Thursday, July 10, 2014

Impact of the Great War & Loss of Monarchy

Many people know, at least vaguely, how pivotal the Great War was in world history. It is something that has been mentioned here often enough and monarchists are  probably more aware of it than most. In a sense we are one step removed from it but it is only one step and not a large one in that, we live in a world order created by the Allied victory in World War II and opinion is pretty much unanimous that there would have been no World War II if there had not been a World War I. However, it was not just the political changes and the shifts in world power that brought this about but also a reaction against the values, social norms and a myriad other things that existed before the First World War that has shaped our life as it is today. One of those things was the turn away from traditional monarchy toward various democratic and republican ideologies. There were also some things that existed before but became much more dominant in the aftermath.

For instance, nationalism certainly existed before World War I, indeed it was one of a number of subsidiary causes of the conflict. However, in many places nationalism was ratcheted up considerably afterwards, particularly in Central Europe. Socialism, similarly, certainly existed before World War I and the world prior to 1914 was certainly not one of pure, unadulterated capitalism, but after World War I there was a much more widespread rejection of capitalism in favor of socialism. It had existed previously but never before were entire regimes based on socialism and expanding socialism in various forms from the National Socialism of Germany to the international socialism of the Soviet Union. The United States was not untouched by this, going in a much more socialist direction under the FDR administration. Even in the regimes that denounced socialism, there was still an effort to create and advance some new sort of mixed economy that rejected capitalism as well. There was a backlash against both the aristocracy and the middle class as well as what was derisively called “middle class morality”. Traditional religious institutions were increasingly disregarded in favor of more “New Age” type spiritualism or neo-paganism.

As it concerns monarchy, those on the Allied side had survived but none were as secure as they were before World War I. In Britain, socialist agitation grew rapidly, particular in the trade unions and was one of the reasons, even before the war ended, of Britain refusing asylum to the Russian Imperial Family. The British Empire had expanded but it was far from secure economically. America had surpassed Britain as the largest economy around 1870 and Britain had gone heavily into debt to the United States in the Great War and would do so even further in World War II. The Kingdom of Belgium came out of the conflict in better shape than most but even there radical parties rose up that threatened national unity. In the Kingdom of Italy, communist subversion was rampant with strikes and riots breaking out at such regularity that the country seemed on the verge of revolution before Mussolini and his blackshirts suppressed them, taking power in the process. This, combined with the failure of the other Allies to make good on the extensive promises they had made to induce Italy to join the war all helped bring the Fascists to power. If that had not happened, that might have been enough to prevent the rise of Nazi Germany alone since Adolf Hitler made no secret of the fact that Mussolini has been his inspiration and the Fascist March on Rome convinced him that he could do the same in Germany.

That World War II, in Europe at least, was a direct result of World War I no one can deny. And it was specifically the loss of the monarchies of Germany and Austria-Hungary that was responsible. With the economic tumult that Germany went through, it is possible that Hitler could have still managed to have become a significant political figure (not as likely, but possible). However, there is simply no way that someone like him could have come to power and maintained himself in power if Kaiser Wilhelm II had still been on the German and Prussian thrones. Under the constitution of the German Empire, the Chancellor was not elected by anyone but appointed by the Kaiser. Before the First World War, only one chancellor was appointed who was not a prince or aristocrat and the idea that an Austrian commoner with no higher education and no record of any sort of success behind him at all could have been appointed by the Kaiser is simply beyond belief. And, of course, even if he had been, he could have been dismissed at any time. There is simply no way Hitler could have become dictator of Germany if the monarchy had been retained after the First World War.

