Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monarch Profile: Emperor Francis I of Austria

The man who would be the last “Holy Roman Emperor”(elect) and the first “Emperor of Austria”, Francis II and then Francis I, was born in Florence, Italy on February 12, 1768 to then Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany, who was the younger brother of Emperor Joseph II. Named Francis (or Franz as you please) like the founder of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family line, his mother was the Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, daughter of His Catholic Majesty King Carlos III, he was the second of sixteen children. For little Francis, while his childhood years were happy ones, basking in the bosom of his family and the sunshine of Italy, his parents were not to be a major part of his life ultimately. The liberal-minded, autocratic Emperor had no heirs and so, Francis was obviously the one in whom the future of the House of Hapsburg and its empire would be invested. So, at the age of 16, he was plucked from his family and his uncle the Emperor took charge of his upbringing personally. The experience was one that might have made even the children of ancient Sparta gape in amazement.

Young Francis was deemed to be utterly unsatisfactory, his uncle basically describing him as spoiled, clumsy and dim. He was subjected to a vigorous regime of study and exercise to correct these problems and was shut up in isolation as a way to make him more self-reliant. The Emperor himself said that his approach toward his nephew was, “fear and unpleasantness”. The Emperor, who seemed to turn cold after the death of his beloved first wife, was a man who was beloved by the common people for the actions he took to improve their welfare. However, it would be a mistake to think that this was due to his compassionate nature. Rather, it was because Emperor Joseph II had a fixation, perhaps even obsession, with orderliness, justice and making all things reasonable and rational. Taking any sixteen-year-old boy from any background and trying to make him orderly and reasonable would seem an impossible task for most and may, perhaps, explain why the Emperor could seem such a tyrant. Nonetheless, he filled his nephew with a respect for him that would last as long as Francis lived. Francis admired his uncle with ‘fear and trembling’ and the impact he had on Francis, and which Francis subsequently had on the rest of Hapsburg history, would ensure that Emperor Joseph II would be upheld as the standard by which all Austrian emperors were judged.

When Francis was sent to join the imperial army (a regiment on garrison duty in Hungary) it was probably the least demanding part of his training for the crown. In 1790 Emperor Joseph II died and was succeeded by Leopold II whose reign was to be a very short one. He spent most of his time trying to regain the support of all those his brother had offended while simultaneously retaining most of his policies. Archduke Francis acted on his behalf while his father was engaged in those duties and within a very short time Leopold II grew ill and died. At the age of only 24 on March 1, 1791 Francis became King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and was in due course (when all the formalities were attended to) was named Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire of the German People, King in Germany and all the rest as Francis II. He inherited a Reich beset by threats but he was a good man to meet them. On the whole, more traditional than his uncle, he was just as, if not more, pragmatic and would make decisions he thought in the best interests of his empire, whether it cast him in a positive light or not. His first and immediate concern was France where revolution was raging and where revolutionaries were threatening to take their torches beyond their borders to set fire to the whole of monarchial Europe.

If one were to assume that the fate of the Austrian-born Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was foremost on the mind of Emperor Francis II (Kaiser Franz II), one would be mistaken. He did not really know his aunt and was not prepared to deal with traitors in order to save her. Emperor Joseph II had concocted a scheme to rescue his little sister but, at that time, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI thought it precipitous and a dereliction of duty to escape the country. By the time Francis II came along, the Queen was a prisoner and while Danton was willing to negotiate for her release (though considering the character of Danton it is entirely possible he was being false in the whole matter) Emperor Francis II refused to make any concessions and in due course the tragic queen was sent to the guillotine. For Francis, the only way to deal with the French Revolution was war and his empire went to war with France the same year he came to the throne. At first, he tried to take matters into his own hands during the failed Flanders campaign but he wisely decided to leave military matters to the experts and handed the army over to Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. This was the right choice as the Archduke would prove to be the most formidable continental opponent of Napoleon, even if he was not quite able to best the brilliant Corsican.

The war policy of Emperor Francis was one of resistance whenever possible, peace when necessary but to always strike again when the situation seemed favorable. At the outset, Austria was defeated and Francis decided to come to an agreement with the French republic, ceding land in Germany in exchange for half of the territory of the Republic of Venice which had tried to remain neutral. In the War of the Second Coalition, Austrian troops marched against France again and again in the War of the Third Coalition but both were French victories and most critically saw France take leadership in the German states away from Hapsburg Austria. This greatly alarmed Francis II and he decided to take a drastic and unprecedented step. With the reorganization of Germany and the victorious Napoleon making no secret of his imperial pretensions, Francis feared that the Corsican would apply sufficient pressure to have himself elected Holy Roman Emperor a title which, elections aside, the Hapsburgs had come to view as their property. The idea was too terrible to contemplate so Francis II decided to abolish the empire rather than see it fall into the hands of Napoleon. He dissolved the historic institution, abdicating his throne on August 6, 1806 and became instead Emperor Francis I of Austria.

This is something which some people remain at odds about even today, which is probably unavoidable for a move which was so historic. Did Francis have the authority to do what he did? Ultimately, the whole argument is academic. So much of what had been the Holy Roman (German) Empire was rather vague to begin with, being one thing in theory but something else in fact. It came about in an odd way and survived for so long because it was so changeable. Before the Revolution it had become essentially the Austrian Empire already plus those minor states allied to them with the Kingdom of Prussia being effectively independent. No emperor had actually been fully emperor, crowned by the Pope, for centuries and the electoral nature of it had long been a mere formality. Francis simplified things and brought what existed in fact into existing in name as well. His struggle with France was certainly not over and thanks to his leadership the Austrian Empire would remain as the dominant German power in the end.

In 1809, taking advantage of what Napoleon called “the Spanish ulcer” Emperor Francis I of Austria went to war again but once again suffered a stunning defeat. What was worse, Napoleon was determined to make major changes in regards to his relationship with Austria because of this. After all, if these numerous lost wars can seem disheartening from the Austrian point of view, one must keep in mind that they were extremely damaging to Napoleon even though he was always victorious. Emperor Francis I had the land, the population, the resources and an able general to remain Napoleon’s most dangerous continental foe and Napoleon was tired of having to fight them over and over again. Finally, it seemed, Napoleon had the Austrians where he wanted them. Always a pragmatic man, the Kaiser decided he had no choice but to come to terms with l’empereur. He gave up considerable territory and even the hand of his daughter in marriage to Napoleon as well as joining the “Continental System” the French had set up in an (ultimately futile) effort to starve Britain into submission. This may have been the peak of Napoleon’s career. He seemed to have broken the back of his most powerful enemy on the continent of Europe and by his marriage to Archduchess Marie Louise he gained an heir to his throne and, what was seen anyway as, acceptance into the ranks of the established dynasties of Europe.

