Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sailor of Monarchy: Kinashi Takakazu

Human beings are very fond of ‘keeping score’. This is as true in warfare as it is in sports or other civilian activities. We rank tank commanders by how many enemy tanks they destroy, fighter pilots by how many planes they shoot down or, with submarine commanders, how much tonnage of enemy shipping they sent to the bottom of the sea. Lieutenant Commander Kinashi Takakazu (or in western order; Takakazu Kinashi) was a submarine captain of the Imperial Japanese Navy, yet, his name will not be found in any top ranking of “ace” submarine commanders based on the amount of tonnage he sank. However, sometimes a submarine commander gains fame for accomplishing a particularly difficult or dangerous goal, for sinking some major enemy warship or something which, in some way, gains attention for breaking some sort of record. This is the category that Commander Kinashi fits into. In fact, he never really knew just how incredible was the success he won in his military career. Nonetheless, he earned a place in naval history and a legendary status among the ranks of the submariners of the world for his achievement. It is unfortunate that he never knew just how famous he would become.

Kinashi Takakazu was born on March 7, 1902 in Usuki, Oita Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu in the Empire of Japan. After a fairly typical childhood, he decided on a career in the navy as a young man. Looking only at the start of his military career, no one would have expected him to rise to greatness. He studied and trained at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and graduated at the very bottom of his class, the very last of 255 cadets in 1920. After this less than impressive academic performance, his career path had nothing to do with submarines as he served as a passed midshipman on several cruisers on training exercises. From 1924 to 1925 he traveled around the Pacific stopping in at such places as Acapulco, Mexico, San Francisco, California, Vancouver, British Columbia and Hawaii. He received his promotion to ensign before returning to Japan where he underwent training in torpedoes and naval artillery. He was a dedicated and dutiful young officer but still did not seem to be at all exceptional. In 1926 he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the destroyer Harukaze. It was only after that assignment that he began to think about submarine service.

The following year, Kinashi volunteered for sub duty and gained important experience serving on the I-54, I-61 and I-66. It was certainly something different but he still did not stand out all that much and returned to the surface fleet to serve on a river gunboat in China (at the time, various foreign powers maintained naval vessels on the major rivers in China). He also served on the destroyer Fubuki and by December of 1937 had been promoted to lieutenant commander and posted to the minelayer Okinoshima, hardly a prestigious assignment. For any young naval officer of the time, serving on a battleship was always the most sought-after posting and, perhaps discouraged by his position in the surface fleet, Kinashi transferred back to the submarines. In 1938 he was finally given command of his own boat, becoming captain of the RO-59. The RO-type boats were smaller, second class coastal submarines that were largely neglected by the naval high command but, at least, it was a place to start. In 1940 Commander Kinashi was transferred to the Submarine Warfare School but this proved only temporary as six months later he was back at sea as captain of the I-3 until November of 1940 when he was given command of the RO-34 on which he served until July of 1941. The I-3 was one of the earliest ‘cruiser’ type submarines, a J1-type, which was later converted into a transport. The RO-34 was one of the first medium subs (a K5-type) since the 1920’s and would see service later in the war but with no success.

When Japan went to war with the United States (and others) in December of 1941, Kinashi was captain of the I-62 (later I-162), a small KD4-type sub that had some success in the Dutch East Indies and the Indian Ocean. However, Kinashi was soon transferred to command the I-19 where he would gain his greatest fame. This came during the titanic struggle for the island of Guadalcanal, perhaps the most pivotal land engagement of the Pacific War and coming on the heels of the stunning defeat for Japan at the Battle of Midway which had decimated the Imperial Navy. The fight for Guadalcanal was to be a turning point and Japan threw everything possible into defending the island which they had invaded in early 1942 (it was part of the British Solomon Islands protectorate).

The I-19 was a B1-type sub, one of the most successful types Japan would produce. In keeping with standard Japanese tactics, the I-19 and her sister sub I-15 were deployed to interdict American vessels approaching the island. Such vessels were coming as part of “Operation Shoestring” but the American forces had already suffered considerable losses for the greatest prize in the U.S. Navy: the aircraft carriers. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons the USS Enterprise had been so badly damaged that it had to return to Hawaii for repairs and only a week later the Japanese submarine I-26 badly damaged the USS Saratoga (Admiral Fletcher’s flagship) which left only the USS Wasp and USS Hornet. These were the targets that Commander Kinashi and his counterpart on the I-15 wanted most of all. Kinashi in the I-19 would go after the Wasp while the I-15 tried to engage the HORNET. It was September 15, 1942, a clear day with sunny skies and a 20-knot trade wind blowing. Kinashi submerged his boat and moved in for the attack. Displaying immense calm and skill, he took the I-19 through the rings of deadly destroyers escorting the American carrier. As these were the only two left, their escorts were all the more determined to defend them. Running as silently as possible, Kinashi slipped underneath the floating guard dogs and, amazingly, remained undetected.

