Monday, March 31, 2014

Royal News Roundup

It was a solemn occasion for the Spanish Royal Family last week as they paid their respects to the late prime minister Adolfo Suarez who died on Sunday at the age of 81. Suarez was the first prime minister after the death of long-time Chief of State Francisco Franco and presided over the Spanish transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy. Suarez was the son of a republican but became a high-placed figure in the Franco regime and the “National Movement”. He became prime minister in the first democratic elections held after Franco’s passing. HM King Juan Carlos called him “a loyal friend”. Originally a Falangist/National Syndicalist, in later life he led a centrist party. In 2008 the King awarded him the Order of the Golden Fleece and elevated him to the nobility as Duke of Suarez. The Royal Family attended the funeral on Monday and the King laid the Royal Order of Carlos III near the coffin before the public was admitted.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was buzzing with activity last week. The King and Queen received an official visit from President Xi Jinping of the People’s Sweatshop of China before welcoming leaders from a range of countries who like to pretend that they still matter to the Nuclear Security Summit. Many onlookers noticed that Queen Maxima seemed to be more the center of attention than King Willem-Alexander based on the reactions and interactions of the various world leaders with the captivating Argentinean Queen-consort. There were also some giggles from the Dutch as Canadians reporting on the arrival of Prime Minister Stephen Harper seemed to mistake the Grand Master of the Royal Court for the Dutch king. Oops. In Belgium, Prince Laurent was rushed to the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia and placed in a medically induced coma. He has since been awakened and his condition is reported to be improving. Meanwhile, King Philip met with President Obama to lay a wreath at a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War One. And last week included a great deal of traveling for the Swedish Royal Family. Crown Princess Victoria was in Africa visiting Ghana and Tanzania while closer to home the King and Queen made a visit to the Baltic nation of Latvia. In neighboring Norway, Crown Princess Mette-Marit sat in on a Library Conference in Trondheim.

For the House of Windsor there was not much beyond the usual royal activities but some news related to the monarchy did stand out. The Irish Republic announced that it would invite members of the Royal Family as well as Unionist leaders to the planned hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Irish leaders praised the 2011 visit of the Queen to Ireland as helping to warm Anglo-Irish relations. The Prince of Wales apparently wrote to a British military base on Cyprus condemning the killing of certain songbirds which are a lucrative local delicacy. I had more sympathy when he was defending fox hunting but, then again, I have never understood those who value one animal over another. It was announced that Prince William will be working at the Foreign Office to gain experience in diplomacy. An official of the SNP let his true colors show a bit when he announced that an independent Scotland could “ditch” the Queen after independence which will be voted on later this year. The SNP leadership has promised that an independent Scotland would keep the pound, the Queen and “Dr Who” but, despite gaining popularity, some polls have shown more support for Scotland leaving the union in England rather than Scotland. Hopefully this will at least help more people see the truth; that the SNP is republican through and through -which should have been obvious from their Marxism-in-all-but-name political agenda. The ignorant chattering class also recently kicked up a fuss over Prince Harry going skiing in Kazakhstan, somehow equating a holiday with some sort of endorsement of the government there. Whatever. Finally, in happier news, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia is helping add a little more royal style to the Land Down Under. The good news is that he requested the creation of a new level of honors with Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia. The bad news is that one of the first two people to receive the honor will be the outgoing Governor-General who is a despicable republican traitor to her Queen and Country.

In other royal-related news, HIH Prince Bertrand of Brazil wrote a letter to Pope Francis expressing his concern about the radically leftist leaders who have been hosted by the Vatican recently, Marxists who have caused no small amount of trouble in former South American empire. The letter was respectful and reverent in tone but also quite frank and is a true credit to Prince Bertrand and the Brazilian Imperial Family who are still doing all that they can to defend and advance their people and country. God bless him. Pope Francis also met with American President Obama last week, though there was some confusion as to what they talked about. Based on what the President said, they both agreed that rich people are going straight to hell and that while the Pope was unconcerned the Cardinal Secretary of State did bring up the issue of the Obama administration suppressing freedom of religion but the President assured him there was nothing to worry about there and that everything is fine. Yeah. The President then went on to meet with King Abdullah II of Saudi Arabia who, after witnessing the track record of the current American president in foreign policy regarding Iran, Syria and now the Ukraine, to express his concerns about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. The rumor is that the King made it clear that if Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia will not be far behind but, we are told, the President assured him he would get a good deal with the Iranians. Again -yeah. Also this week the Saudi King designated his half-brother Prince Moqren (69) the next heir to the throne. The current Crown Prince is old and ailing and unlikely to succeed the now 90-year old monarch.

Meanwhile, at the Arab Summit, the Emir of Qatar called for dialogue in Egypt between the current military government and pro-Muslim Brotherhood opposition which supports ousted President Morsi. Qatar has been a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood which is banned in most other countries in the region as a threat to stability. The Emir of Kuwait expressed his desire that they all just get along and far to the east in Malaysia the Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah ordered state flags to be blown at half mast in tribute to the people lost on the Malaysian Air flight MH370 which vanished three weeks ago while flying to Peking.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Kingdom of France: Government

The trouble with describing, in a short and easy to understand way, the government of the Kingdom of France comes with the fact that the Kingdom of France lasted for almost a thousand years and, obviously, there were a great many changes in government during all of that time. That, in itself, puts the lie to the republican misconception that France under the monarchy (or any country under any monarchy) knew nothing but stagnation. On the contrary, the government of the Kingdom of France grew up in an organic way and changed according to the circumstances of the time, all under the unchanging supervision of the monarchy. When France as we know it today was originally formed there was very little government at all other than the monarchy, growing out of the barbarian customs of warrior kings and loyalty to your family chieftain. These were superseded by the Franco-German empire of Charlemagne and after the division of that body by the Kingdom of France most today would be familiar with. Because of its roots in the Dark and Middle Ages, the Kingdom of France was originally governed in a very diverse and decentralized way, not at all how most picture the Kingdom of France. However, those beginnings are significant and, really, never entirely went away.

While the King and his court focused on issues such as national defense and foreign relations, the provinces were mostly left to their own devices. They had their own governors, parliaments and their own laws which varied from place to place according to local custom and individual circumstances. The legal system was not uniform itself, being based more on tradition in the north (like English common law) while being much more similar to Roman law in the southern parts of the country. In theory the power of the monarch was absolute but, in fact, the vast majority of local issues were considered outside of the purview of the King and were left in the hands of local nobles, clerics and officials. Eventually there would be over thirty parliaments in France, spread throughout the country. Certain regions such as Brittany and Burgundy also had their own “Estates Provincial” which had local powers of legislation and taxation and consisted of representatives of the common people, nobility and clergy in that particular region. It was a system that could be quite confusing and difficult to manage with government bodies frequently overlapping in their jurisdictions. However, this also served as a check against overreaching by those in authority even if it was not particularly efficient.

The problem with this system was that, under the right circumstances, it could be a major danger to national unity and internal peace and order. This basically came about with the spread of Protestantism in France. Unlike the earlier Albigensians, the Protestants persisted in parts of France and local governors, nobles and finally members of the Royal Family embraced Protestantism and made it a powerful force in France. Naturally the Wars of Religion ultimately broke out between the Catholic and Protestant factions and this had a devastating impact on the country. In the end, it would also bring about major changes in how France was governed. It was the Wars of Religion that really ended the old de-centralized form of government France had known for centuries with most power being retained to the lower levels. This horrible series of brutal civil wars was something no one wanted to see return and the man in charge, who determined to prevent such a thing from ever happening again, was Cardinal Richelieu. In the name of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu set about demolishing the castles of the nobility and centralizing power in France into the hands of the King (with the Cardinal of course being the ‘power behind the throne’) while during the same period Gallicanism became a powerful trend by which the Church became more subordinate to the Crown rather than the Pope in Rome.

