Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Subject of "Unity"

There is a great deal of talk in the western world lately, most of it specious in my opinion, on the importance of “unity” along with denunciations of “division”. Much of this has been aimed at the current American president, some even setting up non-stop live stream sessions of people chanting, “you will not divide us”. For most of these people, I have no doubt, it is nothing more than the latest, fashionable, mindless talking point because, under other circumstances, they love nothing more than dividing people. They love dividing people so much that when they have exhausted existing divisions, they invent completely new ones to focus on. There have long been racial divisions, ethnic divisions, religious divisions and of course political divisions but in many parts of the world those were no longer sufficient. In much of Europe, for example, everyone in a given country was the same race and ethnicity, so there were no divisions there. Most people had given up on their own religion and had generally prohibited religious division anyway (when northern Europe became officially Lutheran the Catholic Church was quickly banned) so there was nothing to do on that front. Even in the area of politics, liberalism had won the day and no alternative was given serious consideration.

Obviously, given such a situation, the only thing to do was to import people of different races, different ethnicities, a different religion, though, because the government was behind this, people who could be expected not to immediately shake the boat when it came to politics. In the “battle of the sexes” the fight had pretty much ground to a halt. The feminists had won. They got the vote, they got disposal marriage, they got abortion, they got tax-payer funded birth control and so on. Women live longer than men, are now more educated than men and, as usual, are not imprisoned like men. They are even putting women in combat units, on warships, even in submarines and when your feminist devotion is pushing you to fight for the right to spend over a month sealed in a metal tube hundreds of feet under water, cheek by jowl with dozens of unwashed men breathing recycled farts and body odor, you are most likely running out of things to demand. So, new divisions had to be invented, like the “transgender” phenomenon. Now we get to argue over which bathroom can be used by someone who claims to be a woman but who still has a penis.

Obviously, I doubt the sincerity of people who claim to want unity, who chant “better together” while also arguing that “diversity is strength”. For those who may be slow in the etymology department, the root word of “diversity” is “divers” which comes from Latin via the French for “separate” or, in other words, “division”. Claiming you want unity while arguing that divisions make us stronger is rather nonsensical to put it mildly. However, unity is something that everyone claims, at least, to be thirsting for. You have people on the far left marching in the street championing unity, though of what sort I honestly have not the first clue, while on the far right you also have people arguing for unity which, agree with them or not, at least seems to make more sense when one looks at their program which generally includes making societies more homogenous in one area or another. It is rather complicated. The far-right basically says that birds of a feather should flock together. The far-left seems to be saying that we should always be creating new divisions only to then ignore them but even then, only in certain areas while not ignoring them in others. The same people who say “race is a social construct” are the same ones who push racial quotas. Don’t ask me to explain it. These are, by the way, usually the same people who complain about how huge the gap is between the very rich and the very poor while simultaneously importing more extremely poor people every year. Go figure.

Why do I bring this up here? Because, once upon a time, monarchists tended to list greater unity as being one of the perks of having a monarchy. In the past, and perhaps still today though it is doubtlessly declining, there was polling data to back this up. There was more social cohesion in countries which had a monarch as their Head of State. This was traditionally explained by pointing out that modern constitutional monarchies have a head of government who is a partisan, political figure but a separate Head of State who is a non-partisan, non-political, totally impartial figure who is tied to everyone in the country by way of history, culture and tradition. All of that is true, however, it has been increasingly less effective as the monarchy itself has been the cause of division in a number of countries. Some people wish to maintain the monarchy while others actively campaign to abolish it and turn their countries into republics. Australia is an example of this as is Spain. To a lesser extent, one could say the same of Canada. In that country the monarchy is largely ignored but when it is brought up, immediately one sees divisions between those who support the monarchy and those who want it abolished as an outdated relic of their colonial history as part of the British Empire.

The problem relates back to one that we have touched on here before. For most of our history, the monarchy was a source of unity other than the occasions in which the monarchy itself was fought over in succession disputes. However, that all began to change with the French Revolution and the proliferation of mass-politics, representative government and, to put it simply, liberalism. Prior to the revolutionary period, politics as we know it today did not exist. The monarch ruled and policies came and went depending on the situation, what worked and what did not. The people may have liked certain policies and disliked others but there was little to no ideological divisions in society. Then came the revolutionary period, then came liberalism and suddenly everyone was involved in politics, suddenly there were political parties at war with each other in every country. Suddenly there were ideological factions battling for control of the government. It became impossible for many people to evaluate policies based on their effectiveness because they were blinded by their ideological loyalty. However, it was still possible for there to be unity around the monarch because the monarch, where they still reigned anyway, was above all of that tumult.

Today, however, we are seeing that this situation has its limits. The liberal model, as I have said before, is based on a sort of social contract. It is based on a set of rules that everyone must abide by in order for the system to function. If one side decides not to follow those rules, the system breaks down. It functions only so long as everyone agrees to keep it functioning. We are now seeing the same applied to monarchy. Yes, the monarch can be a source of great unity and a real strength in that regard but only so long as everyone agrees to bow before the throne. In the old days, this was not an option. The monarch ruled and if you in any way opposed this you were a traitor and would be dealt with rather harshly. Today, under the liberal system, this is no longer the case. You are, in most monarchies, free to oppose the monarchy and so the monarchy ceases to be a source of unity and becomes an object of division. This is not, obviously, the fault of the monarchy but rather the fault of the liberal system as a whole.

The Dual-Monarchy of Austria-Hungary is often pointed as an example to illustrate a number of points, good and bad. By the time it had become “Austria-Hungary” it clearly represented something rather out of step with the rest of most of its contemporaries. The American diplomat James W. Gerard famously observed, “That extraordinary empire known as the Austrian-Hungarian Dual Monarchy is less an Empire or a Kingdom or a State than the personal property of the Habsburgs, whose hereditary talent for the acquisition of land is recorded on the map of Europe today!” Gerard was somewhat accurate in this observation, given that he was looking from a modern perspective at a political entity which had evolved from a different era. There had, of course, been efforts to foster greater internal unity in the past but these met with fierce resistance and ultimately failed. Back when it was still, nominally, the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” the Emperor Joseph II tried to enforce German as the official language for all people in his polyglot empire but was not successful. Ultimately, all that did unite the peoples of Austria-Hungary was their shared loyalty to the Habsburg monarchy. Germans, Magyars, Slavs, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims all coexisted so long as loyalty to the Crown was enforced. Without that, there was nothing to hold them together and what had been Austria-Hungary divided and then divided further.

Another illustrative case is the Russian Empire. Russia, after all, was the last major power among the Christian countries to be an absolute monarchy. Prior to 1905 there was no constitution of any sort, no elected national assembly, no political parties or anything of the sort. There was simply the Czar, his word was law and there existed no higher authority beyond the Czar to which one could appeal save for God. Today, people tend to laugh or roll their eyes when they hear of how Czar Nicholas II resisted power-sharing in a constitutional monarchy by pointing to his British cousins as his “nightmare scenario”. People find it funny that the Czar seemed to think the British were in a terrible situation because of their political system while he had to deal with periodic uprisings, terrorist attacks and a seemingly unending string of assassinations. However, this is to miss the point of what the Czar’s perspective was. He was thinking not of how peaceful or moderate the country was overall but rather at the institutionalized divisions of the British government, at the ideological warfare going on between the Labour Party and the Tories which this manifested. Russia may have had very serious problems of its own, but things were more clear cut. The Czar was the “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias” and he decided what direction the country would take and you were either with him or against him and that was that.

