Friday, January 30, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Australia in World War II

The Commonwealth of Australia came of age as a country in the Twentieth Century. Australian forces had proven themselves in the First World War in numerous engagements, from the brutal stalemate of Gallipoli to their hard charging success in the Middle East. Australia was a growing, thriving country that fit in well with the British Empire. All serious people understood that this was essential for Australia in terms of national defense. With a small population it had an army of less than 100,000 men, a navy which could boast no larger warships than two cruisers and an air force of less than 300, mostly outdated, airplanes. The Australian armed forces, with their courage and rugged resilience, could hit above their weight but there was no realistic way the country could stand alone against the potential threats they faced. The most immediate threat faced by Australia was the Empire of Japan and this was understood well before the outbreak of war. Japan was the only country in the region that had naval and air forces capable of attacking Australia and it had the manpower available to have Australia totally outmatched.

This disparity was the reason why Australia was most reluctant to see the Anglo-Japanese alliance come to an end in 1921. It improved relations with the United States but the Americans would make no promises to defend Australia or any part of the British Empire in case of attack and so the Australians preferred to maintain the alliance with Japan at least until Australian military strength could be increased to a level that would give Japan pause should the “Land of the Rising Sun” turn hostile. This, however, was not to be and the alliance was terminated which necessitated Australia holding closely to Great Britain and the rest of the empire as the country would have to depend on the Royal Navy to be their shield against a possible Japanese attack. Later, anti-British elements in Australia would pour scorn on this policy but it was, putting history and sentiment aside, the only sensible thing for Australia to do. Thus, as concerned events in Europe, whatever action or inaction the British government took, they could count on Australia’s full support. When war broke out over the German invasion of Poland in 1939 there was no debate, if Britain was at war with Germany then Australia was as well.

Naturally, Australia was concerned about their own security given that Japan was part of the Axis but, in what turned out to be a major and costly mistake for Great Britain, the leadership in London assured Australia that there was no real danger of war with Japan. Australian forces were mobilized for action on the continent of Europe but the German conquest of France was so swift that the British had been forced to pull out before the Australians arrived. Still, their presence was felt soon enough as Australian pilots gave good service in the Battle of Britain and ships of the Royal Australian Navy scored several successes in the Mediterranean against the Italians. Australian troops first saw major action in the extremely successful Operation Compass in North Africa which drove the Italians out of Egypt and deep into Libya. Although often outnumbered, the Australians were backed up by British tanks and artillery that the Italians had no answer for and the Australian troops won a string of victories in North Africa in 1941. Their most important prize was the capture of the port city of Tobruk along with 25,000 Italian prisoners in January. But the British offensive was stopped and the situation changed dramatically with the arrival of the German “Afrika Korps” under General Erwin Rommel.

Australians defending Tobruk
Rightly guessing his enemy to be tired and over-stretched, Rommel threw caution to the wind and launched an immediate counter-offensive that drove the Allied forces back. However, the Australians proved their worth in what must be remembered as one of the proudest pages in Australian military history. Rommel was determined to take Tobruk and the garrison that defended it was largely Australian, commanded first by Australian General Sir Leslie Morshead, a tough, strict, no-nonsense general who would win more than his share of victories in World War II. Asked to hold Tobruk for two months, the hard fighting Australians held on for the better part of seven until November of 1941 when the siege was lifted, withstanding numerous, ferocious assaults by German and Italian forces. The Royal Australian Navy too played an important part in the gallant defense of Tobruk by ferrying supplies to the embattled garrison in spite of heavy attacks by Italo-German naval and air forces. The fighting was fierce and the sacrifices were great but the Australians held the port, taking everything that Rommel threw at them and earned the status of heroes.

Australian forces would serve with distinction throughout the North African campaign but, of course, by the end of 1941 there was a new and more immediate enemy to worry about when after the first week of December 1941 the Empire of Japan launched attacks on Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia where many Australian troops were stationed. Because of the focus on the war in Europe, where the British were fighting for their lives, the British Empire was militarily weak in East Asia. To put it another way, they were focused on defending the front door from Germany and Italy when the back door was kicked in by Japan.
Still, despite having few forces available and being largely unprepared, Australian forces fought as hard as their countrymen in Europe and North Africa. In the swift and stunning onslaught by Japanese forces under General Yamashita in Malaysia it was the Australians who were brought in after the Indian forces were decimated on the Slim River. At Johor, with their backs to the wall of fortress Singapore, the hard-fighting Australians brought the Japanese to a halt, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Unable to break the Australians, the Japanese were forced to flank them with an amphibious landing. Breaking through the Indian forces holding that line, the Australians finally had to pull back.

Execution of an Australian POW
Singapore was the linchpin of British military strategy in the region and it was a shock to the world when the vital port city surrendered to a Japanese army that was much smaller and almost out of ammunition. Almost 15,000 Australians were among those British Imperial forces who became prisoners of the Japanese, representing about 25% of all Australian forces serving overseas. It was a terrible blow that Churchill himself lamented as the worst disaster in British military history. Those taken prisoner would suffer immense hardships and often cruelty. Thousands of Australians would not survive captivity, dying from disease, starvation, brutal treatment or outright execution. With a death rate some seven times that of prisoners held by Germany or Italy, it was something Australians would never forget. Yet, more setbacks were in store as the Japanese swept across Southeast Asia and the Pacific. An early target was Rabaul in New Britain off Papua New Guinea (itself an Australian possession at the time). Reinforcements couldn’t reach Rabaul and the garrison was forced to surrender. Many were executed by the Japanese and many more were killed when the ship they were on was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine. Rabaul then became a major base for Japanese forces in the South Pacific.

In the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) Australian forces were sent to reinforce the small Dutch colonial army but it was an almost hopeless enterprise from the start. Japanese victories at sea meant that island garrisons were cut off and even if not defeated outright would have to surrender eventually. Yet, some did not as on Timor where the Australians waged a guerilla war against the Japanese for a year. Others who did surrender often met a grisly fate as over 300 Australian prisoners of war were massacred by the Japanese in a series of mass killings in February of 1942. Eventually, almost all of the East Indies fell to Japan and there was a massive buildup of military forces in Australia as fears grew of a Japanese attack.

Training to defend the homeland
Such fears were not hysteria as there was a Japanese proposal for an invasion of Australia. However, it was never adopted and while there was a more realistic plan for a strike southward to sever the shipping lanes between Australia and America this plan was dropped in favor of Admiral Yamamoto’s campaign aimed at the island of Midway. As we know, the Battle of Midway was a disaster for Japan and represented a turning point in the Pacific War after which, almost without exception, Japanese forces suffered one defeat after another. Prior to the fall of the Philippines, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia to take command of all Allied forces in the southwest Pacific. This was a major turning point for Australia as the government, for the first time, turned to look toward the United States as a strategic defense partner rather than Great Britain. That policy has remained in place from 1942 until the present day. Australia was a huge and vital staging ground for Allied operations in World War II with over a million American troops passing through the country. Australia supplied a great deal of the resources necessary for the war and along with Australian military personnel, Australian civilians at home and on other islands in the vicinity often gave invaluable service as observers in coastal areas, keeping watch and informing the Allied command of Japanese movements.

Unlike the experience of those Australians serving in North Africa against the Germans and Italians, where a measure of chivalry still lingered, what those in the east were fighting was no “Gentleman’s War”. As American and Australian forces went on the offensive in New Guinea, more Australian forces were massacred after surrendering by the Japanese and, as a result, the Australians generally stopped giving any quarter to the enemy which, in any event, was often not requested anyway. After being defeated on Guadalcanal, Japanese forces began to pull back to New Guinea but Australian and American air power devastated their forces at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. It was one more step in the turning tide as American and Australian forces began driving the Japanese out of New Guinea, striking rapidly while bypassing stronger points that would wither away in isolation. From about the middle of 1943 onward it was the Australian and other Allied forces that were on the advance throughout New Guinea though the fighting was fierce and the conditions brutal for the troops on both sides.

