Friday, October 31, 2014

MM Movie Review: The Mask of Fu Manchu

One of the most visible “monsters” of the golden age of classic horror movies was the mad scientist. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Frankenstein”, “The Invisible Man” and many more featured the ever-present mad scientist. One, however, that must surely stand out from the rest was the villainous Dr. Fu Manchu, starring bad guy in a series of novels by Sax Rohmer. There have been many films featuring the western-educated Asian warlord and most probably associate the character with the great horror actor Christopher Lee. However, by far the best of all the Fu Manchu movies was one of the earliest; “The Mask of Fu Manchu” starring none other than the horror icon Boris Karloff in the title role. Released in 1932 by MGM it says something that “The Mask of Fu Manchu” was still considered extremely controversial many decades after its release and only very recently was released in its original, unedited form. Contrary to the title, the driving force in the story is not the mask of Fu Manchu but rather the mask of Genghis Khan, and his sword as well, which the villainous doctor is intent on gaining for himself. Karloff as Fu Manchu is one of the great horror performances of all time and the bad guy scenes dominate the movie thanks to him and the great Myrna Loy as his daughter Fah Lo See. Today she is probably best known as Nora Charles in the magnificent “Thin Man” series of films, but originally she was often cast as villainous, alluring, and usually foreign, femme fatales and her part in “The Mask of Fu Manchu” was one of her last (and greatest) such appearances. The movie was plagued with bad luck but, thankfully, it doesn’t show and deserves a place amongst the great horror classics.

Would this face lie to you?
One illustration of the problems had in making the movie is that it had two directors, one who started it and another who finished it. Charles Brabin is the one credited as the director but the original director was Charles Vidor, originally Karoly Vidor, a Jewish-Hungarian filmmaker from Budapest who served in the Imperial-Royal Army of Austria-Hungary in the First World War. If that seems unusual, keep in mind that such iconic horror actors such as Peter Lorre (star of such horror classics as MGM’s “Mad Love”) and Bela Lugosi (forever famous as Universal’s “Dracula”) were also veterans of the Austro-Hungarian military. Peter Lorre was actually the commandant of a POW camp for a time in World War I. This review is being included here because it’s Halloween and because the plot of the film centers around the immensely powerful symbolism of one of history’s greatest monarchs, the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. However, there were plenty of monarchial connections among the cast & crew, though I doubt any of them were monarchists. Leading man Boris Karloff, a native of England with Anglo-Indian ancestry, never took American citizenship, despite spending most of his life in America and gaining his greatest fame in Hollywood and always remained a British subject. He was also a great-nephew of Anna Leonowens whose life inspired the famous musical “The King and I”, and other works and films, highly fictionalized accounts of her life at the court of the King of Siam. “The Mask of Fu Manchu” was a first for Karloff, being the first time he had a large speaking part.

"the Yellow Peril incarnate"
The film opens in London where Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of the British secret service meets with noted Egyptologist Sir Lionel Barton (played by Lawrence Grant). He knows Barton thinks he knows the location of the tomb of Genghis Khan. Along with the remains of the great conqueror, the tomb contains the mask and sword of Genghis Khan and Smith warns Barton that the villainous Dr. Fu Manchu is on the hunt for these treasures as well and that Barton must find them before Fu Manchu does or the consequences could be disastrous. Smith warns Barton that, “in your hands these things would be merely interesting archaeological specimens to go into British Museum, but should Fu Manchu put that mask across his wicked eyes and take that scimitar into his bony, cruel hands, all Asia rises. He’ll declare himself Genghis Khan come to life again. And that, my friend, is what you have got to prevent. You must find that grave, and you must be the first to find it.” Well, Barton is a patriot and agrees. He goes to a meeting at the museum late at night to tell his fellow archaeologists about the expedition and where they are going -and that they have to get there before Fu Manchu does. This prompts one of the men to quip, “A Chinaman beat me? He couldn’t do it!” This was only one of many lines that was edited out for being racist. Most, however, were actually lines spoken by “Asians” (usually Fu Manchu).

Terry meets the family
Unfortunately for Barton, Fu Manchu had some of his minions shadowing him, dressed as mummies and hiding in sarcophagi (perhaps a nod to Universal’s “The Mummy”, also starring Karloff, released the following month). They kidnap Barton and take him to the Far East, to the lair of Fu Manchu, somewhere in the area of northern China/Inner Mongolia. Back in London, Barton’s daughter, Sheila (Karen Morley) freaks out in a gloriously over-acted scene when she hears that her father is missing and most likely in the clutches of Fu Manchu who is, evidently, famous all over the world for his tortures. She decides to lead her father’s expedition herself, bringing along her hunky, muscle-headed fiancé Terry. Meanwhile, back in the palace of Fu Manchu (and props to the set designer for doing a spectacular job on that, all the sets in this movie look absolutely fantastic) Barton is brought before Dr. Fu Manchu, played to villainous, hissing perfection by Karloff (his natural lisp coming in handy for a change). He is such a great, colorful character, I don’t see how anyone could watch this movie and not start rooting for the bad guys, even as Fu Manchu angrily vows to “wipe out the whole accursed White race!” Although the film makes no mention of it, those familiar with previous films or the novels will know that Fu Manchu’s hatred of westerners comes from the fact that his family were killed during the Boxer Rebellion and the man knows how to hold a grudge. Whether such context would have made any difference to the censors who wiped out so many of his overtly racist lines in the film, who can say?

Can I keep him Dad?
Yet, Fu Manchu, say what you will of him, does try to be peaceful. He first tries to get Barton to tell him the location of the tomb by offering him money and women, even his own daughter (as she stands right there!) and it is only when Barton refuses that he subjects the Englishman to the infamous ‘torture of the bell’ which Fu Manchu delivers with sadistic glee, taunting his helpless victim on several occasions. In the meantime, Sheila and company discover the tomb, the enthroned corpse of the great conqueror and retrieve the mask and sword. Sir Denis meets up with them later and some of their number are killed as the minions of Fu Manchu try to steal the artifacts. Having no luck there, the villainous doctor sends one his chief lackeys to bargain for them with Sheila. He offers the life of her father in return for the relics and brings along Barton’s severed hand just to prove that he has him and that his threats are to be taken seriously. Sir Denis does not want to negotiate but Sheila uses her feminine charm to convince Terry to secretly snatch the sword and mask and take them to Fu Manchu. The villainous doctor is elated at first but a quick test shows the scimitar to be a fake and he is enraged, uttering one of the best lines of the movie when he calls Terry a “cursed son of a White dog!” Terry had no idea the items were fakes, Sir Denis having previously switched them out, but no one believes him. Fah Lo See, quite the sadistic little nymphomaniac, takes big, strong Aryan Terry away to be whipped by two big, Black African servants as she shouts in excitement. You can have fun watching scenes like this with friends to see how they react; will they be offended that all the good guys are White and all the villains are Asians with African henchmen or will they cheer at the White guy being tortured?

that is a courting hat if I ever saw one
Dr. Fu Manchu, however, has more in mind for Terry and does not allow his daughter to harm him too much. Using snakes, tarantulas and other evil creatures he creates a mind-control potion that makes Terry his automaton. He also delivers Barton’s dead body to Sheila, showing that he kept his word. Sheila goes off the deep end only to have Terry turn up (under Fu Manchu’s spell) and convince her to take the real sword and mask to a nearby town where Sir Denis is waiting to meet them. It is a trap of course and they are captured and taken before Fu Manchu who finally has his prize. In a gathering of Asian chieftains, his daughter tells them of a vision that Genghis Khan would come back again and would lead the hordes of the east against the west and their might will sweep the world. Dr. Fu Manchu sends the rest of the party away to be tortured to death but keeps Sheila as a human sacrifice, to be killed when he reveals himself with the sword and mask to the other Asian warlords. However, Sir Denis is still on the loose and finds Fu Manchu by following one of his minions. He is quickly captured of course, but escapes and helps to free the others while Fu Manchu, in full regalia, is giving a rousing speech to his fellow warlords, telling them, among other things, to “conquer and breed! Kill the White man and take his women!” in another line that was censored from the film.

