This is where the hypocritical element comes into play. I am always astounded by those who so vociferously condemn the strict measures taken in response to the socialist riots at Milan, blaming it all on King Umberto I, yet these very same people are also the ones who usually condemn his son and heir King Vittorio Emanuele III for not declaring a state of siege and sending in the army during the "March on Rome" by the Fascist Blackshirts in 1922. One King is condemned for setting the army on "the people" while another King is condemned for not doing exactly that!

I have often wondered (and we can never know) if the memory of how his father was treated over using the army in Milan was going through the mind of Vittorio Emanuele III when he struggled to deal with the Fascists marching on Rome. If a state of siege had been declared, and the army sent in, how many people would have been killed? Would the chattering class feel the same outrage as they did over the events of 1898? I cannot help but wonder. The problem is that, when it comes to public disorders, one never knows how they are going to work out. Some come to nothing while others can grow larger and larger until the entire country is ruined. One thing is certain. Anyone who knows the facts about the life and character of King Umberto I should know that he would never do anything to intentionally harm his people. This was the King who spared the life of the man who tried to murder him shortly after coming to the throne, the King who went in person and gave from his own private funds to help those displaced by the floods in Verona and Venice in 1882 and the man who saved many lives after the earthquake in 1883 by ordering rescue operations to continue five days longer after others said all hope was lost. This was the King who gave generously to help the victims of the cholera epidemic in the south in 1884 and this was the King who, privately, without public notice, paid the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II in the aftermath of Adowa to buy the freedom of the Italian soldiers being held captive.

Umberto I was a "good" King, there should be no doubt, who did the best he could in all circumstances. His assassination was a tragedy for Italy and for the world as well as it was part of a trend of anarchist assassinations. Even for the United States as it was the regicide of Umberto I which inspired the anarchist assassination of U.S. President William McKinley the following year. Additionally, if he is to be criticized for using the troops in Milan in 1898, Vittorio Emanuele III should not be so criticized for not taking the same action in Rome in 1922.

MM Video: Kronprinz Wilhelm III

MM Video: Belgian Pride

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mad Analysis: The Olympics

It is time for the Olympics again and it is starting to feel like a tradition for me that every time they roll around I find something to get really upset about. Let me say at the outset that, unlike some very fine people with whom I am usually in agreement, I do not dislike the Olympics. In fact, it’s about the only thing “international” that I don’t dislike. I love the countries of the world coming together in non-violent competition, I love pulling for my favorites, I love the determination and great athletic skill on display. There are so many moments that are so emotional I fail to see how anyone could not be moved by them. For example, wrestler Carol Huynh winning the gold medal in Beijing, seeing her with tears rolling down her face as the whole crowd sings “O Canada”. I defy anyone not to be moved by that. Another was Mary Lou Retton in 1984 scoring a perfect 10, twice, to win the gold medal. I don’t know much about the judging of vaulting or gymnastics in general but I do know that a perfect score in any event is almost unheard of. And of course, for Americans anyway, beating the Soviet hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980 would be pretty hard to top as far as emotional moments go. For monarchists there has also been a long history of royal involvement in the Olympics with many royals serving on the International Olympic Committee. Many have even participated. Today we even have the example of Monaco in which both the reigning monarch and the consort are former Olympians themselves. I love the Olympics.

Something else I love is the United Kingdom. I have good reason to. I speak English, I have ancestors buried all over Great Britain and Ireland, I studied British literature at university, I love the British monarchy, the British Empire, those great old British values of hard work, determination, ambition and stoic courage. I love the culture, I admire the great heroes of British history and the whole, long British story. The United Kingdom has a matchless record amongst the countries of the world and one that every Briton should be justifiably proud of. All that being said, as I watched the opening ceremonies on Friday night, I’m sorry, but I thought it was horrible. I kept waiting for it to get better and it only seemed to get worse and worse. There was very little about that whole ‘performance’ I could even recognize as British. I began to wonder just how out of touch I am with the mainstream of the land of so many of my forefathers. Is this how the British think of themselves? Was that display an example of what defines the modern United Kingdom? Grubby faced laborers, suffragettes, storybook villains, socialized healthcare and clips from sitcoms (some of which were American)? No bold explorers, no Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson or Captain Cook but Harry Potter, Mr. Bean and the NHS? Really? And, by the way, I have nothing against Mr. Bean, he’s very funny, but is a comedic daydream of cheating in a foot race the best way to open the Olympic games? And I really didn’t understand at all the little episode with the young couple and the salute to pop music. Were they even supposed to be British? Am I terrible person for wondering?

I cannot, of course, fail to mention the Queen. When the announcer said the ‘royal arrival’ was next, I thought, ‘finally, we will get some class in this thing’. It started out well enough. 007, James Bond, going to Buckingham Palace. That was okay, and I thought, ‘that’s neat, 007 is going to escort the Queen, that’s sort of fun and cool’. Then it was a helicopter instead of a car. Okay, fine, no reason to panic. Then the statue of Sir Winston came to life and we officially entered tactlessly silly territory. Then, of course, came the fake skydive into the stadium. To those who were impressed, I’m sorry, that just seemed ridiculous to the point of disrespectful to me. And after that time when some of what I considered the most tasteless parts of the show came up, I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe they’re showing this sort of trash in front of the Queen!’ Yes, they suckered me in at the beginning with Kenneth quoting Shakespeare and before it was over they seemed to be on a mission to remind me of everything I like least about the British Isles these days. And please, please, can someone tell me if Sir Paul is the only celebrity on retainer for these sorts of things? I never disliked the man but I am really getting tired of him. At every single major event in the U.K. it seems that Paul is always the main star. Is it just because he’s the oldest surviving British celebrity these days or is there something I’m missing?