World War II in Europe would have easily been averted had the German Kaiser retained his throne. Less clear cut is World War II in Asia but evidence points to the answer being the same. Much of the motivation for Japanese involvement on the Asian mainland was, after all, the result of the expansion of the Soviet Union with Soviet-backed communists taking control of Mongolia and supporting a growing subversive element in the Republic of China. Were it not for these communist threats, all of which came about as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, there may have been no need for Japanese intervention in China. Similarly, for the wider war, it all started because of the provocations of the Roosevelt administration aimed at forcing Japan to take aggressive action which would turn public opinion in favor of American intervention in World War II, specifically in Europe. If there had been no war in Europe, there likely would have been no application of American pressure against Japan leading to war. There would also have not been the antagonism between Japan and the Western Allies that grew as a result of the Japanese delegates to Versailles being ignored and the later naval arms reductions agreements which treated Japan as a second-class power to Britain and America. But, to stay on course, this about the results of monarchies falling, not the war itself.

One major but often overlooked example is the Indian subcontinent. There the world has seen horrific violence brought about by the partition of the Empire of India into the republics of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (originally East Pakistan) but also a continuous stand-off, with both sides now possessing nuclear weapons. There would have been a move for independence in any event and it would have been achieved in any event, both because it is only natural for people to resent being ruled by others and also because the British could have never maintained their rule by force. From the very beginning, British rule in India was based on voluntary cooperation; it is not as though British forces actually conquered the whole subcontinent and subdued an empire of 500 million against their will. However, the end of the monarchy when it happened and as it happened proved disastrous. In the best of times, the British monarch as Emperor of India had united people, inspiring them to work together and take pride in being part of something that was far greater than they could ever be on their own. India was not independent, but it was not as though it was thought of with contempt, rather, it was the crown jewel of the British Empire. If one is to be a possession, one would certainly prefer to be the greatest and most prized possession. In the worst of times, the imperial monarchy had provided a common enemy to unite Hindu and Muslim nationalists. Once it was gone, all they had was their own animosity.

Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, tried to bring both sides together but it was to no avail and one by one the parts of the former Empire of India abandoned the status of Commonwealth Realms to become republics. Independence was to be welcomed as it would benefit both sides but if the Empire of India could have been maintained, whether with a Viceroy in personal union with the British Crown or under a restored Indian monarch, so much terror and bloodshed might have been avoided, not only in the conflicts between India and Pakistan but as a result of the support from radical elements inside Pakistan to terrorist forces and rogue regimes around the world. If there had been no World War I and thus no World War II, this might have been possible.

For the United Nations, the first great test was the Korean War, something which came about only because of the blindness of the Allied leaders in World War II. Former Japanese prime minister, prior to his execution by the Allies, General Hideki Tojo correctly predicted that Korea would be the battleground between the communist and anti-communist forces of the world. Without the Great War there would have been no conflict in Korea as there would have been no Soviet Union to occupy the north after partition and no Communist China to save North Korea from total defeat. If there had been no World War II there would have been no partition of Korea at all as it would have remained a constituent kingdom within the Empire of Japan. Even if events would have transpired to make independence happen, it still might have made a difference to preventing the Korean War if there had not been such a rejection of monarchy. It could have been perfectly simple; restore the Kingdom of Korea (or Han Empire as you please) as it existed prior to 1910 with no other powers gaining a foothold. That would have prevented a war in Korea, certainly on the scale that it happened, but this was not done because of a prejudice against monarchy, the Soviet desire to grab territory at the end of World War II and because of bigotry against the last King/Imperial Crown Prince of Korea who had served as a very high ranking and respected officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. Still, at minimum, the basic fact remains that without the communist influences of the Soviets, whose state was a direct result of the Great War, there would have been no Korean War and no tense standoff on the Korean peninsula which continues today.

In similar vein, one can look at all the small anti-colonial wars that swept across Africa in the wake of World War II. All of these were the result of communist subversion supported by the Soviet Union which send in political officers, weapons and lots of propaganda. Again, it is hard to imagine European rule continuing but the process of independence would have been much more peaceful and less traumatic. There might also still be an Emperor in Ethiopia had it not been for Soviet-backed subversion on the African continent. Likewise, often overlooked (probably because it was so successful) was the British anti-communist campaign in Malaysia. This was farther removed from the Great War but were it not for the Soviet support for the communists in China there might have been no communist uprising in Malaysia. This started out as an almost purely Chinese communist movement and during World War II it was even supported by the British because the Chinese communists were so anti-Japanese (not too different from American support going to Vietnamese communists because they were anti-Japanese). For that matter, would there have been a war in Vietnam? It seems not or at least not nearly so disastrous a war (or series of wars as it was). Again, without the Great War there would have been no Soviet Union and the Soviets became the primary backers of North Vietnam, there would likely have been no communist China and possibly no World War II which was when Vietnam was first partitioned. Without World War I there also would have been no promises from the Allies which encouraged subject peoples in colonies around the world to think that independence was right around the corner only to then be all the more disappointed when this proved not to be the case.