Try to trick me you cursed son of a White dog?!
Above, in his laboratory, Sir Denis and company find the doctor’s death ray and start zapping the assembled crowd, starting with Fu Manchu, while Terry rescues Sheila in the confusion. The party then escapes, leaving the death ray on automatic fire, raining down vengeance on the Asian warlords while the Europeans make their getaway. We then cut to the party on a ship bound for England and, after a slight scare, Sir Denis drops the sword into the ocean, fearing that so long as it existed, someone would always be trying to steal it in order to carry out the same plan as Fu Manchu. With that “happy” ending, we fade to black and roll the credits. The ending, to me, seemed a little too easy, but I may be disgruntled simply because Fu Manchu was thwarted. One thing that always struck me as odd was the prominent presence of the death ray. I mean, if you have a death ray, do you really need an ancient sword and mask to start your campaign for world conquest? Why go to all that trouble when you already have a DEATH RAY to begin with? That never made sense to me but, again, I’m probably just bitter because I wanted Fu Manchu to win. I don’t care if you are as white as a sheet, he’s just such a colorful, entertaining character that I don’t see how anyone could not be taken in by him.

He will send you to your cold Christian heaven
“The Mask of Fu Manchu” is extremely racist, no doubt about it, yet I confess it is one of my favorite movies and far and away the best of the long list of films featuring the villainous doctor described as “the yellow peril incarnate”. Karloff and Myrna Loy really steal the show, the writing was excellent with so many memorable lines, there was great action and suspense and it is just an all around excellent horror-adventure story. It was also plagued with bad press from the outset due to accusations of racism from various Asian groups, starting with no less than the government of the Republic of China (which was still in charge on the mainland back then). It is hard for me to take seriously because, I was rooting for the Asian villains the whole time, their characters were just so much more entertaining. However, you can certainly see where they were coming from. The Asians are all really, really evil in this movie or I should say “Asians” because everyone with a speaking role, save one, was played by a European or American made up to look Asian. The only exception was a good-natured, stupid waiter at the very end. Yeah, all the cool bad guys are White people in disguise and the only actual Asian who gets a line is dumb, goofy and a servant. That is pretty racist, I think anyone would have to admit. It was also just the overall tone of the movie with Fu Manchu ranting against the “White race” and with his main crew being Asians and his “muscle” being Black men it was easy to take the movie as a showcase of the benevolent, civilized Whites being attacked by a horde of “colored” people at every turn. But, certainly today, we can see it for what it is, it’s just a movie and everyone should just relax. I would think anyone would be just a little proud to have so awesome a villain as Dr. Fu Manchu as one of their own. He’s certainly one of my all-time favorites, he just enjoys being bad so much.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The March on Rome

It was on this day in 1922 that the Fascist “Blackshirts” led by General Emilio De Bono, Italo Balbo, Cesare De Vecchi and Michele Bianchi marched on Rome. For years this event has been misunderstood which is not too surprising given that both the pro- and anti-Fascist sides have tried to distort it to fit their own agendas. For the Fascists, this was the bold move taken by Mussolini to “take by the throat our miserable ruling class” and by this show of force and the intimidation of his enemies, seizing power. For the anti-Fascists the blame has traditionally been placed solely on King Victor Emmanuel III. According to their narrative, the March on Rome was nothing more than a bluff that could have easily been dispersed with a simple show of force only for the King to inexplicably refuse to give the army orders to defend the city and then hand power over, submissively, to the bombastic Mussolini. Neither of these narratives are correct as both try to take some portion of truth and twist it to their own advantage; the Fascists to glorify Mussolini and the anti-Fascists to disavow any responsibility and place all blame on the King, portraying him as some sort of Fascist sympathizer from the start.

The truth is that the Kingdom of Italy was in a chaotic state and while there had not yet been a full blown civil war or Marxist revolution, the prospect was not as remote as some since have liked to imply. Nor was Fascism some minor, disorganized party that enjoyed no widespread support. In 1921 the Fascists and communists had clashed in the streets of Florence, vying for power and in 1922, the same year as the march, the Fascist Blackshirts had driven the communists from power in Bologna and had taken Milan. In 1921 long-time liberal statesman Giolitti had returned to power with Fascist support; he considered them to be preferable to the Marxists. But, in the chaotic situation, his government did not long survive and he was succeeded by Bonomi who, likewise, took no action against the Fascists in their street wars with the socialists. Bonomi could find no lasting majority and his government soon fell as well, replaced by that of Luigi Facta in early 1922. In short, the established, liberal parties in Italy were proving themselves totally unable to confront the situation facing the country. There were too many divisions and too many radical elements so that many were left looking for who, among those radical elements, would be most likely to save the country rather than destroy it.

In fact, the only reason Facta himself lasted as long in office as he did (and that was less than a year) was because none of the established liberal figures in Italian politics could agree to come together or wished to take responsibility for dealing with the crisis that Italy faced. Giolitti, Orlando, Salandra, none of them could get along with each other. Nitti was agreeable to joining in a coalition but stated he would sooner join a government led by Mussolini than another by Giolitti. What about the King? The King was always reluctant to intervene in politics. There were already enough republicans in the country and communist protests outside the Quirinale Palace were a common sight so that he did not want the monarchy to appear political and partisan. The idea that he played favorites is easily disproved by the fact that, at this time of crisis, he asked Turati, leader of the moderate socialists, to join the government and not for the first time. Turati refused, like so many others at this crucial point in Italian political history. In the period leading up to the March on Rome, aside from being the only leader some felt could deal with the chaos in Italy, Mussolini was seen more and more as the only one even willing to try.

To make himself more acceptable, Mussolini began moving noticeably to the right, voicing strong support for the monarchy and making common cause with the royalists of the nationalist party. The King, even in the fall of 1922, still expected Giolitti to return to power when a suitable political coalition could be formed. However, the other liberal politicians worked against this and Mussolini masterfully played them against the elderly statesman who had earlier squelched the forces of D’Annunzio in Fiume as Prime Minister. He secretly promised his support to Facta, Nitti and Salandra against Giolitti or even against each other. Meanwhile, the old wartime premier Orlando had come out as a supporter of the Fascists, thinking them manageable and preferable to the alternative of a Marxist revolution. More and more people were doing the same and Giolitti himself took no action to try to form a government himself to offer as an alternative. Whether out of fear, indecisiveness or the presumption that all must eventually come running to him for salvation, who can say? The fact is that in this time when leadership was needed, Giolitti did nothing. The liberals who like to condemn the King for eventually appointing Mussolini Prime Minister never like to, and rarely are expected to, explain where their leaders were and what alternative they put forward at the crucial time.