What was I expecting? I can’t say exactly but maybe something with Irish dancers, Welsh choirs, some Scottish highlanders, something English in the Tudor era fashion, maybe a nod to the navigators who sailed forth from the shores of Britain to plant the seeds from which sprung the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on. Of course celebrating the legacy of the British Empire would never be tolerated but when I think of celebrating the best of what it means to be British, British culture and so on, I don’t immediately think of commemorating the industrial revolution in interpretive dance following by a salute to the National Health Service, 70’s disco dancing and clips from The Cosby Show. To everyone who was impressed and enthralled by it all, I do apologize for being blunt. I hope I don’t receive the Romney treatment but in the opinion of this viewer, I can hardly come up with anything positive to say. I don’t get it. To me, it seemed awful. Just awful. Yes, the industrial revolution was a hugely important event in history and Britain led the way in that, but do you really want huge belching smokestacks as part of the opening ceremony of the Olympics? And why was Mohammed Ali there? Seriously, to me, that just seemed embarrassing. Let the man be and have his privacy and stop using him for a living history exhibit.

Of course, every time the Olympics comes up it seems that someone pulls something in an effort to annoy me anyway. This year it got off to a sure-to-be-controversial start with the Greek Olympic Committee banning from their team the triple jumper. Let the hate mail flow, but I thought that was stupid. Athletic competition is supposed to be about performance, not political opinions or how ignorant your sense of humor is. I never like to see people or nations banned from the Olympics because it highlights those who are not banned. For example, Rhodesia and South Africa were banned from competition because their teams were segregated by race. Yet, not only were athletes not banned but Olympic games themselves have been hosted by the likes of Nazi Germany, Communist China and the Soviet Union. I don’t know what kind of girl this Greek athlete is but kicking her off the team for being beyond the pale of political correctness seemed all the more odd to me as I watched the parade of nations and saw the flags of Cuba, Red China and North Korea being proudly carried in. If you can’t be consistent in drawing the line, just don’t pick up the marker in the first place. Don’t ban anyone I say, just beat them on the field of competition. It won’t happen of course, but that put a sour taste in my mouth from the very start.

Nonetheless, as I said, I still like the Olympics, I will put aside all of that mess and watch and enjoy the games, focusing on the athletes who have worked so hard to get where they are today. Despite all my problems with what goes on at the Olympics, I still think that is a lesson worth showcasing: hard work, discipline and determination pays off. Just don’t try to be funny. And here’s hoping the closing ceremonies will be done with a little more class than the opening show. Okay, feel free to tell me how totally wrong I am and what a great show it was, I am prepared…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Monarchist Profile: General Isidro Barradas

Few people probably remember General Isidro Barradas but it was he who led the last, at least somewhat serious, effort to reclaim the independent Mexico and restore the country to the Spanish Crown. He was born on October 6, 1782 in Puerto de la Cruz on the Canary Islands. The modest family later moved to Venezuela where they had some family. Barradas was related to Francisco de Miranda who would go on to be the second President of the “States of Venezuela” from 1811 to 1812. When he was twenty Isidro Barradas joined the local militia and distinguished himself in repelling a landing from the British warship “Victory” in 1803. When the independence movement broke out in Venezuela, Barradas joined the royalist militia in 1812, aided in the capture of the rebel ship “Rosebud” and defended Carupano from a rebel attack the following year. His royalist sympathies were confirmed when republican troops executed his father in a wave of reprisals and his brother was killed in the course of the back-and-forth fighting between royalists and rebels as well. Because of his proven ability, Barradas was promoted to lieutenant in 1814 and he saw action in many subsequent battles. In 1816 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel for his heroic defense of the Plaza de San Fernando de Apure with only a few hundred men against a rebel force of nearly 4,000.

Throughout 1818 and 1819 Barradas fought with the Third Division of Brigadier Jose Marie Barreiro and he won further fame for his stirring speech and heroic charge at the battle of Pantano de Vargas on July 25, 1819 against Simon Bolivar. In that incident he dislodged some 500 rebel troops with only 80 grenadiers. He was commended by his general for this but not long after the royal army was all but wiped out in the disastrous August 7 battle of Boyaca, which Barradas only narrowly survived. Afterwards, Barradas moved to Cartagena de Indias, joining the garrison there and was given command of a grenadier company from Leon. In the ensuing battle of September 1, 1820 he was badly wounded but again cited for great heroism in the face of a numerically superior foe, earning the Cross of San Fernando for his bravery. Subsequently transferred to Cuba he was given command of a line battalion of infantry when King Fernando VII, after moving to Seville, received Barradas after being restored by the campaign of the “Sons of St Louis”. It was Barradas who was entrusted with the royal decree proclaiming the restoration of the absolute monarchy to be sent to the commanders in Cuba.

It was hoped that with the King firmly in control again that the royalists of Latin America could be prompted to rise up and overthrow the pro-independence governments that had taken hold and restore the Spanish empire. Barradas carried his messages, the local commanders came on side and Fernando VII was so grateful that he decorated Barradas, promoted him to colonel and granted him the honor to place on his family arms the motto “Faithful to the King”. Later, in 1824, Isidro Barradas was sent back to Cuba with reinforcements from his native Canary Islands. However, recruiting proved difficult as many people were themselves refugees from the wars in America and had little desire to return. However, he did his best but was frustrated when, upon arriving in Cuba, his unit was disbanded and the men parceled out to other battalions. Nonetheless, his value was still recognized as Barradas was appointed Governor of Santiago de Cuba with the command of a battalion in Havana. He served for a time as Military and Political Governor of Cuba and in 1828 was promoted to brigadier general.

Only the year before, the Mexican government has passed the “Law of Expulsion” which ordered the deportation of all foreigners in Mexico and the Spanish were particularly singled out. This greatly offended Spain and finally there was some international sympathy for taking action, particularly when the British Duke of Wellington said his country would not object to Spain attempting to regain Mexico. In the summer of 1829 Brigadier Isidro Barradas arrived in Havana and began gathering an expeditionary force of between three and four thousand men which he embarked for Mexico on July 5 in a fleet of one ship of the line, two frigates, two gunboats and fifteen transports. Many of the men assembled were Spaniards who had been expelled from Mexico and they had convinced Barradas that with just a little show of force the Mexican public would rise up to restore the authority of the King of Spain.