It may be that this traditional sort of political system is so far removed as to be beyond the capacity of your average, modern person to fully grasp but it was, I assure you, once taken for granted as being the norm. The important point that should be grasped, however, is that a constitutional monarchy, as part of a liberal society, is not immune from harm and cannot but be effected by the sea that it swims in. Today this is becoming all too noticeable given how the liberal mask is starting to slip ever more and we see just how little they truly believe in what they have so long claimed to champion. This matters because, so long as liberals maintained their adherence to the rules of the game, it was possible to argue for a largely ceremonial monarchy as being of great practical benefit. If, however, the current trend continues in which liberals become increasingly overt in suppressing all opposition, only a robust, traditional monarchy will suffice. Personally, I am content to allow the liberals to go on with their hysterics as they are helping to prove the point that any compromise with them is impossible. If they want to play the game of ‘either we suppress you or you suppress us’ then, I for one am perfectly open to suppressing them. At that point, unity can be achieved.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Clash of Monarchies: The Second Italo-Abyssinian War

Today the Second Italo-Abyssinian War of 1935-36 is generally viewed as a prelude to World War II but, of course, no one at the time could view it in that way. It was a strange conflict in many ways that brought to light some rather strange bedfellows on the part of the nations of the world at that time. It was one of the last of the colonial wars that had been fairly common in the previous century and yet you had the largest colonial power on earth, Great Britain, denouncing this campaign of colonial expansion. On the other hand, you had the Empire of Japan, which was growing increasingly vocal in denouncing European colonialism in Asia, taking the side of the Italian colonialists. The officially atheist and egalitarian Soviet Union was cheering for Ethiopia, an officially Coptic Christian feudal absolute monarchy. The British, for that matter, who had long been at the forefront of the anti-slavery campaign, likewise cheered for Ethiopia in which slavery was both legal and extremely widespread.

Emp. Haile Selassie & King Vittorio Emanuele III
This conflict, which is today usually given little attention and simply mentioned as part of the build-up to the Second World War, one name on a list alongside the Mukden Incident, the occupation of the Rhine and the Sudetenland, the annexation of Austria and the occupation of Albania. However, at the time, it dominated world attention and had far greater implications and ramifications than most people think. It was the great test of the League of Nations, the existential threat to the post-World War I world order and, in a broader sense, it was the conflict which actually determined both the fate of the former monarchy in Austria and the alignment of the Fascist-ruled Kingdom of Italy with the National Socialist regime in Germany. Prior to this war, Italy was still aligned with France, Britain and the other World War I allies. Hitler had long idolized Mussolini but the Duce had until then kept his distance from the Nazi leader. The war between the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia changed all of that.

Many misconceptions continue to be held about the conflict and many of the facts will doubtless come as a surprise to most people. Italy did not actually start the war, nor was it a pre-planned event. The Ethiopians were not a horde of ignorant primitives fighting with sticks and stones, despite what you may have heard. The outcome was not a foregone conclusion, indeed many in the international community expected the Italians to be defeated or at least that any victory would be so difficult to obtain that the Fascist regime would be brought down by a combination of a long, drawn-out war with heavy losses and the crippling effect of League of Nations sanctions on the Italian economy. Today, the war is often portrayed as an almost effortless military parade with the Italians crushing the backward Ethiopians like insects with the African natives having no hope for victory. That is certainly not how it looked at the time and the conclusion of the war, far from being preordained, took most people by surprise, certainly in how quickly events unfolded. It was the war which solidified the Fascist hold on Italy and which brought an end to the independence of the last un-colonized corner of Africa.

Haile Selassie on the day of his coronation
The war was first sparked, as many people may be at least vaguely aware, by the Wal Wal Incident in 1934 but this requires some background information. Much has been made of the fact that many Italians still seethed with indignation over the stunning defeat of the Italian colonial army at the Battle of Adowa in 1896 which brought down the Crispi government and, it is true, that loss to the Ethiopia of “King of Kings” Menelik II lingered in the Italian national consciousness but much had happened since then. Ethiopia had fallen into civil war, had briefly allied with the Ottoman Turks in World War I after which the ruling emperor, who had converted to Islam, was overthrown. An empress ruled the country but was ultimately surpassed by one chieftain Ras Tafari Makonnen who prompted another civil war with his efforts to centralize power, remove the power of the other chiefs and implement progressive taxation. After crushing the forces who tried to restore the empress, upon her rather mysterious death in 1930 Ras Tafari took the throne outright as Emperor Haile Selassie.

In 1932 Haile Selassie crushed another revolt in Gojjam and waged what some historians have called a genocide against the natives of Azebu Galla, the Oromo people having long been the victims of enslavement and persecution. Earlier, in 1928, Haile Selassie had signed a friendship and trade treaty with Italy but after coming to power made it clear that he was no more interested in friendship than Mussolini was. Some historians question whether his immediate campaign to build up and modernize the armed forces, particularly his personal troops, was intended to suppress internal rivals or to dominate the Horn of Africa and absorb the Italian colony of Eritrea in particular with its port facilities. The Italians, at that stage, had no designs on Ethiopia but simply wished to keep it out of the hands of any other foreign power. Toward that end, it was Italy which sponsored Ethiopia joining the League of Nations, a decision they may have come to regret eventually, because of their fear that the British would bend to the powerful anti-slavery societies in that country to launch an expedition into Ethiopia and annex it to the British empire. The British had no such plans but it was for that reason that Ethiopia, a tribal absolute monarchy that practiced widespread slavery, was brought in to the supposedly liberal and democratic League of Nations.

Ethiopian Imperial Guard unit
Once secure on his throne, Haile Selassie sought to modernize and strengthen Ethiopia as quickly as possible and invited in various European powers to help with this though it rankled in Rome that he made a point to exclude the Italians. The latest weaponry was purchased from the French, Belgians, Swedes, Czechs and Swiss. European military officers were brought in as advisors to train the Ethiopian military as Haile Selassie built up his own Imperial Guard that would be armed with the latest modern weapons and he sent Ethiopian officers for these units to train in the military academies of Europe. The colonial army of the Belgian Congo had a particularly formidable reputation and Belgian officers were hired to oversee the modernization of the Ethiopian army. All of this was going on long before there was the slightest hint of any actual trouble with Italy on the horizon. Unlike Hitler and his many speeches about the Germans living outside of Germany that preceded his annexations, one would be hard pressed to find Mussolini ever mentioning Ethiopia as an area of concern or even particular interest.

That only changed with the Wal Wal Incident of 1934. Several years before, the Italians had built a fort at this remote oasis and the Ethiopians said nothing about it. Then, on November 3, 1934 an Ethiopian military force of about a thousand men approached the fort and demanded its surrender, saying it had been built within Ethiopian territory. Why this was not mentioned at any time in the roughly four years since the fort had been built was not explained. In any event, the Italian commander refused. Tensions were raised but nothing immediately happened. That changed when a column of reinforcements for the tiny garrison arrived and on December 5, 1934 fighting broke out between the two sides. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Italian colonial troops held their own and the Ethiopians retreated. Ethiopia protested to the League of Nations and before the month was out, Mussolini had dispatched one of the leaders of the Fascist “March on Rome”, General Emilio De Bono, to Eritrea to take command of the forces being assembled for an invasion of Ethiopia.