Once well clear, Kinashi ordered his diving officer to bring the boat up to periscope depth. Scanning the surface, he spotted the USS Wasp, displacing 14,900 tons and capable of holding up to a hundred aircraft, she was a formidable target. The ship was part of a task force escorting the 7th Division of the U.S. Marine Corps to Guadalcanal which, along with the Hornet, included the battleship USS North Carolina and ten other warships. Kinashi knew the odds were against him. He would get only one chance to fire and would then, most likely, be destroyed by the counter-attacking American warships. Still, he had made it through the escorts and hoped that his good fortune would hold. He ordered the maximum salvo possible, all six forward torpedo tubes were made ready in all respects. As he watched through the periscope, passing along the necessary information, another bit of good fortune came his way; the Wasp began to slow down to launch 26 planes and allow another 11 to land that were coming back from patrol. It was the perfect time. Kinashi was determined that he would hit his target and moved his boat in closer and closer, even though this increased the risk of someone spotting his periscope and spoiling his attack but he did not want to miss. It took nerves of steel but Commander Kinashi and the I-19 silently swam to within 500 meters of the massive American ship. He wasn’t spotted and things could not have worked out better if he had been giving orders to the helmsman of the WASP himself. To launch the planes, the carrier began to turn to starboard, presenting its beam (and thus the largest possible target) to the Japanese sub.
USS Wasp, CV-7

Finally, with the tension onboard at maximum, Kinashi gave the order to fire. Six deadly Type 95 torpedoes burst from the bow and shot through the water. The Type 95’s were the fastest torpedoes in the world and at only 500 meters, the Wasp barely had time to react to the sudden attack. Lookouts spotted the incoming torpedoes and Captain Forrest Sherman tried to turn his ship toward but it was too late. In quick succession, three torpedoes slammed into the Wasp, one even shooting out of the water to strike above the waterline. Massive explosions went off and began to spread and almost immediately the huge ship began listing heavily to starboard. The torpedoes had hit exactly where the gasoline tanks and magazines were on the carrier. Within about 30 minutes Captain Sherman gave the order to abandon ship. The Wasp was finished.

Of course, as soon as Commander Kinashi fired his torpedoes, he slammed the periscope down and took his boat deep, knowing that a counter-attack by the circling destroyers was soon to come. The U.S. Navy did not disappoint as destroyers circled over head, groping the depths with sonar and lobbing depth charges at the unseen attacker. It was the I-15 which confirmed the sinking of the Wasp since Kinashi was deep below the surface trying to save his boat and his crew from being blasted into little pieces. The attack of the I-15 on Hornet, five miles away, had not been successful. For Kinashi and the I-19, they endured the worst experience possible for submariners as the American destroyers dropped no less than eighty depth charges in the frantic effort to destroy them. Yet, Kinashi and his men did not panic and amazingly managed to survive the ordeal and successfully escape from the American fleet. Once clear, Kinashi surfaced his boat and as the men came out, gasping for fresh air, they knew they were heroes. They had done what very few men in naval history had ever accomplished: sank an American aircraft carrier. They had even lived to tell the tale.

Kinashi and his men returned to Japan for a hero’s welcome. Kinashi, who had finished last in his class and whose career had always seemed rather lackluster, was promoted to full commander and summoned to the Imperial Palace to report on the sinking and receive the congratulations of His Majesty the Emperor. For a Japanese naval officer, there was no greater honor possible. Kinashi was formal and correct, he had done his duty as he had been trained to. In fact, being brought before the Emperor was probably a source of greater anxiety than facing a fleet of American warships had been. In terms of his naval career, Kinashi had reached his pinnacle and would not see such success again. The following year, near Fiji, he torpedoed and badly damaged an American liberty ship but inexplicably failed to finish it off. However, in December of 1943 he was tasked with a most dangerous mission. In command of the I-29 he would travel through three oceans to pay a visit to Japan’s Nazi allies in Europe. At the former British bastion of Singapore the I-29 was filled with rubber, tin, tungsten, opium and other items before sailing off for France. Thanks to their code-breakers, the Allies knew all about the voyage of the I-29 and where it was going, yet, Commander Kinashi skillfully avoided discovery.