Unfortunately, things seemed to go badly from the start. A heavy storm in the Bay of Campeche dispersed the Spanish fleet and it took weeks for the ships to reassemble off Veracruz and one transport with 400 troops had to divert to New Orleans for repairs. When they finally moved off Cabo Rojo near Tampico the heavy seas made it almost impossible to land the troops. After scouting the area the Spanish finally put ashore and had a minor clash with a Mexican patrol on July 31 near Pueblo Viejo. Meanwhile, at Tampico, a Mexican army was assembling under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Although he lacked the numbers to launch an immediate assault, Santa Anna besieged the Spanish army at Pueblo Viejo. Despite what Barradas had been told the Mexicans did not rise up in support of Spain and the army of Santa Anna only grew stronger while the Spanish forces were weakened by fever, endemic in the coastal lowlands and exacerbated by the dwindling supply of food and clean water. Barradas held on, hoping for rescue or some political shift in Mexico but it was to no avail. Finally, on September 11, 1829 General Isidro Barradas had no choice but to surrender to the combined forces of General Santa Anna and General Manuel Mier y Teran.

Santa Anna was hailed as the savior of Mexican independence and he would later cash in on this victory to advance himself in politics. In reality, however, he had contributed very little to the victory. The Spanish army had not been defeated by the Mexicans but by disease and privation. General Barradas was released to New Orleans and from there traveled to New York and then across the ocean to France on his way back to Spain. However, his rivals preceded him there and spread the story that he had betrayed the King and surrendered his army without a fight in return for his own safe release. A warrant was issued for his arrest along with instructions that he should be sent back to Cuba for trial where, at the hands of his enemies, he would surely be executed. When Barradas learned of this, naturally, he refused to continue on to Spain and stayed in Paris. Aside from his own enemies, who were jealous of his record, the military high command also wished to blame him for the failure of the expedition rather than accept their own responsibility for what had been a botched operation from the start and almost certainly doomed to failure.

General Barradas remained in France for the rest of his life, having a son there and living in quite poor conditions. Yet, as King Fernando VII was on his deathbed, Barradas wrote him a last letter, asserting his innocence of the charges against him and pledging his loyalty to the King and his daughter Princess Isabella. After the King died the Carlist faction tried to enlist the support of General Barradas but, though he was somewhat sympathetic, refused to break his oath of loyalty to the new Queen Isabella II. He died in Marseille on August 14, 1835 after a lifetime of service to his King and country only to end it the victim of lies and injustice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Defending the German Empire

The roots of German colonial activity go back much farther than most might think. Prussia gained minor footholds in Ghana, Mauritania, Benin and the Caribbean but none lasted very long. As early as the Sixteenth Century efforts were also made to establish German colonies in what is now Venezuela by a private enterprise on land granted by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (King Carlos I of Spain) in exchange for debts he owed them. Considerable exploration was done by Germans but it was all within the framework of the Spanish Latin American Empire and when the Germans clashed with Spanish officials the Emperor revoked their charter. There were also private efforts to establish German colonies in a number of other South American countries and, in 1844, there was the effort of the Adelsverein under Prince Karl von Solms-Braunfels to establish a German colony in Texas. It did not go as well as was hoped but still established the largest German community in the Lone Star state. However, major colonial efforts had to await the unification of the Second German Empire in 1870 under Kaiser Wilhelm I and Prince Otto von Bismarck. The “Iron Chancellor” was not very enthusiastic about colonial expansion (his focus remaining on Europe) but he seized on it as a good way to distract other powers and give Germany a stronger position at the bargaining table in any future European crisis.

Bismarck later regretted this, feeling the colonies were not worth their expense but by that time it was too late. Germany was already well on the way to becoming one of the major colonial powers of the world. The movement was given a significant boost with the coming to the throne of Kaiser Wilhelm II who was full of envy and admiration for the British Empire of his grandmother Queen Victoria and envisioned efficient, productive German colonies spread around the world under the protection of his High Seas Fleet. By the time serious efforts got underway they already had a great deal to build on thanks to the explorations of German private enterprise in Africa, the northeast coast of New Guinea and some Pacific islands. These included the Cameroon coast, the Tanzania coast and the Samoa islands. In 1888 there was even an effort to establish a German presence in the Caribbean near the Dutch island of Curacao to take advantage of American markets and establish a German naval presence in the region. However, it made the French and British nervous and so Germany decided to concentrate their colonial efforts on Africa and the Pacific. By the dawn of the Twentieth Century the German colonial empire was mostly established with the colonies of Togoland (Togo), Kamerun (Cameroon), German Southwest Africa (Namibia), German East Africa (Tanzania) in Africa, German New Guinea (including the Marshall, Mariana and Caroline Islands) and German Samoa. The German Empire also gained a foothold in China in Jiaozhou Bay (German-Kiautschou) which provided a base for the German Far East Naval Squadron and was the pride and joy of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In East Africa the German settlers established large plantations while others established a beer brewery in China (a tradition that continues today). However, in the early days, there was definitely a brutal element to German occupation, which is not uncommon when new peoples encounter each other. German civil and military officials wanted to set up orderly and efficient governments and immediately begin development. They had little time for dealing with natives and when the German presence was attacked colonial armies were deployed to eliminate all opposition. The most brutal of these were the expeditions against the Herero in German Southwest Africa and the Maji Maji in German East Africa. The armies sent to suppress these rebellions showed little mercy, if any, and all too often their brutality is all that is remembered today. It would be unfair, however, to use these incidents to paint the German Empire as a whole in a negative light. When the German public learned of the details of what had happened they were outraged and registered their anger in the next election which almost brought down the government. This had the effect of bringing the colonial administration to have a change of heart and from then on the native populations would be dealt with in a much more humane way.

