Friday, June 6, 2014

The World War II World Order

As this is the seventieth anniversary of the invasion of France, cited by many as the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, it seemed an appropriate time to talk a little about the new world order that was created by World War II, the world we all live in today. This is, of course, a bigger issue than that of monarchy alone but while it may be seldom talked about, monarchy in general was certainly impacted by the outcome of World War II and the new world order created in the aftermath of the conflict. This world order is something many take for granted or even fail to notice altogether because it is so commonplace. It is the world we grew up in (I doubt many are reading this who can recall much of the world prior to World War II) and since it is all we have ever known, many pay it no mind. It is simply accepted as the way things are. It is also something that is almost universally celebrated and that is not something to take lightly. It is very rare to have the vast majority of countries agree on anything and yet the vast majority of people and countries in the world today all agree that World War II was the most righteous of causes and the victory of the Allied nations over the Axis powers was the most ideal outcome and made for a better world. Every war since, it seems, has been the subject of debate, protest and controversy but not World War II; it stands above as sacred and inviolable.

Allied heroes: King George VI with US Generals Mark Clark
and George S. Patton Jr.
Part of that is because most of the major conflicts since that time involved, to one degree or another, the United States and the Soviet Union who were on the same side in World War II. As much as each of these countries hated the other, they could never take that back to the war because to condemn the other there would be to condemn themselves. That dynamic, of course, is one of the most obvious results of World War II. For the first time in human history the world was dominated by two super-powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. Prior to the conflict the world had a number of major powers. There was still the Soviet Union and the United States (though a USA somewhat frustrated with being a major player in world affairs) but there was also the British Empire, the French Republic, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan that were all significant on either the global level or at least a regional level. The Kingdoms of Yugoslavia and Romania as well as others were also significant on a more localized scale. After the war, on the other hand, France was in ruins, Britain was bankrupt, Italy was defeated and Japan had been bombed to a burnt crisp and was under American occupation. The British, French, Dutch and other colonial empires were not to last much longer.

The main organizational structure of the new post-war world order was to be the United Nations and many seem to have forgotten that the UN was the creation of the Allies in the Second World War. In fact, even before the conflict had concluded, the Allies were already referring to themselves as the “United Nations”. In this regard, they were a little bit late to the game but, despite all the talk about freedom and liberty, what it all came down to was one of two possible outcomes; the world would either be dominated by the Axis or by the Allies. That does not mean, despite what many think, because it has been endlessly repeated, that the Axis powers had some grand scheme to conquer the world. That is ridiculous and people should really know better than to swallow something that absurd. However, it does mean that if the Axis powers had won, the world would be dominated to one degree or another by Germany, Italy and Japan in the same way that it is now dominated by America, Britain, France, Russia and China. Some, I am sure, may argue that these powers do not “dominate” the world but they do to an extent and some more than others certainly. However, it is no coincidence that the United Nations was established with the Allied nations serving as the five permanent members of the Security Council, each with veto power to stop the world community from taking any military action. The idea was that there would be no more wars unless America, Britain, France, Russia and China agreed on it and any one of them could stop any of the others from taking action against some other country. Therefore, the only people who are truly safe from the UN are, still today, the former Allies of World War II or those countries which are protected by them.

The United Nations is the League of Nations with more money, thus more corruption and with military forces. It was also set up in such a way as to have considerable staying power (and there is nothing more permanent than a huge bureaucracy) so that it survives even though the world and the governments which first established it have changed dramatically. Of the five members of the Security Council, it is worth remembering, only two have the same governments that they did at the time of World War II which are, of course, the United States and the United Kingdom. The French are now on their fifth republic, the Soviet Union collapsed and is now the Russian Federation and the Republic of China had its seat taken away and given to their communist rivals of the People’s Republic of China which had almost nothing to do with World War II at all. And yet, more than anyone else, it is Russia and China that one is most likely to hear talking about the post-World War II world order and defending this world order. Part of that involves the UN as well as it helps to maintain the status quo. As most know, Germany, Brazil, India and Japan have tried to obtain seats on the Security Council but so far without success, partly because of the opposition bordering on paranoia of the Chinese Communist Party toward Japan. Most other Security Council members have been supportive of enlarging the group but China has refused any cooperation that would give a seat to Japan. Later, China did speak favorably of India gaining a seat but only if India would drop its support for Japan joining.