The bombing of Darwin
At home, while in no danger from invasion, Australia was certainly not immune from attack. Starting in February of 1942 the Japanese launched air attacks on the northern port of Darwin, putting it out of action and killing some 235 people. Periodic Japanese bombing attacks on northern Australia continued throughout the rest of the year and most of 1943. Fortunately, Japan did not have sufficient aircraft or available nearby bases for these to do much serious damage. And, there were also attacks from the sea to worry about. Several German raiders and one German U-Boat operated in Australian waters during the war and Japanese submarines sunk a number of ships around Australia. In May of 1942 three Japanese midget-submarines infiltrated Sidney harbor to attack Allied ships. Two were detected and destroyed before they could make their attack but a third managed to sink a converted ferry before it too was lost. The operation had been a failure but it made the point that even Sidney was not immune from attack. In the naval fight it was fortunate that the Japanese did not use their submarines to best advantage but still, some managed to do quite a bit of damage, none more so than the I-21 which sank 45,000 tons of Allied shipping in Australian waters. Whether close to home or on the other side of the world the Royal Australian Navy gave good service against the navies of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Starting in 1944, the Australian military contribution to the war effort began to be downsized. For a country with so small a population, it was already trying to do too much and the British and American leadership agreed that Australia would be of more help putting more men back to work on the home front to support the war effort of the other Allies, particularly the United States, which had more than sufficient numbers of men and machines to carry on the fight. Still, the remaining Australian forces played an important part in re-taking New Guinea, liberating the Philippines and in such naval battles as Leyte Gulf which practically destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy as an effective fighting force forever. Australian personnel also played an important part in driving the Japanese out of the Dutch East Indies, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands. From the Greek islands and Libya to Iran to the Philippines, the Australians fought with equal tenacity all over the world. Australian military leaders were even organizing their contribution to the planned invasion of Japan which thankfully proved unnecessary. At the very end, as the Allies accepted the Japanese surrender on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, it was General (later Field Marshal) Sir Thomas Blamey, victorious commander of several operations in the New Guinea campaign, who signed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Blamey accepting Japan's surrender
The Australians had fought long and hard in World War II and paid a heavy price. In the fighting against Axis forces in Europe and Africa the Australians lost a little over 9,500 men killed and about as many wounded. Against the Japanese the Australians lost about 17,500 killed and 14,000 wounded. About 8,000 Australians were captured by German and Italian forces, mostly in Greece or as a result of being shot down in the air war. Most were relatively well treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The largest number, over 21,000, were captured by the Japanese, mostly in the early part of the war. Unlike their countrymen in Europe, only about 14,000 of these men survived their captivity. Almost half of the total number of Australians who lost their lives in the Pacific War died after being taken prisoner rather than in battle. World War II affected Australia as no other conflict ever had. From the burning sands of Tobruk to the steamy jungles of New Guinea the Royal Australian Armed forces had earned a reputation for determined defense and courageous attacks. Industrial growth was spurred by war production at home, a greater interest was taken in world affairs and Australian security policy shifted from alignment with Britain toward alignment with the United States. There was also a move to grow the Australian population by encouraging immigration. Some of these changes worked out for the best, others did not, however, good and bad alike, the Second World War had a huge impact on Australia and for a country of its size, the Australian contribution proved decisive in several areas to the ultimate Allied victory.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lessons from Honorius

It was on this day in 393 AD that Emperor Theodosius the Great proclaimed his son Honorius "co-emperor" of the Roman Empire. Honorius was only eight-years old at the time but he would go on to have one of the most disastrous reigns in Roman imperial history, a far cry from that of his father. Emperor Theodosius had reunited the Roman world, being the last caesar to rule both east and west, defended the frontiers, established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and generally had quite a glorious reign. Emperor Honorius, on the other hand, would preside over the first sacking of Rome by the barbarian hordes when Alaric the Visigoth captured the Eternal City in 410 AD. How could this have happened?

There were many contributing factors of course but one that stands out was the lack of an effective commander to lead the Roman legions against the enemy. Yet, such a man had existed previously in the reign of Emperor Honorius and that was the vociferous warrior Stilicho. A 'Romanized' barbarian himself (he was half-Vandal), Stilicho had defended Italy from the barbarians with remarkable ability, rushing from one danger point after another to defend the Italian heartland of the Roman Empire from attack after attack. He was one of the most remarkable generals of Roman history. He was also the Emperor's former guardian and his father-in-law. However, a particular dishonest official managed to convince Honorius that Stilicho was plotting against him and so Honorius had Stilicho executed. Thus the Roman Empire lost its most talented general at a time when such a man was sorely needed.

What lesson can be learned from this? The lesson is compounded by the fact that this was not an isolated incident. Later, Emperor Valentinian III had another talented Roman general, Flavius Aetius, executed. It was Flavius Aetius who defeated Attila the Hun at the Battle of Chalons-sur-Marne. The point is that, in its declining years, the Roman Empire had ceased to value men of talent and proven success. On the contrary, such men were plotted against by lesser men who feared them because of their talent. They saw them as rivals rather than as valuable assets to defend the Roman world. We can see, with the sack of Rome, where such selfish attitudes ended. Today, it seems many have the same mindset, glorifying the mediocre and treating the talented and successful with contempt rather than appreciation. This is something that should be stopped, otherwise we shall all end up like Emperor Honorius, bereft of talent and with an empire crumbling around him.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia 1924-2015

Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia passed away after a bout of pneumonia today (January 23 local time). He will be succeeded by his half-brother Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Politicians, diplomats and economic watchdogs have been on edge for quite some time as the elderly King of Saudi Arabia deteriorated in health. What direction would Saudi Arabia take under new leadership? Will the kingdom move to the right or the left? Will clerical hardliners have more influence or less? All are questions which reveal how central Saudi Arabia is to the Middle East region. ISIS still controls much of Iraq, a civil war continues to rage in Syria and there has just been a coup in Yemen, a country where, in the past, Saudi Arabia supported royalist forces in a previous civil war. With all of these things happening, it is a bad time for King Abdullah to exit this life as he was, on the whole, a more beneficial leader for the region than would likely otherwise be the case.

I have said before, as a pan-monarchist, Saudi Arabia is not one of my favorites. There is much to be critical of there. Personally, I don't like the whole way the country came into being and would have taken a Hashemite over a Saud. However, I have also always said that I support the Saudi monarchy, distasteful as many find it, because the alternative would be worse -not better. He has been more "progressive" (for lack of a better word) than I think many people realize. Under his leadership, as we have mentioned on this weblog over the years, the power of clerics to declare fatwas was restricted, the first woman was appointed to a government ministry-level position and there was a measure of very limited democracy introduced on a very low level. It was nothing revolutionary or earth-shattering as such a thing would have simply caused instability and probably civil war but nonetheless it is an undeniable fact that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia was inching closer to the norms of the rest of the world and away from the values of the hard-line religious radicals. It remains to be seen whether these policies will continue under Salman but it seems likely.

Of course, there are many who will say that King Abdullah did not go far enough. That may be but I really have no interest in what the laws in Saudi Arabia are. That is their own business and not mine and if their punishments are harsh and their freedoms few, it really doesn't concern me at all. What is an issue is the well established fact that many in Saudi Arabia have exported a radical brand of Islam abroad that has inspired terrorists to attack numerous countries. That is something I cannot overlook and a major reason why I could never have a totally favorable view of Saudi Arabia. However, we must also keep in mind that even Saudi terrorists, and none were more prominent than the late Usama bin Laden, hated the Saudi monarchy as well and wanted to overthrow it because it was "too friendly" to the west. The point is that liberal, progressive secularists do not exactly have a large following in a country like Saudi Arabia and if the House of Saud were overthrown tomorrow, what replaces them would most likely be a theocracy on steroids that would make the Ayatollah in Iran seem like a pussycat. That reason alone would be enough to make me wish the House of Saud well through this time of sorrow and transition from one king to the next.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Papal Profile: Pope Paul II

As has been mentioned previously, the popes of the Renaissance period have, undoubtedly, a bad reputation in the popular culture. They are, collectively, portrayed as being flagrantly corrupt, vicious and immoral. However, as I have said before, this is an exaggeration which has built up over time as lurid gossip has been repeated so often as to be accepted as “fact” to many people, it makes for a more entertaining story and because it is simpler to use such generalizations than to take each Renaissance Pontiff individually and accept that each had their faults as well as their virtues, some admittedly more of one than the other. Pope Paul II is one of these. One of the earlier Renaissance Popes, he was born Pietro Barbo in Venice on February 23, 1417. As a native son of the Republic of Venice, it was expected that he would have a career as a merchant and was trained to be a businessman. However, the course of his life changed when his maternal uncle was elected Pope Eugenius IV, which was so common that, of course, the word “nepotism” itself comes from the Italian word for “nephew” as it became the accepted practice for popes to promote their nephews to high office in the Church. Young Pietro Barbo thus entered an ecclesiastical career and was rapidly promoted through the Church hierarchy, receiving the red hat of a cardinal in 1440.

While still a layman (and one did not have to be ordained to be a cardinal in those days), Barbo also helped ease his way through the hierarchy by being known for his generosity. This, of course, was easy for critics to dismiss as bribery, which would be unfair to Barbo though “greasing the wheels” was certainly a far from unknown practice. In 1445 he became archpriest of the Vatican Basilica and he twice served as camerlengo of the Sacred College. He was known for being generous, rather reclusive (perhaps a bit on the paranoid side) and extremely emotional. Later on, critics would read into certain things to exaggerate habits to paint a picture designed to blacken the reputation of Barbo, such as pointing to the fact that he cried easily and tended to dress very flamboyantly to portray him as a homosexual. However, at the time, he was simply regarded as being vain and rather too proud of his good looks (in the prime of his life) which few considered very unusual. With the death of Pope Pius II, Pietro Cardinal Barbo was elected to the See of Peter on July 26, 1471 on the first ballot and took the name of Pope Paul II. It did not take long after his election for it to become obvious why so many would have an interest in trying to ruin his reputation and portray him as negatively as possible.