Italian soldiers establishing a defense line
This reveals the little-discussed truth behind one of the major misconceptions of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. It is usually stated or at least implied that the Wal Wal Incident was something instigated by the Italians with the sole purpose of serving as a pretext for Mussolini’s pre-planned conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). However, it is quite obvious that this cannot be true. The Italians did not initiate the engagement nor did it lead immediately to conflict. If this had all been staged, surely Mussolini would have had the Italian army already deployed and ready to attack. Instead, it would take the better part of the following year before the war actually started, before the Royal Italian Army could be transferred to Africa, deployed, equipped and supplied to begin the invasion. Clearly, this was not a pre-planned event. Mussolini did not set this up. However, he was certainly more than willing to take advantage of the situation and use this opportunity to conquer Ethiopia and take revenge for the past defeat at Adowa.

In January of 1935, Mussolini obtained the assurance of the French that they would not intervene in any conflict in East Africa. It was not until July of 1935 that Emperor Haile Selassie announced to his people that a danger of war existed. And, all the while, the League of Nations delegates and the assorted foreign ministers tried to work out some sort of compromise that would prevent the whole thing from happening. The British and French foreign ministers, Samuel Hoare and Pierre Laval, made a proposal that Mussolini seemed agreeable with which would have seen Abyssinia partitioned, Italy taking one portion and Haile Selassie retaining control of the rest. However, the Abyssinian crisis had become the fashionable cause of the day and public opinion in the liberal democracies of the west was solidly opposed to Fascist Italy and firmly on the side of Emperor Haile Selassie and the proposed agreement was leaked to the press. Immediately there was a huge public outcry and the public in France and Britain denounced this as a shameful caving in to the hated Fascists. The agreement was immediately dropped, Hoare and Laval were both forced by public pressure to resign (Laval would be shot after World War II for having participated in the Vichy regime). Compromise was off the table.

Benito Mussolini
The aim of Hoare and Laval had been to keep Italy on side in a cordon of opposition around Nazi Germany and this, they reasoned, was more important than who ruled Abyssinia. They feared, and rightly so as events unfolded, that British and French opposition to Italy would drive Mussolini into the arms of Adolf Hitler. This would prove to be of particular importance to the British given that the Kingdom of Italy, possessing a powerful fleet, sat astride the primary artery of the British Empire through the Mediterranean to Asia. No one wanted war but all were willing to join in economic sanctions against Italy by the League of Nations. Events there also had a profound impact on world opinion with Emperor Haile Selassie addressing the delegates, appearing regal and dignified, while he was heckled by Italians who came off as childish and bullying. The sanctions were enacted, though oil was not included, and Mussolini was infuriated. The more force the League of Nations leveled, the more belligerent Mussolini became. He denounced the organization as a bunch of elite, liberal hypocrites, particularly singling out the British and French, rulers of the first and second largest colonial empires in the world, for suddenly condemning Italian colonialism. The coming clash would determine whether the League of Nations would govern world affairs or not.

General De Bono (with white whiskers)
By October of 1935 the Royal Italian Army was in position. The primary force was deployed in Eritrea under General Emilio De Bono. A secondary front was prepared in the south, out of Italian Somaliland, under General Rodolfo Graziani, known in Italy as “the Pacifier of Libya” and in Libya as “the Butcher of Fezzan”. De Bono was an affable, old fashioned old soldier, one of the ‘Quadrumvirs’ who led the Blackshirts “March on Rome” but also a fervent monarchist who only joined the Fascist Party when Mussolini made it clear that he would remain loyal to the King. He planned a cautious, traditional sort of colonial campaign that would be conservative with the lives of his soldiers, advancing slowly, establishing defensive positions as they went, using their superior firepower to decimate Ethiopian attacks on their lines. General Graziani was a highly experienced colonial soldier, had been the youngest colonel in the Italian army in World War I and had a reputation for being a hard man who got results. An ardent Fascist, he said bluntly that, “The Duce will have Ethiopia…with or without Ethiopians”.

On the Ethiopian side, Emperor Haile Selassie mustered his forces, conscripting all able bodied men. Newsreels of the day showed hordes of barefoot Africans wearing loincloths and waving swords and spears. However, Haile Selassie had forbidden his army from wearing shoes and had uniforms but reserved most of these for his personal troops, the Kebur Zabagna, or Imperial Guard which also had the latest weapons. Despite the popular image, most Ethiopians had rifles and the army was equipped with a fair amount of artillery and machine guns. They also had trained officers, European advisors and European officers fighting as mercenaries. One of the most prominent foreigners was the Turkish General Mehmet Wehib Pasha, leader of the Turkish advisory mission to Abyssinia, who referred to himself as the “hero of Gallipoli”. He served as chief-of-staff to Ras Nasibu, Ethiopian commander of the southern front and oversaw the construction of a fortified line nicknamed the “Hindenburg Wall” in reference to the famous Hindenburg Line of World War I. Wehib Pasha was of course a Muslim as were the vast majority of the Eritreans and Somalis in the Italian colonial army. However, he was happy to fight for Abyssinia as he had an intense hatred of Europeans and would fight them anywhere under any flag.

General Rodolfo Graziani
On October 3, 1935 the Italian invasion began, slowly and cautiously. The same day, Ethiopia formally declared war on Italy, Rome never having issued such a declaration. The following day, on the northern front out of Eritrea, Italian forces occupied Adigrat, Inticho and Daro Tacle while on the southern front, out of Italian Somaliland, Graziani occupied Dolo Odo and Maladdaie on the Genale (Jubba) River. On October 6, in a moment of particular satisfaction though no real military significance, the Italians marched into Adowa, site of their former defeat. That historic battle had an impact on both sides. The Italians were being careful, taking nothing for granted, having a healthy respect for the fighting ability of their enemy. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, because of their previous victory, tended toward over-confidence and underestimating their enemy. They reasoned that they had defeated the Italians before and could do so again, having an even larger and better armed army than before. Emperor Haile Selassie planned to let the Italians move in and then overwhelm them in a massive attack with his superior numbers. The Ethiopians did have the advantages of fighting a defensive war on their own ground, they had the advantage of numbers and outside support. However, the Italians had the more modern force, greater discipline and an arsenal which included weapons Ethiopia lacked. Their greatest advantage was the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian royal air force, which the Ethiopians had no answer for. The Ethiopian air force was miniscule and mostly served to move Haile Selassie from place to place.

Haile Selassie Gugsa with Italian officers
The international community largely favored Ethiopia. Military experts predicted that, due to Ethiopian superiority in numbers, the harsh terrain, lack of modern infrastructure and the opposition of the general public, it would take the Italians at least two years to conquer the large country, if they could manage it at all. By that time, they were confident that huge Italian losses and the crippling effect of the League of Nations sanctions would bring down the Fascist regime, removing Mussolini from power in much the same way that the defeat at Adowa had brought down Crispi. However, this war would be different from the first. The same day that Adowa fell, Italian forces in the south captured the fortress of Gedlegube and pushed up to the K’orahe minefield in the Ogaden Desert. On the northern front, Italy was handed a propaganda victory when Degiasmacc Haile Selassie Gugsa, son-in-law of Emperor Haile Selassie and commander of the Mek’ele sector, defected to the Italian side. He had been married to the Emperor’s second daughter and after her death the two had fallen out, the Emperor blaming Gugsa for the loss of his daughter and Gugsa resenting the Emperor for not giving him the title of Ras (chief) while a junior cousin was so honored. This was all the more a major event given that Gugsa was a prince of the Imperial Family, a great-grandson of Emperor Yohannes IV who had seized the throne in 1871 following the disgrace and suicide of Tewodros II.