Looking across a wider area, if there had been no Great War, there would have been no Soviet Union, thus no Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, thus no Taliban militia and possibly no 9-11 and “War on Terror”. If there had been no Great War there would have been no Soviet Union to bring down the monarchies of Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia (without the Great War there would have been no Yugoslavia as there would have still been an Austria-Hungary or perhaps the “United States of Greater Austria” as some federalists envisioned). There would have then been no crackdowns and massacres such as were seen in every country of the Eastern Bloc. There would have been no division of Germany and just imagine how much more prosperous Eastern Europe, including Russia, might be today if they had not spent so many decades in the shackles of Soviet communism. The possibilities are almost endless.

Looking at the Middle East, there is no case more simple to illustrate the effects of World War I since so little has changed since then, World War II not touching too much on the region. Prior to the Great War there was not so much a “middle east” at all as it was almost entirely the Ottoman Empire. If there had been no Great War, if the Ottoman Empire had not collapsed, there would have been no Six Day War, no Yom Kippur War, no Intafadas, no Iran-Iraq War (possibly no Iranian Revolution either) and with no Saddam Hussein there is no Gulf War, no Second Gulf War, no Baathist dictatorship in Syria, no Syrian civil war, no Lebanese Civil War and perhaps no rise of radical Islam. The ISIS terrorists causing so much trouble today would have no reason to exist as their caliphate would still be standing in the form of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, saying that, it must also be pointed out that, at the time of the Great War, the caliphate was not foremost on the minds of the Arab Muslims at that time. It is rather ironic to see these gangs and armies of Arab Muslims today fighting for an Islamic caliphate when, during the First World War, it was the Arab Muslims who fought alongside Christian powers like Britain and France to bring down the Ottoman Empire and thus, ultimately, the last Caliph of Islam who was the Ottoman Sultan.

For Europe, setting aside World War II, there is no doubt that the most ugly and horrific tragedies to befall the continent have been a direct result of World War I and in many cases the dissolution of the “Dual-Empire” of Austria-Hungary. There were tensions, of course, that would have existed in any case but changes were coming, whether when Archduke Franz Ferdinand came to the throne or when Charles I received the crown. Both favored some changes, whether to unite the Slavic peoples into a third constituent kingdom or to federalize the whole empire. In any event, much of the anger would have been dissipated and for what remained there was the combined strength of the others under the Imperial Crown to prevent it from becoming problematic. There may still have been some conflict between the Hapsburg Empire and Serbia but, perhaps, after shedding some other smaller minorities and their territory to win wider support, the Slavs would have become united as part of the Hapsburg empire. Who is to say? In any event, had Austria-Hungary not been dissolved there would have been no Croatian and Slovenian Wars, no Bosnian War and no ethnic cleansing such as was seen in the traumatic break-up of Yugoslavia.

Whether Europe, Asia or Africa there are few major, modern conflicts that have not been a direct or at least indirect result of the First World War. Australia was affected as was North America with South America probably having been the least impacted, though even there the case can be made that the economic consequences played a part in the revolutions that caused so much warfare and turmoil. If World War I had never happened the world would be a much better place and even if it had happened, at least to some extent, people all across the globe would have been spared considerable suffering if the monarchs of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Russia had not lost their thrones in the process.


  1. Great blog, great post.

    One under-discusssed aspect of the loss of monarchies in WWI is the personal role of Woodrow Wilson. It is indisputable that the war was lengthened considerably because Wilson personally demanded the abdication of the German monarchs - all of them - as a condition for an armistice.