The peak of this centralization of power in France, both political and spiritual, is usually illustrated by the reign of King Louis XIV of France; the quintessential absolute monarch. Because France had been so traumatized by the religious and other civil wars that preceded him, most people were quite happy to see King Louis XIV take charge of everything himself. He dismissed the man who was effectively his prime minister, placing everything in the hands of government officials chosen by himself. Louis XIV also brought about greater legal uniformity with his “Code Louis”, streamlined taxation (which brought in more revenue) and encouraged manufacturing as well as the arts. On the religious front, he clashed with the Church often in both the private and public spheres but he was a staunch enough Catholic to never think of doing something dramatic as the King of England and founding his own church. Nobles came and lived in Versailles where all real power was concentrated in the country. For a time, it seemed to work and after the War of Spanish Succession when the Bourbon dynasty was successfully transplanted to Spain, it is no wonder that the new Spanish monarchs followed the example of King Louis XIV and began to centralize power in that country as well.

King Louis XIV, however, was a very talented and energetic man, a larger-than-life figure, and, obviously, not every monarch could be expected to be just like him and the period when centralization in France was most successful was during his reign. Even when Louis XIV made mistakes, he did not persist in them but was quick to change course and try something new so that, it did not matter so much that he was no brilliant statesmen but that he had the drive to always take action. Power was centralized in France under Cardinal Richelieu and that worked fairly well given that the Cardinal was a clever (if sometimes unscrupulous) man. It worked under King Louis XIV for reasons just discussed, however, there would come a time when there would be no Cardinal Richelieu and no “Sun King” and that is when the flaws in this massive centralization of power became evident. Under “the beloved” King Louis XV, French power began to stagnate, corruption became problematic and the nobles and clerics often neglected their local people. After the death of Louis XIV, the French nobility saw their power rise again but too many did not use this to benefit those under their care. The classes in France or the three estates of the nobility, clergy and commons became increasingly alien to one another. The Estates-General itself, the national assemblies of the three classes, was not called into session throughout most of the long reign of Louis XIV and throughout the entirety of the reign of Louis XV.

What is tragic and all too often overlooked is that this decline, and the reasons for it, were things that the monarchy was not blind to. King Louis XVI did his best to put things back on the right track, trying to roll back some of the centralization of power that existed under his grandfather and great-great grandfather. He ordered the reinstatement of the local parliaments that had mostly been abolished after successfully opposing an effort by Louis XV to have the nobility pay taxes, he believed in listening to the voice of the people and he undid the work of Louis XIV by granting religious tolerance to Protestants and Jews in France. He called an Assembly of Notables to address the economic crisis and when that fell through took the more drastic step of recalling the Estates-General. As we know from history, things quickly got out of hand from that point on thanks to unscrupulous officials and a class of professional agitators who made the destruction of the Kingdom of France their primary goal in life. It was the ruination of a great and historic opportunity to see the Kingdom of France put on a more balanced framework after swinging between the extremes of centralization and de-centralization. In the person of King Louis XVI the French had a monarch who genuinely cared for his people and wanted to know their opinions while also appreciating the safeguards and sacred foundations of his own absolute power. He was, perhaps, the ideal figure to achieve the perfect balance in French government. Unfortunately, traitors saw that opportunity squandered.

This is all the more tragic in that, because the kingdom fell with the Revolution, most have assumed that there is nothing to be learned from it when, on the contrary, there is a great deal about the Kingdom of France that could be of benefit to people and governments today. In fact, one could reasonably predict that even under the very old, de-centralized version of the French government, with the passage of time and advances in modern technology, it could have worked extremely well. The possibility there basically being the argument of federalism; with so many parts of France doing this differently, people would naturally migrate (assuming they were no longer bound to the land of course) to those areas that had lower taxes, better jobs and so on, making them more successful and giving other regions the incentive to follow their example and adopt what methods work the best. However, the one institution which is, perhaps, worthy of the most consideration was the Estates-General and the Estates-Provincial. Obviously there were problems with these institutions which most people familiar with French history will have heard many times, the basic problem being that the vast majority of the people of France, the commons, were underrepresented and could always be outvoted by the clergy and nobility. That, however, is a reason to reform and not a reason to abolish.

The three estates
The only real problem with the structure of the Estates-General, as I see it, was that it was insufficiently sophisticated and was, obviously, unbalanced. However, the basic, fundamental principle of the Estates-General was perfectly sound; giving a voice to the nation based on social background rather than party, ideology or the geography of arbitrary lines drawn on a map. The basic idea of the Estates-General was very monarchist and very practical as it took into account the natural human condition of people to act in their own best interests. Therefore, rather than mixing people of various backgrounds, occupations and ideologies altogether with all of their conflicting interests, this system acknowledged those interests and tried, again in a rather too simplistic a way, to give them voice. It seems possible that it all could have worked much better with just a few changes to the system such as granting everyone an equal vote while at the same time dividing the third estate into more specific groups based on status or occupation, in whatever form necessary to gather together into groups with similar self-interests. In this way, all could conceivably be represented, all based on practical reality and the acknowledgment of various self-interests and by doing that, eliminating the need for and hopefully preventing the formation of dangerous political parties that lead to tribalism in politics and destructive social divisions. The government of the Kingdom of France was diverse, then more uniform but always very complex and subject to change, which it did considerably over time. However, no government can persevere in the face of outright disloyalty, treason and sabotage and although it fell, there are still lessons to be learned from the government of the Kingdom of France.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monarch Profile: King Charles XII of Sweden

In the early eighteenth century, the Kingdom of Sweden dominated the scene in Europe and that was thanks entirely to the military genius and the astounding audacity of King Charles XII, the monarch who earned the nickname of “the last Viking”. He was born on June 17, 1682 in Stockholm, the only surviving son of King Charles XI and, during his youth, was given a superb education in both the civil and military spheres. He also learned his trade alongside his father and succeeded him upon his death in 1697. For a short time there was a regency to assist the young King Charles XII but his maturity and talent were so impressive that within a year the teenage monarch was ruling on his own. Early on matters of national defense seemed to dominate much of his agenda and he set to work taking the already efficient, disciplined and veteran army he inherited from his father and making it even better. For a country like the Kingdom of Sweden, living on the harsh, northern edge of Europe with a very small population to draw on, having an extremely large army was never an option. Since the Swedes could not be bigger, they had to be better. They had to fight smarter and Charles XII took steps to ensure that.

In the spirit of the great King Gustavus Adolphus who had gone before him, King Charles XII further integrated the infantry, cavalry and artillery in his army as well as putting a renewed emphasis on close combat and bayonet training. Although a vicious weapon, many people misunderstand the bayonet. It is primarily a psychological weapon. More often than not a bayonet charge did not end in violence at all but with the enemy force having retreated before the attackers arrived. Like most of the greatest military leaders in history, King Charles XII also did not neglect the art of logistics and he modernized the transportation of his army so that supplies could more readily keep pace with the advancing forces at the front. A soldier who is well fed, watered and clothed will always fight better and the results were so noticeable that other European armies began to follow the Swedish example and organize themselves in the same way. By better combining the different branches of the army and streamlining his logistical support, King Charles XII really made the Swedish army like a well-oiled machine, every part working together to produce a fighting force that was able to perform out of all proportion to its size. Unfortunately, not every neighboring power was quick to recognize this. They assumed that the young and inexperienced monarch would be easy to defeat which would make Sweden easy to dominate. They were proven disastrously wrong.