Italian soldiers
Within five days of this stunning event, the historic capital of Abyssinia, Axum, was taken by Italian forces. The war was going good for Italy, progress was steady and casualties were, so far, minimal. However, it was not happening fast enough to please Mussolini. The sanctions were causing pain at home and the longer the war lasted, the worse things would get. At that point, there was no grumbling, only a shared sense of sacrifice and a determination not to give in to the demands of the international community. Following the example of their Queen, more than half a million Italians donated their golden wedding rings to the war effort, the government replacing them with a band of steel to show their sacrifice for the nation. The Catholic Church joined in as well with the Bishop of Civita Castellana handing over his gold pectoral cross to Mussolini personally, followed up with a Roman salute before a cheering crowd of 12,000. Eventually, however, the sanctions would begin to bite and such stop-gap measures would not be enough to maintain the needs of the country and the war effort.

Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio
Meanwhile, in the south, the Italian advance continued, helped by their Somali allies who often had a personal grudge against the Ethiopians. On October 21 the Sultan of Olol Dinle, commanding his own forces, occupied Geladi and by the end of the month Italian and Ethiopian forces were locked in battle along the Dawa River. In November, on the northern front, the Italians captured Mek’ele and then Salaclaca. Again, good progress, but things were still moving too slowly for the increasingly frustrated Duce. By the end of the month, De Bono was ‘kicked upstairs’ with a promotion to Marshal of Italy and replaced with Marshal Pietro Badoglio with orders to shift the offensive into high gear. De Bono had been methodical, certain that Ethiopian forces would soon attack in huge numbers but, while the fighting was fierce and almost constant, such a major attack never occurred. Soon enough, all would learn that De Bono had not been wrong in his estimation of the enemy. Haile Selassie had been massing his forces and planning a major offensive that would split the Italian army, conquer Eritrea and eradicate the Italian presence in the Horn of Africa. On December 15, 1935, with about 200,000 men, the Ethiopians launched what became known as the “Christmas Offensive”.

Massed attack was the preferred fighting method for the Ethiopians and as the offensive began, the Italians were overwhelmed. At the Dembuguina Pass the Italian Gran Sasso Division was forced to retreat and Ethiopian forces recaptured the Scire area. It looked as though the victorious onslaught at Adowa was being repeated on a larger scale. However, toward late December an Italian pilot, Tito Minniti, was captured by the Ethiopians, tortured, mutilated and finally beheaded. The Ethiopians have since denied this but mutilation of captives was an age old custom in the country (as photos of those captured in the first war after Adowa show) and such things doubtless occurred. This happened on the southern front and General Graziani ordered immediate retaliation. Later, this was also used to justify Italian use of poison gas, banned by international law, against the Ethiopians. However, Marshal Badoglio had requested and, indeed, already began using poison gas days before Minniti was shot down. In all likelihood, Minniti was tortured and executed, as were many other Italian and African colonial soldiers, however the use of poison gas also likely had less to do with this than with the ferocity of the Ethiopian offensive that Badoglio had to deal with.

Ethiopian machine gun unit
Despite attempts at justification (following denials), the Italians used poison gas for the simple reason that it gave them an advantage (or at least they thought it would), it would mean killing more of the enemy and sparing the lives of more of their own troops. It was ugly and it was brutal but not really different in principle from the British using Maxim guns against spear-tossing natives or the United States using the atomic bomb against the Japanese. If one side has a weapon that will give them an advantage over their enemy, especially a weapon that the enemy cannot defend against, chances are they will use it. When it comes to accusations of cruelty and war crimes in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the truth is that neither side was blameless nor always guilty. The Italian claim that the Ethiopians used forbidden Dum-dum bullets was likely untrue and simply a reaction to poor quality ammunition. However, Ethiopians did break the rules, killing and mutilating enemy prisoners, trapping Italian soldiers in their tanks and building fires underneath to slowly cook them alive. The noted English Catholic author, Evelyn Waugh, reported that the Ethiopians did use Red Cross insignia to cover themselves and that other reporters, going on only what the Ethiopians told them, reported to their readers Italian attacks on hospitals that did not exist. It is also likely that many of the Italian colonial soldiers practiced the same sort of mutilation on the enemy as some of the Ethiopians did and the use of poison gas by Marshal Badoglio was something he requested, not something prompted by moral indignation.

In any event, while the Italians were being hammered by the Ethiopian “Christmas Offensive” in the north, in the south, General Graziani continued to make steady progress. In early November his forces intercepted and defeated an Ethiopian motorized column (a fact which will doubtless surprise those who think the Ethiopians had no modern means of transportation at all) near Hamaniei. In December, the Sultan of Olol Dinle set his warriors against the Ethiopians at Golle and Italian forces occupied Denan by the end of the month. A major breakthrough followed shortly thereafter when Graziani crushed the southernmost Ethiopian army at the Battle of Genale Wenz in a fight lasting from January 12-16, 1936. The Ethiopians did win a bit of a propaganda victory of their own in the aftermath though, when a number of Italian colonial troops deserted to the Ethiopian side. This was mostly done for religious reasons, African Coptic Christians feeling little solidarity with the largely Muslim Somalis and their Catholic Italian officers. However, by the end of January, the Italian forces had taken Borana and reached the Ethiopian military base at Negele.

HRH the Duke of Bergamo
In the north, Marshal Badoglio went back on the offensive with the first Battle of Tembien. It was not much of a success but did at least bring the Ethiopian offensive to a halt. The Ethiopians reacted adeptly, moving around to encircle the Italians at Warieu Pass, keeping up relentless assaults. However, before the end of the month, the Italians had fought their way back and the Ethiopian “Christmas Offensive” was stopped for good. Badoglio seized the initiative and intended to keep it. Amba Ardam was taken in early February and in a long and hard fought battle lasting until March 2, the second Battle of Tembien, the Italians captured Worq Amba. This was quite a decisive engagement, shattering the armies of Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum. Responsibility for the defeat on the Ethiopian side remains something of a controversial subject but it left Haile Selassie with only one army of his original four on the northern front. The remnant was crushed in the Battle of Shire under Ras Imru Haile Selassie, the Emperor’s cousin and one of his most trusted subordinates. A royal cousin was also present on the Italian side at the battle in the person of Prince Adalberto, Duke of Bergamo, fourth son of the Duke of Genoa, who commanded the Gran Sasso Division.