Kinashi at a banquet given for him by Germany
On March 11, 1944 the I-29 safely arrived at the port of Lorient, France where her cargo was unloaded and the crew were treated as the special guests of the Germans. Commander Kinashi was taken to Berlin to be congratulated by Adolf Hitler for sinking an American carrier, for which the Nazi dictator personally decorated Kinashi with the Iron Cross (second class). In April, filled to the top with important passengers and the latest German designs for everything from radar to rocket engines, the I-29 left France for the return trip to Japan. Unfortunately, none of the men on the I-29 would ever see their homeland again. American intelligence was tracking the Japanese submarine more closely this time and as the boat passed through the Luzon Strait near the Philippines on July 26, 1944 it was hit by three torpedoes and totally destroyed by the American submarine USS Sawfish. Commander Kinashi and all his men and passengers were killed. When the naval high command in Japan realized that the I-29 had been lost, Commander Kinashi was posthumously promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in recognition of his outstanding service.

And yet, that service was more outstanding than anyone knew. On that critical day in 1942, I-19 had fired six torpedoes at what, in naval terms, was practically point blank range and yet only three had struck the Wasp. What of the other three? It would be some time before the truth was known. On that same day, the accompanying battleship USS North Carolina had been struck by a torpedo on her port side, killing five men and causing considerable damage (only the quick and expert work of the damage control teams prevented the ship from sinking). The destroyer USS O’Brien was also hit on the port side by a torpedo and was so badly damaged that she later sank. For years it was assumed that the I-15, targeting the Hornet, had hit these ships with the torpedoes she had fired at the carrier with but missed. Eventually, however, careful study showed that this was not possible, they could not have come from the I-15. Suddenly, the naval experts realized what an incredible thing had happened. When Kinashi fired his salvo at the Wasp, three torpedoes struck and sank the carrier but the other three continued on, over the horizon, running for some twelve miles before slamming into the North Carolina and then the O’Brien. Everyone then realized that Commander Kinashi Takakazu had made the single most successfully destructive attack in naval history. With one salvo of torpedoes he had sunk an aircraft carrier, a destroyer and heavily damaged a battleship even if he did not know it at the time.

It is for that reason that the name of Rear Admiral Kinashi Takakazu is still a legend in the submarine community today and why he will always have a place in naval history. No one shot ever did so much damage to the enemy as the one he fired from beneath the waves on that sunny day in 1942 off Guadalcanal. Kinashi may not have the highest score among submarine commanders but he accomplished something that no one else ever did or is ever likely to and for that he holds a very singular place of honor.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Clash of Monarchies: The Crimean War

Given recent events in the world, the Crimean War may be a little more on the minds of people lately but, in general, it is a conflict that is not often remembered. And yet, this clash of monarchies had far-reaching consequences for the monarchies involved and even, by extension, for the cause of monarchy in general. There are also lessons that can be learned from it, both positive and negative. Like the First World War, the spark which set it off can easily seem trivial looking back and yet there were much deeper causes for the conflagration. That a dispute over the rights of Christians in the Holy Land could lead to bloody warfare on the Crimean peninsula was due to a number of factors such as thoughtlessness and an arrogant attitude on the part of Russia as well as British inconsistency and an over-eagerness to engage in anti-Russian propaganda. This meant that the British government ended up being driven to war by a public that had been needlessly aroused. Leaders in London may have been reluctant, but they had stoked the fires and were caught in a trap of their own making. It all started with a sort of territorial rivalry between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, then, along with much of the Balkans, part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Clockwise from top left: Sultan Abdulmecid, Emp Napoleon III,
Czar Nicholas I, Queen Victoria and King Victor Emmanuel II
The French Emperor Napoleon III, as part of an on-going (though ultimately futile) campaign to win the support of conservative Catholics in France, pressed the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I, who wanted closer ties with Western Europe to ensure security at a time when nationalist and secessionist movements in the empire were growing, to give special privileges to Catholics in certain areas of the Holy Land. It seemed a harmless move but it offended the Greek Orthodox community which viewed it as an infringement on their own status in the region. Czar Nicholas I of Russia, who viewed himself as the defender of Orthodox Christianity in the world (and understandably so) intervened on their behalf and demanded that the Sultan revise the agreement made with France as well as recognizing Russia as the protector of the Orthodox Christians within the Ottoman Empire. The last demand was certainly a step too far for Sultan Abdulmecid as he feared it would invite Russian interference, not in the distant Holy Land, but in the Balkan countries bordering Russia which were under Ottoman rule but populated by Orthodox Slavs. When the Turks refused to give in, Czar Nicholas I dispatched Russian troops into what is now Romania, to hold the area until the Sultan agreed to his demands. It was all done in a rather heavy-handed way which was typical for Nicholas I and which, as with his domestic policies in Russia, played into a negative view of this great monarch. He saw himself as simply standing up for the rights of Orthodox Christians, demanding no more than what had long been given to them but the way in which it was done caused alarm in Western Europe. To them, it looked like the Czar was jumping on a flimsy pretext to expand Russia and destroy the Ottoman Empire. They feared the chaos and bloodshed that would result if the many diverse subjects of the Ottoman Sultan were set loose with their own agendas.