Finally, when it became obvious that Facta was not up to meeting the crisis, Salandra agreed to form a government that would include Mussolini and would not include the elderly Giolitti. It was at that point, with Facta still in office, that the March on Rome began to shape. Ever since, anti-Fascists have condemned the King for not deploying the army to use force to stop the Blackshirts while the pro-Fascists like to ignore the issue and pretend that they couldn’t have been stopped. The King made it clear that the order to, effectively, desist from shooting down the Fascists was his and his alone but he never revealed his reasons for this. Personally, and this is a matter of opinion to take as you please, I cannot help but feel that memories of Milan could not have but played a part in his decision. In 1898 his father, King Umberto I, had deployed the army to put down riots in Milan sparked by radical socialists. There was bloodshed in the streets and the King was widely criticized for overreacting. His eventual assassination in 1900 by an anarchist, which brought Victor Emmanuel III prematurely to the Italian throne, was done in retaliation for the violence in Milan. How could the King have known that he would ultimately be condemned for failing to do what others had condemned his own father for doing? It does seem reasonable to ask why King Umberto I should not have used force against socialists in Milan but that his son should have used force against Fascists in Rome. Why the double-standard?

In any event, those who take issue with the King refusing to shoot down his black-shirted subjects in the streets like to imply that if he had done so, that would have been the end of it. But, what about all the parts of the country already effectively under Fascist control? Who can say that the movement would have stopped then and there? How do we know that the communists would not have seized the opportunity to launch their revolution and take power for themselves? Remember that there was still no decisive liberal leadership to take control of the situation. Salandra had agreed to form a government but, upon seeking support from De Vecchi and Dino Grandi of the Fascist Party, was told that Mussolini would settle for nothing less than the premiership. Plenty in the army spoke up for the Fascists, the leading industrialists in Milan sent messages of support and so Salandra willingly stepped aside in favor of Mussolini who, it should also be remembered, was originally appointed by the King as simply Prime Minister of a coalition government in which the Fascists were not the majority.

Ultimately, the March on Rome was more of a Fascist victory parade than a bold seizure of power. Everything was worked out behind the scenes in political discussions rather than being settled by force in the streets. The King had tried to stick with the traditional, liberal ruling class but they were unable or unwilling to take action. He even tried to reach out to the moderate socialists only to have his hand slapped away. It is no exaggeration to say that, whether the King felt any sympathy for the Fascists or not, at the time they were simply the only alternative left to him and he should not be condemned for that, especially by the liberal elites who sat back and did nothing out of fear for their own positions or because they wanted to hold out for a better offer. The idea that the King and the Royal Family later came to be the scapegoats for the Fascist era and held solely to blame for the rule of Mussolini is both flagrantly dishonest and totally disgusting, especially considering the quarters such accusations usually come from. Those who are so quick to blame the King do so only because it is far too painful to blame themselves.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monarch Profile: King Richard II of England

Richard of Bordeaux (as he was sometimes known) was born on January 6, 1367. The son of the “Black Prince” and grandson of the great King Edward III, he had an illustrious lineage and impossibly big shoes to fill when the death of his father and older brother left him as heir to the throne at a very young age. History has not been kind to the monarch who, at the age of only 10-years old, came to the throne as King Richard II in 1377. How much of the criticism heaped on him over the centuries is fair and how much was due to circumstances beyond his control? It is certainly unfair to compare him to his predecessor, King Edward III, who was so exceptional; a colossus in English history. Compared to such a figure, King Richard II could never have hoped to measure up, especially given that, as great as Edward III was, he was mythologized to even greater proportions as the greatest English monarch since King Arthur (as some called him) and whose few but naturally present shortcomings tended to be ignored or even pushed forward in time to be attributed to the reign of Richard II. Lest we forget, after the glorious victories of his reign battling the French, toward the end of his life King Edward III, who had never been the best of administrators, had effectively lost control of the government of his realm to his unscrupulous mistress and self-serving advisors.

The boy-king Richard II came to the throne of a country that was already beset by divisions and mistrust. Acting on his behalf was his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, who arranged a magnificent coronation for the boy to emphasize the sacredness of the monarchy and that the Crown was to be revered regardless of whether the one wearing it was a conquering hero like Edward III or the inexperienced youth they saw before them in Richard II. The hope was to inspire unity but it would prove to be a naïve hope and young Richard II was immediately thrust on to a scene of intrigue and danger. In the past, England had avoided feuds between the lords by going to war with France but as the former King grew old, weak and finally died, only to be replaced by a 10-year-old boy, they became a considerable domestic threat with their large private armies while across the channel, the French raided English possessions and a distrust of aristocratic and even royal leadership began to germinate in many quarters. The pomp and ceremony of the coronation was part of the reaction to this; to emphasize the unquestionable primacy of the Crown and this was a campaign that King Richard II, not unnaturally given his surroundings, was to take up with zeal. Never before and probably not until the Stuart reign was there an English monarch more devoted to the idea of the “Divine Right of Kings” that was Richard II.

The King had been raised in the care of his mother, Joan of Kent, but the greatest influence on him was the Earl of Oxford, his hereditary chamberlain. When he came to the throne a council of regency was established which was formed with great care so that no one could dominate it. Yet, the result was that, so much care was taken in that regard, that it was effectively useless and John of Gaunt continued to dominate the political scene. With war still waging on the peripheries of England, there was reason for alarm when the Peasants Revolt broke out in 1381. John of Gaunt was away in Scotland trying to arrange a peace and the army was scattered far away in France, Wales and Scotland so that the two peasant armies, one from Kent and one from Essex, had an open road to London. The regency council tried to simply stay out of their way and divert their anger away from themselves and the King who was barricaded inside the Tower of London while the peasants burned the city and took vengeance on those they blamed for their every misfortune. Finally, he could stand it no more and the 14-year old King Richard II gathered some of his supportive nobles together and rode out to Mile End to meet the leader or at least spokesman of the peasant rebels, Wat Tyler. This was to be the setting of what would probably be the most dramatic confrontation of the reign of Richard II.

Wat Tyler presented his king with the demands of the peasants, which were quite radical, the most significant being an amnesty for all the rebels, a fixed rate of low rent for all lands and the total abolition of serfdom in England. With the backing of the regency council that was prepared to agree to anything, Richard II accepted and agreed to all of these demands. This left most of the rebel army all dressed up with no place to go and, as a result, most of them declared “mission accomplished” and went back to their homes. However, as is invariably the case with these types of people, a hard core remained whose natural inclination was to never be satisfied. If the enemy agrees to every one of your demands, you simply present him with a new list of demands. This intransigent, radical element stayed in the field and continued to be a threat as there was still no way to deal with them by force. So, another meeting was arranged. After his previous victory, Wat Tyler was the picture of arrogance and treated the King with the utmost insolence. To his shock, this outrage prompted several of the King’s party to attack and kill him. The rebel mob was about to go on a rampage when King Richard II, in a display of courage he seldom gets credit for, rode right into their midst and led them from the scene.

The ringleaders were later arrested and the rest sent home. The rebellion was over, the crisis had subsided and, of course, almost none of the demands the King had agreed to were ever fulfilled. As far as the council was concerned, it had all been an effort to buy time from the beginning. The King, still a youth and impressionable, undoubtedly took from this that deception was an essential tool of politics and that the people were all loyal deep down and would follow their king no matter what the circumstances. In regards to both, these lessons would not serve him well. It also further cemented in his mind the idea that he was protected and directed by God and in the following years grew increasingly impatient to begin ruling in his own right. As he began to push more and more against those trying to restrict him, two factions emerged that represented the King and his inner court, which wanted something closer to autocracy, and the powerful nobles who wanted the aristocracy to dominate with a mostly ceremonial monarch above them. Sir Michael de la Pole was representative of the friends of the King while the Earl of Arundel was a leading example of those who opposed him.