Ethiopian forces at Maych'ew
Witnessing the situation falling apart, Haile Selassie worked frantically to organize a counter-offensive to halt the Italian advance. On March 31, 1936 the Ethiopian chieftain threw all the forces available to him at the enemy in a desperate gamble known to history as the Battle of Maych’ew. This time, Haile Selassie commanded his troops himself and even committed his prized Imperial Guard to the battle. However, Marshal Badoglio had intercepted a message Haile Selassie sent to his wife, telling of the planned attack. This allowed Badoglio to call off his own planned attack and take up carefully prepared defensive positions. The Ethiopians would be walking right into his trap. The initial Ethiopian attack was bloodily repulsed in hard fighting, after which the main assault shifted to the Italian left flank which was hit repeatedly but all to no avail. Finally, Haile Selassie committed six battalions of his Imperial Guard but despite being the best armed and equipped, they fared no better. In desperation, Haile Selassie ordered all units to attack all along the line but the only result was that they were all wiped out, most already being greatly weakened by that point anyway.

The Ethiopian army broke and began to retreat and it was at that point that insult was added to injury. Prior to the battle, Haile Selassie had tried to buy back the support of the Azebu Galla (the people he had nearly wiped out prior to the war) with a cash bribe for each man and lavish gifts for their leaders. They pledged support but had remained on the sidelines during the battle. Then, when the Ethiopian army began to flee, they suddenly joined in, attacking the Ethiopians and cutting them down as they ran away, only intermittently deterred by Italian bombers who also joined in attacking the fleeing army. Haile Selassie, having seen his forces devastated, ordered the remainder to disperse and sent the Crown Prince to Dessie where he hoped to organize a new army to carry on the war. However, the Crown Prince later abandoned Dessie without a fight and the hoped for widespread resistance failed to materialize.

Italian colonial troops (Eritreans) at Dessie
Meanwhile, on the southern front, the Ethiopians attempted to regain the initiative with an attack they hoped would culminate in an invasion of Italian Somaliland. However, this offensive was bloodily repulsed at the Battle of Genale Doria. General Graziani adopted the policy of offense being the best defense and made heavy use of Italian control of the air, decimating the Ethiopian forces with attacks from the sky. Graziani came up with an operation he called the “Milan Plan” and within five days all of his attacking columns had reached their objectives. In the Battle of the Ogaden, the vaunted “Hindenburg Wall” of Wehib Pasha was broken through and the last organized Ethiopian resistance in the south was utterly destroyed, the survivors fleeing into the countryside to wage guerilla war against the invaders. Graziani pushed on for Harar but while he met little Ethiopian resistance, bad weather and a lack of modern roads delayed his advance.

Marshal Badoglio enters Addis Ababa
The climax of the war came in the north with what the Fascist propagandists touted as the “March of the Iron Will”. This was a rapid advance by a large mechanized column from Dessie to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. It may have been inspired by a similar advance led by the prominent Fascist leader, the “Panther Man”, Achille Starace on Gondor, covering 120km in three days. The advance on Addis Ababa was swift, powerful but also largely unopposed. Haile Selassie gathered his family and entourage and fled the country prior to the Italian attack and Addis Ababa fell into a state of anarchy and looting before order was restored by the arrival of the triumphant Italian army on May 5 (though advance units of the Eritrean colonial brigade arrived the day before). Marshal Badoglio staged a triumphal entry into the city and sent word to Rome that the war was over and Abyssinia was conquered. As soon as the news hit Italy, widespread celebrations broke out with cheering crowds calling Mussolini back to the balcony no less than ten times. A war that was supposed to be a 2-year long quagmire that would bring down the Fascist regime, which had set Italy against the prevailing international order of the League of Nations, had ended with Ethiopia being conquered in seven months.

King Victor Emmanuel III, Il Re-Imperatore
King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was given the title of Emperor of Ethiopia and Mussolini crowed to his Blackshirts, “…lift on high, legionnaires, your standards, your steel and your hearts and salute, after fifteen centuries, the reappearance of the EMPIRE on the fatal hills of Rome!” Of course, the significance of this victory need not have been so great but the importance that the international community had heaped on it made it one that changed the course of history. More than just an Italo-Abyssinian War, the popular fervor for the Ethiopian cause made this a confrontation between the Fascists on one side and the League of Nations on the other. The League was defied by Italy and with the victory in Africa, the League was humiliated. The tragic figure of Haile Selassie went into exile in England, though King Edward VIII refused to meet with him, as he found the League of Nations more objectionable than Mussolini. Of course, he would soon give up his crown and never regain it while Haile Selassie would ultimately be placed back on his former throne by the Allied armies in World War II.

For the time being, however, the Italian victory over Ethiopia changed everything. Mussolini, stung by the opposition of France and Britain in the League of Nations, infuriated by their economic sanctions, broke from their anti-German front and finally accepted the extended hand of Adolf Hitler. On a visit to Germany, Mussolini told a stadium full of people that Italy would “never forget” how Germany had refused to join the sanctions regime when so much of the world had turned against them. His opposition to the German annexation of Austria evaporated and the plan of Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to restore the Austrian monarchy under Archduke Otto was stopped cold. Previously, Mussolini had approved of the plan, even talking about another Habsburg-Savoy royal marriage to cement their alliance but the reaction of the western powers to the war in Ethiopia changed all of that. In Italy, Fascism was more popular than ever and Mussolini more confident in the military prowess of the armed forces. Soon he would be sending tens of thousands of Italian troops to Spain to aid the nationalist forces of General Franco against the Spanish Republic.

Haile Selassie, perhaps strangely given how the system had failed him, doubled down on his support for collective security and international bodies. In his last appearance before the body, he criticized the League of Nations for not taking more forceful action to stop the Italians, effectively for not using force to see that their rulings were abided by. He ended with the ominous warning that, “It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.” Perhaps his words were remembered when the League of Nations was succeeded by the United Nations which could and has used military force to see its decisions implemented. However, the same United Nations which he had supported, including sending Ethiopian forces to participate in the Korean War, took no action to save him when he was overthrown and most likely killed in 1975 by communist traitors. It was largely the forces of the British Empire which, in World War II, had seen him restored to his throne after the Italians were defeated and by 1975 the British Empire was no more (and Haile Selassie himself had been more than happy to see it go at the time) and the Soviet Union could be counted on to block any UN move to take action against the Marxist clique that had seen Haile Selassie lose his throne the second time.

For a seven-month colonial war, the second clash of Italy and Abyssinia had proven to be quite consequential. The last un-colonized corner of Africa was conquered, Britain and France made an enemy, Germany gained an ally, the post-World War I world order embodied by the League of Nations was shattered and the last realistic hope for the restoration of the Habsburg monarchy was brought to ruin and Germany gained control of Austria all as a result of this conflict. It is also not a great leap to imagine that had the war ended differently, had Italy lost, there might have been no help for Franco in Spain and the Second Spanish Republic might have carried on, at least until the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Second Italo-Abyssinian War was a conflict that warrants greater study and understanding. It was far more significant and had many more far-reaching consequences than most people realize.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MM This Week in Fake News

(Since it’s all the rage, I thought I’d try my hand at some fake news. Everyone else is doing it, so if others can be blatant about their partisanship and make things up to fit their narrative, well, so can I! [don’t worry, next post will be ‘normal’])

In the United States of America, newly elected President Donald Trump continues to shock the political establishment. After announcing that he wishes to be referred to only as “The Trump” from now on, the President called on Congress to pass legislation taking the United States out of both NATO and the UN, which he said were “stupid” and “overrated” and promised to instead form a military and economic alliance with the United Kingdom and Canada which, he assured bewildered reporters, would be “yuge”. In a drastically unconventional move he also called on the United States to recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch as a tribute to his late, royalist mother and because, “They speak English, we speak English. It makes sense. Except for Quebec, where they speak Spanish, which is weird but we’re gonna fix that. We have to. We don’t have a choice. We have to do it.” He also caused quite an uproar when he informed reporters that he had just sold Puerto Rico to the King of Spain for five dollars saying, “Trust me, this was a great deal. It’s just like when I got out of Atlantic City, I know when to cut bad assets loose.” He also said that, pending the outcome of the voter fraud investigation, he might be open to offers for California as well.