Pope Pius II had been an ardent believer in papal supremacy, was rather authoritarian as pontiff and wanted nothing more than another crusade against the Turks. He did not deal very patiently with those who preferred a comfortable life to going off to fight a Holy War and so he ruffled a great many feathers amongst the upper echelons of Christendom as well as the Church. Pope Paul II was chosen by the electors on the understanding that he would undo all of that. He was expected to share more power and be more “collegial” as we might say today. However, to the frustration of many princes of the Church, after he was elected Pope Paul II made it clear that he would do no such thing. The supremacy of the Pontiff was a matter of sacred tradition and something he could not undo. This upset many powerful people in the Church. However, it was also illustrative of something not uncommon with the Renaissance popes; that men often changed once assuming the Throne of St Peter and the immense responsibilities that went with it. Paul II also attracted disfavor from another direction, which was the humanist community which, in the spirit of the Renaissance, had been embracing all things classical which had come to include a sort of neo-paganism. Pope Paul II put a stop to that and so was denounced as being illiberal and tyrannical. It is unlikely to have bothered him.

Libertine intellectuals and career-cardinals may have despised Paul II, but the ordinary Romans certainly did not. His public works and increase in the number of holy years as well as his more artistic projects brought gainful employment to many. Religious festivals were also coming more often and the Romans, with their traditional love of pomp and ceremony, be it imperial or papal, welcomed the change. Pope Paul II also, contrary to the popular image of Renaissance Popes, opposed the way that indulgences had been abused. To the regular people, he was a handsome, generous Pontiff who made all the right moves and it probably would have been to his benefit to let the people see more of him but he tended to be somewhat reclusive. His reputation for vanity evidently did not extend to any wish to be seen and lauded publicly as Paul II tended to keep to himself and do his work privately. A great deal of that work included the long-sought after dream of Christian unity and triumph over the Ottoman Turks. He carried on the call for a crusade just as his predecessor had done but, knowing he would be ignored as well, tried to use diplomatic maneuvering to advance the cause of Christendom in the struggle against the expanding Islamic empire. One such effort was his forming an alliance with an Iranian prince who opposed the Turks.

In furthering the cause of Christian unity, and trying to bring about the strategic encirclement of the Ottoman Empire, Pope Paul II used the tactic of dynastic alliance through marriage. He managed to find a Byzantine princess, Sophia (a niece of Emperor Constantine XI), from those who had become Catholic, and brokered her marriage to Czar Ivan III of Russia. This seemed a brilliant maneuver as Russia had declared itself the inheritor of the legacy of Constantinople and the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire, a marriage to a member of the old Byzantine Imperial Family would have looked quite attractive to a Russian ruler eager to cement his claims. There had also been increased interaction between the two as Czar Ivan III had imported Italian architects to add to the grandeur of Moscow. However, while Ivan III took the title of Czar and Autocrat for himself, added the Byzantine eagle to his flag and so on, the marriage which occurred in 1472 did not result in the reunion of east and west that the Pope had hoped for. Ivan III remained staunchly Russian Orthodox and refused to take part in an alliance with the Latin west against the Turks. For his many achievements, he would be remembered in Russian history as “Ivan the Great” but for Pope Paul II, his reign was a disappointment, representing opportunity lost.

In the final days of his reign, Paul II had to deal with some trouble with the King of Bohemia who took a religious position contrary to the Pope. The King was excommunicated and ordered deposed (local rebels were trying to bring that about) but, contrary to their popular image, Renaissance popes did not tend to be exceptionally vindictive and when the King of Bohemia changed his attitude the Pope was prepared to lift the spiritual sanctions against him and welcome him back into the fold. However, before he could see to the matter himself Pope Paul II died on July 26, 1471 at the age of 54. Accounts of his death varied, usually due to his enemies trying to one-up each other in coming up with a story more scandalous than whatever was being put about at the moment. In truth, the Pope simply mentioned feeling ill, went to bed, was later found foaming at the mouth and by the time help arrived he was dead, most likely from a stroke.

On the whole, the reign of Pope Paul II had been a succession of disappointments yet none could fault him for not trying. He was vain, having an almost obsessive fascination with glamorous attire, jewels and lavish decorations but he had also been something of a reformer and zealous in his monarchical role of trying to secure and advance Christendom. His dealings with the King of Bohemia had begun in an effort to get him to lead a war against the Turks who were pushing into Albania and Hungary. His call for a crusade, after the last Venetian foothold in Greece was lost, was simply ignored and his efforts to get Russia and Iran on side for a united war effort against the Ottomans were only half successful at best and came to nothing. He was not on the best of terms with the German Emperor but that practically become a papal tradition. He is in no danger of being regarded as saintly but he was nowhere near as bad as his many detractors have made people think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Britain and the War It Couldn't Win

In the history of mankind, no political entity ever came close to matching the British Empire at its peak. After World War I, the British Empire; the United Kingdom, its territories, protectorates, mandates, the Empire of India and associated Commonwealths covered more land and sea and included more peoples than any other empire in the history of the world. George VI, the last British King-Emperor, reigned over an empire larger than that of Alexander the Great, Caesar Trajan or Genghis Khan. Winston Churchill, at the height of the battle of Britain, famously said that, “…if the British Empire, and its commonwealths, last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘THIS was their finest hour’”. Absolutely no one could deny that this was true. Yet, the British Empire was not to last a thousand years and almost before World War II was over, the dissolution of this monument to Anglo-Saxon civilization had already begun. Because it was so large, covering so many diverse lands and peoples, there has never been a greater setback to the cause of monarchy than the break-up of the British Empire whose collapse gave birth to so many republics across Africa and southern Asia. How could this have happened?

The causes of this catastrophe can be categorized in a number of ways. There were economic, strategic, military and political reasons for it. One of the greatest strengths of the British people, at least to my mind, was their ability to admit their own mistakes, look at them honestly and improve themselves going forward. The examples of this are numerous, in numerous fields, from politics to the military. However, when it came to foreign policy, past wisdom seemed to be increasingly forgotten in the events leading up to World War II. The First World War had left the British Empire at its peak in terms of size, but in economic terms it was stretched to the breaking point. The total war that Britain embarked on in 1914 had caused all other considerations to be set aside in favor of destroying Imperial Germany. Part of that included putting the British Empire deep in debt to the United States to buy the food, war materials and other necessary resources to keep Britain in the fight so that, by the time it was over, Britain owed billions of dollars to America. This, combined with a rise in the socialist movement within the trade unions after the war meant that the British Empire was economically unprepared for the strain and expense of an even larger, costlier world war in 1939. Before it was over, by choosing to fight in 1939 the British government was forced to turn over virtually its entire gold reserve to the United States to sustain the war effort.

In strategic terms, the strength of the British Empire depended on maintaining control of several vital “choke points” around the globe. British leaders had, for centuries, taken care to bring these “choke points” under the control of London so that, about the only one Britain did not control was the Panama Canal. To keep open the trade and supply lines vital to maintaining the empire, Britain had to maintain control of several strategic points such as Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez Canal through the Mediterranean and Singapore in South East Asia. After World War I all of these strategic points were totally secure and yet, due to foreign policy decisions, all were threatened by the start of World War II. In terms of foreign policy, the traditional British practice was to remain aloof from the continent to focus on maintaining control of the oceans and maritime trade routes which were vital to the empire. Britain would intervene on the continent only if the balance of power was disrupted to the point to become a potential threat to Britain’s global possessions. However, after World War I the British government began making extensive promises to continental powers and made several decisions which imperiled Britain’s strategic “choke points” around the globe.

One of the first such decisions was ending the alliance Britain had with the Empire of Japan since 1902. When representatives of the British Empire met to discuss the treaty, all but Canada favored renewing the alliance. The Canadian Prime Minister feared that his country would suffer if trouble developed between Japan and the United States while the British Empire was allied to Japan. Naturally, the United States wanted an end to the alliance as American business feared that it would allow Japan to dominate Asian markets. Ultimately, Britain decided it was better to end the alliance with Japan to improve relations with the United States. However, while Britain was already in a position in which it was certainly necessary to keep on good terms with America, this was not necessarily beneficial to the British Empire as a whole. Under the terms of the original 1902 treaty, Japan was bound to defend the British possessions in Asia in case of trouble. There were even provisions requiring Japan to deploy sizable numbers of troops to India if the subcontinent ever rose up in rebellion against British rule. Needless to say, the United States was not about to make similar promises and by ending the treaty, Japan immediately ceased to be an ally and became a potential threat. This, combined with post-war reductions in naval armaments, meant that British possessions were left vulnerable and it placed vital strategic positions, such as Singapore, open to Japanese attack.