It is also worth remembering that, before India and Pakistan went nuclear, the five Security Council members, who were the main Allies of World War II, were the only powers with nuclear weapons and that is the way they wanted to keep it. The significant thing about this grouping is not that they can tell the rest of the world what to do but that it is they and only they who can decide who the global community can take action against and it is only they who can stop the global community from taking action against a certain country. This was recently highlighted when the United Nations failed to take action against the Assad regime in Syria because any such proposal would have been vetoed by Russia and China. Oftentimes this is more important than being able to take action. Every member is practically untouchable and can decide who else can be untouchable by use of their veto power. The Korean War was possible only because, at the time, the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN and, despite the fact that North Korea has acted aggressively and broken numerous agreements, no one takes any action against them at the UN because it is a forgone conclusion that China would not allow it. For the same reason, the UN will never take any action against Iran because Russia or China would never allow it.

Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria
Now, speaking strictly in terms of the institution of monarchy, the results of World War II and the new world order that followed it have not been very good. It does depend on where one is in the world and saying that does not mean that a different outcome would have been better for monarchy, again, depending in part on what part of the world one is referring to. Monarchy fared the worst in Eastern and Southern Europe after World War II with the former Kingdoms of Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia being handed over to Soviet domination. Their monarchies were doomed the instant that agreement was made. Albania was likewise doomed. It had remained a kingdom in personal union with the Italian monarchy which ended when Italy dropped out of the Axis in 1943 but as it was within the Soviet post-war sphere of influence there was no question of the deposed self-proclaimed King Zog being allowed back in to resume his reign. The Italian monarchy did not long survive the end of the war and while the western Allies (particularly Britain) were supportive in making sure the Greek monarchy came back, it was still weakened from the civil war that raged in Greece and, as we know, was not to survive in the long-term.

The Norwegian monarchy was restored, which it certainly would not have been if the Allies had not been victorious and though the Danish monarchy had continued throughout the German occupation, it seems doubtful that it would have remained untouched in the aftermath of a Nazi victory. The Dutch monarchy was restored, as again it certainly would not have been without the Allied victory and though the Belgian monarchy survived it was a much more sad state of affairs. There was a regency and finally the abdication of King Leopold III but any observer can clearly see that the Belgian monarch never had the sort of influence after World War II that he had enjoyed before. In the Far East the Allied victory meant the end for the restored monarchy in Manchuria (particularly due to the Soviet intervention), the end for any monarchist aspirations in China or Mongolia and the end of the monarchy in Vietnam (where the United States aided the communist insurgency). The monarchy in Japan survived, barely but the Allied victory also meant that monarchy in Korea was a lost cause. Had the Axis prevailed, of course, Korea would have remained a part of the Empire of Japan and thus not an independent monarchy but while the Japanese allowed the Korean Royal Family to retain their status and titles, neither the Soviet Union or the United States were prepared to be so generous. Korea was occupied, divided and split into rival republics.

Doctor and Mrs Ba Maw
The Kingdom of Malaysia was never in any danger of being abolished. The local monarchies were retained by both the British and the Japanese. The reign of the Dutch crown over Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies at the time) was ended and would have remained so if the Axis had won the war whereas the Allied victory brought about a restoration of the Dutch monarchy in Indonesia though it proved only temporary. However, what the alternative to this might have been we cannot say. The Japanese never recognized Indonesian independence, partly because some considered it too valuable to relinquish and partly because the leader of the independence movement, Sukarno, was someone the Japanese had started to have second thoughts about (and rightly so). Had the war turned out differently, either Indonesia would have become an independent republic under Sukarno or been incorporated into the Japanese Empire so, no discernable difference. The reign of the British monarchy over Burma was ended when Japan sponsored the independent State of Burma but is it at least possible that Burma might have gone back to being a monarchy if Japan had won the war. Dr. Ba Maw, who ruled Burma after the British were driven out by Japan, had a monarchial style about his government and was the son of a staunch Burmese monarchist, so that is at least possible. With the Allied victory British rule was restored but, as we know, only briefly. One can only feel sorry for the British troops who fought so hard to regain Burma only to see it handed over again shortly after the war was over. And it was handed over to a man who had also collaborated with the Japanese and had served as Foreign Minister in the government of Ba Maw, so it really makes no sense. They might have just left Ba Maw in charge and been done with it.