When asked for comment from the Spanish Ambassador, it was, in fact, confirmed that the King of Spain had paid five dollars for the return of Puerto Rico. Within hours of this revelation, Wikileaks released documents claiming that Puerto Rico was to be used as the staging area and jumping off point by the Spanish military for the invasion and re-conquest of Cuba. So far, the government in Madrid are refusing to comment on those allegations. The biggest news out of Europe, however, was the announcement by Queen Elizabeth II that she was dissolving the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and would be ruling in her own right for now. This caused an immediate uproar among the Members of Parliament but the military moved quickly to maintain law and order with a top British general saying in an official statement that their loyalty to the Crown came first. Immediately after making this announcement, the Queen also said that she would be dismissing most of the Governors General of the Commonwealth Realms and replacing them with members of the Royal Family. In Canada, Justin Trudeau was dismissed from office within hours by the current Governor General, again with the support of the army, though other major realms such as Australia have yet to take a firm position in response to these shocking events.

On the continent of Europe, a climate of bewilderment bordering on chaos has broken out in numerous countries. While on a state visit to Denmark, the President of Iceland was taken prisoner and is being held as a state hostage with a palace spokesman announcing that a naval task force of four frigates, originally thought to be taking Danish troops to Latvia for NATO exercises was instead approaching Iceland with the intention of regaining the “renegade republic” for the Danish Crown. The spokesman said that, so far, no resistance had been met and that they hoped this would be a peaceful occupation, adding that the President of Iceland is certainly hoping the same. This, of course, caused a significant uproar but was quickly overshadowed by even more startling news from Germany. While attending a reunion of his former Bundeswehr unit, Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, announced that Chancellor Angela Merkl had betrayed the German people and was not fit to hold office. He called upon members of the German armed forces to rally behind him in removing her from power, saying that Germany was currently in so critical of a situation that the normal methods for enacting political change had to be discarded. To the cheers of the assembled crowd, wearing his old army uniform, the Prince set out with them for Berlin and so far a number of German military units have deserted their posts to join him. Reporters tried to get a response to these events from the French president but he was reportedly unavailable for comment though loud wailing noises were being heard coming from Elysee Palace.

On the African continent, a meeting of leaders from the African Union made a startling announcement when they said, in a statement, that with corruption, civil wars and poverty still so rampant across the continent and their populations fleeing in record numbers, they had clearly made a mess of things since independence and have expressed their wish to call a “do over”. Some have spoken of seeking outside assistance while others have been discussing a return to a more traditional form of government. President Museveni of Uganda said he will be holding talks with Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi II of Buganda on how the governing system of the country might be reformed, Crown Prince Zera Yacob of Ethiopia denounced the ruling government and when his arrest was ordered, the police refused to carry it out and rumors of a coup of some sort are now rampant and in Rwanda the Prince Emmanuel Bushayija has also been asked to a meeting with President Paul Kagame to talk about ideas of national rejuvenation. In South Africa, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, asked if it was not time for the government of “perversion and corruption” under Jacob Zuma to go and there have been some rather large public demonstrations against the government in the last two days.

In the Middle East all focus has continued to be on the civil war in Syria and the effort to arrange a peace brokered by Russia with King Abdullah II of Jordan meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. There has, however, been a call for civil disobedience in Iran made by Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah. He wrote a letter congratulating Donald Trump on his electoral victory and called for greater American and international support for Iranian dissidents who oppose the ruling Islamic Republican government. The Crown Prince said that the current Iranian government shows signs of fragmenting, suggesting that there could be an opportunity approaching. However, when asked about his own political aspirations, if he had, perhaps, any wish to become Shah of Iran, the Crown Prince said that his only goal was the liberation of his homeland and, after that happened, he would decide what to do next but added that he would be willing to serve the Iranian people in any capacity they chose. Of course, recent events in Europe and America could have a profound impact on how the international community responds to this situation.

This has been Fake News from The Mad Monarchist, all the news from around the world that is unfit to print.

(Be aware: the last paragraph was, in fact, NOT “fake news”, all the rest, however, is as fake as a broadcast by Bryan Williams or Dan Rather.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Communist China Just Lengthened World War II

Recently, the People’s Republic of China announced that they are officially changing the date for the start of World War II. They did this, they openly said, to highlight the role of the Communist Party in fighting the Japanese and as part of an overall campaign to instill patriotic fervor, and some would say xenophobia, in the Chinese youth of today. Which, in itself, only makes sense if one takes into account the amount of deception already in place when it comes to how the Chinese Communist Party uses history as a political tool. This has also meant that they have had to adjust their official name for World War II in East Asia from, “The Eight-Year War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” to, “The Fourteen-Year War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression”. Hardly rolls off the tongue but maybe it sounds better in Chinese. Some commentators, such as Michael Peck at “The National Interest” have said that the Chinese are doing the right thing but for the wrong reason. Actually, they are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Nothing about this is right or remotely accurate.

Traditionally, historians have dated the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War or World War II in East Asia (or the “Greater East Asian War” if you’re in Japan) to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 7, 1937. This is because it was from that point onward, increasing in intensity, that large-scale combat occurred between Chinese and Japanese military forces. So, that makes sense. The Republic of China did not actually declare war on the Empire of Japan until after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the United States, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Australia and others became involved. This was mostly because the leader of the Republic of China, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, was, in my opinion, leaving himself room for maneuver in case the persistent communist threat became a greater concern to him than the Japanese, so that he could negotiate a settlement with Japan in order to focus on fighting Mao Zedong and his communist bandits. Clearly, a war was being fought between Chinese and Japanese forces long before 1941 so taking into account declarations of war is rather meaningless.

Now, the Chinese Communist Party is changing its history books to say that the war actually began at the time of the Mukden Incident on September 18, 1931 when, after a small bomb was exploded on the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway, troops of the Imperial Japanese Army rushed in and quickly took control of the region, occupying Manchuria and later established the State (and finally Empire) of Manchukuo under the titular leadership of the last Qing Dynasty Emperor. This, they say, is when the Japanese first invaded China, first engaged in hostile action against China and thus that this was really when World War II in East Asia began. However, while it may make for a nice narrative, this is simply misleading. The war did not start in 1931, plain and simple. That is not what happened and no amount of word play can change the actual facts. The reason some people are buying into this narrative is because they have already swallowed a previous falsehood that has been allowed to take root. The preliminary falsehood is that the Republic of China had any legitimate right to claim ownership of Manchuria in the first place.