Of course, there had been increased tensions with Japan since the end of World War I and one could reasonably argue that Japan would have been a potential enemy in any event. Was Japan really adhering to the alliance in good faith? Especially since the war with Russia, many Asian colonial dissident groups looked to Japan for inspiration and support in throwing off British rule and such rebel groups were not lacking in sympathizers within Japan. Racist sentiments were growing, coinciding with the pan-Asian movement that aimed to expel all Europeans from the region. Therefore, the case could be made that by ending the alliance and drawing closer to the United States, Britain was simply preparing for a time when Japan would break the alliance anyway. Yet, as things stood prior to the outbreak of World War II, nothing Japan had done had threatened British possessions or interests in the region. Japanese expansion had focused on northeast Asia, far from the British sphere of influence in China or British holdings in India and Southeast Asia. The choice to go to war with Germany in 1939, however, removed all British options in Asia. Forced to focus British military force on Europe and North Africa, British possessions in Asia were ripe for attack and only American military assistance could stop Japan from striking the British Empire while Britain itself was fighting a titanic struggle in the west against the Germans. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma would all ultimately fall to the Japanese and while British rule would be restored after the war, it was not to last for long.

In the west, other foreign policy decisions also turned another former ally into a potential (and ultimately actual) enemy which was the Kingdom of Italy, which just happened to sit astride the vital British lifeline through the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Suez. Originally, even after Mussolini came to power in 1921, there were no serious problems in Anglo-Italian relations. In contrast to Hitler’s admiration of the Fascist dictator, Mussolini was not well disposed to the Nazi leader. When Nazis in Austria assassinated the chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, it was Mussolini who rushed Italian troops to the border and forced Hitler to back down. However, the Duce was rather annoyed that neither Britain nor France supported him in the emergency. However, what proved to be the breaking point in Anglo-Italian relations was the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935. Here was a case of high-minded principle coming into conflict with British imperial interests. Popular opinion in Britain, as with most of the rest of the liberal-democratic world, was firmly in sympathy with Ethiopia (though neither side was liberal or democratic) and yet the interests of the British Empire were not at all impacted by the issue of whether Haile Selassie or Victor Emmanuel III were Emperor of Ethiopia.

Public opinion, however, proved decisive and the British joined in placing sanctions on Italy which were not strong enough to cripple the Italian war effort but were strong enough to enrage public opinion against what Mussolini called the “plutocratic democracies of the west”, primarily Britain and France. In the end, despite the sanctions, the Italians conquered Ethiopia in seven months and Haile Selassie went into exile in England. Mussolini, because of the sanctions, was always particularly infuriated by efforts to use economic pressure to force a course of action and the sanctions imposed on Italy because of the war in Abyssinia represented a burning of bridges between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Italy. Mussolini put aside his past feelings and embraced the one major power that had not joined in the sanctions against Italy: Nazi Germany. Too late, Britain seemed to recognize that Hitler was the real threat that had to be opposed and tried to get Italy to come back alongside Britain and France in opposing Germany but this request was made, embarrassingly, while the sanctions were still in effect and needless to say, Mussolini was content to stand with Hitler and forsake any friendship with the British Empire.

Rather like World War II as a whole, Britain had taken a stand, almost universally considered on the moral high ground but which proved detrimental to the strategic interests of the British Empire. Italy had gone from an enemy of Germany to her primary ally and the British lifeline through the Mediterranean was under threat. And, it proved to be rather useless anyway as the British government ultimately recognized Italian rule of Abyssinia in 1938. So, the sanctions did no good, Ethiopia was still conquered, Britain eventually accepted the conquest and all that was achieved was to the benefit of Nazi Germany which gained an ally that threatened Britain’s lifeline in the Mediterranean and a free hand to annex Austria which Mussolini no longer objected to after the Abyssinian war. This also had some serious ramifications for the cause of monarchy which often goes unmentioned in histories of the build-up to World War II. It is not entirely out of order to suggest that the Franco-British opposition to the Italian conquest of Abyssinia thwarted a very real possibility of a restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy.

Previous efforts to restore the Hapsburg monarchy had been centered on Hungary and were thwarted by real or perceived Franco-British opposition as well as the unwillingness of the regent Admiral Horthy to give up power. Austria, however, was a different story as it became clear fairly early on that the only foreign countries which really mattered to Austria were Germany on one hand and Italy on the other. There had been an effort at a revival of nationalism in the country under the leadership of the “Austrofascists” led by Englebert Dollfuss. Dollfuss had courted the monarchists but never brought them home from the dance. His successor (after his aforementioned assassination by local Nazis), Kurt von Schuschnigg, was a different story. He took more pro-monarchy steps than his predecessor, actually met with the heir to the throne, Archduke Otto and stated that the monarchy would be restored within one year. He even broached the subject to Mussolini who had no objection and even considered that (yet another) royal marriage between the Houses of Hapsburg and Savoy would be beneficial. According to what Schuschnigg told Archduke Otto, it was not a question of “if” the monarchy would be restored but simply “when”. All that changed with the Abyssinian war, after which Mussolini dropped his opposition to Germany annexing Austria and Hitler did so enthusiastically, conspicuously naming his invasion plan “Operation Otto”.

Finally, it is also true that while Britain was attempting to draw a line in the sand against Italy, it was making agreements with Hitler’s Germany. As most know, there were several points at which German expansion could have been stopped. When the German military moved back to the French border, even Hitler admitted that the French could have easily stopped him but Britain wouldn’t back up France and so France did nothing. Austria was an opportunity but was lost due to the opposition to the Italo-Abyssinian War. Czechoslovakia was another but it too was lost and partly due to the fact that the German cause seemed to be not entirely unjust. There were some in the Allied nations who felt rather guilty about the treatment of Germany after World War I and who felt that German desires for a redress of Versailles were not unreasonable. However, the bottom line is that so long as Hitler focused his expansion on Eastern Europe there was little to nothing that Britain could really do to stop him. When Britain finally decided that they would let Hitler go no further the issue in question was Poland and there simply wasn’t anything Britain could do to aid Poland in the event of a German attack. Britain gave Poland a war guarantee and did go to war with Germany over the German invasion but while Britain could go to war with Germany in retribution for invading Poland there was no way Britain could actually help defend Poland and stop Hitler from conquering it in the first place.

It is also an obvious, if unpleasant, fact that the interests of the British Empire were in no way threatened by the German flag being raised over Danzig or German road and rail links being established with the isolated rump of East Prussia which is what the German-Polish dispute centered on. The only power on earth that was positioned to stop the Germans in Poland was the Soviet Union and Hitler and Stalin had signed a pact and the Soviets were even prepared to take eastern Poland when war broke out, which they did. Obviously, given that, there was nothing Britain could do to actually help Poland and British military preparedness had been woefully neglected, particularly considering the course of British foreign policy. In 1939 Britain was pledged to defend a country it couldn’t reach with an army it didn’t have to thwart a country that did not, as yet, pose any threat to the British Empire. A very small minority of writers have argued that Britain fostered the build-up to war by giving the war guarantee to Poland, without which the Poles might have been more willing to give in to Hitler’s demands regarding Danzig and corridor. That just might be possible, but sounds like pandering to anti-British sentiment to me. Poland made mistakes on its own and does not seem to have been inclined to surrender territory under any circumstances. It was a country that had known years of subjugation and it is not surprising that the Poles were rather hostile toward their former masters after regaining independence as well as being over-confident after giving the incompetent Bolsheviks a thrashing in 1920.

Whether Britain did the right thing in declaring war on Germany on behalf of Poland in 1939 is hardly debatable. That is what is usually focused on. What is not is the question; was it prudent? In terms of the British Empire and the place of Great Britain as a major power, the answer must be “no”. Britain had nothing to gain and everything to lose because, right or wrong, it was a war that Britain could not win. Of course, the British Empire did not immediately go to war with all the Axis powers in 1939 but given recent policy it should have been obvious that such an outcome was highly probable and that was a war that was simply beyond the strength and resources of Britain to win. Britain had to have considerable help, which ultimately meant an unsavory alliance with Stalin (and thus the loss of the independence of those countries Britain went to war over in the first place) as well becoming totally indebted to the United States, the only country economically powerful enough to lend the money needed even before the USA came into the war. In short, the British Empire had entered into a war which could only be won in concert with two other countries, both of which were led by men opposed to the British Empire continuing.

The British didn’t have to go to war in 1939 nor did Britain have to continue to fight after the conquest of France and the retreat from Dunkirk. That they did so is something that everyone in Europe and not a few countries around the world who have no wish to imagine living under Axis domination should be grateful for. Because Britain became, necessarily, a more minor player in the war from 1942 onward alongside the massive militaries of America and Russia, the world tends to forget that it was Great Britain and the British Empire that took a stand, fighting a war in which they stood to gain nothing and which they had no realistic hope of being able to win prior to 1942. The British government willingly chose to sacrifice the greatest empire in history and Britain’s place as a top-tier power in order to wage war against Germany (and later Italy and Japan) in order to ensure that none of the Axis powers would be great powers themselves. Those who are quick to criticize the British Empire should think about that and what might have happened if the British had just given up on having an empire some time before and just how much they sacrificed in order to see the Axis powers defeated.

