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 It would see the rise of communism as a global threat and the rise of the United States, which had withdrawn back into isolationism after World War I, to super-power status and the primary foe of communist expansion on the world stage.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”…


  1. I know that it is off topic but do you truly support monarchy in the United States? If you do what kind of monarchy would you have us be? A federal monarchy with a monarch in every state (or region) and a high monarch for the entire country? Or a single national monarch (perhaps a union with the British royals)?

    1. I've addressed this on more than one specific posts. Do I "truly support monarchy in the United States"? I do, but not *for* the United States, at least not actively. If it happened, great, but it isn't going to and I'm more concerned about countries that are monarchies (defending them) or countries that used to be monarchies (restoring them).

    2. Thanks for responding so quickly, theoretically which form of monarchy would prefer the United States to be a federal monarchy like pre WW1 Germany or a national monarchy such as Britain?

    3. Hard for me to say, the idea is just too far out there. However, if the USA were to become something like a Commonwealth Realm, I'd be in favor of that -if that answers your question.

  2. I completely agree that people are far too black-and-white in their view of history and politics. I would argue that the Second World War was one of the few occasions where there very clearly was a distinct "good" and "bad" side. There is no doubt, really, that Nazism was evil. I know you've expressed doubt over some of the accusations levelled at the Japanese Empire in the past, but personally I'd have to concede that although I admire much of what Imperial Japan stood for their actions in that war clearly cast them as the villains of the piece. Fascist Italy was also hardly laudable, even if Mussolini was not a tyrant of the same calibre as Hitler.

    I have a few nitpicks to make;

    1) You say that "since World War II no European country has yet to achieve “great power” status again." But the United Kingdom and France are still major military powers, significant economic players, nuclear weapons states and permanent members of the UN Security Council. I think they definitely count as "Great Powers."

    2) Although you attribute the loss of Britain's African empire "the enormous cost of the welfare state British socialists were busy building," it bears mentioning that most of the British Empire was running at a loss by the mid-20th century. The cost of the colonies was offset by the revenue from the crowning jewel of the Empire, India; once India became independent it simply wasn't cost effective for the UK to hold on to its African colonies. Let's not forget that the Empire was motivated first and foremost by the profit incentive.

    3) It should also be said that while Hitler's government massacred fewer people than Stalin's, it killed more people in a shorter period of time. The Nazis were more efficient at killing. If the Nazis emerged victorious in the war, it's not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that they would have achieved an even higher death count that the Soviet Union. That said, I don't think a straightforward body count can be treated as a measure of how evil a person or regime is. I just think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that as bad as the USSR's occupation of eastern Europe was, a Nazi victory would hardly have been preferable (which I appreciate isn't something you actually suggest at any point).

    1. You think there were distinct good and bad sides, okay, but try and put yourself in the shoes of another. If you were living in Poland in December of 1945 would you really feel like the good guys won? I'm not saying the Allies were not good or the Axis were not bad, just that it's more complicated than that. For Japan, certainly terrible things were done in the war but it was not a war they wanted to fight and they alone did not make it happen. Fascist Italy -never said it was laudable but was nowhere near as bad as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Before the war many of the Allies thought it was great. Evelyn Waugh, G.K. Chesterton, Churchill, Ghandi, the Pope all had nice things to say about it, FDR modeled some of his "New Deal" programs on the policies of Fascist Italy. None of that makes them good but it does mean the "good guys" were not so superior.

      Now for the nitpicks:
      1) France couldn't deal with that little terrorist uproar in central Africa without having the US Air Force to transport them down there -that's not a great power. The UK has also said, quite openly, that the only military actions they can take are in conjunction with the USA due to military downsizing. That's not my estimation, that's London's.

      2) I don't see the "problem" there. That's true (though not for all colonies) but they could have prioritized things differently, enacted changes to make them more profitable but it's rather beside the point considering that the socialists came to power before India was given up. Some, like Eden, still thought an empire in Africa could be maintained even after India was gone but that proved impossible.

      3) I totally disagree here. Stalin didn't just kill more people than Hitler, he killed more than twice as many and that was just for starters. Part of the problem here is that it wasn't just Eastern Europe. Communism was a global threat in a way Nazism never could be. Nazism was nationalistic, all about Germans being the super-race and if you weren't German that was going to be a pretty obviously stupid idea that was not appealing. Communism, on the other hand, is a poison than can and has infected people of every race, every religion, in every continent of the world. Hitler, despite what some think, also wasn't out to conquer the world, Stalin was -he actually said so and I don't mean some future triumph of communism eventually but he said the whole world would be communist within his lifetime.

      If Hitler had not been handed allies, his viciousness would not have gone beyond Europe. Stalin had already taken the Baltics, attacked Finland, occupied Mongolia and half Poland before joining the Allies. After that, he got the rest of Eastern Europe and then there were his surrogates, some of whom still oppress and massacre today from North Korea, China, Laos, Vietnam, numerous countries in Africa and South America almost all of which have wars to go along with them.

      So, does that mean it's better to let Hitler win? Of course not, that's why I said I hope to be able to present some alternatives, to show what could have been different so it wasn't a case of Nazi Germany being the world super-power or making the world safe for Stalinist Communism. There were ways of dealing with Hitler and times when he could have been dealt with that would not have been so costly and required such distasteful alliances.


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