King Richard II was a very cultured man, a great lover of art, music and also of using these tools to glorify the monarchy. When he spent money on such cultural projects he was accused of being corrupt, of funneling money to his sycophants at court and his aristocratic critics accused him of being at the center of a circle that was lazy and basically not ‘macho men’ who would deal crushing blows to the French and the Scots. Perhaps stung by this criticism, Richard II tried to take charge of a military expedition into Scotland himself but the result was a disaster and proved that, while undeniably a brave man, he was no military leader. His army stumbled around for a few days, never finding any Scots to do battle with, before the King gave up and went home, subject to even more ridicule. He quarreled some with John of Gaunt but it was never as serious as some made it out to be as the powerful uncle remained ever loyal to his nephew and King. As long as he remained, the King’s enemies knew they had little chance of success. However, that situation changed when John of Gaunt left England in 1386 to try to make himself King of Castile in Spain. No sooner had his ship disappeared from the horizon than the Arundel faction demanded that the King dismiss his friend, Sir Michael de la Pole, from his position as chancellor. Richard II reacted first with emotion, saying that he wouldn’t bend to their wishes even if it were the dismissal of a simple cook. However, when Arundel and Thomas of Gloucester began to imply that the King himself might have to go, Richard II gave in and had Pole impeached.

Naturally, he had no intention of letting that be the end of it and tried to gather his own force of loyalists while contesting the legality of the impeachment. His enemies, knowing their chances were never better, prepared for war and in 1387 Arundel, Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick gathered their forces north of London. With no sufficient force of his own, the King had no choice but to resort to appeasement, agreeing to the demand to have five of his closest friends arrested and put on trial. He agreed to the demand but did not go out of his way to actually carry them out. One, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, escaped to the north and managed to gather an army loyal to the King but his force was defeated at Radcot Bridge in December. All of the friends and supporters of the King were then subject to retaliation from the rebel party who called themselves the Lords Appellant. They waged a vicious campaign against the members of the King’s household, making a farce of the law and essentially murdering anyone who had been friendly with or supportive of the King. It is no wonder they came to be known as “The Merciless Parliament” of 1388.

Seething with resentment, Richard II bided his time. First, the following year, he pushed to be allowed to rule as an adult and, at 22, no one could justly stop him. However, he did nothing to rock the boat right away. He paid lip service to the Appellants and went about his duties, reassured, perhaps, by the return of John of Gaunt from Spain. In 1394 he arranged a settlement of the situation in Ireland and in 1396 signed a truce with the French which was very successful. These achievements show that, despite what his detractors say, he was not without ability as a statesman. He also continued to glorify the monarchy with artistic endeavors, ceremony and an elaborate court. In 1382 he married Anne of Bohemia and, after her death, married again to Isabella of France. Also, all throughout this time, he was building up his own strength and quietly assembling a private army, marked by his badge of the white hart, from troops in Ireland, Wales and Cheshire. Finally, in 1397, he suddenly struck and had Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick arrested. Gloucester was killed in Calais but the other ringleaders were put on trial in a way that illustrated how the tables had turned from the time when they had done the same. Arundel was executed and Warwick, after confessing, was exiled to the Isle of Man. Other enemies were exiled and it seemed that King Richard II had triumphed brilliantly.

It was then that he began his absolute rule of England and it is from this period that probably most of the criticism of him arises. His private army kept a firm grip on the country and his own relatives oversaw affairs, paid with the large estates confiscated from his enemies. He spent lavishly, demanded the utmost submission and forced those who displeased him to pay high prices for pardons. Critics accused him and his forces, such as the Cheshire archers, of oppression and of doing away with the law in favor of royal absolutism. Things came to a head with the death of John of Gaunt in early 1399. King Richard II, rather than showing clemency, had the son of John of Gaunt, Henry of Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV), who had earlier opposed him, exiled for life and seized his property. This earned him the lasting enmity of the House of Lancaster and made all the other elites of the country nervous about their own property and standing. When Richard II left to deal with another outbreak of rebellion in Ireland, Bolingbroke returned to England to claim his inheritance. Powerful nobles rushed to support him and while the King and his supporters were in Ireland, all that remained to defend England was his hapless uncle Edmund of York. He proved a weak obstacle and Richard’s supporters melted away, his Cheshire archers tearing off their white hart badges and going home.

King Richard II rushed back to England to fight for his kingdom, landing in northern Wales where he had considerable support, but on every side he found former supporters shunning him or outright betraying him. In quick order he was left powerless and was captured and taken to the Tower of London, then Lancastrian Pontefract. Everywhere victorious, Bolingbroke decided to make himself King and thought to replicate the situation at the downfall of Edward II. However, King Richard II was not at all like Edward II and refused to simply abdicate when summoned. Even if he did so, his heir would have been the child Earl of March and not Bolingbroke. Finally, after some supporters of King Richard tried to assassinate Bolingbroke, he decided that the King was too dangerous to live and so he was killed at Pontefract Castle on February 14, 1400 at the age of only 33. He seized power and had himself proclaimed King Henry IV of England, Ireland and France but could never quite shake a sense of guilt for having ordered the regicide of an anointed monarch. It was not until the reign of the great King Henry V that the Lancasters came to terms with this deed when the King had Richard II reburied in his official royal tomb in Westminster Abbey.

It is true that King Richard II acted unwisely on a number of occasions and certainly his period of absolute power was not executed in a way so as to win the hearts and minds of his subjects. However, it is unfair to hold Richard II solely to blame for the many difficulties of his reign and the troubles that were to plague England later. He was never properly prepared for his part in life nor did he have much of an opportunity to mature into his own man. A King in name at 10, a King with power at 22 and a dead King at 33 was a short sprint. Many if not most of his negative qualities were the result of his environment and experiences and there is no doubt that his enemies acted monstrously with only their own narrow interests in mind. His reputation also suffers unfairly from the more successful, and more adult, kings that came before and after him. However, to blame him for the Wars of the Roses is a considerable exaggeration. He was not a great warrior and was all too willing to hold a grudge (though given the action of his enemies, I find it hard to blame him) but he was also very well educated, a great patron of the arts and a firm supporter of religion (acting decisively against the heretical Lollards). He had, certainly, an exalted sense of himself but his sort of absolute monarchy was really not very different from that of the Tudor era which is so often celebrated. King Richard II will probably always remain on the list of “bad” Kings of England but I have always had a bit of a soft spot for him and I think that anyone looking at the facts dispassionately would have to agree that he wasn’t all that bad or at least was not entirely to blame for his worst failings.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Warring Virgins of Mexico

There is no doubt that when it comes to religious iconography in Mexico there is no more prominent symbol than that of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are, of course, many reasons for that, even aside from its miraculous origins. The Virgin of Guadalupe appealed to the natives of Mexico. It was a figure of the Virgin Mary with dark skin and straight, black hair, done in a style familiar to the natives of central Mexico. The devotion began with a miraculous vision on the Hill of Tepeyac where the natives had previously worshipped a pagan goddess, also a mother figure, called Tonantzin and it should come as no surprise that many natives in Mexico continued to refer to the Virgin of Guadalupe by that name. The devotion was also easily taken up by the Creole population (those of pure Spanish blood but born in Mexico) as a symbol of Mexican nationalism as it was a Mexican icon rather than one imported from Europe. As such, it highlighted the fact that Christianity first came to the mainland of the Americas in Mexico and was thus part of a narrative that placed Mexico as the ‘Eldest Daughter of the Church in the Americas’ and as a sort of Promised Land that would be prominent in the New World. Taken altogether, it is easy to see why the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was taken up by both revolutionaries and both of the ill-fated Mexican Emperors.