Whether the sacrifice was worth it or not is a judgment call and not the sort of thing one can ever know for sure as there is no way of knowing precisely how the world situation would have developed in the event of an Axis victory. What we do know for sure is that even if Britain had self-interested motives, viewing a Europe with Nazi Germany as the dominant power, Italy having control of the Horn of Africa or sacrificing American goodwill in exchange for the continued alliance with Japan as all being potentially bad for British interests in the long-run, the fact remains that the actions of Britain were not self-interested at all and while others certainly gained a great deal from World War II, Britain certainly gained nothing but the knowledge that if Britain would no longer be a great power, none of the Axis countries would either. Whether it was a fair trade depends on whether or not one views the current world order as positive or negative but the fact that Britain made the decision and sacrificed the empire to fight a war that could not be won on British, imperial and commonwealth strength alone is beyond question.

It did not, of course, have to happen that way. British policy makers could have said that unless America was prepared to make a better offer, the Japanese alliance would be maintained. After all, if there had been trouble with Japan in the future, the same factors which caused America to oppose the alliance would have ensured that America would have stood with Britain anyway. The British government could have said that Ethiopian independence was not worth losing Mussolini as an enemy of Hitler and block against the German annexation of Austria. In that event, if Britain had still decided that Danzig and the Polish corridor was worth a war with Germany, it would have been a more localized conflict that Britain stood a better chance of winning without having Malta, Suez, India and Singapore under threat at the same time. Being able to focus the Royal Navy and RAF in particular on Europe rather than stretching them over the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, would have been a considerable advantage. However, all things being as they were, when Britain chose to go to war in 1939, British leadership was simply impossible to maintain. It was impossible because Britain had only America to turn to for the money, munitions and resources essential to fighting the war and thus had to ultimately defer to the wishes of the United States just as, likewise, Britain had little choice but to agree to the extensive demands of Stalin for fear that he would capitulate or make a separate peace that would allow the Axis forces to concentrate all their strength on Great Britain.

It would be quite easy for monarchists who do not look down on the British Empire as is so fashionable these days, to look at its demise and the resulting upswing in the number of republics around the world, and say that it was too great a price to pay. It is certainly very easy to moan and groan about the world order that prevails today and wish that things could be different. However, I would say that, even for such monarchists, what would be an even more terrible vision than the British Empire going down in order to defeat the Axis powers would have been for Britain to have remained aloof only to see the likes of Clement Attlee elected to power and then the dissolution of the British Empire anyway, without even a great struggle to say that, at the end of the day, it was worth it. Friends and enemies of the British Empire alike would do well to give that some thought. Again, no one can say what would have happened for sure and I have puzzled over whether it was worth it or not, but that is ultimately for the British and Commonwealth Realms to determine. It is certainly though, something to think about and consider carefully whenever the subject of the British Empire comes up.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roots of the Terrorist Victory in Paris

So, there has been another terrorist attack by Muslim perpetrators, this time in France. And, just like the Madrid Train bombings and the July 7 bombings in London as well as numerous other acts of terrorism, the recent killing in France was carried out by French nationals, not foreigners who slipped through the security net (not that such a thing would be difficult) but by citizens of the French Republic. And it was, once again, in response to cartoons these Muslims decided were offensive to their religion. In 2010 I wrote an article about “Draw Mohammed Day” which attracted some blowback. I was not in favor of it which some seemed to take as me siding with Islamic terrorists. Hardly, I simply prefer to wage war on them rather than mocking them with cartoons, enflaming their anger but then refusing to deal with it in any meaningful way. At times like this, many people are going to ask “why?” and try to rationalize the events in some way. There are, of course, many reasons why but one simple reason is “because they can”. For the Muslims, how they practice their religion and what they do in their own countries is their own business and I have not the slightest interest in it unless it crosses their borders. That, however, is also where their responsibility must also be shared with another, in this case: France.

Acts of terrorism like this are carried out because they can be carried out and because they are effective. Have any major media outlets actually shown the controversial images in question? No, because they fear attack and that is how this works. Looking across the French border at Germany there was recently a sizeable and (I am told) rather ugly protest by Germans upset about the presence of Muslims in their country and what they called the “Islamization of Germany”. That was followed up by an even larger counter-protest by Germans who were supportive of the Muslim presence in Deutschland. On January 2, I noted on Twitter, there were Muslim-solidarity marches in Sweden in response to a string of arson attacks on Swedish mosques while that say day there was big news about a ship full of Muslims running ashore in southern Italy. Evidently, in spite of the arson and protests by people who oppose Muslim immigration, none of it has been sufficient to put Muslims off the idea of coming to Europe any way they can, by legal or illegal means. If Muslims were really being badly treated, more would not be coming to Western Europe every day. After all, even long before things got really bad in Nazi Germany, Jewish immigrants were certainly not flooding into Germany under Hitler.

France, as well as many other countries, have these problems with Muslims because they allow them to settle in France and, to be fair, the French have even done more than some other countries in trying to enforce a certain level of assimilation on new immigrants. However, that too is part of the problem because having new immigrants from Algeria or Tunisia learn the language, recite the timeline of the French Revolution or sing the Marseilles is not actually sufficient. One cannot make an Algerian into a Frenchman when even the French cannot say exactly what it means to be French. This is a problem that goes back to the Revolution itself because it is rooted in the republican mentality. There was a time when any French man or woman had a very definite grasp of what it was to be French. They understood their traditions because they continued them, they knew what their religion was and they knew their national story all the way back to Pepin, Clovis and even Vercengetorix. However, then comes the French Revolution which breaks with that past, suppresses those traditions and says the entire thousand years of French history up to that point has all been bad. What then do the people have to hold on to? How do they define themselves? They cannot, and so they drift along with passing trends of fashionable society and First World opinion.

Immigration has become a hot topic all around the world and it is one, I think, many people misunderstand. The fundamental point is a very Marxist one. Those who say people must be free to immigrate, legally or illegally, to any country they please are effectively saying that no people have an inherent right to their own property. France is not just for the French, France must be for everyone be they from Morocco, Benin or Senegal. Now, as it happens, this is a one-way street because there are still quite a few countries that would not subscribe to such thinking and it is just as well as these tend to be countries no one would want to move to anyway. The point is, these Muslim terrorists could have moved to a country that upheld their religious beliefs (there are plenty of them) but they did not because they felt entitled to live in France and demanded, by their actions, that French society change to conform to their values and sensibilities. Why do they think this way? Because France has conditioned them to as has western civilization in general. After the Madrid bombings, Spain pulled its troops out of Iraq, after Danish cartoon controversy, virtually every country self-censored in response and even after the London bombings or the terrorist attacks in America, the call was for tolerance and understanding -on our part only.

As before, with the Mohammed cartoons or people burning the Quran, I disapprove of such things. It is not proper behavior, it is needlessly antagonistic and accomplishes nothing of value. However, that does not mean there should be a law against it. A nation has every right to enact laws protecting that which is most sacred to them, be it the national flag, the King or the religion. None have a right to force other people in other lands to treat as sacred things which they do not believe to be so. What is behind violent episodes like this is one society that holds nothing sacred welcoming into its midst another society that holds certain things very sacred indeed. The secular society is ill-equipped to handle such a situation and has been getting worse. The radical Islamist is prepared to kill and to die for his beliefs whereas the secular European, or average citizen of any First World country these days, is increasingly unwilling to fight or die for anything (Americans are probably the most willing but that attitude is fading fast due to a lack of appreciation, cooperation or even moral support for America‘s alleged allies). They will hold protests, post pictures on Twitter or Instagram, march in the streets and generally make a nuisance of themselves but they will do nothing that would mean risking life, limb or their subsidies.

All of that is why, I say, they do it because they can, because so many give them cover, make excuses for them and even justify their actions. They also do it because it works because so many give in to them. You see it in acts of self-censorship, you see it in the counter-protests in places like Sweden and Germany, you see it when national policies are changed to keep such malcontents happy. One of the most blatant examples of this is the British Islamic radical Anjem Choudary who, in any right-thinking country in the world, would be deported, imprisoned or even executed for the blatant treason against his lawful Queen and country that he spews on a daily basis. In short, these things happen because the West allows them to happen and it allows them to happen because of the republican mentality which has infected monarchies like Sweden, Britain or Spain as well as republics like France, Germany and Italy. So, essentially, it all comes down to a will to survive. If Europe does not have the will to survive, the most advanced civilization in human history is in its twilight. If it does, it will be forced to embrace its own roots again, reject these idealistic, republican contrivances, believe in something and stand up for those beliefs. First and foremost though, I would say, as a practical matter that must be done is a reevaluation of “hate speech” or political correctness. Whatever one chooses to call it, it is based on the fear of being labeled a bigot or a racist or an otherwise hateful person, which is about the worst thing one can be accused of these days because of our current value system. And, that’s not a bad thing. What has, however, been disastrously bad and harmful is stretching this mentality out of all proportion to say that it is hateful or bigoted or racist or whatever to want to protect your own people, your own country and your own culture and values. That is not hateful or bigoted and shame on our society for ever thinking it to be so.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

After the World Came Apart

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the deadliest legacy of that conflict which was World War II. A large part of why the First World War is so pivotal in world history is that it helped set the stage for the Second World War. The first war left the Old World mortally wounded while the second war saw it finished off entirely. In Europe, the First World War saw the death of monarchies in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Turkey but the Second World War would see the death of many more due to the advance of the Soviet Union with its goal of worldwide communist revolution. For Europe, the Second World War was an act of suicide and since World War II no European country has yet to achieve “great power” status again. World War II gave birth to the world that we live in, the institutions, alliances and power structures that everyone reading these lines was born in to. It would see the rise of communism as a global threat and the rise of the United States, which had withdrawn back into isolationism after World War I, to super-power status and the primary foe of communist expansion on the world stage.