Over the long-term, the fall of the Vietnamese monarchy was more damaging than many realize. It did come back, in an unofficial sort of way, during the First Indochina War but that did not survive the French defeat in 1954. What makes it more damaging is that the Vietnamese communists were instrumental in the downfall of the monarchies of Laos and Cambodia as well. Eventually, as we know, the monarchy in Cambodia was restored, though with even less power than it had under French colonial rule but in Laos such has not been the case and the victory of the communists in Vietnam has meant that Laos remains effectively a communist Vietnamese satellite state to this day. Also, on the global scale, the ruination experienced by Britain during the war meant that the British Empire was all but doomed after it was over. This was partly because socialists were voted into power and it was impossible to fund the empire and a welfare state at the same time, partly because it put Britain at the economic mercy of the United States and partly because America had surpassed Britain as the power that weaker countries looked to for support. Even in countries where the monarchy survived this was obvious such as in Australia. With Britain so heavily engaged in Europe, Australia had no one to turn to for protection but the United States.

and they claim to be the "good guys"
So, as a result of World War II some very important things happened that were not to the benefit of the monarchist cause. The world was largely divided into two camps, each of which was dominated by a power that did not look favorably on monarchy. The United States was, at best, indifferent while the Soviet Union was uniformly hostile to the institution. Europe was effectively divided between these two powers with all the monarchies in the east being destroyed and those in the west, while surviving, were nonetheless absorbed by the republican mentality that had been upheld as what the “western democracies” were fighting for. Africa became contested ground for pro-Soviet and pro-American forces each competing against the European colonialism that preceded them and in Asia the regional powerhouse ceased to be the very monarchist Empire of Japan and became, ultimately, the very anti-monarchist People’s Republic of China. There too, the continent became a battleground for two competing ideologies, neither of which were friendly to monarchy. Again, this does not mean things would have been better for monarchy in general if the Axis had won, particularly in Europe and Africa. Hitler barely tolerated monarchies under the best of circumstances and while it fared better in the Italian sphere of influence some have speculated that a Mussolini flushed with victory might have abolished the monarchy himself as he never enjoyed having to share the stage with the King and certainly was not favorable to the eventual succession of King Umberto II. We can never know for sure what would have happened in that event.

What we do know is that world affairs are never quite so simple as some would like to believe. Most everyone agrees that the “good guys” won in the Second World War but the fact is that many “bad guys” emerged victorious as well. This has been problematic and continues to be so because it gave extremely malicious powers a cloak of righteousness to cover themselves in. It is also why many of the worst players are the most protective of the post-World War II world order, it is why the Soviets loved to refer to all of their enemies as “fascists” (a habit Russia has still not entirely given up) and why Communist China never ceases to associate the modern State of Japan with the Empire of Japan of history, because doing so automatically casts themselves as the “good guys” and Japan as the villains. That is the situation and while most, obviously, would prefer to not even imagine what a world would be like in which the Axis powers had been victorious in World War II, that should not blind us to the shortcomings that exist today or stop us from trying to correct them. Just because one alternative would have been worse does not mean that the other must be entirely good. There was a great deal of injustice, misery and suffering that resulted from World War II and we should not be timid in addressing that. We must be grateful and pay respectful tribute to those who sacrificed in the cause and always honor their memory but we must also not be shackled by the past and allow old grudges to cloud our judgment in the here and now.


  1. The Dutch allowed local Indonesian Sultanates to continue to reign during Dutch rule much like the Malay Sultanates, princely states of British India and Bukhara and Khiva under the Russian Empire.

    The Sultanates of Pontianak, Sambas, Surakarta , Bulungan, Yogyakarta all continued under Dutch rule. The Sultans reign over their Sultanates as protectorates of the Dutch East Indies.

    After the end of Dutch colonial rule, the new Republican government of Indonesia abolished every single Sultanate except for Yogyakarta. The Sultans of Yogyakarta continue to reign as Governors of the Special Region of Yogyakarta to this day. It is the only surviving monarchy in Indonesia recognized by the Indonesian government.

    Some of the heirs of other Sultanates like that of Sambas are still popular in their former Sultanates and have held unofficial "coronations" since the fall of Indonesian President Suharto, but are unrecognized by the Indonesian government.

  2. The Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines had rival monarchs supported by the Americans and Japanese in the war. America supported Sultan Jainal Abirin while Japan supported Sultan Amirul Umara I.

    The Philippines stopped recognizing official Sultans of Sulu sometime in the 1980s.

  3. The first South Korean President Syngman Rhee (1948-1960) was a member of a cadet branch of the Korean House of Yi royal family. He was a direct descendant of King Taejong. So a member of the House of Yi did "rule" South Korea from 1948-1960, even though Syngman Rhee was an opponent of monarchism, was hostile to his own relatives and seized their property. The Allies did restore the House of Yi to Korea, but it was the wrong member.


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