When the renegade (and heretical) priest, Father Miguel Hidalgo, launched the Mexican War of Independence he emblazoned the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his revolutionary standard and would carry it into each city he occupied on the way to the capitol with great ceremony as a way to rally the natives of Mexico against their Spanish rulers and those Mexicans of Spanish blood who were loyal to the Crown. His famous “Grito de Dolores”, which is still marked by Spanish presidents every year on September 16, climaxed with the cry, “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe!” and, “Death to the Spaniards!” Observers across Latin America, including no less a figure than Simon Bolivar, noticed that the use of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inspired the revolutionaries with a religious fervor that was far stronger than anything any mere philosophy or political ideology could ever inspire. Even when Hidalgo failed in his efforts, and was eventually executed by the Spanish authorities, his successors carried on with the Virgin of Guadalupe as their badge. The symbol became so prominent that when Mexican independence was finally achieved, by a coalition led by General Agustin de Iturbide, the new Emperor made the highest national honor the Order of Our Lady of Guadalupe and when his short-lived monarchy was overthrown, the first President of Mexico changed his name to Guadalupe Victoria; Our Lady of Guadalupe victorious.

However, while certainly the most well known today given how things worked out, Our Lady of Guadalupe was not the only version of the Blessed Virgin Mary that played a prominent part in the Mexican War of Independence. In some ways, the war could be seen as a clash between two competing incarnations of the Blessed Virgin Mother. While the Mexican revolutionaries had Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Spanish royalists opposing them had a Virgin Mary of their own in Our Lady of Los Remedios. The devotion to the Virgin of Los Remedios has a history which long predates the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe but had the misfortune to be most associated with the losing side in the war. The devotion grew up in the Trinitarian Order in Spain during the bitter struggles for liberation from Muslim rule known as the Reconquista; the longest war in history. Over time, the Virgin de los Remedios became more and more associated with the Reconquista and, as such, with the ultimate victory of Catholic Spain over her non-Christian enemies. The devotion became very popular in Spain and, because of its origins and associations, was also quite popular with the conquistadores who set out for the New World and quickly clashed with a new, powerful, non-Christian enemy.

One of the soldiers of the great Cortes brought a small statue of the Virgin de los Remedios with him on that historic expedition to the Aztec Empire, making it the oldest Marian icon in what was to become New Spain and ultimately Mexico. More than one miracle was attributed to the Virgin de los Remedios by the Spanish soldiers during the conquest of the Aztecs, the most famous being related to the events of La Noche Triste (the ‘night of tears’) so well known to Mexican history. The soldier carrying the statue, Gonzalo Rodriguez de Villafuerte, hid it under a maguey plant while Cortes and his men were fleeing an Aztec attack. Not far away they were later forced into battle and several of the Spanish reported seeing a young girl, moving untouched across the battlefield, throwing dirt in the eyes of the Aztec warriors, allowing the Spanish to prevail. This was attributed to the Virgin of Los Remedios and after the conquest a chapel was built on the sight where the Virgin was said to have appeared. The Virgin de los Remedios was thus strongly associated with the Spanish triumph in Mexico, Spanish victory and, because of that, that Spanish rule was ordained by Heaven. Devotion to the Virgin de los Remedios remained very popular with the Spanish population in Mexico and amongst those who accepted Spanish rule and Spanish culture; it was a symbol of the winning side.

Of course, when the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe began to grow, it was taken up by many Spanish as well and by Catholics all over the world. Yet, the more that particular icon came to be associated with the revolutionary movement against Spanish rule, the more the Spanish and Mexican royalists were alienated from it. Given the history of the Virgin of the Remedios, it is not surprising that it was taken up in large part by the royalist side just as the Virgin of Guadalupe was taken up by the revolutionary side. When the War for Mexican Independence broke out seriously in 1810, the image of the Virgin de Los Remedios was removed from the cathedral in Mexico City and taken to Naucalpan (the place where the miracle occurred on the Night of Tears), dressed in the clothes of a general, where it was placed in the Sanctuary of Los Remedios and named “guardian of the Spanish army” (today this is in Los Remedios National Park). The revolutionaries did something similar when Padre Hidalgo named Our Lady of Guadalupe “Captain-General” of the rebel army. So, although it was never totally uniform of course, the battle lines of the war were drawn with the Mexicans and Our Lady of Guadalupe on one side and the Spanish with the Virgin of the Remedios on the other. This was fostered somewhat by the fact that Hidalgo was, to some extent, trying to spark a racial war, encouraging those of native blood to kill those of Spanish blood.

For those with such a mentality, the iconography made complete sense; it was the Mexican Virgin Mary against the Spanish Virgin Mary. There was the image of the Virgin made to a native, at a place sacred to the natives and with a native appearance arrayed against the imagine of the Virgin that had come from Spain, was beloved by the Spanish army and aristocracy and which had for centuries been invoked by Spanish soldiers against enemies from the Moors to the Aztecs. So intense did this rivalry become during the war that stories began to circulate of each side not only honoring their own Virgin Mary but denigrating that of the other such as the account of Spanish royalists putting images of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the souls of their shoes so as to tread on it with every step on the march. Whether such stories were true or were invented to inflame the hatred of the other side will probably never be known for sure. For both the Virgin Mary became a military figure as well as a religious one. For the rebels, every “viva” for Our Lady of Guadalupe was followed up with a cry of death to the Spanish and as the Captain-General of the rebel army, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was saluted as one would a superior officer. On the royalist side, the Virgin of the Remedios was the general and when the nuns of San Jeronimo dressed the figure in military attire they did not neglect to include a golden sword and baton to illustrate her rank.

Although Hidalgo failed in his campaign, his cause ultimately prevailed so that the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is most remembered but the devotion by the royalists to Our Lady of the Remedios was no less significant at the time. In symbolic terms, it was the Virgin of the Remedios who had brought Christianity to the New World and began its spread across Mexico, she was the Conquistadora just as she had been in Spain against the Moors. Those who fought against the revolutionaries under the image of the Virgin of the Remedios were the heirs of Cortes and his men who had done the same against the Aztecs centuries before. With the defeat of Hidalgo, it seemed that the Virgin de los Remedios was victorious and the Catholic clergy in Mexico City, relieved to be saved from the advancing horde of native rebels, held a special procession and novena in February of 1811 to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin for their deliverance. For the time being, the side of the Virgin de los Remedios was victorious, Spanish rule was restored and those loyal to the Crown could breath a sigh of relief. However, as we know, that situation was not to endure. In reaction to events in Spain, the key moment came when Don Agustin de Iturbide, formerly a royalist, united with the revolutionaries to unite Mexican society behind the cause of independence, a unity illustrated by the famous embrace of Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero.

The alliance would prove short-lived and Guerrero would go on to briefly serve as the second President of Mexico before being overthrown. So it was that the Virgin of Guadalupe was further exalted to the status of a national icon while the Virgin of the Remedios (while retaining devoted adherents to this day) became a significantly less popular focus of devotion, being associated with the Spanish royalists or more bluntly the losing side. Of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe had her royalist devotees as well and in fact, though it is not something those in the Church wish to dwell on these days, the religious authorities at the time of the war (who were solidly supportive of the Spanish Crown) decried the use of the image by Hidalgo and his rebels as a sort of desecration. Likewise, the Zacapoaxtla Indians who opposed the forces of Hidalgo, were outraged at his use of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as they had long claimed her as their own special patroness. After the war was over, they received permission from the civil and religious authorities, in 1813, to build a church in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe who they credited with their own victories over Hidalgo and his forces. Given that, it is hardly surprising that even into the Twentieth Century, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was still being used by factions as diverse as the revolutionaries of Emiliano Zapata to the Catholic army known as the Cristeros in their struggle against the PRI.