World War II created the system of international affairs and the world leaders that exist today. It gave birth to the United Nations and, in fact, even before the end of World War II, the Allied nations were often referred to as “the united nations” opposed to the Axis powers. This is why the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are the primary Allied nations of World War II; the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. Readers here will note that amongst that ruling elite there is but a single monarchy alongside four staunchly republican countries. The world since 1945 has been a much more republican place than that in 1939. This is due entirely to the Second World War without question. Republicanism was, as usual, dominant in the Americas, though monarchist outposts remained and these were secure, but Europe was certainly no longer a place where republics were the exception rather than the rule. By 1945 or shortly thereafter the monarchies of Italy, Hungary (though it was nominal to begin with), Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria would be replaced by republics, alongside Portugal, France, Germany, Poland, Finland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and (for the time being) Spain.

Prior to World War II the republic of Liberia was the only independent country in Africa with most of the continent being divided between the colonial rule of France or Great Britain. The end of the Second World War would change that state of affairs and ultimately give us the Africa we know today which contains only three independent monarchies; Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland, none of which are particularly significant compared to their larger and more powerful republican neighbors. In Asia, a continent in which republicanism had been a totally foreign concept for most of its ancient history, the greatest blow struck against monarchy had already occurred with the fall of the Manchu Emperor in China in 1911. Still, before World War II, Asia was an overwhelmingly monarchist continent with the only republics being the French mandates of Lebanon and Syria, China (which had descended into internal disorder), Outer Mongolia (a part of the Soviet Union in all but name) and the soon-to-be independent Philippines. The rest was entirely monarchist, even in Indochina, which was governed by the French Republic, there still remained monarchs on the thrones of Laos, Cambodia and Annam (Vietnam). Every part of the British Empire was under the reign of the British monarch, most with a local monarch as well, Thailand was monarchist, the Dutch East Indies had local monarchs as well as the Queen in Amsterdam and then there was the Empire of Japan which also included Korea which had lost its independence but retained its traditional royal family.

It is not hard to see that the biggest reason for the decline in monarchy around the world after 1945 is due to the decline in one monarchy in particular which was, of course, the British Empire which ruled almost a quarter of the world. Britain’s King George VI, the last British King-Emperor, reigned over more land and people than any of his predecessors. Yet, during his reign, it all came to a sudden and surprisingly anti-climactic end. The biggest reason for the increase in the number of republics around the world is due to the fact that the biggest empire in the world dissolved. World War II has been called Britain’s “finest hour” and that it certainly was, yet it was also the end of Britain as the greatest empire in world history. The British basically mortgaged their empire in order to wage a war that they could not hope to win on their own strength. No sooner was the war ended than a new leftist government was elected which had de-colonization as a major goal. Even when there was talk in some conservative circles of a “third British Empire” to be focused on Africa, it was simply impossible for such a thing to come to fruition because of the enormous cost of the welfare state British socialists were busy building and because in combination with that, the cost of World War II had made Britain economically dependent on the United States.

Looking at the major participants of World War II, the five primary Allied nations and three primary Axis powers, the only monarchies were the British Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan. Obviously, since the First World War, monarchies were not so well-represented amongst the great powers of the world and none of these would survive World War II as great power monarchies. Italy and Japan were on the losing side, Italy lost its monarchy altogether after the war was over and the monarchy survived in Japan only by the good graces of the occupation forces of the United States. The British Empire emerged on the winning side but what it actually “won” was more negative than positive in that the conflict doomed the British Empire but the conflict that cost Britain its empire also cost Germany, Italy and Japan their empires as well. It is not unnatural then that some have asked, from the British point of view, if the Second World War was a hill worth dying on. Was Manchuria worth Singapore? Was Ethiopia worth India? Was the loss of the British Empire a sacrifice justified by having a Poland dominated by Soviet Russia rather than Nazi Germany? These are perfectly reasonable questions to ponder and yet they are not often raised let alone given serious consideration due to the nature of the Second World War itself.

Part of the reason for the lasting legacy of the Second World War is the hesitancy to question it. Certainly it has been studied intensely, perhaps more intensely than any other conflict in history and yet it is rarely questioned because for so many it is sacrosanct. As it gave us the world we all live in, the powers-that-be have a vested interest in its justification. Today, China and Russia are the most vocal about “defending the post-World War II world order”. Others are more inclined to scrutinize that world order but not the war that produced it because it is the one conflict almost everyone in the world is in agreement on. France, Russia and China certainly agree on it as much of it was fought on their territory and none would exist as they are today had things gone differently. In the US and UK it is also something that both the political left and right agree on. The British right look at it as their “finest hour” under the most famous conservative British statesman of modern times and see their country, not incorrectly, as something akin to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, holding back the enemy hordes until help can arrive. The British left sees it as the great crusade against “fascism”, fighting alongside Stalinist Russia and Mao’s guerillas to take down anti-comintern regimes that were nationalist and racist. Similar sentiments are held in America where World War II is perhaps the only conflict that both Republicans and Democrats view as necessary and justified. All of this makes World War II a subject many study but few question.

For most, World War II was “the good war” and one that can be portrayed in very simplistic terms as good vs. evil with clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys. It was a popular war at the time as is evidenced by how many countries rushed to be included in it even though they were not directly affected by it and despite the fact that they could contribute little to nothing to fighting it. Almost every country on earth was at least nominally involved in the conflict. Before the end of the conflict just over 50 countries had declared war on the Axis powers which is probably the single greatest example in the history of humanity of people agreeing on something. And that attitude survives even today and even with countries in opposition to each other. In the United States, conservatives call even communist regimes like Cuba “fascist” to emphasize their wickedness while communist countries have frequently called all of their enemies “fascists” as well. When western powers want to take down petty tyrants from Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein they compare such leaders to Adolf Hitler, in Russia the official line has been to call the Ukrainian nationalists “Nazis” and in China, bringing up World War II and Japanese atrocities has become practically an official national policy to divert attention and cast themselves in a positive light. Every interventionist accuses their opponents of being modern-day Neville Chamberlains, every political activist accuses their rivals of being “Nazis” to the extent that it can seem like amongst all our differences in the world, the one thing absolutely everyone agrees on (save perhaps the Japanese nationalists) is that World War II was right, the Allies were the good guys and the Axis were the bad guys. Such a dramatic and unprecedented consensus is not to be taken lightly.

Not a few people have said that “the winners write the history books” which is usually true, just as it is usually losers who say that and just as it is usually true that the losers write the revisionist history books. That is not what I am about here. Crimes like the Holocaust speak for themselves (and should not require censorship laws to sustain them). It is not historical revisionism to point out that the Second World War was not so clear cut as people like to think. That does not mean the “bad guys” were not actually bad but that they didn’t have a monopoly on misbehavior. If evil is defined by death tolls, Hitler was certainly an evil man for massacring about nine million people. Yet, by that standard, Joseph Stalin (one of the Allied “Big Three”) massacred about twenty million people. Likewise, if evil is identified by oppressive, all-powerful governments, the Soviet Union, one of the Allied nations, made Mussolini’s Italy at the height of the Fascist dictatorship look positively libertarian in comparison. It should be possible to look at the war and the world it created and note that it has not all been beneficial, which of course does not mean that the current state of affairs would be all for the better if the Axis had prevailed. Human beings like things to be simple and clear-cut but real life is seldom so cooperative.

The point in considering these difficult issues and asking such questions is to learn something valuable from them and, as often as possible, to have alternatives to present. This has been difficult for many monarchists who, after the tragedy of World War I, have preferred to withdraw in a huff from world affairs, doing nothing more than blaming others and lamenting the passing of the world that existed before 1914 (even though it was rarely up to snuff for such people as these). Yet, not only does such an attitude hinder rather than help, it also surrenders what was a state of affairs, not ideal, but certainly preferable to what came after. In 1939 Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Yugoslavia all had monarchs. Hungary did not but was still legally a monarchy. After 1945 all of these, save Greece, would become communist republics. Italy would become a republic and even for the monarchies that survived or were restored, they were still diminished by the war. In Belgium, for example, the King today has about as little actual power as all of his predecessors and yet, every Belgian king from Leopold I until World War II played a much more central and decisive part in national affairs. The Netherlands, Denmark, even Sweden which was neutral and others have a similar story with their monarchies being noticeably diminished in one way or another after World War II.