That is what this whole farce is based on, that “Japan invaded China” in 1931 and so the war can be said to have started then. Some, like Peter Harmsen, who writes about Japanese atrocities, say that the invasion of Manchuria was, “a full-scale Japanese invasion of territory that had been part of China for centuries” which sounds dramatic and is easy for people to believe, looking at maps seems to verify it, but this is totally untrue. Manchuria had not been part of China for centuries, the Manchu Imperial Family ruled over China for centuries. As I have said before, this would be like saying that prior to 1783 the British Isles had been part of America for centuries. Manchuria was a separate, independent country. The rulers of that country were the Qing Dynasty emperors. They ruled Manchuria and the Ming Dynasty ruled China. Then the Qing Emperor became the Great Khan of Mongolia also. So Manchuria and Mongolia had the same Emperor. Then the Ming Dynasty was overthrown, chaos ensued, the Qing Emperor from Manchuria invaded China and became the accepted, recognized Emperor. You will notice that at no point do the Chinese invade and conquer or buy or annex Manchuria. The ruler of Manchuria became the ruler of China.

Then, centuries later, the Chinese rose up against the Manchu Emperor, he abdicated and the Republic of China was established. The Republic of China, however, claimed ownership over all countries besides their own that had also been ruled by the Manchu Emperors such as Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria. A certain White Russian general expelled them from Mongolia but the rest were eventually taken and remain part of China to this day, though at least in the case of Tibet some people do recognize the injustice of it. However, Manchuria should be no different. Which is why I have long said, and will go on saying no matter how unpopular it is, that the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the restoration of the last Qing Emperor to the throne of “Manchukuo” (which is simply how you say Manchuria in Chinese) was the correction of an historical injustice. You can agree or disagree on whether the actions of the Japanese in Manchuria were positive or negative but they had put back on the throne the one man who had the only legitimate right to be there. They restored, officially (whether ‘genuinely’ or not people can debate) the independence of a country that had been independent before and had never been “a part of China”.

That is the basis of this issue and the one the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) most wishes to cover up because it is, so to speak, the root of their entire tree of lies on this issue. The more obvious falsehood is that, as U.S. General William T. Sherman said, “War means fighting and fighting means killing” and not much of that happened in 1931. It is perfectly obvious that the war did not start with the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931 because, on the whole, the Chinese did not resist. There was little to fighting in the whole process. China made no effort to defend Manchuria and this was a matter of official policy. It also makes the current tactic of the CCP trying to take credit for resisting the Japanese all the more laughable. Republic of China president Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had ordered a policy of non-resistance to the Japanese in order to focus on the threat posed by the communist insurgency, which he regarded as more serious. The Chinese Northeastern Army under General Zhang Xueliang was vastly largely than the Japanese forces that moved into Manchuria and yet no significant resistance was offered.

It takes some severe twisting of the facts to insist that a war started in 1931 when there was little to no fighting rather than in 1937 when the armies of two nations became engaged in increasingly large scale combat. Common sense would seem to indicate that a war starts when two sides begin fighting but common sense is often unfashionable and doesn’t always fit with political narratives. The Chinese government decided, as a matter of policy, not to oppose the Japanese and that did not change until 1937 when both sides were drawn into conflict after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The Chinese communists, you may note, had little to do with any of this other than, perhaps, doing their best to instigate a clash between the Japanese and the Chinese nationalists, knowing it would be to their benefit (in certain cases Mao openly stated this). That, however, also goes against their current narrative. Getting into the details also, ultimately, only serves to bolster the case of Japan since doing that tends to reveal how chaotic China was during this period and what a loose claim to any actual authority the republican government had.

The Japanese have voiced some disapproval over what the Chinese communist government is doing with this re-working of the World War II timeline but they are likely the only ones who will. Encouraging anti-Japanese hatred over historical events has become a mainstay of the CCP’s program to unite the people and divert their frustrations away from the government and toward a foreign power that is not allowed to go to war anymore. One could say that it does reveal how insecure they are about their own national narrative and how shaky the ground is that it rests on. What is alarming is that so many people in other parts of the world have bought into their false narrative, usually because of anti-Japanese sentiment on their own part because of World War II which allows them to easily slip from, “the Japanese are guilty of this” to “the Japanese are guilty of everything”. It is not, however, factual, it is not real history and it should not go unanswered. The effort of the CCP to take credit for everything the nationalists did and to erase from the history books any traces of the Qing Dynasty and the Manchurian nation should be resisted.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inspiration In A Tragic Anniversary

It was on this day in 1793 that His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI of France was beheaded by a gang of revolutionary criminals calling themselves the government of the First French Republic. He was certainly not the only innocent man to have his life taken by this same insidious poison. His wife would also lose her head and their little boy would be brutalized and ultimately starved to death. The "Reign of Terror" would take the lives of many, many tens of thousands of French men, women and children, all in the name of their radical, Utopian, egalitarian, blood-stained ideology. Most readers here will be well aware of this unpleasant story, so repeating all the gory details can be avoided. However, there is something beneficial in the inspiration that this sad history provides. The most obvious, of course, the pious and courageous way in which King Louis XVI met his end but it extends far beyond his own example.

Thomas Paine, famous as the propagandist of the American War for Independence (who ended his life despised in America for his virulent anti-Christian tirades and attacks on the character of George Washington) was also part of the gang of villains behind the French Revolution. However, he warned his fellow revolutionaries that killing King Louis XVI would be a mistake. Indeed, his opposition caused Paine to be arrested and were it not for foreign intervention he likely would have been killed too. Paine, of course, had little to no sympathy for King Louis XVI himself, but warned the French revolutionaries that if they killed the King they would forever forfeit the goodwill and support of the American people and the newly independent United States which saw His Most Christian Majesty as their great savior, who had aided them in their hour of need. Paine was proven correct. The Franco-American alliance died along with King Louis XVI at the Place de la Revolution.

The U.S. would go on to fight an "undeclared war" against the French Republic, its first conflict as an independent country but this was relatively minor compared to the reaction of the rest of the western world. The regicide of King Louis XVI sparked what was probably the greatest era of monarchial solidarity that western civilization would ever see. That was truly inspirational. The Austrian Kaiser, the King of Prussia, the King of Spain, the King of Portugal, the King of Naples and the rulers of other Italian states all came together. The King of Piedmont-Sardinia, who could not hope to triumph over his massive neighbor, enthusiastically joined the fight. The King of Great of Britain and Ireland, which had so recently fought against King Louis XVI, nonetheless put history aside and joined in the common struggle against the revolutionary pestilence. Here was an example of European unity that required no top-heavy talking shop of sinister, parasitic politicians to bring about, only shared values and a sense of honor.

Their example should serve as an inspiration for us and shame us for our own divisions and petty squabbling. The Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties had long been rivals, the French and English for even longer. Britain and Prussia were Protestant, Spain and Austria were Catholic but none of that mattered in the face of this outrage. All came together to avenge a monstrous crime, defend Christianity, civilization and the concept of traditional authority. They did this, not out of naive idealism but out of a rational understanding that they had to put aside their differences and come together because all of them were equally threatened by this revolutionary poison that had brought down, in so violent a way, the revered House of Capet which had seemed as permanent as the sun in the sky. They knew they faced a grave danger that was far more serious than what issues divided them. Their example is one we would all do well to follow today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Monarch Profile: Emperor Valentinian II

The history of the Roman imperial monarchy is complete with stories of every kind; dramatic, bizarre, occasionally comic and tragic. The story of Emperor Valentinian II is one of the tragic ones. To set the scene, a good place to establish the background of this unfortunate monarch is with the glorious reign of Emperor Constantine the Great. As most know, it was Emperor Constantine who reunited the Roman Empire under one emperor, built the second capital city of Constantinople, established a policy of religious freedom for Christians and who was, at the end of his life, the first Christian Emperor of Rome. He also established a dynasty that carried on into the 360’s with his last male descendant being Emperor Julian, better known as “Julian the Apostate” who tried to revert Rome back to paganism rather than Christianity. A new imperial dynasty was then established, in the west, by Emperor Valentinian I, a man who rose from humble origins in Pannonia in what is today Croatia. He was a staunch Christian, a military-minded man who established the Valentinian dynasty, ruling the west himself while his younger brother Valens ruled as Emperor of the East.