However, Emperor Francis II was simply being pragmatic and he would do what was necessary at the moment and bide his time to come out on top in the end. If it meant doing something unfortunate, so be it. The same thing occurred in relation to the great Austrian monarchist hero Andreas Hofer. At one point, the land Hofer had fought so hard for and which he had won in fair combat was handed over by the Emperor to the Bavarian allies of France. It had to be a difficult moment for the loyal Austrian patriot but the Emperor was making the hard choices that were necessary and he would ultimately get it all back. Despite the efforts of his daughter to convince him that Bonaparte was not such a bad guy, Emperor Francis had never truly accepted him as a legitimate monarch and never would. Thankfully for Austria, Napoleon could not resist overreaching and this he did with his invasion of the Russian Empire. The steppes of Russia swallowed the Grande Armee and in the aftermath a sixth coalition was formed, including Austria, to bring Napoleon down. Russian and Prussian armies pushed the French out of Germany, the Swedes hit Napoleon’s Danish ally and the British pushed up from Spain into southern France. At battles such as Kulm and Leipzig, Austrian forces played their part in a string of allied victories. Austria had a talented commander on hand in the person of Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg who had actually been picked by Napoleon himself to command the Austrian contingent of the invasion of Russia.

Emperor Francis I risked everything in this war, betting all the chips that Austria had but this time Napoleon was defeated and as the allied armies closed in on Paris in 1814, the French emperor abdicated and was exiled to Elba. A short time later, he would return to make his last bid for power but met with a crushing and decisive defeat at Waterloo after which he was sent to St Helena, never to return. For Emperor Francis of Austria, this was the high point of his reign and a moment of the greatest prestige for Austria. Allied leaders met in his capitol, in the Congress of Vienna, to redraw the map of Europe and organize a new, post-revolutionary international order. The Austrian Empire benefited greatly, giving up territories such as Belgium which was distant and next to impossible to defend while regaining the Tyrol and other areas and gaining new territory in Italy and Dalmatia (what had been the Republic of Venice).

More significant though, was the pride of place that the Austrian Empire received with the creation of the German Confederation, of which the Austrian Emperor was President, and the Holy Alliance of Prussia, Austria and Russia to safeguard religion and monarchy in central and eastern Europe (though Britain, the Pope and the Turks disliked it -an odd assortment). It was a very conservative and pragmatic new order that settled over Europe and that made it very much to the liking of Emperor Francis I whose chancellor, Prince Metternich, had arranged much of it. The Emperor and Metternich understood each other and worked well together, establishing an international order in Europe based on legitimacy and periodic international congresses to resolve disputes that prevented another pan-European war for a hundred years. Perhaps their only failing in this area was in their rejection of nationalism as a whole, thinking it could be suppressed rather than taking hold of it to steer in a beneficial direction. Nonetheless, what they did do produced undeniable results and, on the whole, worked for a very long time.

As a man and as a monarch, Emperor Francis I was probably unlike what most would suppose him to be. For enemies of the Austrian Empire he is often portrayed as a harsh, reactionary tyrant, paranoid and militaristic, cold and calculating. In fact, he was a complex man who understood the enormous responsibility he had as monarch and who tried to always do what was best, not for the sake of popular opinion but as a sacred duty. It is true that he had a very active and extensive secret police and his policies would today be seen as restrictive. They were certainly illiberal but no more so than many that exist in Europe today, the only difference being who they were aimed at stopping and the fact that, unlike modern European leaders, Emperor Francis never claimed to a liberal. His network of spies and use of censorship was a reaction to the horror and world war that came with the French Revolution and he was determined to prevent such words, ideas or movements ever gaining a foothold in the Austrian Empire. Much of Europe today has laws just as restrictive but where Francis banned “revolutionary rhetoric” or “egalitarian” or “anti-religious” and “republican” talk, today what is banned is called “hate speech” or “racist” or in some way offensive and “politically incorrect” talk. His ban on all things Jacobin could be compared to the current ban in Germany on all things Nazi and would be defended on the same grounds; that some ideas are too dangerous to tolerate.

To the charge of being a reactionary (which not everyone would consider a bad thing) Emperor Francis was more nuanced than most realize. He was certainly a man of very traditional and staunchly conservative politics but neither was he a radical legitimist. He favored policies which were as conservative as possible but was never so ideologically zealous as to hinder his pragmatism. This was partly why he opposed nationalism, because it interfered with the sort of monarchial territorial horse-trading that could benefit his empire. So, he had no qualms about northern Italy being absorbed by the Austrian Empire rather than being restored to Venice and he was more supportive of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, than the very traditional King Charles X of France whose policies, though the Emperor was probably sympathetic to, he feared were impractical and could lead to another revolution and potential trouble for the rest of Europe.

Although he famously said that he had no knowledge of “the people” but only “subjects” he was not some distant, aloof sort of autocrat as he is often portrayed. Each week he set aside two half-days to meet with any of his subjects, whether high born or low, who made an appointment to see him. He would listen to their opinions or concerns and was able to converse with them in their own language, no matter what part of his polyglot realms they came from. In that way he was more accessible to the public than just about any republican president in any European country today (or most in the rest of the world at large for that matter). In a way, he inherited qualities from both of his immediate predecessors. From his father, who it was said ran the most successful secret police force in the world as Grand Duke of Tuscany, he had a talent at keeping himself well informed about what was going on within his empire and from his uncle Joseph II he had the ability to talk easily to anyone, be they prince or ploughman.

If Emperor Francis was busy with his public duties, his private life was just as eventful. He married first in 1788 to the charming Elisabeth of Wurttemberg, a bride chosen by Emperor Joseph II, but she died in childbirth in 1790, her baby girl surviving her by less than a year. Later that year he married his first cousin, Princess Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, who bore him twelve children, though four died young. These offspring included a future Empress of the French and Queen of Italy (while Napoleon ruled), a future Emperor of Austria, Empress of Brazil and Queen of Saxony. They had a successful marriage and mostly a happy one, though she was very lively and he very serious. She died in 1807 at only 34, no doubt thoroughly exhausted. The following year he married another first cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, a refugee from the Napoleonic conquest of Italy, but she died in 1816 at only 28. Later that year he married Princess Caroline Augusta of Bavaria who was quite popular and who survived him.

At home, Emperor Francis I kept things calm and orderly. Trade was not much promoted and agriculture remained the primary industry of most imperial subjects. In this area, Francis can be faulted somewhat as his policy, summarized by his words, “I won’t have any innovations,” and “Let the laws be justly applied; they are good and adequate” as this allowed more business-friendly Prussia to have an economy and industry that expanded faster than Austria. The army was also neglected in terms of spending (while the overall debt continued to climb) which had negative effects for Austria later. Dissent in Hungary, however, remained as problematic for Francis as it had been for his predecessors and after a meeting of the Central Hungarian Diet in 1825 he was forced to agree not to raise taxes without their consent. In foreign matters, his primary concern was in suppressing any hints of nationalist or revolutionary sentiment in Germany and Italy. In the short-term, these were successful but in the long-term they proved fruitless. Nonetheless, Francis I was convinced that he was correct and that it only took a firm hand and a sharp eye to ensure that things remained as they were.