It could be said that, in terms of the iconography, the Virgin of the Remedios won the battle but the Virgin of Guadalupe won the war. Today she is one of the most prominent Mexican symbols, encompassing every political ideology and even religious beliefs. As a famous Mexican writer once said, “not all Mexicans are Catholic but all Mexicans are Guadalupanos”. Since this devotion has become so widespread, it is perhaps all the more valid to remember that it might not have been so. If the royalists had been victorious, if the bonds of the Hispanidad had not been broken and the Spanish empire not fallen apart, it might today be the Virgin of the Remedios who would be best known around the world, a symbol of the unity and shared history of the Spanish-speaking peoples everywhere rather than a symbol of Mexican nationalism alone. With the history of the competition between the two images, it is also important to remember that they are supposed to represent the same person and while Our Lady of Guadalupe is supreme today, it should not be considered a slight to do honor to the Virgin de Los Remedios and remember those who were devoted to her and what they stood for 204 years ago.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Royalist Restoration in Romania?

There is an increasing reason to hope that the cause of monarchy may be making a comeback in Eastern Europe/the Balkans. Montenegro (which we recently discussed) has restored its monarchy in all but name, just requiring one more step really to make it official; in Serbia the Crown Prince enjoys widespread support, has the backing of the Church and has established connections with many influential figures; in Bulgaria, despite some setbacks in the past, politicians supporting a restoration have made gains recently; in Albania the heir to the throne is working with the government; in Hungary, although still a republic, the official designation of the country has dropped the word “republic” in favor of “The State of Hungary” of simply “Hungary” and the new constitution at least makes reference to the Holy Crown (of St Stephen) as part of the national coat-of-arms. And, finally, there is Romania where support for the former monarchy seems to be growing. Certainly it would be great to see the monarchy restored in the lifetime of King Michael, a fitting tribute to him personally and the correction of a gross historical injustice.

As more politicians are running for office who have voiced support for restoring the monarchy, more people in the halls of power in Bucharest or those hoping to be, have started to shift in a more monarchist direction. In the current presidential race going on, several of the top contenders have said they would like to see the monarchy restored while others have obviously concluded that monarchist support is considerable enough in Romania not to be discounted. Because of this, politicians who have a history of republicanism and who have not endorsed the idea of a royal restoration have, at least, tried to assure the people that they admire the Royal Family and have the utmost respect for the King. Opinion polls are still not quite where we would want them to be, however, from listening to Romanian politicians one cannot help but wonder if they know something we do not. Even those who have been adamant about being republicans have begun to say that, while they favor keeping the republic, would be supportive of having a referendum on the subject so that the public can vote on whether to restore the monarchy or not. The staunchly republican head of state, President Traian Basescu (a former communist) has said that he has no objection to a referendum and that the former monarchy will be an issue that the government will have to somehow deal with.

More and more Romanian leaders are saying that they either support the restoration of the monarchy or that, at least, they would not oppose putting the issue to a vote in a public referendum. This is, of course, positive news and would seem to indicate that there could be a groundswell of monarchist support in Romania. I would say there is every reason to be cautiously optimistic but keeping in mind that royalists have always had to fight against the odds. Once politicians have power and, aside from power, the most prestigious position in the country (head of state) they have never wanted to give that up. A public referendum that votes in favor of restoring the Romanian monarchy and a government that carries out this wish would be truly groundbreaking. Monarchies being restored is rare enough to be considered a positive phenomenon on its own and it is almost as rare to have a republic willingly give its people the chance to choose on whether to restore a monarchy that has fallen. When we look at modern examples of monarchies being restored, they have not looked like this. In Cambodia there were extraordinary circumstances. The Vietnamese had overthrown the previous regime, the United Nations was brought in and in that case the monarchy was restored without disturbing the existing rulers who had been put in place by Vietnam (and who have remained ever since). In Spain, Generalissimo Franco restored the monarchy in name fairly early on and then, rather than have a vote, designated Prince Juan Carlos to take power upon his death, after which the Spanish government made it clear that King Juan Carlos attained his throne based on hereditary right rather than the wishes of Franco.

That is an important point because, if the ruling elite in Romania were honest and honorable people (I know, it sounds absurd to even say) they would restore the monarchy immediately and then, if King Michael was agreeable and the political parties insistent, give the people a referendum on keeping it. That is because the current Romanian regime is completely illegitimate. King Michael lost his crown by the extortion of Soviet Russia and every government since his overthrow has been illegal. As soon as the communist bloc crumbled, the King should have been restored to his rightful place immediately after which a legitimate government could have decided where to take the country from there. If there is a referendum and if it ends in the way we would all hope, calling for the restoration of the monarchy, it would simply be recognizing what should already, justly, be the case -that Michael I is the King of Romania and always has been, by hereditary right and the long-established laws of the country.

I would, of course, be in favor of the government declaring the restoration of the monarchy tomorrow (if not today) on that basis alone, that King Michael is the legitimate monarch and has been since his accession (whichever of the two you may prefer). The fact that so many seem to be at least somewhat supportive of a restoration without doing this tends to make me rather skeptical and the conspiratorial part of my damaged mind starts to run wild. As stated above, the public opinion polls about a restoration are still not where most monarchists would like them to (like, 100% in favor) and so I cannot help but wonder why there is this sudden burst of support for the monarchy or, at the very least, a fall-off in those who are adamantly opposed to it. Politicians seeking election are the most untrustworthy of creatures and I fear that there one or two reasons behind this depending on the individual politician. On the one hand, I fear this is nothing more than political pandering; politicians trying to gain the support of the monarchist minority by pretending to be on our side only to then forget their promises as soon as they gain power. I fear this is like Hitler sending Goering to Doorn to pay court to the Kaiser. They don’t mean it, they have no intention of following through on it but they are just trying to say sweet things to the monarchists to get their votes.

On the other hand, I fear this sudden shift by such prominent republicans towards a referendum on the monarchy (rather than an immediate restoration on legal grounds) is a case of the ruling elite trying to head the monarchists off at the pass (if I can use a little western jargon). In other words, if they think that there are enough Romanian royalists to make a referendum happen, to make them have to deal with the monarchy as an issue, they may be trying to do it now at a time when most polls show that there is not yet majority support for a restoration. They may want to have the referendum sooner rather than later because, as things stand now, they are confident that they (the republicans) will win and then they can dismiss the issue as having already been dealt with, ‘the public has spoken, the cause is finished’. We know from other examples that this is how republicans tend to operate. When a referendum goes their way, the issue is settled but when it does not, that simply means there have to be more referendums until the public ‘gets it right’.