During April of 1700 the Kingdoms of Denmark, Poland and the Russian Empire joined in alliance against the Swedes, starting what later became known as the “Great Northern War”. At first, Charles XII mostly remained on the sidelines. He was a new monarch and it was only naturally that not everyone should trust him immediately. However, his father had chosen good generals to command the army and the King mostly left matters to them and they were able to mount such a defensive that the forces of the alliance against Sweden were stopped. From then on, however, King Charles XII took a more decisive part in fighting the war and showed his aggressive nature by ordering a counterattack against the Danes. It was a swift and stunning success and in no time at all the Swedes had overrun Denmark and forced the government to withdraw from the alliance with the Treaty of Travendal on August 28, 1700. Not allowing the enemy to regain the initiative, King Charles XII went on the attack again and rushed to Livonia (the coastal area of what is now mostly Latvia and Estonia), where Russian forces were besieging the Swedish-held city of Narva in October. He was faced by no less a figure than Tsar Peter the Great who was leading a Russian army of almost 70,000 men but King Charles XII, with only 10,000 men, advanced through a raging blizzard, attacked and totally defeated the blinded and bewildered Russian army.

At that point, following their surrender, the Russians had lost almost all of their modern military equipment and would have been almost defenseless in case of attack. However, King Charles XII still had other enemies to deal with and so he turned his army against Poland and Saxony. In the three years that followed, King Charles XII and his Swedes dominated the battlefields, defeating the Polish and Saxon armies and occupying each of their capital cities in turn. When 1705 rolled around the Baltic had essentially become a Swedish lake and King Charles XII stood triumphant over all of his enemies. The Russians, with their massive reserves of manpower, were the only ones still standing and Tsar Peter the Great had no desire to continue the fight as things were and was anxious to make peace. The Swedish monarch responded to peace well but his experience probably made him over-confident, especially regarding the Russians. He did, quite wisely, use the peace to refurbish his army, rebuild and strengthen it but he also displayed a lack of respect for the Russians he had so easily defeated before. King Charles XII famously said, “There is nothing in winning victories over the Muscovites; they can be beaten at any time.” It was a rather condescending attitude to take, but given his crushing victories thus far, one can understand why the mentality existed.

King Charles XII won battles by skill, quick-thinking and stunning audacity. In 1708 he made his most audacious move ever and, quite probably, his biggest mistake. He decided to invade the Russian Empire. He had already put down all his other enemies and no doubt reasoned that Russia would have to be dealt with permanently at some point and so it would be better to strike fast before the odds grew even more slanted in Russia’s favor. All the same, one can only marvel at the audacity of a King of Sweden launching an invasion of Russia. This was Sweden, not Napoleonic France or Germany that was dominating most of the continent, with numerous countries to draw support from, and it took no small amount of nerve for the King of Sweden to look across the border to the massive Russian Empire and say, ‘I think I can take’ them’. Peace offers were cast aside and the King took his Swedish army into Russia. What played out was something that Napoleon would have likely found familiar. On February 5, King Charles XII captured Grodno, he sat out the spring thaw in Minsk and as summer began resumed his offensive. However, the Russians refused to meet him in a face-to-face battle. They retreated before the Swedish army, destroying anything of value while at the same time harassing Charles XII with small-scale attacks of attrition.

The harsh winter had reduced his small army at the outset and his forces had been further bled from minor skirmishes and the privation caused by the loss of his supply train to attacks by the Russian cavalry. Nonetheless, Charles XII was nothing if not combative and on June 28 he finally met the main Russian army in battle at Poltava (in what is now Ukraine). With only 14,000 men to start the Swedes battled around 45,000 Russians (later more) in bitter fighting that went on and on for eighteen hours. To make matters worse, the King had earlier been wounded and had to pass field command to Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnski├Âld. Although they put up a long and grueling fight, in the end, the Swedes were defeated and almost wiped out. The Marshal was captured and only the King and about 1,500 soldiers were able to escape. The Swedes had reached their ‘high water mark’ and would never be quite the same again. One participant in the battle had been the Cossack Hetman of Ukraine Ivan Mazepa, a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, who had defected to the Swedes when he learned that Tsar Peter intended to replace him. He had hoped to create an independent Ukraine but found himself a refugee with the Swedish King after the battle (the Skoropadsky replacing him).

Encouraging a Ukrainian rebellion against Russia had not worked but Charles XII did not give up. He and his little party made their way south to the territory of the Ottoman Empire where he tried to persuade the Turks to make war on Russia. Unfortunately for him, he was not successful in this either and the Turkish Sultan finally became so tired of his nagging and his presence which was offensive to Russia that he set his own army against the Swedish King and his tiny, ragged band of soldiers. King Charles XII was forced to flee again and made an epic trek across Eastern Europe, through Ottoman territory, across the Hapsburg lands of the Holy Roman Empire before finally arriving in Swedish Pomerania (in what is now Germany and Poland). He had not been home for ten years but had continued to rule Sweden all that time, as best he could, from a distance. He had been through a terrible ordeal but it had done nothing to dampen his zeal and determination. He set to work immediately to rebuild his army and drive out those who had taken advantage of his absence to encroach on Swedish territory.

Showing the same skill and tenacity, Charles XII battled for two years, winning for the most part, before gaining sufficient strength, in his estimation, to launch an invasion of Norway in 1718. Sadly, it was to be his last campaign. On November 30 at a battle near Halden he was shot in the head and killed. He was only thirty-six years old but had lived quite an extraordinary, and quite an adventurous life, in that short span of time. He was succeeded by his sister, Ulrika Eleanora, who immediately made peace, surrendering most of the Swedish possessions in the Baltic. With the death of King Charles XII the era of Swedish domination had come to an end and the era of Russian domination was just beginning. His accomplishments were astounding and probably all the more because he died so young and on the field of battle, facing the enemy. His daring attacks and adept maneuvering of his army allowed him to defeat forces greater than his own time and time again. He knew that in his position he would have to take risks to be successful and he was certainly not afraid of taking risks and the bolder the better. His one, greatest mistake will always be the invasion of Russia and historians will probably always argue over why he turned down the chance for peace to embark on a campaign with the odds so heavily stacked against him. Perhaps he felt that, as poor as they were, they would only be worse later and conflict was inevitable. We may never know, however, he will always be a favorite of mine simply for his audacity and, once again, it certainly takes audacity, whether rightly or wrongly, for a King of Sweden to try to conquer Russia. I cannot but admire audacity on such a grand scale as that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mad Rant: The Red Menace

WHY?!?! This drives me up the wall! Why am I constantly being told that I am crazy, deranged or at least hopelessly “out of date” whenever I talk about the threat of communism today? “Get with the times”, they say or, “the Cold War is over” they say. As if the Berlin Wall coming down was the death of Marxism altogether everywhere in the world! Yes, it is true, the “Iron Curtain” came down in Europe but many of the same people were in the communist party in those days are running the continent, east and west, today in the ruling clique of the European Union. Even more pronounced is the fact that, while the “Iron Curtain” came down in Europe, the “Bamboo Curtain” across Asia is still going strong -and being reinforced by American and European currency as well. Why does everyone pretend as though every communist threat disappeared when Germany was reunified? I don’t understand the mentality! And why do so many tell me that I am “out of date” for pointing out actual communists causing trouble all over the world while these same people are always comparing every villainous national leader to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis? No one says to them, “World War II is over, get with the times!” No, in fact, there are still groups that comb the earth looking for any surviving Nazis to arrest them and imprison or execute them. No one calls them out of date, so why are communists treated differently. There are plenty of victims of communism in the world today because, unlike the Nazis, there are numerous communist parties still in power in countries all around the world. So why is worrying about communism “crazy” and “out of date”?