After ruling for 43 years, quite unexpectedly, Emperor Francis I of Austria came down with a fever and died on March 2, 1835 at the age of 67. In character to the end, his last advice was to “change nothing”. Additionally, he advised his son and heir to preserve the unity of the Imperial Family. That would be done, though after the traumas of 1848 his eventual successor, Emperor Francis Joseph I, would be forced to make some considerable changes. History, on the whole, has not been kind or very fair to Emperor Francis I, portraying him as a narrow-minded arch reactionary who liked nothing more than fiddling with his wax seals or making toffee. However, in truth, he was the driving force behind all that was Austria for nearly half a century. Metternich usually gets the glory (or the blame, depending on one’s view) but he only persisted in his position because the Emperor wanted him there. Francis I saw Europe torn apart by revolution, took a firm stand in stamping it out and did his best to ensure that it never happened again -and so long as he lived it did not. He could be short-sighted and sometimes he had to make tough decisions for the good of his empire but by his actions, the Austrian Empire survived and finally triumphed over Napoleonic France, regaining the dominant position in German affairs and central Europe. While there were problems in isolated areas, the actions and leadership of Emperor Francis prevented widespread unrest until 1848 and created a system in Europe based on facts rather than idealism, legitimacy rather than populism and established peace and stability for the better part of a century. Not a bad record that.

Monday, April 27, 2015

War Time Monarchs So Far

In case some further background information might be helpful, here is a list of monarchs profiled here in the past from those countries which have so far been discussed in our 2015 theme year on World War II. Please to note that there are others but this list is restricted to those whose countries have been highlighted in the months up until now (not those yet to be discussed). Peruse as you please:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Should the Low Countries Have Fought World War II?

Should the Low Countries have fought World War II? Obviously, that is a somewhat silly question. They had no choice. They were attacked, invaded and occupied so it is only natural that they would resist and fight to liberate their lands and populations from foreign domination. However, one of the requirements of a “just war” according to the School of Salamanca (building on the works of St Thomas Aquinas) is that it is just to fight a war of self-defense as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success. Otherwise, to do so, would be a futile sacrifice of life that would be immoral. Not a few people would look at the vast disparity in the military capabilities of the Kingdoms of the Netherlands, Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg compared to Nazi Germany and conclude that there was no reasonable chance of success, that any resistance would be futile and thus it was wrong to fight and the Dutch, Belgians and Luxembourgish should have simply submitted peacefully to German domination. After all, we can see with the benefit of hindsight how overwhelming the Nazi blitzkrieg was; Luxembourg was occupied in a day, the Netherlands surrendered in four days, Belgium in eighteen.

Dutch East Indies colonial troops
Yet, there is more to it than that. In the First World War, the Belgians resisted fiercely and, indeed, the Germans never managed to conquer quite all of Belgium. In World War II, even after their homelands were conquered, the Netherlands and Belgium carried on fighting. Dutch forces made a significant contribution to the war against Japan in the Dutch East Indies and colonial troops from the Belgian Congo participated in the Allied conquest of Italian East Africa. Even tiny Luxembourg was not left out of the eventual Allied counter-attack in Europe. None of these countries ever expected to be fighting alone. Regardless of what neutrality pacts they had in place, the only powers that any of these countries could reasonably expect to face hostilities from was France or Germany and in all probability they themselves would not be the target. None would certainly be isolated. If, for some reason, France invaded to get at Germany, they could count on German support whether guaranteed or in any way obligated or not. As did happen, when Germany invaded, they had the support of the French, and eventually the British, in the overall struggle that ensued.

Field Marshal Montgomery & Dutch Prince Bernhard
On their own, neither the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg could hope to defeat the Germans. However, they did not need to be able to in order to have at least a reasonable chance of success (still not considerable, but at least “reasonable”). Going back to the First World War, the only reason to strike the Low Countries was because the low, flat terrain offered a faster route to France for the Germans than to attack directly across the heavily fortified French frontier. Of course, in that conflict, as it turned out, the Germans did extremely well against the French on the Franco-German border even when greatly outnumbered. However, this overall strategic situation meant that neither the Dutch nor the Belgians would have to defeat the Germans outright but rather simply be able to offer enough resistance so that any gain in time that was to be had by advancing through the Low Countries was eliminated or even simply severely mitigated for the Germans. This would make conquering these countries unfeasible even if still totally possible. It was possible for the Low Countries to at least defend themselves sufficiently so that an invading power, while being able to conquer them, would gain no advantage from doing so and thus would choose to avoid them or, if determined to attack, at least be held off long enough for assistance from stronger powers to arrive to assist.

Belgian Congolese colonial troops in Ethiopia
It is rather bewildering that this logic could be lost on those who would argue that any resources devoted to defense for the Low Countries are resources wasted. They have hardly been the only ones to adopt such a strategy. Canada, for example, previously had defense plans in the event that war broke out with the United States. These were made in the Twentieth Century when, obviously, in isolation, there is no doubt that the United States could easily roll over and crush Canada with little trouble. Yet, Canadian resistance would not have been futile as they could conceivably have held off American forces long enough for the British to bring in support from the U.K. and across the empire, along with what was, at that time, a Royal Navy that was stronger than that of the United States so that such resistance could have been offered that any attack on Canada would not have been worth the cost. Likewise, when the Japan Self-Defense forces were first organized, a “shield and sword” strategy was adopted as part of the alliance with the United States. Originally, this was aimed at the possibility of Russian aggression. Today, the overall strategy has not changed but with China as just as if not more likely adversary. The Japanese Self-Defense Force acts as the shield and the American military as the sword, offering sufficiently fierce resistance to delay a Russian or Chinese attack until the massive strength of the American armed forces can be brought to bear to destroy the invader. This is not significantly different from the strategy the Low Countries did or could have adopted prior to both World Wars.

Dutch troops on guard, 1939
The reasons for the swift defeat of the Low Countries must be understood on a case by case basis. Little Luxembourg actually did have a defense strategy seemingly based on that above, with a series of roadblocks and iron gates to slow an invading army until help could arrive, but it was not pursued fully and, when the attack came, the small military corps was confined to barracks. There was little to no resistance to speak of. For the Dutch, too much trust had been put in the notion that Germany would respect Dutch neutrality as they had in the first war. The Netherlands could have made itself a much tougher nut to crack if proper resources had been devoted to the military and if defense plans had been taken more seriously. Even as it was, even surrendering after four days of fighting, the Dutch had held out three days longer than the Germans expected. They could have held out much longer if the army and air forces had not been so neglected by the government and if defensive flooding had been enacted sooner. The hope of neutrality also prevented the establishment of sophisticated plans for allied cooperation and so no significant help could reach Holland in time. Likewise, in the Dutch East Indies, naval defenses could have been stronger and the colonial forces on land had a mentality based almost completely on providing internal security rather than repelling a foreign invader due to the fact that the Dutch never considered any other regional power an enemy that would wish to attack them.

Belgian troops at the start of war
The Belgians, of course, had the most recent experience at fighting a world war. King Leopold III himself had served in the trenches with the small but tenacious Belgian army in the brutal Flanders sector. Defense was taken much more seriously in Belgium, in fact the Belgians had, along with the French, invaded Germany in the Weimar era due to the Germans not being prompt with reparations payments. However, more was obviously still needed in making Belgium fully prepared for another war but it is easy to see why this was lacking. The country had been devastated in the First World War and naturally the priority was in recovering from that. There were also those that thought, or at least hoped, that such an invasion would never happen again, a sort of ‘lightening cannot strike the same place twice’ mentality. The events of the last war had also forced Belgium to abandon neutrality and the kingdom was firmly in the Allied camp. Yet, that was a camp that hardly presented a united front.