Again, everything that has happened has been very positive. It is good news and obviously preferable to the alternative. That being said, we have no reason to be too trusting when it comes to politicians and I will not desist in being critical until the monarchy is actually restored. I hope there will be a referendum, I would be glad to see one at a time when the public has been properly informed on the subject but just the promise of a referendum is not enough for me, nor would the referendum itself because this shouldn’t be about public opinion but rather about doing the right thing and restoring the last legal, valid, legitimate form of government Romania had before the period of communist enslavement. I would say to the loyal Romanians, support those candidates who support the monarchy but take nothing for granted and if they win, hold their feet to the fire to make good on their promises. Make it clear that your support is not unconditional and that the restoration of the monarchy is a non-negotiable issue. There is reason for hope here but no cause to be overly optimistic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Monarch Profile: King Luis I of Portugal

HRH Prince Luis Filipe Maria Fernando Pedro de Alcantara Antonio Miguel Rafael Gabriel Gonzaga Xavier Francisco de Assis Joao Augusto Julio Valfando de Saxe-Coburgo-Gotha e Braganza was born on October 31, 1838 in Lisbon, the second son of Queen Maria II and King Fernando II of Portugal. As heir to the throne he was accorded the titles of Duke of Porto and Viseu. His older brother, King Pedro V, after less than a decade on the throne, died in the cholera epidemic that swept the country in 1861, devastating the Portuguese Royal Family. As he had no heirs, the throne passed to his younger brother who became King Luis I on November 11, 1861 during a time of great turmoil in the world. Civil war was raging in the United States and Mexico, war was about to break out in South America between Brazil and its southern neighbors, in Italy a new kingdom had just been formed and in Africa the competition for colonial expansion was well underway. King Luis would do his best to guide Portugal through these troubled waters, an apt analogy considering his background was in the navy. He was given his first naval command in 1858 and had served in the navy for some time, visiting the Portuguese colonies in Africa.

In 1862 King Luis married Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. She became much loved by the Portuguese people as the “angel of charity” and “mother of the poor” for her humanitarian work. It seemed a winning match and the couple would have two sons born in 1863 and 1865. A year later another child was stillborn and the King and Queen would have no more children together. The King did have one other son by a mistress and his infidelity is widely believed to have been the cause of the depression Queen Maria Pia fell into after several early years of what seemed like a happy marriage. This, perhaps, fits in with the rather renaissance character of King Luis. He was highly educated, cultured and possessed a great deal of intellectual curiosity. He spoke several languages, was an amateur painter, composed music and enjoyed playing the cello and piano. He had a fondness for literature, writing poetry and spent time translating Shakespeare into Portuguese. Oceanography was paramount in his scientific interests and he spent a great deal of his own money on oceanographic research vessels as well as establishing one of the first aquariums in the world, in Lisbon, which can still be visited today, originally to display his vast collection of marine life.

When it came to politics and government, unfortunately, King Luis was not to enjoy a very tranquil reign. There was constant power struggles between the liberal ‘Progressistas’ and the conservative ‘Regeneradores’ with the King naturally being partial to the conservatives. Portugal was in a precarious economic condition and, in an attempt to alleviate this situation somewhat, a consumption tax was passed which proved so unpopular that it sparked rioting in late 1867. Political problems boilded over on May 19, 1870 when a military uprising broke out with the support of the (long-time schemer) Duke of Saldanha who was serving a brief stint as Prime Minister. He lost his office over the affair though he might have lost more; the usually non-political Queen Maria Pia saying that if she were the king she would have had him shot. It was rather out of character but, on the other hand, an Italian woman with a fiery temper is hardly unusual either. It was also in 1870 that King Luis I considered the idea of putting himself forward as a candidate for the vacant throne of Spain but, probably wisely, he ultimately decided against it. As most know, it was another potential candidate for the Spanish throne that sparked the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. Such trouble was the last thing Portugal needed.

The Kingdom of Portugal had not been in the best of shape at the time of the invasion and wars with Napoleonic France and the situation had hardly had a chance to stabilize and recover since then. There was the split with Brazil, the “War of the Two Brothers” over the crown, problems with public health and modernization and a political scene characterized by corruption and power struggles edging out concern for the general welfare and the advancement of the Portuguese colonial empire. It all served to hamper Portuguese progress while other European countries surged further ahead. On the world stage, Portugal also suffered somewhat from the alliance with Great Britain, the oldest alliance in the world. In the past, Portuguese and British interests had never conflicted but tensions rose because of Africa. With the loss of Brazil, the Portuguese colonies in Africa became more critical than ever as leaders in Lisbon hoped that growth in Africa could revive the Portuguese economy. The largest colonies were Portuguese West Africa (Angola) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) on the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts.

After the abolition of the slave trade, the Portuguese launched military expeditions to expand these colonies from small coastal settlements deeper into the interior of Africa. The famous “Rose-Colored Map” illustrated the Portuguese desire to cross the continent and join East and West Africa together into one large Portuguese holding that would stretch from coast to coast. However, the British were expanding north from South Africa rapidly and negotiations were further put on hold by the Berlin Conference which set out to settle the disputed claims of the various European powers in the “Scramble for Africa”. Concessions were made to both the French and the Germans to obtain their support for the Portuguese claim to the interior which was considered even more vital after the Berlin Conference recognized Belgian rights over the Congo, further limiting the potential area of expansion for Portugal. It was, however, Portugal’s long-standing ally of Great Britain which thwarted the plan represented by the “Rose-Colored Map”. The Portuguese claim could simply not be reconciled with the desire espoused by Cecil Rhodes of British control of Africa from “the Cape to Cairo”.

King Luis I, however, would not be around to see the resolution of this situation. Any effort to look beyond the constraints of petty politics were thwarted by infighting between the two major parties with the King coming under criticism by the progressives who accused him of favoring the conservatives. By the end of his reign a number of more radically leftist parties were formed such as the Socialist Party and the Republican Party, both of which wanted to sweep away the entire history and traditions of the Kingdom of Portugal. King Luis I was caught in the middle of all of this and it was not an enviable position. For a man who admired so much the beauty of art and music, the political situation around him became increasingly ugly until his sudden death on October 19, 1889 at the age of only 50. He was succeeded by his son, King Carlos I, who inherited a very troubled kingdom. In 1890 the British government issued Portugal an ultimatum which threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Portugal unless the Portuguese withdrew all forces from the highlands of the interior of Africa and recognized British control over the territory between Angola and Mozambique. Carlos I had little choice but to agree or face a possible war and the public was outraged. Most considered it a betrayal by their oldest ally and the republicans used it to spread opposition to the monarchy, accusing the King of “selling out” Portuguese interests.

Today, many unfairly blame King Luis for the ills that befell Portugal later and which ultimately brought down the monarchy. To do so is to hold him responsible for events which were far beyond his control. He was certainly not responsible for the wars that preceded his reign and he was not an absolute monarch who could rule however he wished. All he could do was try to bring the feuding political elites together but despite his best efforts they simply would not be reconciled. He was a thoughtful, well-rounded man who had every quality for a successful constitutional monarch. His people recognized him as such even if subsequent generations have not, calling him “Luis the Popular” and “Luis the Good”. Had he been a masterful statesman things may have gone better, presuming the politicians would have listened to him, but even as it stood, the public recognized that he was still the most upstanding man in the halls of power and appreciated him for it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Papal Beatification in Rome

Today at the Vatican the Bishop of Rome (as he now prefers to be called) beatified his predecessor, now Blessed Pope Paul VI, best known for presiding over the close of the Second Vatican Council. For those keeping score, despite the immense problems the Catholic Church has had in recent times, it has apparently been blessed with an unprecedented abundance of saintly leadership. Of the past five Pontiffs who have gone to their eternal reward, Pius XII has been declared "venerable", John XXIII has been declared a saint, Paul VI has been declared "blessed", John Paul I has been declared a "Servant of God" and John Paul II has been declared a saint. In other words, every deceased Pope since 1939 either has or is set to become a recognized saint. Rather hard to imagine that the canonization of popes was once a rare thing.