Emperor Valentinian I
Valentinian I was succeeded by his son, Emperor Gratian, the man who would hand over the title of “Supreme Pontiff” to the Bishop of Rome. However, Emperor Gratian ruled only from 367 to 383 AD when he was assassinated at Lyons with most of the empire north of the Alps left in the hands of a renegade general named Magnus Maximus. However, he died in 388, a year after invading Italy. The young man who was in charge, or at least who was supposed to be, was Emperor Valentinian II. The son of Valentinian I by his second wife, Justina, he was only four years old when he came to the throne on November 22, 375 AD and had inherited a perilous position. The generals loyal to his father had proclaimed him emperor immediately upon the death of his father, taking no account of his half-brother Gratian or his uncle Valens. It is often assumed that the Frankish commander of the Roman forces in Pannonia, Merobaudes, intended to disregard Gratian, whom many in the military distrusted, in favor of Valentinian II who was, obviously, too young to rule and could not oppose them.

Emperor Gratian was thus left with what is now France, Britain and Spain while the nominal Emperor Valentinian II reigned over Italy, most of the Balkans and Africa. His imperial court was in Milan but tensions were thick. The most influential figure in his life was his mother Justina, an adherent of the Arian heresy, who clashed with the preeminent religious authority, St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and prefect of Liguria and Emilia who was an adamant opponent of Arianism. This was a dangerous combination as the young Valentinian II became the pawn of those wishing to push their own agendas. Justina used his authority to try to suppress the orthodox Christians in favor of the Arians, though St Ambrose had the local populace on his side. Magnus Maximus, who was trying to claim the throne for himself, also used Arianism as his tool, casting himself as a champion of orthodoxy in order to take power from Valentinian II or, more precisely, those who ruled in his name. After Emperor Valens in the east came the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great who was also opposed to Arianism and so would be of no help.

Emperor Valentinian II
When Maximus crossed the Alps into Italy, Justina and the teenage Emperor Valentinian II fled to Thessalonica (Greece) from which they obtained the support of Emperor Theodosius to restore Valentinian II in the west by offering in marriage his sister Princess Galla. In 388 AD Emperor Theodosius dutifully launched a military campaign that saw Maximus defeated and Valentinian II restored and though he would begin to establish his own dynasty through his sons Arcadius and Honorius, Emperor Theodosius remained faithful to his agreement with the last of the Valentinian dynasty. However, the young monarch’s troubles were far from over. While Theodosius held court in Milan, Valentinian II was installed in Vienne (in France) with Emperor Theodosius acting as his guardian since Justina had died around 391. As the East Roman Emperor had plenty to keep himself busy, he delegated his duties as guardian to his Frankish general Arbogast.

Emperor Valentinian II occupied himself with peaceful pursuits in Vienne while Arbogast marched off to fight the Germans along the Rhine in his name. However, it was clear that Arbogast was the real ruler in the west, not Valentinian II who he jealously guarded. Though nominally answerable to Emperor Theodosius, it is likely that the Eastern Emperor would not have approved of his tyrannical treatment of Valentinian. Anyone who became too close to the isolated young man could be expected to meet an unhappy end, always with the justification that the person had been guilty of some crime. Harmonius, for example, was a friend of Valentinian who was murdered by Arbogast personally and in the presence of the young emperor himself. Arbogast justified this by asserting that Harmonius had been guilty of taking bribes, but then as now many suspected that he simply wished to keep Valentinian isolated and under his power.

All of this, naturally, greatly disturbed Valentinian who was, by then, certainly more than old enough to be ruling on his own without a “guardian”. He saw an opportunity when word came that barbarians were preparing to attack Italy. Valentinian II planned to lead an army into Italy himself, no doubt hoping that he could establish a source of military strength for himself that would enable him to stand on his own. However, Arbogast could see where that might lead as well as anyone and refused to allow the Emperor to leave. Valentinian II then attempted to simply dismiss Arbogast from imperial service but Arbogast openly defied him on the grounds that he had been appointed by Emperor Theodosius and Valentinian II had no authority to relieve him of his command. Emperor Valentinian II was still little more than a prisoner but did manage to write for help, appealing to St Ambrose in Milan and Emperor Theodosius that he was being overruled by a barbarian general. He also requested to get right with the Church and for St Ambrose to come to Vienne to baptize him in rejection of the Arianism of his mother.

St Ambrose of Milan
However, none of that was to happen and it may be that Arbogast was informed of what had been written in those letters for on May 15, 392 Emperor Valentinian II was found dead, hanging in his palace in Vienne. He was only twenty-one years old. Arbogast said that he had committed suicide and certainly his life had been one to encourage depression and despair. However, many people, then as now, believe that Arbogast had the young emperor murdered, with many accepting this as a matter of fact. Given what he had just written to Theodosius and St Ambrose, it does seem that, while in despair, Valentinian still held out hope for redress of his situation. The timing of his sudden death certainly points to Arbogast being the guilty party. We also know that St Ambrose eulogized him and praised him highly as a virtuous, young monarch, a Christian Roman emperor who should be an example to others. It seems highly unlikely he would have done so if he had harbored any suspicion that the Emperor had killed himself.

So it was with that air of mystery and suspicion that the reign of Emperor Valentinian II came to an end. His body was carried, with full imperial Roman pomp and ceremony, to Milan where his remains were met by St Ambrose and his weeping sisters Justa and Grata. He was buried alongside Emperor Gratian in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Arbogast, though first claiming to remain loyal to Theodosius by proclaiming his son Arcadius emperor, eventually set up his own puppet usurper in the person of Eugenius. Emperor Theodosius came west, defeated Eugenius and Arbogast and placed his son Honorius on the throne as Western Roman Emperor.

Emperor Valentinian II
As for Emperor Valentinian II, his tragic death marked the end of his dynasty and its replacement with the Theodosian. His all too short life had been spent dominated by others, often treated as a rather well kept prisoner but thanks to St Ambrose, when he is remembered at all, he is generally remembered well, as a good-hearted young man who could have made for a great emperor if he had truly been given a chance. The account of St Ambrose is convincing given that he had no reason to distort the truth and would have gained nothing by it. During the young of Valentinian II, the two had often been at odds. Influenced by his Arian mother, orders given in his name were defied by St Ambrose and he also met Church opposition when Valentinian wished to preserve the monuments of pagan Rome, an act which caused the pagans to try to gain more, such as the restoration of the Altar of Victory in the Senate but to this Valentinian II could not agree. His eventual renunciation of Arianism seems to have been genuine and under different circumstances he may well have become one of the great lights in the twilight era of the Roman Empire. That he was not is unfortunate but, according to St Ambrose, he nonetheless set a worthy example in his own tragic life of strength of character in the face of great adversity. Seemingly drawn to tragedy perhaps, I've always had a soft spot for him.
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