Belgian troops in retreat
Relations with Britain and France were very close and the Belgian and Italian monarchies had been linked by the royal marriage of Princess Marie Jose to Prince Umberto of Piedmont, heir to the throne of Italy. However, when Hitler began to seem a menace, the alliance seemed to come apart. Mussolini was angered at having stood alone against Hitler in the first Nazi attempt to grab Austria and later the French and British pushed Italy into the German camp by sanctioning Italy over the war in Ethiopia. There was further alarm when Britain came to a naval agreement with Nazi Germany so that it seemed France and Britain were isolating Italy and reconciling with Germany rather than the reverse. Belgium, not unreasonably, began to lose faith in the Allies to oppose Hitler and so decided, at the last minute, to try going back to the previous policy of neutrality. King Leopold III announced this policy change in 1936 and the following year Hitler pledged to respect Belgian neutrality in any future war -a promise he had no intention of keeping of course. When the war started, defenses were strengthened and Belgium was by far the most militarily powerful of the Low Countries (in fact, the Belgian army was four times larger than the British army sent to France, which goes to show how woefully unprepared the British were if nothing else).

Belgian troops in the field
However, it was too little, too late. Belgium held out longer than the Netherlands and even the Germans remarked about how well the Belgians fought but the neutrality policy had left them quite ill-equipped for serious conflict. There was also poor coordination with the other Allies when the attack on Belgium came so that, in a reverse of the strategy outlined above, it was the Belgians who were basically sacrificed to buy time for the British to retreat from the continent amidst a rapidly crumbling French war effort. The Belgians did not trust the French (partly because of the Franco-Soviet pact that existed prior to Stalin cozying up to Hitler), the Maginot Line was not extended across Belgium because of Dutch-Belgian neutrality and the British, in whom the Belgians placed most of their hopes, had subordinated their own forces to the French whose plans proved to be almost totally ineffective against the ultimate German onslaught. Because of the policy of neutrality, there were no meetings between the French, British and Belgian military leaders prior to the war to make detailed plans for cooperation and, as a result, their forces were poorly coordinated. In the end, Belgium held out for 18 days before the King, seeing the French coming apart and the British about to abandon the continent, decided to save the lives of his remaining soldiers and surrender. He felt the war was over, the Allies defeated and, given the situation at the time, such a view is totally understandable.

Queen Wilhelmina with U.S. President Roosevelt
Obviously, there were numerous reasons for the lack of readiness that led to the Low Countries being so swiftly defeated in the German blitzkrieg to the west. There is also the rather significant fact that the German armed forces comprised a fantastic fighting machine. Putting aside the regime that was giving them orders, the military itself performed with great ability and would have been an extremely formidable opponent for even the most militarily robust nations on earth. They more than once were able to handily defeat the Russians and Americans as well as the French and British so that is clearly a very large part of this equation. However, the Low Countries were not wrong to resist the German invaders to the utmost. The only possible exception is Luxembourg and tiny Luxembourg really didn’t try to resist, knowing that it would be futile. The same was true for Denmark. The Danes, had they better prepared themselves, could have made more of a fight but, as it was, they were pretty much powerless to resist and so they didn’t. For the Dutch and Belgians, however, they were at least capable of making the Germans work hard for their victory and had different decisions been made, would have been able to have done better still. It doesn’t mean that they could have stopped the Germans cold but given what weaknesses they did have and what strengths (though squandered) the Allies had, they could have mounted a defense of their countries that would have, at the very least, had at least some chance of success.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What World War II Did to the Belgian Monarchy

The history of the Belgian monarchy could easily be seen as alternating between extreme high and low points. King Leopold I saw the country emerge as an independent, sovereign state with friendly ties and even considerable influence on some of the most powerful courts in Europe. Then there was King Leopold II who, while leaving Belgium better than he found it, had lost the admiration of his people due to his vilification over the Congo Free State. However, after Leopold II died, mourned by few, he was succeeded by the handsome, young King Albert I who rose to international fame for his staunch defense of his country in World War I. He was loved at home, respected abroad and seemed the embodiment of what a good king was supposed to be. Sadly, another downturn would come with the reign of his son King Leopold III. However, in his case, he was perfectly placed to break the cycle had it not been for the intervention of World War II. King Leopold III had every quality to make a beloved and successful monarch and yet, because of events beyond his control, he has become the most unjustly controversial of Belgian monarchs. Forced to deal with situations none other of his dynasty have had to deal with, the war was ruinous and the Belgian monarchy has never been the same since.

Leopold III & the Minister of War
After the last war, national defense was taken somewhat more seriously but the huge cost of rebuilding still left the generals wanting more. Neutrality had been abandoned but as the French and British adopted a policy of appeasement, King Leopold III became convinced that they would not stand firm against Nazi aggression and so Belgium reverted back to her previous policy of neutrality. The hope was that any war would bypass them but, after the events of 1914-18, everyone knew it was a slim hope. Starting on May 10, 1940 the Battle of Belgium raged for eighteen days. King Leopold III, a veteran of World War I, was in command, in accordance with the Belgian constitution which required the King to take charge of the army personally in time of war. As in the last war, the Belgian soldiers offered heroic resistance and gained the respect of their German enemies who did not fail to remark on their “extraordinary bravery”. However, this was a new type of war for which Belgium was woefully unprepared. Tanks, air power and airborne invasion were all loosed on the Kingdom of Belgium and its fortresses. The first airborne attack in history was against a Belgian fort, the largest tank battle up to that time, was fought in Belgium. With only 22 divisions against 141 divisions for the Germans, there was simply no way for the Belgians to hold out on their own.

Help did come but coordination with the Belgian army was unpracticed and poor. Moreover, the Battle of Belgium was one aspect of the wider Battle of France and that fight was going very poorly indeed. Most, by now, know the story. Morale low, society divided, France tried to fight the Second World War with a mindset from the First. Despite having a large army and heavier tanks than the Germans, the French military was not deployed properly and though it took six weeks for the Germans to conquer France, the issue had been settled even sooner than that. The Germans succeeded brilliantly in swiftly cutting off the Allied armies from each other and it soon became clear to the British that they would have to pull back to the Channel and evacuate or else they would be destroyed or captured entirely by the German onslaught. Despite what many would say later, King Leopold III was very much a “team player” and he and his troops fought to the best of their ability.

King Leopold III at the front
Unfortunately, the Belgians were encircled and it became clear to the King that to carry on would mean the sacrifice of his army, or what was left of it, to no purpose. As even Churchill himself admitted privately, the Belgians were buying time with their lives for the British to escape even though he later publicly castigated the King of the Belgians for giving up the fight. On May 27, King Leopold III requested an armistice to the fury of the British and French governments. Just as controversial was his decision to remain with his army rather than follow the Belgian government into exile in England. For the King, it was a matter of principle. As commander-in-chief in the field, for him to leave before the surrender would have been, to him, an act of desertion. Instead, he chose to stay, to surrender with his army and remain in Belgium in the hope that he might somehow mitigate the effects of the German occupation. On May 28 the Belgians were surrendered, King Leopold III saying, “The cause of the Allies is lost”. That remark has often been used against him, but at the time and place there was no other conclusion to come to. This was not the First World War. France was about to fall and soon German troops would be goose-stepping down the boulevards of Paris. Britain continued to hold out, but if the Germans had not attacked Russia or if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor, few doubt that the capitulation of Britain would have been simply a matter of time.