People can call names as much as they like but facts are facts and the fact is that communism is not dead and buried (I would think that would be obvious) but is alive and well and still working its insidious agenda even in North America and western Europe. The President of the European Commission is Jose Manuel Barroso who was a Maoist revolutionary working to bring down the corporatist state in Portugal. Since then he has said he is not a communist but his actions say something else and would it matter if someone had been a member of the Nazi Party in their youth? The President of the United States had a Marxist mentor as a child, his communications director, Anita Dunn, said she admired Mao Zedong, he even had a Mao Zedong ornament hanging on his Christmas tree at the White House. Some conservatives shouted about this stuff, but most just ignored it. Would everyone have reacted the same to a White House communications director saying she admired Adolf Hitler or if the President had a Christmas tree ornament with Hitler or a swastika on it? Everyone knows the answer to that, it’s obvious. Well, Mao Zedong killed more people (by a considerable margin) than Adolf Hitler did and unlike the Nazi Party which is dead, buried and outlawed, the Communist Party of Mao Zedong is still in power today ruling the largest country on earth with the largest military and an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Why is this not alarming? Or, at least, why is it “crazy” and “old fashioned” for people like me to be alarmed by it?

In Russia, the man in charge is President Vladimir Putin, a former officer of the Soviet KGB. Now, I am not saying that Putin is a communist, it would be hard to pin him down like that. On the one hand he said the fall of the Soviet Union was a terrible thing, on the other hand he has privatized industries rather than nationalizing them but regardless of what you think of his actions today, if you consider him a hero or a villain (because there are those in Russia who think Stalin was a great guy and at least they have been kept out of power) but just consider where he came from and, again, ask yourself if the world would tolerate or do business with a President of Germany who used to be an SS officer? At commemorations of World War II in Russia the old Soviet flag is still paraded. Do the Germans still parade with Nazi flags on historical occasions? No, of course not but, again, Stalin killed more people than Hitler did. Stalin invaded peaceful countries, neutral countries as well. So if everyone agrees that Hitler was evil, if everyone is constantly on the lookout for “the next Hitler”, why is it considered a throw-back to the 1950’s to be worried about communism? And worse than the various communist parties (which still hold power in countries from North Korea to Cuba) is the spread of the Marxist philosophy under other names.

The education system in First World countries around the world has become dominated by teachers unions that all have a Marxist mindset and a Marxist agenda. I’m sure people will say that sounds crazy but the facts are the facts. Schools all over the First World (and these are targeted because the Marxists target success because they think success can never be legitimately earned) teach their students to be ashamed of their countries, to despise their own people, to look down on their forebears and to scorn national pride and love of country. Americans will remember, not so long ago, the uproar over teachers unions in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker tried to limit collective bargaining rights for public employees and faced massive opposition from the teachers unions who tried (unsuccessfully) to remove him from office. They had plenty of insults to throw at the man and plenty of names to call him but one of the ones most used was “the Midwest Mussolini”. Now, why would they call Governor Walker “the Midwest Mussolini”? Why not “the Midwest Mao”? Probably because the people running the teachers unions do not consider Mao Zedong to be all that bad of a guy, just like the President they support. It is the same across both oceans from America. Despite the stories you may have heard from China or Korea about textbooks, in Japan the children are taught to be ashamed of their country. The teachers unions in Japan resisted so fiercely even flying the national flag or singing the national anthem that one school principal committed suicide because of his failure to reconcile the two sides of the issue. They opposed fiercely the law which officially designated these long-held symbols to be the national flag and anthem of Japan. Why? Because the flag was the same as that of the old Empire of Japan and the national anthem is a hymn of praise to the Emperor and as people with a Marxist mentality they totally despise these symbols and what they represent. The situation across the Atlantic from America is no better.

I always knew from American textbooks that in the American War for Independence the colonial rebels are naturally portrayed as the “good guys” and the British and loyalist Americans as the “bad guys”. Whatever your opinion is, that makes sense for American schools to teach that. But, knowing that, I always assumed that in British schools the textbooks would teach the opposite point of view. I was genuinely shocked the first time an English friend of mine informed me that, no, when he went to school they were taught that the American rebels were right and the British government was wrong. Later, this same friend, who has English roots going back to the conquest and is as staunch and proud, “Queen and country” patriot as you would ever hope to meet, shocked me again when he admitted that he didn’t know the words to “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem. I explained to him how, in American schools, everyone is taught the national anthem and we say the pledge of allegiance to the flag every morning. This doesn’t happen in the United Kingdom. The national anthem is not taught there, no pledge of allegiance to the Crown even exists for school children and, I was told, aside from certain public holidays, almost no one ever flies the national flag, the “Queen’s Colours” as they were once called. I was as shocked by this at the time as I am still shocked when people act as though they think radical nationalism is running rampant in Japan. No, the same problem exists in the British Isles; Marxist-dominated teachers organizations are teaching children to be ashamed of British history, to have no respect for their forebears, no loyalty to the Crown and no love of country.

But, if you point these things out, everyone says, “you’re living in the 1950’s” and it is ridiculous. Why does no one say the same thing about the Southern Poverty Law Center that is still monitoring the Ku Klux Klan in America, even though the KKK has not been a major national movement since the 1920’s? For all intents and purposes, the KKK doesn’t even exist anymore. A Klan gathering these days is nothing more than one or two families getting together to wear sheets and set things on fire, but concern about them is legitimate while concern about communism is “crazy”?! Just to be clear, for any half-wits in the audience, I am not saying any of these targeted groups are good, I am only saying that there should be just as much concern about dangerous groups that actually exist today as is shown to dangerous groups that existed in the past but are almost totally gone at present. I could go on forever. Everyone in the world, the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, all trades with Red China which is still ruled by the Chinese Communist Party and which still has the huge portrait of their hero-dictator Mao Zedong hanging over the Tiananmen Gate of the Imperial City. Would all these countries have the same economic ties to a Germany that was still ruled by the Nazi Party and had a huge portrait of Hitler hanging on the Brandenburg Gate? Would these countries trade with Italy if the Fascist Party were in power and a huge portrait of Mussolini was hanging on the Coliseum? I think we all know the answer to that. Yet, everyone trades with China, Europe and Canada trade with Cuba, South Korea even does business with North Korea and those who oppose these things are called “out of touch”. But, of course, Hitler didn’t have any of those adorable panda bears, they’re so cute!

Communist ideology is rampant throughout the world, on every continent and in almost every country to one degree or another. Yet, if you point this out, you’re accused of living in the past, of peddling “McCarthyism” (who actually found actual communists if the truth matters to anyone) and just being hopelessly out of touch. So what if Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to recognize the Soviet Union, so what if he orchestrated the government takeover of whole sections of the American economy, so what if he only got into World War II after Hitler invaded Soviet Russia, so what if his administration was crawling with communist agents and so what if he and his hapless allies handed over half of Europe to Joseph Stalin and so what if an unfortunate side-effect of World War II was making the world safe for communism -that is all pure coincidence with no substance to it at all. Why do I bring it up? Because World War II was the great moment of glory for communism as is obvious by how they cling to it. They got to be the “good guys” and that is why every world leader that is not a communist who gets put on the ‘naughty list’ is referred to as or compared to Adolf Hitler, that is why Communist China always points the finger at Japan and invokes World War II whenever anyone looks too closely at their own gross misdeeds. They want everyone to just remember the war and keep chasing those Nazi, Fascist and imperialist bogeymen while they continue to tighten their grip on the future of humanity.