Blessed Pope Paul VI

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Vision for the Future of Japan

The State of Japan today faces a number of challenges in terms of domestic and foreign policy. In a way, perhaps the biggest problem is a reluctance to address and deal with the most important issues Japan faces. However, if this reluctance can be overcome, I want to believe that there is hope for a bright future for Japan and for a return to a position of leadership in the East Asian region of the world. Probably the most critical long-term issue for Japan is demographic. The death rate is higher than the birth rate and this is causing cultural losses, societal problems and economic problems as the tax base grows ever smaller while the elderly population requiring government support grows massively larger. Unfortunately, when it comes to demographics, there is not much one can recommend in terms of policy. The only solution is the “natural” solution. Because of the ballooning national debt, something will have to be done and it will absolutely involve some pain and hardship to cut unnecessary expenditures. However, my vision for Japan includes some proposals that might help that situation in the long-term.

There must be a cultural revival in Japan to combat what the noted journalist Yoshiko Sakurai called “spiritual statelessness”. As she wrote, “That we Japanese alienated ourselves from the origin of our culture and civilization has been the single biggest cause of this condition that continues to plague us today”. That must be corrected through state action in education and privately in society with campaigns to reacquaint the public with the founding stories and ancient history of the country. There must also be an emphasis on traditional values, particularly family values which, hopefully, would lend itself to encouraging larger families. Obviously, the monarchy would be central to such an effort and this ties in with another major proposal which is constitutional reform. There are many changes that should be made but one that I would highlight is for HM the Emperor to be officially recognized, once again, as the Head of State. Conferring sovereignty would probably be unrealistic in this day and age and may not even be of much practical use but recognizing, in law, the Emperor as Head of State would be a major positive step.

In addition to this, the Self-Defense Forces should be reformed as a formal military (rather than an outgrowth of the police) with the Emperor as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. I have no doubt that virtually every member of the JSDF currently considers this the case in their hearts anyway but it should be made official in law for the sake of cohesion as well as tradition. A constitution that embodies the Japanese spirit and which has its roots in Japanese history and legal tradition is what is called for. Some streamlining would also be extremely helpful to cut through the tangle of bureaucracy that exists today so as to make changes for new situations easier. Certainly if the existing Constitution is to be maintained (as opposed to having a new one which might be just as well) it is essential to make it easier to amend with public support than is currently the case. Too often, the Diet is where ideas go to die, where measures to address a current crisis are strangled or delayed to the point that they are no longer useful by the myriad committees and sub-committees that all proposals have to circulate through. While I would like to see the House of Peers restored, this is probably unrealistic but it should at least be possible to see the old aristocratic titles restored to legal recognition.

As for the peace provision of Article 9, that may be retained. Doing away with it would probably be unrealistic and it is not absolutely necessary anyway. It does provide for taking action in self-defense, it is only that this should be used more energetically and not interpreted as meaning that Japan can never fight no matter what the circumstances. No country should want to be aggressive but there should be no hesitation in taking action against real threats nor should there be any hindrance in coming to the aid of a friend and ally that is in danger. This is largely what the current re-interpretation by the Abe government has been about and that should definitely continue. It would certainly be essential for the vision I have for Japanese foreign policy going forward.

It is based on the proposal made by two Catholic priests, Bishop James E. Walsh and Father James M. Drought who tried to reconcile the United States and Japan in 1940 and 1941. The proposal was for a Japanese “Far Eastern Monroe Doctrine”. My proposal would be slightly different of course, taking into account the considerable changes since 1940, particularly the end of European colonialism. Most simply it would mean that Japan would take a leadership position in East Asia and assume responsibility for safeguarding peace and stability in the region. If any threats arise it would be Japan that would handle them with no interference from outside powers (which would not exclude, of course, requested assistance provided with Japanese authorization). In 1940, the proposal of the two American Catholic priests was aimed primarily at stopping the spread of communism in China. Bishop Walsh was a very experienced missionary in China, understood the threat very well and was, in fact, the last missionary in China after the communist takeover. Today, such a doctrine would be aimed primarily at containing the communist threat as mainland China has become increasingly expansionist. Under this doctrine, Japan would stand ready to contain such aggression and assist any country targeted by the Chinese government.

Obviously, Japan would have to adopt a new and more assertive attitude and strengthen considerably to take on such a responsibility but it is not unrealistic that this could be accomplished. Naturally, China, Russia and Korea would oppose such a doctrine but there is no point in giving them much consideration as they practically oppose Japan simply drawing breath. However, one provision that would hopefully allay fears at least on the part of Korea would be that no existing alliances would be affected by this new policy. That would mean that the United States could retain its current defense agreements with Korea which would hopefully act as a ‘security blanket’ to reassure the South Korean government and mitigate any fears they harbor toward Japan. Long-term, it may also help alleviate tensions particularly on the part of South Korea and Taiwan by emphasizing the necessity of working with Japan for the sake of their national security and the stability of East Asia. As countries such as Mongolia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have all been threatened by Chinese expansion, a strong deterrent force is needed and Japan is uniquely positioned for such a role.

In 1940, the United States did not recognize the danger of communism (as Tokyo did) in China but, although they would never admit it publicly, it has shown by American policy to have realized this was a mistake by supporting Japan and opposing China. So, because of the lessons of history, what America and other western countries would have opposed in 1940, they are willing to support today. This is illustrated by how supportive the United States and Australia have been on the subject of the reinterpretation of Article 9 by the Abe government. If the Japanese public has the will to embrace such a leadership role, there would be no better time to do it. Currently, Japan has in the United States the most militarily powerful country in the world as an ally and so can strengthen the Japanese armed forces (as they should be re-designated) in safety until Japan is fully prepared to take on this responsibility with the support of countries on both sides of the Pacific. Should problems arise with China, Japan, particularly the strong naval tradition and very advanced warships of even the current JMSDF, would be strategically placed to cooperate with Taiwan and the Philippines to cut off the exports that the Chinese economy so heavily depends on. Also, with naval mastery, Japan is ideally placed to respond quickly to a crisis in almost any East Asian country.

The primary goal which must be achieved to bring this about is a change in the attitude of the Japanese public, on both sides of the political divide. The mainstream right seems most prepared but the left must be persuaded to discard the mentality of idealistic pacifism and dependency while the far-right must stop trying to re-fight the Second World War. Both are equally detrimental to Japan moving forward as a leader on the world stage, the one by trying to appease current enemies and ignore the Japanese spirit and cultural heritage, the other by holding on to past grudges that would retain and even encourage the hostility of countries currently unfriendly toward Japan while also adding to that by making enemies of current allies. In the years since 1945 Japan has rebuilt and become one of the most prosperous countries in the world, even with all of the current debt problems still the third leading economy on earth. It is simply improper for a country that has achieved such a level of success to continue to refrain from accepting a position of leadership and responsibility on the world stage.

The possibilities are almost boundless considering what Japan has achieved in the past combined with all the additional potential Japan has today with a much larger economy and far better relations with virtually every major world power other than the Sino-Russian bloc. Japan has a higher GDP than any country other than China and the United States, the Self-Defense Force is one of the most advanced in the world and Japan has a military alliance with the United States and security pacts with Australia and India. There has never been a better time for Japan to begin the move towards a position of regional leadership in East Asia. This, combined with a cultural revitalization of the national spirit would allow Japan to become a world leader in a mature and balanced way that was never attained in the past. The future can be the period of the greatest glory for Japan and all that is required is to strengthen militarily, cut down the debt, reform or replace the constitution, revive the national spirit and have more babies. None of these things are impossible, it is only the will to undertake this challenge that must be motivated.
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