Staf de Clerq, Flemish Nazi
During the war and afterwards, the actions of King Leopold III were grossly misrepresented, portraying him as a traitor and a collaborator with the Nazi occupiers. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was kept under virtual house arrest by the Germans. Unlike Denmark, where the King and government continued to operate under German “protection” the Kingdom of Belgium, there was no government, collaborationist or otherwise, in Belgium for the duration of the war. Of course, there were those who were willing to collaborate with the Germans but the King was certainly not at all in sympathy with them as most were those opposed to the continuation of the Kingdom of Belgium in any form. The most prominent were the Flemish nationalists who wanted to unite Flanders with the Netherlands and then there were the mostly Walloon Rexists led by the remarkable soldier Leon Degrelle. Originally, these were Catholic, monarchist, Belgian nationalists who advocated a fascist-style organization of the country and economy but Degrelle became so taken with the Nazis that he quickly came to embrace the idea of a pan-European Nazi super-state that would have no place for small countries. King Leopold III, of course, hoped to maintain the Kingdom of Belgium as it had always been or at least with as little diminishment as possible.

There was no equivalent of Petain, Mussert, Quisling, Laurel or Wang Jingwei in Belgium. Hitler never ultimately decided what the fate of Belgium was to be and in some ways it served his purposes better that way, keeping collaborationist factions in competition for his favor. Rather, Belgium was placed under military rule led by the aristocratic General Alexander von Falkenhausen, nephew of the last military governor of Belgium in the Imperial German army. He was a former advisor to the Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and had only returned from China after the Nazis had threatened the safety of his family when the Nazis decided to abandon nationalist China in favor of Japan. In understanding the relationship between King Leopold III and General von Falkenhausen, it is essential to understand what kind of man the German general was. He was no Nazi Party loyalist but a veteran of the Kaiser’s army, a man who resented the Nazi betrayal of China and who was close friends with the anti-Nazi monarchist Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben. Both these men were ultimately executed for plotting against Hitler and von Falkenhausen himself finally offered the anti-Nazi plotters his support. General von Falkenhausen was arrested, put in a concentration camp and doubtless would have been executed had not his camp been liberated by the U.S. Army in early May, 1945.

Gen. Alexander von Falkenhausen
The fact that King Leopold III was able to be cordial with such a man should, obviously, not be taken as a sign of the King’s collaboration as the General himself was opposed to the Nazi regime. The King was widely respected in Belgium and the Germans would have certainly been pleased to have him cooperate, but he refused to. He, as a constitutional monarch, could not perform his duties as monarch without his legitimate government and so he regarded himself as a prisoner-of-war. What he could do and which he did throughout the years of occupation was to intervene with the Germans whenever possible to save the lives of his people and to prevent them from being taken away as slave labor in Germany. The King made his case to General von Falkenhausen in person and wrote many letters to Hitler protesting against the kidnapping of Belgian civilians for forced labor. Needless to say, Hitler was unmoved and the deportations went ahead. Yet, because of the King’s persistent efforts, he did at least convince the Germans to desist in deporting women, which all were certainly thankful for. He also worked tirelessly to try to obtain the release of political prisoners, proper treatment for prisoners-of-war, stopping German confiscation of food supplies and so on and so on. He did absolutely everything that it was in his power to do to help his people in their darkest hour.

The question then becomes why, with so many Belgians knowing of his work on their behalf and even the ranking German commander testifying to his efforts, did King Leopold III become so controversial? It basically comes down to a classic case of making him the scapegoat for others. He might have survived such an effort from one quarter but it was heaped on him from several. Hubert Pierlot, the Prime Minister, broke with the King over Leopold’s decision to stay with his army and remain in Belgium while the government went into exile. He thus had a vested interest in substantiating his original position by continuing to hold that the King had been wrong (this also caused a damaging split within the Catholic, conservative political bloc in Belgium). The Allies, in the wake of the defeat of France and the withdrawal of the BEF from the continent also found it convenient to blame their military disasters on the Belgian monarch, even though they knew their story to be a false one. Likewise, the radical political elements in Belgium, whether the Flemish nationalists or the Walloon socialists, also found it convenient to vilify the King in order to further their goals of either breaking up the country or turning it into a Marxist republic.

Prince Charles Theodore
Those with an agenda against the King also made much of his wartime marriage to Lilian Baels, a woman who has also suffered immense and undue criticism based on salacious rumors with absolutely no basis in fact. What is ironic is that, after the war, when the King had to go into exile in Switzerland (he and his family had been arrested and taken to Germany in the last days of Nazi rule), the man chosen to take his place as regent was his brother Prince Charles, Count of Flanders who himself had a rather irregular private life, though it conveniently did not become public knowledge until many years after his death. He and his brother did not get along and the vilification of Leopold III certainly did him no harm as he became, effectively, King in all but name. The communists were the first to demand Leopold’s abdication, which is no surprise as they will seize on any opportunity to oppose a monarch, but the King and his government, after the war, did seem to be on the verge of a compromise but the politicians kept changing their terms. The socialists also began to organize strikes and demonstrations to prevent the King from returning home and resuming his reign as normal.

The abdication
King Leopold III was then declared “unfit” and so Prince Charles became regent in his place until the issue could be resolved. The socialists led the opposition to the King just as they opposed putting the question to the people in a referendum on whether or not the King should resume the throne. Nonetheless, a referendum was held and, as expected, the more conservative Flanders voted by a large majority for him to return while socialist Wallonia voted by a narrow margin against the King, giving him an overall majority to return, which he did in 1950. However, the socialists were not prepared to accept defeat and began organizing more strikes and demonstrations in opposition to Leopold III. These soon turned violent and the threat of a Belgian civil war loomed as a very real possibility. Disgusted by the whole process and unwilling to be the cause of violence after all the trauma already suffered in World War II, King Leopold III decided to abdicate, passing the throne to his son, King Baudouin, in 1951. Threats of civil war and Walloon secession subsided and eventually King Baudouin was able to restore the prestige of the monarchy but things would never be quite the same again.

So it was that World War II did lasting damage to the Belgian monarchy as an institution. It was not anything that Leopold III did. Some actions could certainly be viewed, in hindsight, as impolitic but he certainly did nothing fundamentally wrong. Rather, the war presented an opportunity that leftist enemies of the monarchy gleefully seized upon to further their own agenda for political power. Looking at the Belgian kings before and after Leopold III, one can easily see that Leopold I, Leopold II and Albert I exercised far more influence, played a much more central role and had effectively more authority than Baudouin, Albert II or the current Philip. Leopold III was essentially forced to abdicate, King Baudouin was actually deposed for a day and Albert II was hounded until he felt he had no choice but to abdicate for the good of the monarchy. None of this would have happened as it did were it not for the war. The seeds were already there of course, but the war and occupation gave these seeds the opportunity to flourish.