On the other side of the world, in Asia, things were as bad if not worse. The last hopes of preserving a monarchy in what is now China were squashed by the war, Korea did not so much regain its independence as much as traditional Korea was simply pushed aside and replaced by two republican contrivances. In Vietnam the monarchy, after declaring independence a short time before, was brought down by a revolution led by Ho Chi Minh, setting the stage for decades of vicious warfare. In Japan, the monarchy survived but was certainly diminished and has been focused more on survival than leadership since then. Because of Japanese policies, an Axis victory would have meant a more monarchist East Asia and yet the blow struck by Japan against European colonialism in the region, which the nationalist right champions even more than the pacifist left, meant more republics rather than fewer and republics that stand as the most brutal and bloodthirsty regimes in human history. What is absurdly ironic is that the Japanese nationalists who most defend Japan’s actions in World War II and deny every wrongdoing at the same time inadvertently place upon Japan the responsibility for murderous regimes from Pol Pot to Chairman Mao by claiming credit for destroying European colonialism in Asia.

All of this is worth looking into. If all goes according to plan, throughout this year, The Mad Monarchist will feature articles about the Second World War and its impact on the cause of monarchy across the globe. How were monarchs and monarchists involved in the war? Why was the British Empire so crucial to how the war came about? What were some viable alternatives to how things developed as far as the monarchies of the world were concerned? In what ways was the war a crossroads for the Italian monarchy? Why is the legacy of the war so particularly dangerous for Japan? All of these are questions that will hopefully be discussed going forward as well as looking at some of the key events and personalities involved. I hope you will look forward to it and, of course, stay “mad”…

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Clash of Monarchies: The Russo-Japanese War

The conflict between the Empires of Russia and Japan can be seen as inevitable. As soon as Russian and Japanese made contact with each other there was hostilities, dating back centuries to a Russian explorer who burned Japanese villages in the northern islands after his request for formal relations was rebuffed. When Russian power began to spread across Siberia to the Far East, Russian and Japanese settlers came into conflict over the possession of Sakhalin island. These early tensions meant that when the Empire of Japan emerged from a long period of being largely isolated and determined, through the Meiji Restoration, to become a major power and not a European colony, Russia was at a disadvantage. From day one, the Japanese were, albeit carefully, willing to deal with powers such as France and Great Britain but were less well disposed toward Russia. For the Russians, geography made Japan a natural enemy. The Russian Empire faced a similar problem in the east as in the west which was being cut off from the oceans; the great highway of nations. The driving, ever-present goal of Russian foreign policy in the Far East was the acquisition of an ice-free port on the Pacific. This proved problematic but Japan was an additional problem as even when Russia obtained such a port, the geographic placement of the Japanese islands meant that so long as Japan was not under Russian control, it could easily shut off access to such a port and render it useless.

Meiji of Japan & Nicholas II of Russia
When Japan began to modernize and industrialize it, of course, needed resources it had never needed before and the growth in the Japanese population that accompanied the rising standard of living also caused concern over food shortages. Both led Japan to take an increased interest in the resources and farmland of Korea. The rising power of Japan also caused tension with the traditional super-power of East Asia; China, at the time the Great Qing Empire. Eventually, the Sino-Japanese War broke out, officially over the independence of Korea (actually whether Korea would be dominated by China or Japan). The path toward a war between Japan and Russia came into view as soon as the war with China was over. Most had assumed the Chinese would easily defeat the Japanese, a people the Chinese had traditionally held in contempt. Yet, these people were looking at things like land and population rather than who had the better grasp of modern weapons and tactics. In the end, Japan won the war quite handily and China was forced to make peace on Japanese terms. It should also be remembered that, by this time, almost the whole of China had been divided up into spheres of influence for the major European imperial powers, roughly these were; France in the south, Britain in the middle and Russia in the north.

It did not escape the notice of Japan that Russian power was expanding in East Asia rapidly. Mongolia was recognized by the other European powers as being within the Russian sphere of influence and later Manchuria was as well. Following the Boxer Rebellion, the Russian Empire took control of Manchuria, making it a part of the Russian Empire in all but name. Russia invested heavily in the region and was intent to see such investments protected. The Trans-Siberian railway was also soon under construction in 1891 which would enable Russia to transfer its vast strength from one side of Asia to the other. In 1896 Russia obtained permission from China to build railroads across Manchuria which would bring Russian power extremely close to the doorstep of Japan. These were concerns for Japan but not the sort of thing that could not be worked through. However, after the Sino-Japanese War, that situation changed. The Japanese victory removed Korea from Chinese control and Japan obtained considerable concessions, such as the island of Formosa, but most significantly for Russia, the Liaotung Peninsula on the Manchurian coast. No sooner was the ink dry on the documents then Russia, Germany and France joined together to declare that Japan had gained too much from China and demanded that some of the spoils of victory be returned.

Pro-Russian French view of the invasion of Korea
Naturally, the Japanese were deeply offended by having the fruits of their victory snatched away from them, including the Liaotung Peninsula but faced with the overwhelming combination of Russia, France and Germany, Japan had no choice but to agree. However, offense turned into outrage and fury when, after handing the Liaotung Peninsula back to China, Russia obtained the lease on the property and began building a massive naval base there at Port Arthur. This was to be the Pacific gateway that Russia had wanted for so long and which would be vital to Russia being a major force in the Far East and free from having Russian trade cut off every winter. After being continuously thwarted in similar efforts at expansion in the west, such as in the Crimean War, the Russian Empire was enjoying a wave of success in the east. Mongolia was within the Russian sphere of influence, Manchuria was practically a part of Russia and the new railroad expansion was bringing Russia to the Korean border. Soon, the struggling Kingdom of Korea, later asserting its independence as the “Great Han Empire” was divided at its highest levels by pro-Russian and pro-Japanese factions. Since winning the war with China, Japan had invested heavily in Korea, Japan owned the railroads in Korea and Japanese settlers were moving into Korea in growing numbers. Russians were starting to filter into the country as well and the powerful Queen/Empress was becoming increasingly friendly to the representatives of the Tsar.

During the diplomatic talks to settle differences and ward off a potential conflict, the Japanese made it clear that they would be willing to accept the Russian domination of Manchuria but that, in return, Russia would have to recognize the Japanese domination of Korea. The realists in Tokyo viewed Manchuria as a lost cause but they could never tolerate Korea becoming a Russian protectorate. However, Japan did not want war. Russia had almost every possible advantage over Japan and the Japanese hoped that they could settle matters through diplomacy with the formula which said, in its simplest form; Russia can have Manchuria if Korea is left to Japan. Russia did not really want war either. They were not even opposed to Japan keeping control of South Korea so long as North Korea remained unoccupied so that Japanese forces could not threaten Russia’s presence in Manchuria. If Czar Nicholas II was simply out to pick a fight with Japan, or any East Asian country, he certainly would have waited until the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed. Yet, what was, perhaps, the most dangerous mistake that the Czar made was in thinking that war was never a realistic possibility. He had no desire for a war and saw no need for one as Russia had been doing fine expanding her influence without fighting. Why should it not continue? It was a perfectly reasonable point of view. The mistake was in discounting the notion that Japan might be the one to initiate a war with Russia. To summarize, the basic attitude of the Czar was, ‘they wouldn’t dare’.

The great Admiral Togo
Betting against the daring of Japan would prove costly. The Japanese leaders knew that their only chance of winning a war with Russia would be to fight aggressively and win it quickly before Russia could transfer her massive military strength to the east. So, while the diplomats tried to find a solution, the Japanese prepared for war. The Russian leadership never thought things were all that serious, again, discounting the idea that Japan would ever attack the largest land empire on earth, and continuously delayed the Japanese diplomats. The Japanese became more offended and frustrated and ever more convinced that war was the only solution all while Russia thought they were in no danger at all. It was not even seen as terribly alarming when the Japanese recalled their diplomats and broke off diplomatic relations with Russia on February 6, 1904, having deemed further talks useless. What happened next was alarming and it sent shock waves all the way across Asia to St Petersburg. On February 8, 1904 the Imperial Japanese fleet under Vice-Admiral Heihachiro Togo launched a surprise attack on the Russians at Port Arthur. An official Japanese declaration of war against Russia followed after hostilities had commenced.

The opening battle of Port Arthur was fairly inconclusive. The Japanese did slightly more damage but were finally forced to withdraw with neither side suffering very grievous losses. However, the pattern of the war was set with Japan being on the offensive and Russia being on the defensive. The Japanese actually had superior numbers on the scene as Russia had only about 80,000 in Manchuria compared to 200,000 Japanese in Korea and neighboring islands. Anxious to get some revenge on Russia themselves, the Chinese offered to join Japan at war but the Japanese refused the offer, not wishing to deal with China wanting a share of the spoils. Japanese troops were landed in Korea, occupied Seoul and were soon marching north while others were landed in Manchuria to begin the siege of Port Arthur. Having not prepared for aggressive war, the Russians were forced to fight delaying action while the bulk of Russian military strength was mobilized for transport to the Far East. At the battle of the Yalu River the Japanese brushed aside a Russian detachment and invaded Manchuria. At Port Arthur, the Russians tried to strike back but suffered damage from Japanese naval mines which unfortunately killed the best Russian naval commander in the region, putting Russia at another serious disadvantage.