As with other colonial powers, it was often the missionaries, Lutheran and Catholic, who spread the word about administrative misdeeds which then prompted the government to take corrective measures. On the whole, German colonization was remarkably successful. Roads and railroads were built, new towns established and linked by telegraph cables, local industries and businesses were established and soon a thriving trade had developed. German doctors went out into the wilderness to set up clinics and vaccinate the natives against deadly diseases and colonial police and military forces were established to keep the peace, the bulk of the manpower being provided by the natives themselves. In time, the bi-racial colonial army of German East Africa would be one of the greatest examples of the best of German colonialism and how successful it was. The only German colony in Africa where native Africans were not used for military or police duties was German Southwest Africa because, since their rebellion, the Germans never trusted the natives with weapons. However, in Togoland, the colony was so peaceful that no military force at all was needed, only a small, largely native, police force. Togoland, though often overlooked today, was also so prosperous that it was one of only two German colonies to become totally self-sufficient, requiring no support from taxpayers in Germany to sustain itself.

The Germans made it official policy to care for the natives under their protection, made forced or any unpaid labor by natives a criminal offense and genuinely determined to look after their welfare. The natives could be advised but never coerced. Slavery was wiped out, ranches and farm communities were established and both native Africans and German settlers profited from the development. Schools were established as were hospitals and rural clinics. Missionaries were also ever hard at work, converting the natives with varying degrees of success and building new church communities. Research laboratories were established, many plantations having their own, to develop new methods of pest control and new fertilizers to increase livestock and farm production. In China, the little town of Tsingtao became a model city with broad streets, German-style housing, electricity, a modern sewage system and purified drinking water. No other area in China had a higher concentration of schools or a more widely educated populace than German Tsingtao. Even the ardently republican Sun Yat-sen referred to Tsingtao under German rule as “a true model for China’s future”.

World War I brought the end of the German Empire but it also displayed, in a stunningly dramatic way, just how successful German colonialism had been. The military situation of all the German colonies was virtually hopeless at the outset of the conflict and although some offered very stubborn and determined resistance, they stood no realistic chance against the vastly superior forces arrayed against them. The sole exception was German East Africa where initial invasions were repulsed and where the colonial army remained undefeated and continued to resist throughout the war, only laying down its arms after being informed of the armistice in France. This was a testament to the skill of the local military commander, Major General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (possibly the greatest irregular warfare leader in history) and to the resourcefulness and tenacity of the uniquely bi-racial German colonial army. The fact that so many Africans were willing to endure years of hardship and danger in the German colonial army, with the odds so heavily stacked against them, until the bitter end without widespread desertion or even a single mutiny says a great deal about the degree of loyalty and cohesion in the German colonial empire.

The German East African army was innovative by the extent to which they integrated German and native African troops in the same units. They found that including a greater ratio of Europeans in African units increased their overall effectiveness by combining the tactical training of the Germans with the knowledge of the terrain and survival skills of the Africans with the result being a highly effective combat force which prevailed over everything the Allies threw at them. Prior to the war, agreements had been made to try to keep Africa uninvolved due to the fear of colonial officials from various countries of the effect on the African populace of seeing Europeans killing each other and using Africans to kill other Europeans. However, General von Lettow-Vorbeck was not about to sit idle and he determined to fight an aggressive war and force the Allies to divert an inordinate amount of men and material to use against him that could have been more decisively employed in more vital areas such as the western front. In that, he succeeded brilliantly and was able to survive for years, totally cut off from outside assistance, displaying a remarkable ingenuity in fabricating what was needed and sustaining his army almost entirely from living off the land and captured enemy stores. It remains one of the most astounding campaigns in military history and one marked by exceptional humanity and gallantry on both sides.

Years after the German colonial empire was gone, divided up among the Allies and even after the end of the colonial era entirely, African veterans of the German colonial army remained justly proud of their service and their numerous, hard won and brilliant victories over vastly superior enemy forces. Even the most avowed enemies of European colonialism have to admit that this had a positive impact on the people of German East Africa and Africans across the continent. It gave them a new sense of pride, of earned achievement and a confidence that they could hold their own and even triumph over non-African forces, be they European or Asian. When West Germany began to pay the pensions of the veterans of the German East African army, veterans came forward with many proud mementoes of their service and for those who lacked any tangible proof of their service, each was handed a broom stick and put through the manual of arms, in German, each one remembering every command exactly. After World War I the Allies simply confiscated the property of the Germans in the colonies and most returned to Germany. However, the legacy of Imperial Germany continues to this day. There is still at least one German-language newspaper and radio station in Namibia and they still make German-style beer in the Chinese city of Tsingtao. As with any country, the history of German colonialism was not always admirable yet there is much to be proud of, a great deal of beneficial development and progress occurred because of the German Empire.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Battlefield Royal: Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

Due to one campaign, and more so the aftermath of that campaign, the Duke of Cumberland, young son to King George II, remains one of the more controversial figures in British military history. Jacobites and even many Scots who may not consider themselves Jacobites will probably always remember the cruelty and brutality of the Duke of Cumberland. At the same time, the record of the Duke overall cannot be denied. He had little success as a military commander yet his greatest contribution to the British army was as a desk general and it would not be much of a stretch to say that had it not been for the efforts of the Duke of Cumberland, Great Britain might not have won many of the subsequent victories which greatly expanded and strengthened the British Empire. Prince William Augustus was born on April 26, 1721 in Leicester House (in what is now Leicester Square) in London during the reign of his grandfather King George I. His father was the future King George II and his mother was Caroline of Ansbach. When he was four-years-old he was given the titles of Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhamstead, Earl of Kennington, Viscount of Trematon and Baron of the Isle of Alderney. He had special quarters designed for him at Hampton Court and was given the best education possible.