Why has the legacy of this injustice outlived King Leopold III himself? Because it has continued to serve the interests of certain people to propagate the lies. The spread absolute falsehoods and distort the truth because they are enemies of Belgium and enemies of the monarchy because it is the guarantor of Belgian unity. So, the old whispers are repeated; he surrendered precipitously, he was cowardly, he didn’t really want to resist, he’s half Bavarian remember, he collaborated with the Nazis, he didn’t want the Allies to win and on and on. The only difference today is that the people pushing these lies and distortions have changed from one side of the linguistic divide to the other. After the war it was Wallonia which was threatening to secede and which most opposed the King. Today, the old lies about Leopold III are more likely to come from Flemish nationalists now that Flanders is threatening to secede. In either case, the damage done to the Belgian monarchy persists because it served the interests of those who spread it. It started out of political bickering and the desperation of Britain and France to blame someone for their lost military campaign and it was taken up by the domestic enemies of the Kingdom of Belgium, first the Walloon socialists and then the Flemish nationalists, because they want to see Belgium destroyed and they know that bringing down the monarchy is the way to make that happen. It is also why loyal monarchists must refute their falsehoods with facts, because this is not simply an historical issue relating to the past but one which continues to have an impact on the monarchy today.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Monarchy of Luxembourg in World War II

The memory of World War I hung heavily over the grand ducal family of Luxembourg in the build-up to World War II. Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide had, quite unjustly, been criticized heavily for her conduct during the occupation of Luxembourg by the forces of the German Empire and in the aftermath had been forced to abdicate in favor of her younger sister who became the Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1919. There had been a real possibility of Luxembourg abolishing the monarchy and becoming a republic or even being annexed to Belgium or France. The French had encouraged the view that the monarchy had collaborated with the Germans and it cost the pious and lovely Marie Adelaide her throne. The monarchy was maintained but Grand Duchess Charlotte had to take steps to sever all ties with the hated Germans, selling off all family property in Germany to the state of Prussia in 1935. Care was also taken that, if the Germans ever invaded again, the Grand Duchess would not remain in the country but would go into exile and place all hopes for the future in the success of the Allied armies.

Grand Duchess Charlotte
When war began over the German invasion of Poland, a repeat of the events of the summer of 1914 seemed possible and in 1940 Luxembourg attempted to fortify itself. This was the creation of the “Schuster Line” which was not actually a fortified line but rather a series of concrete barricades set up on the main roads in and out of the tiny country with heavy steel gates that could be shut in the event of an attack. The idea was to slow any invader and give time for other countries, such as the French, to arrive to actually defend Luxembourg in fulfillment of the obligations of the treaty guaranteeing Luxembourg neutrality. However, because of that same treaty, Luxembourg was obliged to build such barriers along the French as well as German borders so as to remain strictly neutral. In truth, the “Schuster Line” was hardly a formidable obstacle and really served mostly as a sugar pill to give the public the impression that their country could be defended. Actually, there was no way these roadblocks would slow a German advance in any meaningful way and little hope that the French could arrive in time to actually stop an invasion.

That invasion came on May 10, 1940 and the small Luxembourg Volunteer Corps (essentially what amounted to one battalion of militia) was ordered to stay in its barracks. The Germans moved in and occupied the country in a day with little to no resistance. In fact, most of the opposition they faced came from Luxembourg policemen, six of whom were wounded compared to only one Luxembourgish soldier. No one was killed. Elements of the French army did make contact with the Germans in Luxembourg but was little more than an armed reconnaissance and quickly fell back behind the Maginot Line on the French border. Grand Duchess Charlotte and the rest of the Royal Family had already left the country. When the first German units had violated Luxembourgish territory the day before, the Grand Duchess had summoned her ministers and all agreed to place the fate of their country totally in the hands of France. This had to be done as, since the changes following World War I, the Grand Duchess had less power than her predecessors. Remembering what had happened to her sister, there was no thought to staying in the country.

Grand Duchess Charlotte
Of course, France itself crumbled rapidly in the face of the German blitzkrieg. After six weeks of confused fighting the French were defeated and the British had abandoned the continent. Grand Duchess Charlotte was advised, toward the end, by the French government that they could not vouch for her safety and so she, her family and her ministers all fled through Spain to Portugal and from there took ship to England where they established a government-in-exile. For their part, the Germans seemed unsure as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Once the Nazi grip on France and the Low Countries was secure, the Germans sent a message to Grand Duchess Charlotte offering to restore her to the throne in Luxembourg though of course German military necessity would mean that the country would remain occupied and subject to Germany for the duration of the war. Needless to say, Grand Duchess Charlotte was not about to accept such an offer and quickly refused and used the BBC to broadcast to the people of Luxembourg to encourage them to persevere until the day of liberation. In response, Luxembourg was the one Low Country that the Germans took a firm position on, erasing the Grand Duchy from the map by annexing it directly to the “German Reich”.

This action made it clear that the life or death of Luxembourg and the Luxembourgish monarchy would depend entirely on the success or failure of the Allied war effort. To her credit, Grand Duchess Charlotte did everything in her power to support that effort. Her husband, Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma, was a veteran of the Austrian army in World War I and had served as Inspector-General of the Luxembourg Volunteer Corps. However, after being forced into exile he took charge of their children (six in all) and took them to the safety of the United States where they settled on Long Island in New York. The estate they lived on belonged to a family friend who had previously been the American ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg. Grand Duchess Charlotte rejoined her family in Montreal, Canada (where the children were sent to school) but never had much time for her private life due to the war. She traveled across the United States to encourage the American public to support the Allied war effort and to donate to help the Allies. President Roosevelt fully supported this as he wanted to get involved in the war but did not want to oppose the isolationist majority of the American people who, after a bad experience in World War I, wanted to stay out of “Europe’s wars”.

Prince Jean
The Grand Duchess met with President Roosevelt several times and was one of a number of exiled European royals that FDR hosted and cooperated with to try to influence the American people toward joining the Allies (eventually, Japan solved this problem for him). Grand Duchess Charlotte also had to frequently return to London and her government-in-exile in spite of the fact that German planes and submarines made any crossing of the Atlantic very risky. When the United States did finally join the war in December of 1941 hopes for the liberation of Luxembourg and restoration of the monarchy were revived. At that moment, it seemed that victory was no longer a question of “if” but rather “when”. Grand Duchess Charlotte continued her broadcasts to her people, becoming a symbol for the underground resistance and Luxembourg contributed as much as it could to the Allied war effort. In 1942 Prince Jean (future Grand Duke) volunteered for the British army and served in the Irish Guards, eventually rising to the rank of captain in 1944.

When the moment for the Allied invasion of France came, though necessarily small, the occupied Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was still represented. About seventy Luxembourgish volunteers were attached to the Artillery Group of the First Belgian Infantry Brigade, eventually under their own officers trained in Britain. Each of their guns were named after the children of the Royal Family. This Luxembourgish battery of artillery was transferred to France in August of 1944, serving in the wider Battle of Normandy. Prince Jean had already come ashore on D-Day and served in the Battle of Caen, later participating in the liberation of Brussels. As the Allies moved in the resistance in Luxembourg rose up and began to engage the Germans such as at the Battle of Vianden Castle where 30 resistance fighters, armed by the United States, successfully held off an attack by 250 soldiers of the Waffen-SS. On September 10, 1944 Allied forces, including Prince Jean, liberated Luxembourg City. Damian Kratzenberg, leader of the pro-Nazi collaborators was arrested and, after the war, executed. However, the Germans returned and re-took much of the country in the Ardennes Offensive (aka The Battle of the Bulge”) which took a heavy toll on the local population. In the end, the Allies fought their way back and expelled the Germans from Luxembourg soil for good.