In truth, Czar Nicholas I had no intention of breaking up the Ottoman Empire. Though he certainly would have liked nothing better, he believed that was something that all the Great Powers would have to collaborate on when the time came. However, he assumed that Britain in particular would understand this and knew what sort of man he was. The British government, however, was a coalition and divided as to how to respond with one faction favoring diplomacy and the other wanting a show of force to frighten Russia into backing away from the Ottomans. Neither side wanted an actual war but this division caused British policy to be erratic and the situation was exacerbated by the British ambassador to Constantinople who was very favorably disposed towards the Turks and personally prejudiced against Russia. There were efforts at a settlement by representatives of the Great Powers meeting in Vienna, but they all failed. The Turks refused to compromise and suspicion toward Russia meant that no matter what the representatives of the Czar said, few were inclined to believe them genuine. As a result, all approached the precipice.

Russia destroys the Turkish fleet
French Emperor Napoleon III, who had started all the fuss, had paid little attention to the issue since his initial request had been granted. He had little interest in the Balkans and no strong desire to act as the guardian of Ottoman Turkey. However, as the crisis came to a boil, with the British acting as the primary foil to the Russians, Napoleon did not want to be left out. He also wanted, more than anything, friendship and alliance with Great Britain which would give him a free hand to pursue French colonial expansion and help ensure that the country which had done so much to bring down his famous uncle would not do the same to him. If there was any chance of winning some glory for France, he was always game and he did not want France to be left out of any great happenings on the world stage. Matters came to a head when, in October of 1853, the Turks demanded that the Russians withdraw from their territory in Romania. When the Czar did not respond, the Turks declared war on Russia and sent their fleet into action in the Black Sea to attack the Russian coast. The Russian Imperial Navy responded and inflicted a stinging defeat on the Turks. Yet, the Czar was still willing to settle things peacefully and in light of this victory offered reasonable terms for a settlement. However, public opinion in the west had been so inflamed that Britain scarcely even considered the proposal and declared war on Russia. Napoleon III quickly did likewise and the Crimean War began in earnest.

The fact that Britain and France had allowed things to get out of hand can be seen in how unprepared they were for war and it took about six months until they were actually able to take real military action. In the meantime, they tried to gain more allies to fight the seeming colossus of Russia. They found little support. Hints that Finland might be regained were insufficient to tempt Sweden to join in but the primary figure to be courted was the Austrian Empire. However, though there was much temptation in Vienna, Emperor Francis Joseph I did not believe that either side was totally in the right. His greatest concern was Russian expansion in the Balkans but the Russian troops that had been in Romania were soon withdrawn and the Austrian Emperor saw no moral justification for war. He was also afraid that if he moved Austrian forces to the east, Italians in the west would rebel again and be supported by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy. He would certainly take no action unless the Piedmontese were on side. Later on, when Austria seemed more inclined to join the allies, this played a part in the Russian desire to end the war before another name was added to their list of enemies. The Austrian attitude was particularly infuriating to Czar Nicholas I. He had sent Russian armies to aid the Hapsburg monarch in crushing the rebellion in Hungary in the Revolutions of 1848 and viewed it as an absolute betrayal that the Austrian Kaiser would not only fail to return the favor but even consider joining the ranks of his enemies. Austro-Russian relations would, ultimately, never recover from this.