    By demanding abdications (and implicitly, republics), Wilson was responsible for the de-legitimization of the political classes in the German and Habsburg lands. The results were tragic. The war was extended, causing countless needless casualties, and that was just the start. The ultimate result of Wilson's meddling was total destabilization of European politics, the rise of fascism, and ultimately, WWII.

    Americans typically read about Wilson in the context of his supposedly idealistic "Fourteen Points," self-determination, etc. It's unfortunate that Wilson's personal culpability for destabilizing Europe - for decades - and the accompanying loss of millions of lives is almost never discussed.

    1. I think Wilson's influence in this area has been exaggerated to some degree. I'm certainly no fan of his (read this post for why I consider him one of the worst presidents ever: but he never demanded anything specific from the Germans in terms of government, only a vague reference to the 'military clique'. It was certainly taken that this meant the Kaiser was an impediment to peace but there were a number of alternatives such as the Kaiser abdicating or abdicating as German Kaiser but remaining King of Prussia. Wilson did not speak for all the Allies and the only reason the Germans reached out to him in the first place was because they thought his 14 Points were a better deal than they would get from Britain and France which had more of a grudge against Germany.

      It was the Social Democrats in Germany that brought down the monarchy and they should not escape blame, they are the ones who actually did it and effectively mounted a sort of coup by announcing the abdication of the Kaiser before he had done any such thing.

      As far as prolonging the conflict, I just don't see it. The first peace offers were made in September and the Allies rejected them, Wilson was not significant in that exchange, in fact the German offer was made to Belgium. The revolution broke out in October in Germany which provided the real push to come to terms and Wilson himself was not insistent that all monarchies had to go, a constitutional monarchy would have been acceptable, however, it was not acceptable to the socialists and communists who were rising up and it was they that brought down the German monarchy. I doubt the war could have been ended any sooner than it was. What was most despicable, to my mind, was the retention of the British blockade long after hostilities had ceased.

      Of course, in the final peace settlement, Wilson did his best to muck it up but others were just as responsible and some even moreso. He had not been party to the secret agreements to carve up Austria-Hungary etc and the other Allies were content to ignore Wilson and his preaching when it suited them. Again, one of the worst presidents ever in my book, he just shouldn't be given so much blame that those actually responsible escape notice. Leftist traitors in Germany brought down the monarchy, not Wilson. He helped but no American soldier ever set foot on German soil and no Allied power actually forced the Kaiser from his throne. The German socialists did that.

  2. Wow, that is an impressive (and fast) response! If I can get up the energy, I'll try to find more evidence based on my earlier research on Wilson re: German monarchies; in the meantime I'll read your post on Wilson.

    You will never, however, get an argument from me disputing that leftist traitors were most responsible for the demise of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

    The breadth and depth of your historical knowledge is truly impressive, and I really enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

    1. I appreciate that, the whole 'blame game' just wears on me and from where I sit, the whole war was a mistake, it shouldn't have happened, it didn't need to happen, America had nothing to do with starting it and once it was started, I just don't see a way it could have ended well. There just wasn't going to be a 'happy ending' for anyone. Even for the Allies, it overstretched the British Empire, put them too much in debt to the US, the French set themselves up for the same situation they faced after 1870 and it didn't "make the world safe for democracy".

      Wilson is a popular guy to blame because he was such an atrocious figure and the USA is the bully of the block and its always popular to take shots at the country that's large & in charge. The British Empire used to have the same problem. My 'beef' is that the actual guilty parties are not mentioned and escape blame. By the same token, I get frustrated with some of the Russian partisans who try to blame the whole Soviet era on the Kaiser when, the monarchy was already gone by that point and the basic fact that no one in Russia had to go along with Lenin, they could have ignored him, they could have arrested him, they could have expelled him again. I try to focus my anger on those who did the actual deeds not those cheering from the sidelines.

  3. The Ottomans could have found oil in the 1920s and 1930s


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...