Communists may not always be honest about who they are but their ideology is still around and still spreading. Communist dictatorships still exist and they are still dangerous and growing more so with every passing year as the rest of the world embraces them. I do not mind saying so, I am a monarchist and being called “out of date” is rather mundane for me but the fact that so many will point to other horrors of the much more distant past while willfully ignoring the real and current threat that communism poses in security, in international relations and in education, makes me a very, very … Mad Monarchist.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Royal News Roundup

Starting in the United Kingdom, last week TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge handed out shamrocks to the First Battalion, Irish Guards on St Patrick’s Day, which is a long-standing tradition. Later in the week the couple made a £5,000 donation to flood victims and Prince William knighted the doctor who delivered little Prince George. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall opened a children’s hospital and later visited Kent and East Sussex while, back at the palace, work is already underway for the festivities to mark the 93rd birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh, which promises to be quite a grand affair -and no one is more deserving. The Royal Marines are set to play a major part, also only fitting as Prince Philip is their Captain-General. If the Queen and Prince consort have not been such out and about much lately, that is to be expected with the Prince set to turn 93 and the Queen 88 very soon. The Palace has confirmed that their schedule is being steadily reduced with the Prince of Wales and younger royals taking on more duties. It is expected that this summer’s commemoration of the D-Day landings in France will be the last overseas trip for the Queen, God save her.

On the continent, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway made a visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, visiting Hanoi, Hue and Saigon on what the Crown Princess called a ‘journey through the history and economic development’ of Vietnam. The invitation was made by Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan to encourage greater trade and economic ties between Norway and Vietnam. The royal couple have also said they want to convey a desire for more openness in society, speaking to the lack of freedom in the communist dictatorship (and I cannot help but point out that prior to the First Lady Michelle Obama visiting Communist China this week it was stated at the outset that human rights would *not* be discussed). Meanwhile, in Denmark, Queen Margrethe II and all the Danish Royal Family put on their best to entertain the visiting President of Turkey, in the grand, old fashioned style that no one quite does like the Danes anymore. The President pointed out that the 65,000-strong Turkish community in Denmark is the largest minority group in the ancient kingdom (uh huh).

Moving south, there was not much major news from the Netherlands. The children will not be joining in the celebrations for King’s Day and it was announced that President Xi Jinping of the People’s Bandit Republic of China will be making an official state visit. Belgium was busy though with Princess Astrid in Oman, congratulating the Sultan for joining the convention against anti-personnel mines. While in the country the Princess also visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and later visited Saudi Arabia where the Princess was met by the Crown Prince and applauded the inter-faith initiative of King Abdullah. In more unhappy news, Prince Laurent was admitted to the hospital in Brussels for what has only been said as exhaustion and King Philip received a pile of speeding tickets from police in the French Republic along with a threat to confiscate his car if he doesn’t pay up! In Luxembourg the Grand Ducal family got together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their local chapter of the Red Cross of which the Grand Duchess is President. And, on the southern front, HM Queen Sofia of Spain visited the Central American republic of Guatemala last week and was very well received.

In East Asia things have been very busy lately, though the biggest story was not directly royal-related but was, of course, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a jet liner from the Kingdom of Malaysia bound for Peking. More contentious, and involving royalty directly, was the announced return to politics of Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk and former leader of the royalist party. His new organization will be called the “Community of the Royalist People Party” and, while he is popular throughout much of the country, many are murmuring of something devious in his sudden return to politics. The primary accusation is that the Prince is being brought back by the dictator-in-all-but-name Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Cambodian People’s Party to split the opposition to his rule since the primary opposition party (Cambodian National Rescue Party) recently gained some seats. Hun Sen was originally installed by the Vietnamese after they invaded Cambodia and drove Pol Pot from power and has remained in control virtually ever since. Usually, around election time, there will be some border tensions with Thailand that “necessitates” calling out the army as a way of intimidating voters to support the ruling leftist party.

Finally, it was a busy week in Japan as well. On Monday Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress received the Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and First Lady Mai Thi Hanh at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. A banquet was held later that evening for the guests with an address by HM the Emperor, thanking the President of Vietnam for his concern for the earthquake and tsunami victims and highlighting the long history of friendly relations between Vietnam and Japan (though I will point out here that was mostly between the Nguyen Lords of the south whose descendants later founded the imperial dynasty this communist president’s predecessor drove from power and tried to destroy entirely -ahem). And, in much happier news, HIH Princess Aiko, the only child of TIH Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, graduated from Gakushuin Primary School on Tuesday. The 12-year old princess attended the ceremony with both of her parents and is set to enroll at Gakushuin Girls’ Junior High School in April. They grow up so fast. The Princess has studied English and enjoyed playing basketball and the cello in the school orchestra. Congratulations to Her Imperial Highness on this milestone.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Royal Friends of Texas: Belgium

The Kingdom of Belgium has had an impact on the world far out of proportion to its size and it has a long history of association with Texas. The Kingdom of Belgium was among the first powers to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas but Belgians had been involved in Texas history even back in the colonial period. Much of the exploration of the New World was driven by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also King Carlos I of Spain and a Belgian by birth. For a time both Texas and Belgium were part of the same Spanish Hapsburg Empire. The first Belgians to visit Texas were three priests who came with the expedition under Robert de LaSalle in 1685 that claimed Texas for the Kingdom of France and attempted to establish a colony. Born in Hainaut, they were Zenobius Membre, Maximus le Clerq, and Anastasius Douay. When Ft St Louis was attacked by Indians, Membre and le Clerq were killed, but Douay lived to tell Europe about the death of the intrepid French explorer.

Juan Banul
Probably no Belgian Texan is as well remembered as Juan Banul, a master blacksmith from Brussels who for some time was the only blacksmith in all of Texas. Banul made the journey to New Spain and traveled north to Texas in 1719, settling in San Antonio. The French incursion had prompted Spain to settle and fortify Texas and the Marques de Aguayo recruited Banul to accompany him on an expedition to East Texas to build six missions and two presidios (Spanish forts) and Banul stayed until 1723. In San Antonio, Banul did most of the ironwork and much of the woodwork at Mission San Jose, the largest of them all and known as the "Queen of the Missions" as well as Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known to history as the Alamo. In 1730 Banul and Maria Adriana Garcia, a Flemish widow, were married. They lived in the Alamo where Banul worked as a blacksmith and operated the sawmill.  Another Belgian Texan involved with the Alamo arrived in the 1850's. He was a stonemason named Theodore Vander Straten. By this time Texas had joined the United States and Straten helped repair the Alamo walls so the building could be put to use by the U.S. Army. However, the army designers were not interested in an exact restoration and so they added the now-famous curve to the church facade to hide the new roof.

In the 1830's there was almost an effort to establish a Belgian colony in Texas. The Belgians were anxious to establish formal relations with the young Republic of Texas, but since Mexico still refused to recognize Texan independence they feared offending the Mexican government. King Leopold I of the Belgians sent an official to Texas to observe and report back as to the viability of establishing a Belgian colony. Strapped for cash, the Texas government asked Belgium for a large loan as a prerequisite to a diplomatic treaty. The Belgian government refused to grant the loan and so the dream of a colony ended then and there. However, there were many Belgians who accompanied French colonists in La Reunion and they eventually tried to establish their own Belgian colony at Louvain but frequent flooding meant that most of these people moved on to Dallas and Ft Worth.

Dutchover Family
Like all Texans, the Belgian Texans included some very colorful characters. One of these was Anton Diedrick. His story starts in Antwerp where he was walking sometime in the 1840's and came across a murder in progress. Hoping to eliminate the witness, the murderers took Diedrick and sold him as an impressed seaman. When the ship he was on put in at Galveston, Texas Diedrick escaped  just in time for the war that was breaking out over the U.S. annexation of Texas. Poor Diedrick could only speak Flemish, but this did not deter two eager recruiters for the U.S. Army. When asked for his name, Diedrick tried to explain his situation, in Flemish, but was stopped by one of the soldiers who said, "Ah, he's Dutch all over," which is what they decided to call him.