The Grand Duchess is welcomed home
The Grand Duchy was restored to independence and, in the moment of the greatest public celebration, the monarchy was restored as well with the triumphant return of Grand Duchess Charlotte. All in all, the monarchy of Luxembourg emerged probably better off than those of Belgium or The Netherlands. Britain, America and Russia nixed plans to annex parts of Germany to Luxembourg but the monarchy had never been more popular and the status of the tiny country rose to new heights. The military was strengthened, Luxembourg became a member of NATO, participating in operations around the world, ties with foreign countries were established or strengthened and Luxembourgish forces were even given occupation duties in the French zone of West Germany. Before the war, few outside of Europe and even heard of Luxembourg but afterwards the little Grand Duchy would become much more well known with defense, economic and diplomatic ties to countries all over the world.

Luxembourg and its monarchy had suffered greatly. Some 500 people were killed in the Battle of the Bulge alone, tens of thousands were made homeless and the 3,500 Jews in the country were wiped out. About 5,700 people of Luxembourg died in the war, about 2% of the population and not a few had been forcibly conscripted into the German military after the Nazis annexed the country. The Grand Duchess’ sister, Crown Princess Antonia of Bavaria, was arrested by the Nazis in Hungary and sent to a concentration camp where she was tortured but, thankfully, she survived the ordeal but her health was never the same and she died nine years later in Switzerland, having vowed never to set foot in Germany again. It was a long, painful ordeal but Luxembourg had emerged stronger than before, more united around the monarchy and a more confident member of the community of nations. Today, the Luxembourgish monarchy is one of the most secure and popular in the world.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Santo Niño de Cebú

The monarchist legacy in the Philippines can be a tricky subject. However, one area in which the Spanish colonial legacy is not controversial is in the area of religion with the Philippines standing out as the most devoutly Catholic country in all of Asia. Within that spectrum, one of the most beloved local focuses for religious devotion is the 'Holy Child of Cebu'. It is the oldest Christian icon in the Philippines and its origins in the islands have monarchist origins. It was brought by the Portuguese explorer (in the employ of Spain) Ferdinand Magellan and given as a gift to the Raja of Cebu, Humabon, as a gift to mark his baptism into the Catholic faith. Incidentally, the gift was presented along with another icon, a statue of Our Lady of the Remedies which later became a very specifically royalist icon in Mexico. Over the centuries, the Holy Child icon was embellished with fine cloth and the regalia of a Christian emperor.

Eventually, as this particular devotion grew and grew in popularity, it achieved the farthest heights of official recognition. Pope Innocent XIII approved of special liturgical texts for the celebration of the 'Holy Child of the Philippines'. Centuries later, both Pope Paul VI and Pope St John Paul II gave the devotion special recognition. In 1965 Pope Paul VI empowered his legate to hold a pontifical high mass and a canonical coronation for the image, which is a rare honor indeed. The only other Christ images to be so crowned have been the Holy Infant of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic and the Holy Child of Aracoeli in Italy (which was stolen in 1994).

During the colonial era, the Holy Child of Cebu was named Captain-General of the Spanish forces of the Philippines, which was marked by the addition of military garb in the form of boots and a red sash. In 2011 the modern Filipino navy named the Holy Child the "Lord Admiral of the Seas" on the anniversary of the rediscovery of the image (it had been lost for some time following its original presentation to the raja until the establishment of Spanish rule). Probably the most beloved and widely revered icon in the Philippines, it is the focus of a special liturgical feast every third Sunday of January.

Monday, April 13, 2015

U.S. & U.K. - Is It Over?

So, here’s the story as I heard it; the Daily Mail says that The Mail on Sunday found a secret memo to the United States Congress from the Congressional Research Service’s chief European affairs analyst saying that the time of the “special relationship” between America and Great Britain may be over and that Great Britain simply may no longer be “centrally relevant” to the United States with the rise of new powers and power blocs around the world. Seeing this, and some of the reaction to this news, has frankly left me wondering how I should really feel about it. It has played upon some doubts and troubled thoughts I have been having for quite some time about my entire operation here. One thing that does seem certain is that the “special relationship” does not seem to be understood by either side. After seeing what Britons and Americans had to say on the subject, neither seemed to have a full grasp of the facts. Some of this is connected to issues fairly recently discussed here about Britain in the last world war.

For example, I noticed that Britons tended to speak of the “special relationship” as if it were some sort of sinister code-phrase for American domination of Great Britain. In fact, it was the British who came up with the concept, starting with Winston Churchill, and it has been most often spoken of by British prime ministers rather than American presidents. I suspect this attitude is mostly due to the fact that the decline of British power in the world coincided with the rise of American power, causing the paranoid to think that there must have been some conspiracy involved. In fact, as we discussed here in January, this came about for the simple reason that British leaders in 1939 chose to enter a war they could not hope to win on their own. This changed who occupied the top spot in world affairs and, given the available options, Britain preferred American leadership to Bolshevik leadership. Then, after the conflict, a socialist government was elected that decided it was better to have a welfare state than an empire. Naturally, with the break-up of the empire, British influence around the world declined. No one can claim to be deceived in this process as President Roosevelt made it clear from day one that his government was prepared to assist in the defense of the British Isles but had no intention of fighting to preserve the British Empire which Roosevelt stated openly that he opposed.

American historians have noted that U.S. support for Britain retaining Malaysia after the war went against Roosevelt’s Atlantic Charter but was undertaken because of the recognized threat of communist expansion. The U.S. sent arms and intervened to urge Thailand to support the British-led war in Malaysia (Thailand was then on friendlier terms with America than Britain as Britain had declared war on Thailand in World War II whereas the United States had not). There were also considerable loans and grants from the U.S. to the U.K. to help the country recover economically. As part of the “Program of Assistance for the General Area of China” the U.S. sent $5 million to the Malay states specifically to aid in fending off the communist threat. But, American support for the British empire in opposition to communist insurgencies or independence movements was undercut by the lack of real resolve in Britain itself to maintain the empire. Anti-colonialism was the popular thing and the mostly left-of-center governments in both Britain and America did not want to be seen as fighting to uphold colonialism. When the Suez Crisis came, the United States backed Egyptian independence rather than Britain and France, a move that President Eisenhower would later admit was the biggest mistake of his administration.