Italian light infantry in battle on Crimea
The Prussians, likewise, followed the Austrian example and opted for neutrality. The only success the allies had in enlarging their ranks was the little Italian Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The original request for Piedmontese support was mostly just an effort to get Austria on side but King Victor Emmanuel II was always up for a fight and the Prime Minister, Count Camillo Cavour, wanted French and British goodwill in the struggle to end the foreign domination of the Italian peninsula. Piedmontese involvement could, he reasoned, provide an opportunity for the Great Powers to address the situation in Italy and with Piedmont-Sardinia having recently fought alongside Britain and France, while Austria looked on from the sidelines, surely this would ensure a decision favorable to the cause of Italian nationalism and the House of Savoy. By the time it all happened, the Italians arrived too late to have much of an impact but the 15,000 soldiers dispatched to the front under General Alfonso La Marmora won the respect of their allies by their courage and tenacity at the Battle of Chernaya and the Siege of Sevastopol. Ultimately, the Italians did not get the discussion on Italy that they wanted but they did gain greater French and British sympathy, at the expense of Austria, so that goal was at least achieved.

For the Turks and the Russians, the original combatants, the primary focus was on the Danube front and the Caucasus front. The fighting was brutal and frustrating in both areas. For the allies, the hope was for a ‘knockout blow’ by targeting the primary Russian naval base on the Black Sea; the fortress-city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. 50,000 allied troops were landed and the most famous battles of the war would be fought there. The Turks had some success on the Danube front, but the Russians did not offer much resistance so as to focus on more vital areas of conflict. In the Caucasus, the Turks were aided by Muslim Chechens who, as students of current affairs will be aware, are still often engaged in hostilities against Russia today. There were also Ukrainian uprisings against the Russians, particularly in Kiev, which will also sound very familiar to people today. Originally a series of peasant revolts, they were soon supported by Ukrainian aristocrats who opposed the war. There were naval and coastal battles as far ranging as from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean but it was the Crimea that was the decisive area of operations. Conditions were harsh, the suffering was immense and both sides often seemed to be their own worst enemies.

British Coldstream Guards at the Battle of Alma
Upon landing, the allies won what could have been a crucial opening engagement at the Battle of the Alma River on September 20, 1854. The Russians were not just defeated but were routed by the Franco-British forces, driving them back in utter confusion. Had the allies acted decisively, Sevastopol might have been stormed easily and the war brought to an early end. The British commander, Lord Raglan, wanted to pursue the fleeing Russians but the French commander, Saint Arnaud, did not as provision had not been made for his infantry nor did he have any cavalry. The Russians, however, wasted no time in making the most of this allied indecisiveness. They sunk their own fleet across the harbor entrance, robbing the allies of their naval support which could have been decisive and then set to work fortifying and strengthening Sevastopol so that any allied attempt to storm the city would be almost impossible. Russian thoroughness would mean that the allies would have to take on Sevastopol in siege warfare which would last into the summer of the following year. The Russians, however, were not content to wait in their trenches and the Czar ordered a counter-offensive to sweep the allies from Crimea. This would result in what is, for many, the most famous battle of the war, the Battle of Balaclava.

The Thin Red Line of the 93rd Highlanders
The Russian plan was to relieve the siege of Sevastopol by hitting the allied-held port of Balaclava, a vital point of entry for allied logistics. At the forefront would be Russian reinforcements newly arrived from the Danube front under General Pavel Liprandi. The British had reports of troop movements all hinting at an impending attack, but there had been so many false alarms that Lord Raglan dismissed them. It was the perfect opportunity for the Russians to strike. Although taken by surprise, the Turkish and British defenders fought fiercely but the Russians won the first round, driving the Turks from their redoubts and capturing their artillery. However, the Russian force soon crashed into the immovable object that was the British army. One unit that came to great fame was the 93rd Highlanders, “the thin, red line” that stood firm against a crushing Russian cavalry charge. The Russian advance began to fall apart but the British had their misfortunes too. In another sector, probably the most famous aspect of the battle occurred when a misunderstanding sent the British light cavalry brigade of Lord Cardigan on a bold but suicidal charge against well-placed Russian artillery. They were wiped out but won immortality for their courage.

Relief of the Light Brigade
The result was called a victory by both sides. The stunning loss of the light brigade took the fight out of the British, and the Russians had made some gains so they counted it as a success for the troops of the Czar. However, the British had stopped the advance, held Balaclava and the overall status quo remained so that the British also deemed it a success; the Russian advance had been stopped. It did give a morale boost to the Russians but the strategic situation was unchanged so that the Russian commander, the Russo-Finnish Prince Alexander Menshikov, ordered another attack to break through the thin allied lines before Sevastopol could be totally encircled. The result was the Battle of Inkerman which was a disaster for Russia but which meant hard times for both sides. Shrouded in fog, the two sides grappled blindly with each other but, despite Russian superiority in man power, the training and discipline of the French and British proved decisive and the Russian attack was repulsed with heavy losses. Allies and enemies alike gained a mutual respect for each other because of the vicious fighting at Inkerman. Another Russian attack had been stopped and the morale of the Russian army, raised by Balaclava, was dashed by Inkerman and plummeted sharply. Yet, the allies were scarcely better off as the engagement disrupted their timetable for the siege and meant that both sides would endure a long, miserable winter in the trenches.