With his new name, Anton Dutchallover fought in the Mexican-American War, surviving unscathed except for the loss of the "all" from his new name and he was known thereafter as Anton Dutchover. He adapted quite well to his new life in Texas and became a frontier scout. He even joined the legendary Texas Ranger Big Foot Wallace as shotgun rider on his runs between San Antonio and El Paso. In spite of the hostile climate of West Texas, along with even more hostile Indians and violent Mexican bandits, Anton Dutchover decided this was the place for him. He settled down and started a sheep ranch at Limpia Canyon and supplied soldiers at nearby Fort Davis with food. Dutchover remained at the fort during the Civil War, carrying on as usual whether under Union or Confederate rule. Dutchover started a family and they, along with four others, hid during a violent attack on the fort by Apache Indians. They stayed on where they were until 1867, when Federal troops reoccupied Fort Davis and stopped all further Indian attacks. The descendants of the Belgian soldier, scout, rancher and Indian fighter still live in West Texas today.

Another famous Belgian who came to Texas was Jean-Charles Houzeau, an astronomer and naturalist. He worked at the Belgian Royal Observatory before his radical liberal opinions brought about his removal and he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. From there he came to Texas in 1858 and  worked as a surveyor before moving to Uvalde where he lead scientific expeditions. His politics still caused him trouble though. A firm enemy of slavery, when the Civil War broke out he helped prominent Unionists in San Antonio escape the Confederate authorities. Ultimately he was found out and had to escape to Mexico disguised as a peon. Eventually he returned to New Orleans, which had been taken by Union forces and ran a pro-Union newspaper. He also lived on Jamaica for eight years before returning to Europe, where his liberal opinions were no longer out of fashion, and returned to his old job as director of the Royal Observatory in Brussels. Texas continued to call him though, and in December of 1882 Houzeau returned to lead a scientific expedition to San Antonio to observe a locally visible transit of Venus across the face of the sun - in those days a method of measuring time and gravity.

Another wave of Belgian immigration came following dramatic events in Mexico. In 1864 the Austrian Archduke Maximilian became Emperor of Mexico. His wife, the Empress Carlota, was a Belgian princess, the daughter of King Leopold I, and many Belgians accompanied her to Mexico. Some came to settle, others with the Belgian military corps that gained quite a reputation for their victories over vastly superior revolutionary forces. However, by 1866, the French, who had supported Emperor Maximilian, withdrew their troops and with the United States backing the liberal forces, the Mexican Empire soon collapsed and most of the Belgians in Mexico were forced to flee across the Rio Grande to south Texas. In fact, for a time there was hardly a town in the Rio Grande Valley without a Belgian community.

Empress Carlota
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries many Belgians moved to Galveston and Houston. Some were businessmen, others were farmers, cooks, bakers, candle and soap makers, restaurateurs and musicians. San Antonio though was the center of Belgian settlement in Texas and most there worked as farmers. Their business endeavors were successful as well. The Houston Supply Company, which once provided water for the city of San Antonio sold 90% of its stock to Belgian investors. After taking over the business they expanded it and turned it into a great success. Before 1947 St John Berchmans in San Antonio was the Belgian national parish with all services conducted in Flemish. In 1952 it was remodeled and renamed St Stephen's. Belgian farmers in Texas also made many advances in vegetable cultivation and irrigation techniques. It was the Belgian Texans who first made year-round vegetable production a widespread and successful business. Since the end of the 19th century, Belgian families and their descendants founded the famous vegetable farms in western San Antonio. Year-round growing was pioneered by such Belgian families as Van de Walle, van Daele, Persyn, and Baeten. The Belgian Texans raised common crops and introduced new ones, including cauliflower and kohlrabi. Today, harvests range from flowers to picante sauce.  

King Baudouin in Texas
One of the unique cultural features of the Belgian Texans was the observation of the "Kermess", a national fall harvest festival held in mid-August and in mid-November, if the harvest was good. Belgian Texans also celebrate Belgian independence day on July 21, the day Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians was enthroned. The Belgium Inn, the Belgian Village, and the Flanders Inn, among several other places, provide the settings for many a gathering, traditional or friendly and informal. Until recent years, the Belgian sport of bolling was played and a version of the game is still demonstrated annually at the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio. Today, the center of Belgian culture in San Antonio is still the Belgian Inn. Texas has also been proud to play host to Belgian royalty. In 1959 King Baudouin of the Belgians became the first Belgian monarch to visit the Lone Star State, visiting El Paso and Houston. King Baudouin was given a pair of cowboy boots and made an honorary citizen of Texas. King Baudouin may have been a repeat visitor and he may not have been the only Belgian monarch to visit Texas but records are hard to find. A Belgian government website has the King visiting Texas in 1959 and a photo of him with his boots and citizenship certificate (held by a private owner) is dated 1959 but other photos of the King visiting Rice University are dated 1969 or 1970. King Leopold III and Princess Lilian may have visited Texas in 1978 to dedicate a bust at Methodist Hospital in Houston, commissioned by Princess Lilian, of the heart surgeon who had previously operated on the former Belgian monarch. Unfortunately, exact details about that visit have proven hard to find. In any event, Texas and Belgium have had a long history together, will hopefully always remain fast friends and, of course, Texas would be pleased to welcome King Philip and Queen Mathilde anytime they would like to come down for a visit.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who Benefited From World War One?

As this is the anniversary year of the start of the First World War, it is sure to be the topic of much conversation in 2014. Doubtless, as has already been the case here, there will be a great deal of debate over who was responsible for the war, who caused it, what set it off and how terrible the consequences were. This article will not go into any of those issues as they have been covered here in the past (see the archives). However, one can sometimes tell a great deal about who the driving forces behind any given conflict were by observing who benefited the most from it. This is not always the case to be sure as sometimes countries with little to no involvement in starting a war can sail in at the last minute and benefit immensely from being on the winning side. However, probably more often than not, seeing who benefited the most from a war or conflict can be quite illuminating. Sometimes one can gain a much clearer picture of what a conflict was all about by seeing who gained the most from it. World War II, for example, is often touted as the conflict that saved the world from “fascist” domination, yet, before or even at the height of Axis expansion, not much of the world was threatened. Afterwards, however, communism came to dominate most of Asia, southeast Asia, eastern Europe and large parts of Africa and Central and South America. It is easy to see who benefited the most from that war.

World War II also changed the existing world order. The victorious Allies established themselves as the United Nations with the United States and Soviet Union as the two super-powers with Great Britain, France and China also holding veto power so that only these countries could determine when or where any future war would be deemed acceptable. That was quite a change from the way the world had operated before when there had been a larger balance of powers between the United States, the British and French empires, the Kingdom of Italy, the Soviet Union, the Empire of Japan and smaller regional alliances such as in the Balkans. The world we live in today is the product of World War II and the new world order the Allies established after their victory. Not many seem to make the connection, however, this all had with World War I. Most know that World War II likely would not have happened had there been no World War I, yet, they do not always understand that the victorious Allies, after the First World War, tried to establish a new world order in the same way the Allies did after the Second World War, they just were not as successful at it.

So, who gained the most from World War I? Some gained relatively little in terms of territory but it varied in value and some gained independence. Poland gained (or rather regained) independence as did Czechoslovakia which had never been a country before. The Kingdom of Romania gained a great deal, having joined the war on the promise of extensive gains (mostly from Hungary) and were determined to see those promises fulfilled. The Kingdom of Italy, on the other hand, was promised extensive territory but, in the end, gained relatively little and were cut out of their promised share of the German colonies entirely. The Kingdom of Serbia was a completely different story and part of the reason that the promises to Italy were not kept was because the extensive promises made to the Serbs were kept. Serbia gained Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Dalmatia, Slovenia and everything that eventually became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Essentially, this was the “Greater Serbia” that local nationalists had been dreaming of for years. So, Serbia was one country that gained pretty much everything they had wanted before the war began. Moving into western Europe, the Kingdom of Belgium gained relatively little. There was talk of giving Luxembourg to Belgium but that never came about. Belgium gained a tiny bit of German territory and gained some small but valuable territories in central Africa which their colonial forces had taken during the conflict.