The succeeding Kennedy administration took a more strident anti-European line across the board, from Africa to Indonesia and so it was no great surprise when things began to get rough in Vietnam, the British refused to participate. The days of Anglo-American solidarity in World War II and Korea seemed to be over. Yet, the two countries would cooperate again on other fronts but while governments pledge friendship the people seem to cling to acrimony, or the reverse. Britons, for example, frequently complain of being “dragged” into “America’s wars” while America did nothing to aid Britain during the Falklands War (which is not true, America did support the UK in the Falklands War and was prepared to do more if it proved necessary). Most Americans don’t give it much thought but those who do tend to be confused by this reaction. To the general public, it did not seem that Britain needed any help with Argentina and when the Reagan administration took action to stop the communist invasion of Grenada and set again at liberty the Queen’s representative, Britons tended to respond with anger that they had not been consulted in the matter which in turn caused American frustration by those who thought they were doing the U.K. a favor with the operation. Likewise, in the build-up to the first Iraq War, Britain had more interest in the region than America did and it was British PM Thatcher, who was in America when Iraq invaded Kuwait, who showed more ferocity than President George H.W. Bush, urging him to use American forces to expel the Iraqis.

However, it is clear that most of this seems to always boil down to the ever-unpopular Second Gulf War, the consequences of which are still being dealt with today. From what I have seen, the British public still tends to view this as an American war they were dragged into against their will. Americans, on the other hand, look at the huge and multiple electoral victories of Tony Blair in the U.K. and wonder how his decisions could possibly be placed at their door. Britain contributed more than any other ally but was, necessarily, a drop in the bucket compared to the U.S. commitment and British troops were used in defensive roles only, basically holding ground already taken to free up American troops for offensive operations. Similarly, after Tony Blair’s speech to a joint session of Congress, many Americans thought he had presented a more zealous defense of the Iraq war than the American president ever had. Indeed, many Democrats were furious at their fellow leftist for making such an eloquent defense of a war they (by then) opposed. It certainly did not seem, on the American side of the Atlantic, like the U.K. was an unwilling hostage to an all-American war.

To some extent though, going over such details is rather pointless as the democratic nature of both the U.S. and U.K. means that almost nothing these days is considered “national” policy but rather “government” policy with factions on each side shifting according to their own interests with no clear consensus on what is in the national interest. New administrations take different positions, some American presidents being more pro-British, others noticeably less so and the same for British prime ministers, with some being very supportive of the U.S. and others less so. There is also no lock-step unity, despite the democratic process, between governments and the public. Britain, which in social and economic policies tends to be much further to the left than the United States, has tended to dislike Republican administrations and favor Democrats. President George W. Bush was widely despised in Britain and the election of Barack Obama was cheered, in spite of the fact that, in America at least, Bush seemed almost gushingly pro-British and Obama noticeably cold if not borderlined antagonistic towards Britain.

Politics has most blatantly crept into American foreign policy on both the left and the right. The only consistency is that Democrats oppose whatever a Republic president does and Republicans oppose whatever a Democrat president does even if their own side previously did the exact same thing. This has led to some downright laughable scenes when President Obama has “dithered” on foreign policy issues which in turn caused Republicans to fume and sometimes back-peddle as they didn’t know what to be against since Obama was not making a decision. When Obama was staying out of Libya, they demanded that he intervene and when he did intervene they condemned him for making things worse. The same happened in Syria, Republicans criticized Obama for meddling and saber-rattling with his “red line” speech and then later condemned him for not making good on his threats and sending support to the Syrian rebels. Looking at Great Britain and the conservative opposition to American policies in the Middle East in particular, I have to wonder if their position would be the same were it not for the fact that Tony Blair happened to be in office at the time those decisions were made. Surely it was a gift from Heaven for the Tories that Blair was on duty when Britain became involved in a war that proved so widely unpopular. They are then placed in the awkward position of arguing for more support for the British armed forces while seemingly being opposed to them ever actually doing anything. It makes little sense that while the British public votes for more entitlements, keeping the NHS sacrosanct and so cutting the military down to absolute minimum so that the commanders of the armed forces have said that the U.K. is currently incapable of military action to then spurn the alliance Britain has with the most militarily powerful country in the world.

The people in power, to some extent in both major parties (as is common around the world) realize that there are bad people with bad intentions out there and so it is better for Britain to be a friend of America rather than an enemy. The public, however, has no such knowledge and no such worries. From what I have seen, most Britons do not think their country benefits from a “special relationship” with America and most Americans do not see any gain from it either. Are the masses ill-informed or is it truly useless? I must confess I have begun to doubt and re-think my own position on this issue since late last year. Previously, my view was always one that favored a strong alliance and Anglo-American friendship. My example was the late, great, King George III who famously said that he was the last to agree to America’s separation from the British Empire but, the separation having occurred, would be the first to welcome friendly relations with the new country. The only time subsequently that Britain and America came to blows, it almost lead to the break-up of the United States due to the large numbers of people who so adamantly opposed hostilities with Britain. In both world wars the United States gave considerable support to Great Britain long before actually joining the conflict. Afterwards, despite occasional tensions, both countries were partners in the Cold War against communist expansion and have cooperated in the “War on Terror”, in each case not without opposition from certain sections of society. Have things changed?

Before late last year I would have said that the “special relationship” should be preserved and strengthened as part of my desire for overall greater solidarity throughout the English-speaking world, among all the countries of the former British Empire. Today, however, I am more hesitant on the subject and have been reflecting a great deal on whether Anglo-American friendship is something worth pursuing. The British public, from what I have seen, seems to oppose it and the American public does not see where it has been of any benefit. Most, in my experience, would prefer it to continue but would not consider it a great loss if it did not. Both sides of the American political spectrum have their criticisms of Great Britain (the Democrats for what Britain used to be and the Republicans for what Britain has become) just as there is no shortage of criticism from Britain about America, seemingly no matter which party is in power, no matter if the subject is past or present. It is part of an overall questioning I have had about the attitude of the United States towards monarchies around the world.

As I have pointed out before, there is scarcely a single monarchy in the world that is not currently under the protection of or allied with the United States. In almost every case this is the result of policies set in place decades ago and maintained regardless of the governments in power, something based on national interest. However, I have been made very aware of just how many monarchists viscerally oppose the United States and would condemn all of the monarchies of the world, even their own, at least in regard to this one relationship. I have had to consider then whether or not I have wasted a great many years trying to impress upon Americans the value of monarchy and encouraging friendship with the monarchies of the world. Given the attitudes I have seen and the sentiments of a great many people on the subject, I have to wonder if this was not totally incorrect and perhaps monarchists would be more supportive of their own national institutions if America opposed rather than supported them. In the case at issue today, it then ceases to be a question of whether or not there is a “special relationship” between Britain and America (as some deny it) but rather whether there should be at all.

Personally, I prefer friendship and goodwill, I look forward to royal visits to the United States by British monarchs and other family members but if that goodwill does not genuinely exist, I would have to set my own preferences aside for the good of the monarchist cause. If the United States abandoned the monarchies of Europe protected by NATO, it would certainly make for better Russo-American relations and if the United States dropped its alliance with Japan, Sino-American relations would improve dramatically. Likewise, if the U.S. refused to lend any further support to the monarchies of the Middle East, Obama would have a much easier time achieving his goal of restoring relations with Iran. Would all of that be good for the cause of monarchy in the world? I don’t see how, but as so many seem to think it somehow would, I must consider that I may be the one in the wrong. Should the “special relationship” continue? At this point, I want to say “yes” but am increasingly at a loss for a way to justify it.
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