There was a long-standing tradition in the House of Hanover that Kings and their eldest sons did not get along. This, however, did not apply to second sons as the young Duke of Cumberland was, very early on and very noticeably, his parents’ favorite. He was a robust and active child, seemingly fearless and when he was given his long list of titles was also made a Knight of the Bath and enrolled in the 2nd Foot Guards. As he grew older his parents expected him to follow a career in the Royal Navy and eventually become the Lord High Admiral. However, after volunteering in 1740 the Duke found that he didn’t care much for life at sea and instead decided to devote himself to the army. In 1741 he was made colonel of the 1st Foot Guards and began his formal military career. During King George’s War he saw his first action in Germany, having been promoted to major general in 1742 and posted there. He was with his father at the victorious battle of Dettingen where King George II became the last reigning British monarch to lead his troops on the battlefield. Cumberland was wounded in the leg and promoted to lieutenant-general afterward.

In 1745 he was given the top command of the allied British, Hanoverian, Dutch and Austrian forces gathered in Belgium. Full of youthful aggression and with little experience, his first impulse was to throw caution to the wind, invade France and march on Paris. Fortunately, his advisors were able to dissuade him from such a suicidal move and instead he moved his forces to relieve the town of Tournai which was being besieged by the great French marshal Maurice de Saxe. The result was the battle of Fontenoy, a hard blow to Cumberland and a historic victory for France. Being up against Marshal de Saxe, Cumberland was quite simply outmatched. Numerically each army was about even but de Saxe was one of the great captains of the age and a greatly experienced military man having previously served under the likes of Peter the Great and the brilliant Eugene of Savoy. During the battle the Duke of Cumberland showed great determination but also a single-minded fixation on seizing the town of Tournai, ignoring the danger to his flanks and failing to take some basic precautions. The defeat could be attributed to his own personality and his inexperience. The allied army was badly mauled and Cumberland was forced to retreat to Brussels. Ultimately, this disaster for British arms inspired the exiled Jacobite court to decide that the time had come to strike down the House of Hanover and restore the Stuarts to the British throne.

The Stuart heir, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” landed in Scotland and rallied a number of highland clans to support his restoration. With most of the British army committed on the continent, they hoped that with enough speed and zeal and the support of the French they could see King George II sent home to Hanover. It was a daring escapade, undoubtedly and victories soon followed. On September 17 the Jacobite army entered Edinburgh (to great cheers) and on 21 September at the battle of Prestonpans totally surprised and routed the army of General Sir John Cope in a stunning victory. This caused something of a panic in London and George II immediately sent for his son, the Duke of Cumberland, to return and deal with the Jacobites. England was invaded and in November the Jacobites captured Carlisle and then Manchester was abandoned. To many it seemed that 1688 was about to be undone and that the Hanoverian royals would soon be on their way back to Germany. However, Cumberland immediately began to rally his forces (and his presence was a morale boost to the army) as well as spreading rumors that the strength of the Hanoverian armies was far greater than actual fact. In the end, it worked. The Jacobite leaders lost their nerve and (to the great annoyance of Prince Charles) began retreating back to Scotland.

The Duke of Cumberland did not pursue them too closely as he was still trying to gather together as large an army as possible. The Jacobites still had some fight in them as well, which was proven at the battle of Falkirk where the Jacobites defeated General Henry Hawley. However, that was the last Jacobite victory and their defeats were much more numerous. The Duke of Cumberland pursued them out of England and across Scotland, allowing his enemies to be worn out by hunger and privation before cornering them at Culloden Moor. On that famous battlefield the Jacobites launched their last, desperate attack and were completely annihilated. In the aftermath, Cumberland had wounded men shot and launched a campaign of pacification that was shockingly brutal with many Scots being killed indiscriminately, homes burned, livestock killed or confiscated and large areas of the country simply devastated. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” had escaped but Cumberland had his revenge on those left behind. In most of Great Britain and the colonies Cumberland was cheered as a great hero, their deliverer from “Papist tyranny” and their savior from the “Jacobite Menace”. However, in the highlands, his cruelty toward the defeated earned him his lasting nickname of “Cumberland the Butcher”. It was fully deserved.

Buoyed by his victory against a handful of half-starved rebels in Scotland, Cumberland returned to Europe, eager to redeem himself. However, he again faced the brilliant Marshal de Saxe and was again soundly defeated by the French. A military genius he was not. A peace was negotiated and the embarrassed Duke returned to Britain where his reputation had fallen considerably. When he next saw service in the French and Indian War he was posted to Germany and again saw a succession of defeats and one retreat after another until finally negotiating his way out trouble. The Duke of Cumberland who had once been the favorite son of his father was then referred to by King George II as, “my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself”. He never held a field command again and died in London on October 31, 1765 unmarried and childless. The Duke of Cumberland ended his life as a figure of much ridicule. He was hated in parts of Scotland where he won his most clear-cut victory but derided elsewhere because of his defeats on the continent. However, where the Duke of Cumberland did do good was at Horse Guards. Whenever peace would break out the government immediately began to downsize the army and scrap regiments. This was usually done based on seniority but the Duke of Cumberland wished to save regiments based on their merit and he could brilliantly weave bureaucratic red tape to help accomplish this. One way was to put regiments, even if reduced only to their most hardcore veterans, on the Irish establishment where the Treasury had no jurisdiction over them. It may not sound like much but Cumberland did arguably more good at a desk in Horse Guards than he did on any field of battle by saving excellent, veteran regiments from the government chopping block, many of whom would go on to aid in winning great victories for Britain under more competent commanders.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Images Page

Letting everyone know that the Images Page will be updated first thing tomorrow. The Romans will be out and the Romanovs will be in. The Russian monarchs featured will include Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III, Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Peter III, Empress Elizabeth and Paul I. As usual, if the images page is not terribly interesting, let me know what you might like instead, something new or something old brought back? You tell me.