Certainly among the Allies, no two countries gained more territorially than Britain and France. The French Republic made out like bandits, regaining Alsace-Lorraine, occupying part of Germany for a time, most of Cameroon, half of Togo and the mandates of Lebanon and Syria from what had been the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire, already the largest in the world, grew to its peak of territorial expansion after World War I with even the “colonies” having “colonies” of their own. The British Empire gained half of Togo, some border territories of Cameroon, all of German Southwest Africa, the vast majority of German East Africa, the mandates of Palestine, Jordan and Iraq in the Middle East, German New Guinea and the southernmost German islands in the Pacific (the northern islands went to Japan as did the German port in China but this was only temporary and was handed back to China later). The British had also benefited from eliminating Germany as an industrial, colonial and naval competitor and France benefited from the destruction of Germany, becoming once again the most powerful country entirely in Europe. France also received, as did others to varying degrees, or was supposed to receive massive amounts of monetary reparations from Germany for the large part of France that had been devastated in the fighting on the western front.

That leaves, of the major Allied nations, only the United States and Russia. The Russian Empire, obviously, gained the least as it ended up in the red (in more ways than one!) with the Russian Empire being destroyed and with formerly Russian controlled areas such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland becoming independent. Of course, Russia would have lost more had the Central Powers been victorious and thus if the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had remained in effect. In the immediate aftermath of World War I it was also even money if Russia would not have lost more territory as areas under the control of White Russian forces tried to break away from the grip of the Bolsheviks. The United States, so it appeared, gained nothing at all and the U.S. President at the time, the progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson, certainly liked to play up that point of the United States being the impartial broker which sought no gains or conquests. However, appearances can be quite deceiving. Certainly the U.S. gained no territory from the war, but almost every Allied nation in Europe had become heavily indebted to the United States as a result of the conflict, putting America in a very strong position to influence these powers. The British, in particular, had gone deeply into debt by borrowing from America and that would be significant as the United States had already been a larger economic rival to Britain than Germany had been and was afterwards set to totally dominate. Likewise, while not seeking territory for the United States, President Wilson did try his best to see others deprived of it. He objected to any acquisitions by the Empire of Japan and it was only because of French and British support for Japan that Wilson was unsuccessful. The reason behind this was that the United States was already looking at Japan as an economic rival for the lucrative markets of China.

However, Wilson could afford to be magnanimous about territory as he considered this a relatively minor detail in terms of what he wanted for America. His biggest problem, however, turned out to be a total disconnect between what he wanted and what the people back in the United States wanted. What Wilson had his eye on was the aforementioned new world order that was expected to come out of the First World War. This was entirely the “baby” of Woodrow Wilson as the European Allies had little real interest in it, at least at first, being more concerned with the usual acquisition of conquered territory and enlarging their empires. Wilson was fully prepared to sacrifice a number of his previous, lofty, ideals in order to see his vision of the League of Nations brought to life. The intention was for this to be everything that the United Nations came to be after the Second World War. Wilson had a vision of the world that looked liked this: The German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian Empires were eliminated, the French and British empires were deeply in debt to the United States and then there would be a League of Nations to ensure that the new world order would be one that this international organization dominated. And who would dominate that organization? It seems clear the answer would be the United States of America which by then possessed the dominant economy, had the greatest industrial output, which had eliminated other potential rivals and which had France and Britain in its debt.

That dream of Wilson might well have been achieved were it not for his own imperious temperament. The Republican Party, already not fond of the idea of the United States being subject to an international organization, was completely cut out of the peace process by Wilson and had absolutely no desire to cooperate with his settlement in any way. They opposed his post-war vision as well as the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson was thus left in the awkward position of having been the “father” of the League of Nations only to have his own country refuse to join (which he blamed on German and Irish immigrants in America). The U.S. Senate likewise refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and so America remained technically at war with Germany for some time longer until a separate peace was agreed to. Wilson may have called the Great War the campaign to “make the world safe for democracy” but the post-war world he envisioned was one that would be dominated by the United States and he sacrificed all of his idealistic “14 Points” (on which he had promised peace to Germany) just to get Britain and France to go along with this plan which his own people ended up rejecting. The American people were not impressed with the war or its results and entered a period of (relative) isolationism.

So, in the end, the U.S. did not gain that much (the big gains would have to wait until after World War II) and while Britain did gain a great deal it was somewhat illusory. They had gone deeply into debt and had rather overstretched themselves, gaining a great deal more land and people on top of already being the largest empire in the whole of human history. They also lost out in the long run by buying into their own propaganda about the lofty, democratic ideals of the war and the evils of colonialism (not good for the largest colonial power) and by being so beholden to the United States and seemingly reluctant to stand on their own without American support. This led to near disaster in the lead-up to World War II when an overstretched British Empire alienated Italy (which sat astride Malta and could threaten Suez) over a colonial war in Africa and then broke off their alliance with Japan in favor of the United States, turning a defender of the British Empire in Asia into a major threat to key British possessions. Ultimately, Britain did not do nearly so well as it seemed on the surface.

Really, the two countries that left the Great War the most satisfied were Serbia and France. The Serbs had their “Greater Serbia” in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia while France had regained Alsace-Lorraine, avenged the humiliation of 1870 and took back from Germany the status of being the strongest continental power. Is it any wonder then that a Serbian nationalist fired the first shot of the war or that the French ambassador in Russia had worked so feverishly to turn a Balkan conflict into a pan-European world war? It seems to make sense, though, as we know, even in the case of Serbia and that of France, their situation was not as good as it seemed. Serbia inherited all of the ethnic problems of Austria-Hungary without any of the unifying factors to combat them that the House of Hapsburg had. We all know what fate eventually befell Yugoslavia. As for France, they had been wounded terribly, were driven deep into debt, drew the wrong conclusions from the conflict and their punitive actions against Germany left an anger and desire for revenge on the east side of the Rhine just as real and just as vociferous as that which they felt after Sedan and the fall of Paris. Just as, after the Franco-Prussian War, France had been determined that there would be another war, so also many in Germany were then determined that one day they would see France crushed. These, and a great many other blunders and bruised feelings, all ended up culminating in World War II and western civilization and the world as a whole would never be the same again. Some may have won more than others in World War I but, ultimately, all the major powers of the world of 1914 lost in the end.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Belgian Colonial Empire

Colonial empires in general are quite controversial these days and tend to be viewed in a negative light. Most people, because of how they were educated, accept gross over-simplifications and generalizations and, to a large extent, simply issue blanket condemnations of colonialism as it existed in the past (few speak of the more hidden economic colonialism going on today). However, none are probably more criticized for their colonial past than the little Kingdom of Belgium. Controversial as it might be to say so, this is quite unfair. In the first place, the name most associated with colonial horror stories is the Belgian Congo and this is unfair since the time period most think of concerning the worst conditions in the Congo was the era of the Congo Free State when central Africa was, more or less, the personal fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II. When the government took control of this territory, and it became the Belgian Congo, conditions improved dramatically. Secondly, although it is the most notorious, Belgian rule in the Congo was not nearly as bad as most people think. That comment alone will certainly anger many people but the fact is that things can still have been pretty bad without being quite as bad as most think since the negative aspects have, to a large extent, been grossly exaggerated. Also, the Congo was not the only Belgian colony (though it was certainly the largest) and other Belgian colonial holdings and efforts tend to be forgotten.

