Monday, March 31, 2014
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 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.
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.
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
Thursday, March 27, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Monday, March 24, 2014
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
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.
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 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.
|King Baudouin in Texas
Thursday, March 20, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, March 17, 2014
More distressing news, unfortunately, is added to that from last week concerning New Zealand where the government recently announced that it will be holding a referendum to scrap the national flag in favor of some new model that does not include the Union Jack. For former colonies worried about being considered “real” countries, I can only say once again that “real” countries do NOT just change their national flags to keep up with the times. When a country changes its national flag it is usually because there has been a violent and ugly revolution (China, Russia, France) or because there was something horribly shameful about their previous flag that they have broken all ties with (Germany) and none of these apply to New Zealand. The whole issue is absurd. Thankfully, the Foreign Minister of Australia has said that they will be having none of it saying, “its not an issue that draws much attention in Australia”. Unfortunately, she didn’t say it was because of immense pride and the national history of Australia and later said there were no plans to change it “for the time being”, which is not exactly as strident a statement as I would like.
On the Scandinavian front, the family of the Crown Prince of Norway along with the King and Queen had some family time on the ski slopes last Sunday. Later in the week the Crown Prince and his son Prince Sverre Magnus visited the Children’s Art Museum in Oslo. The Swedish Royal Court unveiled their official YouTube channel and Crown Princess Victoria celebrated her name day but it was little Princess Estelle who was the real center of attention. Further south on the continent, the Belgian royal couple, as mentioned, visited London and in Luxembourg the Grand Duke and Duchess along with Prince Guillaume and Princess Stephanie hosted a special dinner for members of the government. In Spanish royal news, HRH the Prince of the Asturias was in Santiago for the inauguration of the new President of Chile while at home the King, Queen and other royals attended special services remembering the victims of the Madrid bombings which occurred ten years ago (and that makes me feel old). Also getting older was HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco who turned 56 on Friday. In Rome, there were reflective moments looking back on one year since HH Pope Francis assumed the Throne of St Peter.
In the Middle East, it was women troubles in Saudi Arabia that dominated the news. The ex-wife of King Abdullah, Princess Alamoud Al Fayez, has come forward with allegations of abuse against her four daughters by the King. After they were divorced the mother moved to London but the girls remained in Saudi Arabia and their mother says they are being held prisoner, have no freedom and are “hanging to life”. How they are any more like prisoners than any other women in Saudi Arabia I do not know -let us be honest, there is no gender equality or feminism in Saudi Arabia, and the daughters are not so secluded that they have not been able to communicate with the media, in this case the British media, via cell-phone and email. I have to say about this, as someone not of that country, culture or religion, I find the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia appalling, particularly given what licentious lives their male counterparts are allowed to lead. Yet, at the same time, I cannot help but note that the international protestations against this flies in the face of so-called liberal, western “values” of tolerance and diversity, at least as we are told they are today. So many of the same people who love to talk about respect for other cultures and multicultural diversity and respect for non-Christian religions always also seem to be telling people in other countries that they should stop doing things the way they have always been done and be more like the rest of the world.
And finally, in East Asia, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress led the country in marking the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Their Majesties led a moment of silence and HM the Emperor gave a special address on the occasion, expressing sympathy for the victims, concern for the survivors and pride in all those who have come together in support of each other during such a difficult time. His Majesty conveyed his hope that the disaster would never be forgotten, that Japan would learn from it to become a safer country and his hope that peace and quiet will return to the afflicted regions.