Monarch Profile: King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia

King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia was the last head of the royal House of Savoy before the foundation of the modern Kingdom of Italy. His reign occurred at a time of great divisions, struggles and opportunities, many of which he would embody in his own life. He was born Prince Carlo Alberto Amedeo on October 2, 1798 in Turin to Prince Carlo Emanuele of Carignano and Princess Maria Cristina of Saxony, the first of their two children. Carlo Alberto was born into the era of the French Revolution and so, along with the traditional education from his family on the glories of the House of Savoy and conservative values, the displacement of the family meant that he also received a very liberal education in Geneva and later in Paris during the first French Empire. This had a lasting impact on him as throughout his life he displayed a commitment to the idea that the House of Savoy must take a leadership role in northern Italian affairs and also a lasting friendship with France, something many in his family, given what they had been through, certainly did not share. Nonetheless, as none of the sons of King Vittorio Amedeo III produced an heir to the throne, there was an early assumption that Carlo Alberto would one day inherit the leadership of the family and the throne of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Prince Carlo Alberto had finished his education and was appointed to the rank of lieutenant of dragoons by Emperor Napoleon I in 1814. After the fall of the French Empire he returned to Turin and the elder members of the family set him on a new educational program intended to rid him of his pro-French and moderate liberal sympathies. They were not entirely successful and throughout his life Carlo Alberto would try to reconcile these two opposing world views he had been raised with. 1817 saw the happy occasion of a royal wedding when Prince Carlo Alberto married Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, Princess of Tuscany, on September 30 in Florence. She was a great woman, a devoted wife and a woman of very conservative opinions and a deeply sincere Catholic faith. In time three children were born; the future King Vittorio Emanuele II, Prince Ferdinando Duke of Genoa and the little Princess Maria Cristina who sadly died in infancy. Princess Maria Theresa was an excellent wife and mother whose influence was soft but strongly felt in both her husband and in the future reign of her son.

In 1821 King Vittorio Emanuele I abdicated, leaving the throne to his brother who became King Carlo Felice. However, he was, at that time, in Modena and so it was Prince Carlo Alberto who had to act as regent until he returned. That year a revolutionary movement took up the tricolor and demanded a constitutional monarchy as well as Savoy leadership in a movement to unify the states of Italy into one kingdom. Prince Carlo Alberto was sympathetic to these ideas and granted the first Piedmontese constitution. The very traditional and conservative King Carlo Felice, however, was certainly not and as soon as he returned to Turin he revoked the constitution, cracked down on dissident elements and sent Prince Carlo Alberto to join the French royal forces in Spain that were fighting to restore the absolutist King Fernando VII to his throne, hoping this would help put his priorities in order.

During this campaign, Prince Carlo Alberto won laurels as a champion of the old order. He was recognized for his great skill and bravery at the battle of Trocadero in 1823, defeating the constitutionalists and restoring the absolute monarchy of King Fernando VII. The part Prince Carlo Alberto played in this victory also earned him admiration in the Austrian Empire, which began to take notice of him as a rising star on the European stage. They were eager for a friendly face in Turin as they had been greatly at odds with the ultra-conservative King Carlo Felice. When he died in 1831 his last words to his successor Carlo Alberto were rumored to be, “Hate Austria”. In Piedmont-Sardinia there was joy and optimism upon the succession of the new King known as ‘Carlo Alberto the Magnanimous’. Here was a man who was committed to the glory of the monarchy, a man of vision and yet also a man who throughout his life had been torn by two conflicting world views. King Carlo Alberto would finally make Piedmont-Sardinia a constitutional monarchy, yet who was so traditional and conservative in his own tastes that he once called Prince Metternich a ‘radical’. He would be opposed by the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum yet it was King Carlo Alberto who would lay the foundation for the future Kingdom of Italy.

King Carlo Alberto went to work immediately, tearing down the internal customs borders in his kingdom to advance a free economy. Although sympathetic with some of their nationalist aims, he also suppressed the conspiracy of the adherents of Giuseppe Mazzini because he would not tolerate republicanism or anything which threatened the monarchy. As his later actions would prove, this was not out of any desire for arbitrary power on his part but because King Carlo Alberto (wisely) believed that republicanism would only divide and weaken a country, leaving it vulnerable to attack by more powerful neighbors. He was determined to defend the rights and freedoms of his people but realized that a monarch was necessary to do so rather than placing the freedom of the people at the mercy of self-serving political representatives. Rather, he looked to the examples of the constitutional monarchies of France and Belgium where traditional structures were preserved and individual rights were respected. In his model, however, the role of the monarch would be much more central and carry more authority in the political process.

Another area King Carlo Alberto looked at with concern was the faith of his country and the growing trend toward secularism, pushed by many of the secret societies that wanted the monarchy abolished. In a very poignant letter to His Holiness Pope Pius IX, King Carlo Alberto said, “…we have reached a point so distressing for Religion that I can scarcely bring myself to speak of it. Our country used to pass for a model of piety; Religion was triumphant there; daily she made immense progress” but, the King went on to say, feuding clerics and a lack of enforcement from the hierarchy had allowed decay to set in which the anti-clericals were only too willing and able to exploit. Also blaming the influence of the neighboring French Republic, the King lamented, “…so great is the evil, Most Holy Father, that it is beyond human power to repair it…” This was part of an overall trend across Europe and no place, even the Papal States themselves, were immune from it. We can also detect an implied criticism against the liberalism and optimism that characterized the early years of the reign of Pope Pius IX, a position he would soon radically reverse.

Things came to a head with the Revolutions of 1848. It was in that critical year that King Carlo Alberto earned his “magnanimous” title by enacting the constitution that would serve throughout the remaining years of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as well as throughout the life of the Kingdom of Italy; the Statuto Albertino. Previously he had remarked that it was his desire for the liberation of Italy that caused him to oppose a constitution but when it became clear to him that this movement was the way of the future, he adeptly got out in front of it and earned the respect and admiration of his people by codifying in law their rights and representation in government while reserving final authority for the King. The Italian tricolor became the new national flag of Piedmont-Sardinia with the arms of the Savoy Royal Family as its central motif. Absolutists from Madrid to St Petersburg condemned the King for taking this action, taking the side of the reformist movement, yet the communist revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels singled out King Carlo Alberto as their greatest enemy. The absolutists, they argued, were discredited but Carlo Alberto had robbed the revolutionaries of their greatest propaganda weapon by making himself the champion of the freedom of his people.