As most know, Belgian colonialism first came to fruition during the reign of King Leopold II. However, his father, King Leopold I, had been interested in establishing Belgian colonies and looked into several parts of the world for opportunities for his country such as in India, Hawaii, the Philippines, Africa or Sarawak but none came to be. One attempt was made in the 1840’s in Central America where King Leopold I had supported the Guatemalan independence leader Rafael Carrera. In thanks, the Guatemalan government granted a Belgian colonization company perpetual rights to the district of Santo Tomas which was also hoped to offset the influence of a similar British company in the region. However, the Belgian settlers were unable to adapt to the climate and the tropical diseases which took many lives and by 1854 the enterprise was abandoned and Leopold I died without establishing any lasting Belgian colonies. King Leopold II was more successful and it was a driving ambition of his to place Belgium among the ranks of colonial powers. When he came to the throne, France was heavily involved in supporting the restored imperial monarchy in Mexico and since his sister was the Empress of Mexico there were Belgian troops in the country and some Belgian investment. An idea was floated to establish a ‘Nueva Belgica’ colony in the Mexican state of Chihuahua but after a nasty battle wiped out most of the Belgian troops, King Leopold II did not pursue such a venture in that country.

Instead, in 1885 King Leopold II looked to central Africa. He was convinced that this would be the place where Belgium could establish a vast empire and he could also make a strong moral argument in favor of doing so to the European community because of the lucrative slave trade still going on in that region. Slaves were taken from central Africa by various tribes, sold to dealers in places such as Zanzibar and then sold from there often to the Ottoman Empire with slave rings operating throughout Sudan and parts of Arabia. Wiping out this slave trade was the stated intention of King Leopold II as well as investing in central Africa to develop the region and lift the natives out of poverty. It was a noble sounding case; spreading Christianity, the value of hard work, commerce and ending human trafficking. Of course, as we know, it did not quite work out that way and undoubtedly King Leopold expected immense benefits for himself. The fact that it would be for himself and not his country was because the Belgian government (as astonishing as this sounds today) was known for penny-pinching in those days and refused to fund any such colonial enterprises. Not to be thwarted, King Leopold II paid for it himself and he dispatched the intrepid British explorer Henry Morton Stanley to central Africa to get all the local chieftains he could find to sign treaties basically granting sovereignty to the King of the Belgians personally.

This was done and, after some negotiations with the other European powers, the colony was established as the Congo Free State with King Leopold II as sovereign. The Belgians never invaded or conquered the Congo, everything was done by treaty though most assume the African chiefs had no real idea what they were agreeing to. There were not even a great many Belgians involved in this as the mercenaries sent in to organize the military-police force of the Congo Free State came from a variety of countries, mostly from Scandinavia. The military force, the Force Publique, did fight a war against the slave traders and it was a hard fought campaign. However, one can decide how much credit is deserved for this since it later would seem that, rather than wiping out slavery in central Africa, Leopold II was simply eliminating the competition. The Congo Free State existed from 1885 to 1908 and was, without doubt, the worst period in Belgian colonial history. First, ivory was the most exploited resource but later, as bicycles and then automobiles became all the rage, wild rubber was the real cash crop. Huge numbers of Africans died or suffered other various horrors in the drive to bring in as much rubber as possible. Foreign observers and local missionaries began to complain and report these abuses but his advisors assured King Leopold II there was no truth to them and he took the issue no further. The Congo Free State, an area roughly 80x larger than the whole of Belgium, was essentially the private property of Leopold II and there was simply no way the King could oversee everything.

Some have said that a genocide occurred in the Congo under Leopold II and that is simply untrue. Others have vastly exaggerated the death toll of this era, some ranging it as high as half to the entire estimated population of the Congo. That is, quite obviously, absurd as there is no way the King could have been making any profit off the region if 50-100% of the population were killed. Few seem to realize the contradictory nature of accusing the King of both enslaving the population and killing them all off at the same time. The truth is that King Leopold did not go into the Congo to kill people, his crime was mostly one of omission. What he did was to divide up the Congo Free State into districts and hire out to companies to exploit the resources in these districts. There would be an agent over each district to oversee the harvesting of first ivory and then rubber. The problem was that these agents worked on commission, which would seem to make good business sense since the more they produced, the more they would be paid. However, there was no oversight and so these agents could resort to brutal methods to extract as much ivory or rubber as possible to gain greater rewards for themselves with no one to call them to account. That was the real source of the problems in the Congo Free State. It was not that King Leopold II was being purposely malicious as much as he was simply not sufficiently involved in what was going on. As long as the colony was profitable, he did not give it a second thought.

Eventually, however, the reports of abuses became too widespread to ignore and many other countries began to take up the cry of criticism against Leopold II. Now, it must also be said that some of this was simply driven by jealousy rather than genuine concern by those who felt that Belgium had far too great an empire for such a small kingdom. In any event, although he is seldom given credit for it, King Leopold sent a fact-finding mission to the Congo and the report they brought back after talking to officials, Catholic missionaries (originally only Catholics were allowed in) and to the Africans themselves was quite balanced and honest. It related the good things that were being accomplished in the Congo Free State but also the vicious abuses that were going on. New policies were put in place to stop these abuses but, eventually, the Congo Free State was abolished and the government took control of the region as an official colony; the Belgian Congo. Once that happened, better oversight was established and conditions improved dramatically.

Something else which made a difference was that, after Leopold II, Belgian monarchs took a much greater personal interest in the Congo and every one visited the colony, some numerous times. In other areas there was also further, though minor, Belgian colonial expansion. In 1902 King Leopold II obtained a concession in the Chinese city of Tientsin after the Boxer Rebellion and after World War I the Belgians were awarded mandates over Rwanda and Burundi which Belgian colonial forces from the Congo had conquered from German East Africa. In 1919 Belgium also gained some territory in Italy when King Albert I was ceded the island of Comacina in Lake Como for one year (it went back to Italy in 1920). Some have tried to blame the horrors of the Rwandan genocide on the colonial policies of Belgium but, again, this is quite unfair as the system in place had been inherited from the Germans and had never been problematic before. However, the Congo was and will always remain the primary focus of Belgian colonialism and its legacy. The horrors that existed have certainly been exaggerated but there were horrors nonetheless and no one can deny that. There should also, however, be fairness in evaluating the Belgian colonial period as those horrors were generally confined to one period early on and should not be used to hide the many positive aspects of Belgian rule and how the lives of the local Africans improved in numerous ways.

Modern education was brought to the Belgian Congo and, despite what some may think, these taught local languages as well as French in government-sponsored schools. A healthcare system was established and the health of the populace improved steadily. Railways, modern ports, and mines were built that provided jobs and opportunities for the natives and even after the end of the rubber boom there were large and steady increases in the production of palm oil and cotton as new industries were established. A local educated elite was being raised up, commerce was thriving and peace and order were maintained. The trouble was that these local institutions and leaders did not have time to sufficiently develop before Belgium was forced to grant independence to the Congo and the result was a disaster. Today most commerce has stopped due to constant civil wars and political corruption. Furthermore, while Belgium is still being blamed for every problem in the Congo, the country is once again being exploited but in a more dishonest way as republics like the communist regime of China have moved in to take control of the lucrative mining operations in the Congo, paying off the corrupt local officials while they take the resources and leave nothing for the ordinary people whose country is being stripped clean. In fact, it is even worse today because those doing the exploiting are giving nothing back and the failure of the native governments to maintain law and order means that charitable groups are able to do little or do not get involved at all since they are very likely to be robbed or even killed.

The colonial period for Belgium will certainly always be controversial and to an extent that is completely understandable as some very horrible things did occur. However, all of those events must be seen in context and when one looks at the wider history of Belgian colonialism as a whole, it was not that different from other colonial powers and it had positive aspects which are often ignored while only the negative aspects are highlighted and often exaggerated to ridiculous proportions. Again, just because something is exaggerated does not mean it was not bad enough on its own, but an honest and dispassionate look at the facts will show that the Belgian colonial empire was not the absolute nightmare from start to finish that so many portray it as.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...