Japanese infantry attack
In April of 1904 Japan began the siege of Port Arthur. Initial infantry attacks were repulsed by the stalwart Russian defenders who inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. However, after bringing up heavier, German-made artillery, the Japanese were able to gain the high ground and could bring guns to bear on the Russian fleet, effectively wiping out Russia’s Far East squadron. Tsar Nicholas II was thus forced to divert the Baltic Fleet to the Far East to try to salvage the situation, however, the voyage would be long and Britain kept Japan well informed of its movements. Whatever happened on the ground, the two navies would ultimately determine the outcome of the war at least as far as the goal of Russian access to the Pacific was concerned. The Japanese continued to attack and continued to suffer very high casualties but at Port Arthur the local Russian commander, General Anatoly Stossel, seemed to be losing his nerve. Russian strength was building in Manchuria but at a painfully slow rate and when a relief column was sent from Mukden to Port Arthur it was intercepted by the Japanese at the battle of Liaoyang. At first, Japanese attacks were repelled with heavy losses but after the Japanese seized a key position, the Russian commander, General Alexei Kuropatkin, ordered his men to fall back. The initiative was lost and finally the Russian army retreated back to Mukden.

The Japanese had won the field but the Russian army had escaped and would only grow stronger over time and the Japanese had suffered horrendous casualties in the process. Still, Port Arthur was then completely isolated and on January 2, 1905 General Stossel surrendered, much to the surprise of the Japanese. In Russia there was shock and fury, especially after subsequent investigations showed that the Russian troops had been holding their lines and that sufficient provisions were available to sustain the garrison for much longer. It was a heavy blow to Russian morale and allowed Japan to focus on pushing north into Manchuria for further attacks before Russian reinforcements could arrive. To the surprise of some, Russian troops taken prisoner by the Japanese were treated with great humanity, even generosity which stood in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to POW’s in the First Sino-Japanese War and later during World War II. Meanwhile, on the home front, both countries faced serious problems because of the on-going war.

Russian propaganda picture
In Japan, the government had promoted the war as one of dire necessity rather than choice, assured the public of victory and immense benefits when it was over. The public was then shocked to see the long casualty lists for what was supposed to have been an easy success against a beastly, barbarian foe. The Japanese economy was also stretched to the breaking point. In fact, carrying on the fight would not have been possible without considerable private financial assistance from the United States. American sympathy was overwhelmingly on the side of Japan but it was one wealthy American in particular who helped Japan in a major way and that was the Jewish-American businessman Jacob Schiff, a banker, investor and philanthropist who had a particular grudge against Russia for the treatment of the Jews there. He put the entire financial resources of his firm, “Kuhn, Loeb & Co.” at the disposal of Japan to give Tokyo the money necessary to fight the war. Of course, this was known only to military and civil officials in Japan and not the general public, though Schiff was given the Order of the Rising Sun from the hand of the Meiji Emperor himself.

In Russia, where most ordinary people never understood the necessity of their foreign policy goals, anti-war agitation and social unrest was increasing. The Japanese did their best to encourage this, funding a variety of leftist, revolutionary groups in Russia and pro-independence dissidents in Poland by way of agents operating in Sweden. Even the future Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin received some Japanese subsidy. With the monarchy itself coming under greater threat, more officials were advising the Czar to make peace but Nicholas II was infuriated by Japanese behavior and determined to fight on until final victory was won. Aiding revolutionary elements would have been unthinkable to the high-minded Czar but one thing he could do was to have prayers read out in all the Russian Orthodox Churches calling down the wrath of God on the Japanese. When, eighteen years after the war, Japan was hit by a number of immense natural disasters, such as the Great Kantou earthquake, Russians began to remark that Heaven must be eighteen years away from earth.

Russian troops at the front
What would be the climactic land engagement of the war came on February 20, 1905 and which would last until March 10; the immense, bloody battle of Mukden. The Russians had a somewhat larger force but they had the disadvantage of being led by General Kuropatkin, an inept officer and future traitor. The Japanese, on the other hand, were led by Field Marshal Oyama Iwao, one of the best military commanders Japan would ever produce. The fight was long, fierce and bloody, a precursor to the sort of tactics seen later in World War I. The Russians lost nearly 90,000 men and the Japanese over 75,000. However, it was Kuropatkin who blinked first and who failed to properly coordinate his movements and Oyama was quick to exploit the opportunity. The Russian army was broken and retreated north while the Japanese marched triumphantly into Mukden. And yet, the Russians had not been destroyed and more troops were on the way while the Japanese were so exhausted and depleted by their costly attacks that they could not pursue and finish off their retreating enemies. In fact, the situation for Japan had become so serious that Tokyo was putting out ‘peace feelers’ while the battle was still underway. The Czar was reluctant to accept such an outcome but the situation changed when the Baltic fleet finally arrived in East Asian waters. Thanks to Great Britain, Japan was well informed of Russia’s naval movements and Admiral Togo was waiting in ambush in the waters between Korea and Japan. The resulting battle of Tsushima, on May 27-28, was a total disaster for the Russians. The Baltic fleet was wiped out and Japanese naval dominance in the region was secured. Any hope of unfettered Russian access to the Pacific died at Tsushima Straits. When Japanese troops landed on Sakhalin afterwards, Czar Nicholas II finally agreed to talk peace, accepting American President Teddy Roosevelt as mediator even though he had been pretty openly sympathetic to Japan.

The resulting peace left neither side happy but Japan more so than Russia. Japan gained the Russian lease on Port Arthur, the southern half of Sakhalin Island and saw all Russian forces evacuated from Manchuria as well as an acknowledgement of Japanese domination over Korea. However, none of it seemed sufficient given how costly the war had been and Czar Nicholas II refused to pay an indemnity to Japan and when President Roosevelt backed Russia, Japan had to drop the issue. For the Czar, as with most things, it was a matter of principle. Such payments were usually taken as an admission of guilt for starting a war and given that it was the Japanese who had struck first, the Czar saw this as totally unacceptable. He was also reluctant to give in to all Japanese demands considering that Russia still had considerable forces in the field and was quite capable of continuing the war. The Japanese tended to blame the American president for not getting all they wanted but the fact is that the war was not the total victory it had been portrayed as with the Japanese armies severely depleted and the economy stretched to the breaking point. The Treaty of Portsmouth ended the war officially on September 5, 1905.

American pro-Japanese view of the fall of Port Arthur
For Russia, the war was not a total disaster but was a serious humiliation that left a lasting legacy of bitterness. The events of “Bloody Sunday” had shaken the monarchy, tarnished the image of the Tsar and the increased revolutionary agitation left the Russian Empire in a delicate position. Not long after, the Russian monarchy was forced to, officially at least, abandon autocracy and become a nominal constitutional monarchy with the October Manifesto. It also, though this can be exaggerated, caused some in the Russian leadership to take a more strident tone and be more anxious to assert Russian strength on the world stage, preparing the way for the mobilization on behalf of Serbia against Austria-Hungary that turned a Balkan crisis into the First World War. The humiliation was never forgotten and Russia, under Soviet leadership, would enact a considerable degree of retribution against Japan in the final days of World War II. After defeating the Japanese in a border dispute in Mongolia, Russia would break its neutrality pact with Japan after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and send Russian forces sweeping into Manchuria, driving the Japanese from that area as well as northern Korea, retaking all of Sakhalin and seizing the Kurile Islands as well. Plans to invade Hokkaido, partition Japan and set up a communist republic there were avoided only by virtue of the staunch opposition of General Douglas MacArthur.

The Empire of Japan emerged from the conflict as a world power, recognized as such by the other great powers of the world. Japanese mastery of northeast Asia was undisputed and no one voiced any serious opposition when Japan annexed Korea in 1910. However, the Japanese were not happy with the fruits of their victory, mostly because of how the government had made promises to the public that were unrealistic and kept them in the dark as to the true situation at the end of the war. Knowing nothing of how badly Japan needed the war to end, the public blamed America (which had been overwhelmingly pro-Japanese) for the fact that they had not received everything they wanted from the Russians. Anti-American riots broke out across Japan and an offended United States then retaliated by enacting laws restricting Japanese immigration to the United States (oddly enough, those who voiced the most anti-American attitudes seemed most offended at not being able to immigrate to America). The USA would not be so well-disposed toward Japan again until after World War II. Likewise, the way the war was triumphed in Japan and by others in East Asia in racial terms made the elite club of colonial powers rather nervous about their newest member. Successive victories over China and Russia also, probably, produced a degree of over-confidence in the Japanese military that was to have disastrous consequences in the years to come.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...