King Carlo Alberto, although he had no ambitions to march down the length of the Italian peninsula, was determined to see Austrian rule removed from the north and when Milan, Venice and neighboring areas rose in rebellion against Austrian rule he stepped forward as their protector and declared war on Austria. In doing so, he beat the republicans to the punch and turned many would-be republicans into ardent supporters of the Savoy monarchy. This was the First Italian War of Independence and Piedmont-Sardinia allied with Tuscany and (for a short time) the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies against the Austrian Empire. At first his armies were successful but on July 24 came the disastrous battle of Custoza which was a decisive Austrian victory and forced the Piedmontese to agree to an armistice. It was his misfortune to face Field Marshal Joseph Graf Radetzky, one of the most capable commanders in the Austrian military. The conditions Austria demanded for peace were so severe that King Carlo Alberto was reluctant to agree to them. However, he had no choice and so accepted all responsibility upon himself for the defeat. On March 23, 1849 he abdicated the throne in favor of his son and went into exile in Portugal. Heartbroken at the loss, he did not survive the year and died in Porto on July 28 at the age of 50.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mad Analysis: Individual Responsibility

The big news in America this week is certainly the mass-shooting in Aurora, Colorado. I assume everyone has heard about the horror of it, the victims and the accused murderer. Of course, all of our sympathy goes to the victims and their families but, saying that, I get a slightly sick feeling whenever I heard media people expressing their sympathy for the victims they interview on TV. It really bothered me hearing Diane Sawyer saying “we embrace you” to the mother of a murdered daughter. I’m sure they are sincerely sorry for these people but, realistically, by next week they won’t remember the names of any of these people, the next big story will come along and so it goes. That’s not really important right now, it’s just something that bothers me a little bit. I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything but it seems just a little bit too much like exploiting grief to me. In any event, not even one hour had elapsed since I first heard this on the news before the blame game started.

Not even one hour had passed before I started to hear the ‘talking heads’ bring up the need for stricter gun control, added security at theaters, questions about how the alleged killer was raised, questions about whether the movie itself was related to the murders (and why the alleged killer referred to himself as “the Joker” (it was a Batman movie if you haven’t heard]) and if the film industry bears any blame for what happened. This really annoys me. More than that, it disgusts me because it seems to relate to what I think is one of the most devastating root problems that exists today. What happened in Colorado is the fault of NO ONE but the one who pulled the trigger. That’s it and that’s all. Anything else takes away from the one and only person who should bear all the guilt for this tragedy. Stop harassing his parents, stop harassing his old professors and stop trying to blame Hollywood. Some people are just evil and some relatively good people just snap one day and do horrible things. No law can ever or will ever prevent that from happening.

This irritates me especially because it is proof again of just how little individual responsibility is left in modern society. How many years ago now was the Genovese case? Have things gotten any better? I don’t doubt that things may come out that might help explain somewhat why this person did what he is alleged to have done but I don’t want anything to in any way take away from his own personal responsibility for the horrible crime he committed. I don’t like the way his father was hounded from his home to the airport on his way to Colorado. It’s not his dad’s fault that he did what he did. I don’t care if he had the world’s greatest dad or the world’s worst -he was a grown adult who made his own decision and one of those decisions was to gun down tens of innocent people. The guilty party is the guilty party and there the list should end. I really have no patience for the whole ‘the movie made me do it’ or ‘society made me do it’ or ‘the music made me do it’ or ‘the video game made me do it’ or ‘my overbearing parents made me do it’ or any of the other of countless excuses that always come out at times like this.

I still want everyone to know that I am certainly under no illusions as to the effect that the media and the entertainment industry has on society. I like some pretty violent and horrifying movies myself, but there are some that even I think cross a line. There are at least a few that I’ve simply heard about that I am convinced would destroy the soul of anyone who watches them. I’ve never been in favor of censorship in my life but, in recent years, I have had to change that position because of some very extreme cases. We should endeavor to have a healthy society after all. What we cannot do is blame the actions of one person on anyone else or in any way lessen their guilt and individual responsibility by trying to make the responsibility shared. If I do wrong there is no one to blame but myself. I do the crime, I do the time. Likewise, if I make a dumb decision, no one should be forced to help me out of a mess caused by my own stupidity. I shouldn’t have to bail you out for your mistakes either. If you have friends or family that want to help you out, fine, but you cannot blame me for your mistakes which is what you are doing if I am forced to help you out of them.

No one seems to have any grasp at all of individual responsibility these days. Even among those one would think would be the greatest champions of it, we do not have unanimity. There are relatively few in this day and age who champion individual “rights” but there are fewer still who stand up for individual responsibility. Everyone wants the “rights” but not many seem to want the responsibility. For example, why do so many libertarians and (all) Objectivists/Randists support abortion? They say it is because they support individual “rights” and individual choice but it seems to me that by supporting abortion you are supporting individual irresponsibility. Being stupid and getting pregnant are individual choices but getting an abortion is just a medical way of escaping the responsibility of your own actions and choices you already made. One side of the political spectrum tends to throw all individualism out the window but even on the other side of the scale, everyone seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. No one wants to be responsible for their own actions and these days we seem less and less forced to do so.

For example, just take the film everyone was seeing at this theater where the tragic mass-murder took place. Notice how many young children were among the victims? Some were extremely young. What were they even doing there? Personally, I was shocked to find out the movie was rated PG-13 and even more shocked when I looked it up and found that the previous “Dark Knight” movie was also PG-13. Aside from the original movie with Adam West (my first Batman), I don’t think any of the Batman movies have been suitable for small children. If I had children, I wouldn’t let them watch stuff like that at such a young age. But, of course, how many parents are simply willing to abdicate their responsibility to the MPAA to determine if something is okay for their children to watch? I don’t think I’m being too extreme when I say that I think we should each be responsible for what we do. I don’t think we should we are all responsible for everything and I don’t think we are all responsible for nothing. I don’t think we should be called upon to be responsible for or care about everyone but we should at least care about how family and those immediately around us. That’s all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Consort Profile: Empress Marie-Claire of Haiti

The first Empress consort of an independent Haiti was born Marie-Claire Heureuse Felicite sometime in 1758 to Bonheur Guillaume and Marie-Elisabeth Sainte-Lobelot, two poor but free Haitians in Leogane. Her aunt, Elise Lobelot, the governess of a religious order, was entrusted with her education as a child and undoubtedly deserves a great deal of credit for forming the kind-hearted and often heroically compassionate woman that her niece grew into. Marie-Claire had a fairly ordinary, humble childhood for her time and place and when she was still young was married to the master-cartwright to the Brothers of Saint-Jean de Dieu Pierre Lunic. Not much is known of her marriage or her first husband but he died in 1795 leaving Marie-Claire a widow. This was a crucial and traumatic time for Haiti when the slaves were rising in revolt against their French masters. The traditional story is that it all began in the summer of 1791 when a Voodoo priest at “Alligator Woods” called on his countrymen to rebel and attack the plantations. Many were soon burning and the rebellion spread quickly across the island. The fighting was fierce, between both the French struggling to maintain power and among the Haitians over who would supplant them as the authority in Haiti.

In 1800 Marie-Claire met the man she would one day marry at the grueling siege of Jacmel. Her heart went out to the poor, starving and suffering people of the city and she arranged a meeting with one of the besieging commanders, Jacques Dessalines, to persuade him to open a few roads so that she could bring some relief to the people. Dessalines agreed to this and Marie-Claire led a group of humanitarian volunteers (mostly women and children) into the embattled city carrying food, clothing and medical supplies. Wasting no time on formalities she helped prepare the food right on the streets to immediately feed the wounded and starving masses. The people were grateful and Marie-Claire was an instant celebrity, an angel of mercy who would never be forgotten. Dessalines would also not forget her and on October 21, 1801 the two were married. One cannot help but wonder how much choice she felt she had in the matter as no two people could be more dissimilar. She was elegant, friendly, warm, forgiving, patient and the very picture of compassion. Her husband was flamboyant, bombastic, capable of quite extreme cruelty and a habitual philanderer. However, Marie-Claire never made a scene and even legitimized and cared for as her own the numerous children her husband sired by other women.

In early 1804 Jacques Dessalines (who, unlike his wife, had been a slave), in a drastic move he felt absolutely necessary, ordered the extermination of the entire White population of Haiti, with the exception of a few non-French minority communities. The original order was for the execution of all White males above a certain age but later this was extended to include women and children as well though some women were spared if they married a Black husband. Dessalines was of the opinion that this had to be done to secure the country, make France think twice about attempting to restore White rule and because he viewed it as just punishment for all the slaves had suffered in Haitian history. However, Marie-Claire was adamantly opposed to this policy and make no secret of the fact. She had already proven that her mercy was colorblind as she worked to alleviate the suffering of prisoners and wounded men whether they were Black, White or mixed-race. From her earliest days she had been, effectively, a nurse and a teacher and she had been raised to have compassion for anyone in pain, regardless of race, be they young, old, male or female. When the massacres began she went down on her knees to beg her husband to desist, which rather infuriated him. Nonetheless, although he would not relent, she did what she could herself to save lives, even hiding one hapless Frenchman under her own bed until he could be smuggled out of the country.

On October 8, 1804 (after the massacres were finished) Jacques Dessalines was crowned Emperor Jacques I of Haiti and Marie-Claire was crowned Empress alongside him at the Church of Champ-de-Mars. It was hoped that this would be the start of a new and glorious era for an independent Haiti but for Marie-Claire, her time as Empress would be all too fleeting. The Emperor tried to keep the plantations in operation without slavery (they were the only source of wealth on the island) but the harsh measures he had to employ to do this left many feeling like little had really changed and their remained bitter divisions in the upper echelons of the new government. Soon a conspiracy was underway and after only two years on the throne Emperor Jacques I was assassinated in a coup in 1806. Empress Marie-Claire, re-titled Dowager Princess, who had only ever tried to do good for those around her, was cast aside and almost forgotten, living in poverty with precious little of the kindness she had shown being returned.

Yet, through it all, she maintained her principles and values. King Henri I of Haiti, one of the leaders in the coup against her husband, had offered to let her stay in his household but she refused. It was not until 1843 that she was granted a modest pension by the government but not as a former imperial consort but simply because all of the extensive properties of Jacques I had been confiscated, leaving her with nothing. However, she had an opportunity for better fortunes following the election of the President-turned-Emperor Faustin I. He was an avid fan of Emperor Jacques I, admiring him as a strong and zealous national leader and Faustin wanted to do honor to his memory. That included honoring his wife and he offered the former empress a much larger pension that would have improved her life greatly. However, Marie-Claire did not have many fond memories of her late husband by that time and felt that to accept such a reward simply because of her relationship to him would have been an endorsement of some sort of his actions which she still very much opposed. In an act of great sacrifice she refused the money and instead lived out the rest of her life with her granddaughter in very poor conditions until her death on August 8, 1858 at the age of 99 or 100.

All these years later, in a way that was certainly not possible in their own lifetimes, Emperor Jacques I and Empress Marie-Claire have become something of an idealized couple. As the first emperor, Jacques I is today again revered in Haiti as a national hero and one of their founding fathers with few remembering his less pleasant actions. Empress Marie-Claire is remembered, rightly so, for all of her admirable qualities. They are often presented in popular art as a happy and ideal couple. This, of course, was far from the truth of the matter but by all accounts Empress Marie-Claire deserves all the praise and admiration she receives for her kindness, compassion and blind mercy to all those in need, toward anyone who suffered for any reason.
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