Russian troops at the siege of Sevastopol
Disease, hunger and cold did most of the damage from that time on as the war came down to the siege of Sevastopol, resembling a First World War battle, with only occasional raids and scouting expeditions to relieve the monotony. Both sides began to take stock and wonder if all the suffering was worth it. For Czar Nicholas I, it was a matter of honor but intensely frustrating. That an empire so vast, with such a huge population, could be brought close to ruin by such a small, multi-national expeditionary force supporting the ramshackle Ottoman Empire was too much to take. However, the primary problem for Russia was infrastructure, something which would plague Russian war efforts for a very long time to come. They had the men to overwhelm the allied army, they had the supplies to support them but it proved impossible to get these things where they were needed, when they were needed because of the poor roads and lack of rail transport. For the allies, the suffering of the troops was causing problems even at home and they realized that just because the Russian hordes had not been brought down on them yet, they were still out there and even if Sevastopol fell, it did not mean that Russia could not go on fighting. The allies then tried to expand their forces by the aforementioned efforts to bring in the Austrians and Italians. The Italians of Piedmont-Sardinia came but only Austria could open up a new front that would be decisive and the Austrians remained aloof. Almost.

Czar Nicholas I
The Austrian government, in the name of Emperor Francis Joseph came up with a proposed ultimatum called the Four Points of Vienna which called for concessions so far-reaching that no Russian government would ever, for even a moment, consider agreeing to them. Austria vowed to join the war if Russia did not submit within two months. Moreover, the allies had played one of their own friends false to obtain this promise of Austrian support. To win over a country that had so-far refused to take their side, the allies effectively sold-out one who had and whose forces were fighting and dying alongside their own. Still worried about maintaining Austrian domination of northern Italy, the Four Points were issued only after the French and British promised that if there was any uprising after Austria joined the war, that they themselves would send troops to suppress the Italian population and maintain Austrian rule. However, it all turned out to be for nothing because Austria would not move unless the German states joined the war as well and they had absolutely no interest in doing so. Outraged at the false hopes that had been raised, the allies came down on Austria hard and threatened to take up the cause of Italian independence if the Austrians did not make good on their promises. So an Austrian ultimatum was sent to St Petersburg which no doubt would have infuriated Czar Nicholas I beyond measure and probably make him resolved to fight to his last drop of blood against such infamy and betrayal (as he viewed the whole Austrian attitude) but the “Iron Czar” of Russia died on March 2, 1855.

Russian troops at Malakhov
The last straw came when, after about a year of increasingly tight siege warfare, the city of Sevastopol fell to the allies on September 9, 1855. British, French, Italian and Turkish forces had all suffered heavy casualties, more than the Russians overall, but already sinking Russian morale and support for the war collapsed entirely due to the fall of the city they had fought so hard and for so long to defend. This, combined with the threat of Austria joining the war at the final hour finally prompted the Russians to make peace on terms dictated by the allies. The result was the Peace of Paris which was very punishing toward the Russians. Romania was removed from Russian influence, Russia had to renounce protecting the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire, key islands in the Baltic had to be demilitarized, a strategic fortress and territory controlling the mouths of the Danube had to be given to the Turks, all military forces in or around the Black Sea were forbidden and the straits of the Dardanelles and Bosporus were closed to Russian warships, shutting Russia off completely from the south. There are few historians who doubt that if Czar Nicholas I had been alive, such a peace would never have been agreed to (indeed, some put about the story that he had killed himself rather than face such a thing). At least the war was over and it had been a war of stunning heroism and immense suffering.

Allied forces in the Crimea
The results were far-reaching. The Ottoman Empire had been effectively guaranteed by the Great Powers and would remain, helped along by one faction or another, until choosing the losing side in World War I. The Kingdom of Romania eventually emerged as an independent monarchy because of the changes but the Bessarabia territory Russia had to cede to Turkey would continue to be a bone of contention. Piedmont-Sardinia gained sympathy but not as much actual support as they would have liked but they would go on to found the revived Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy in the next decade. The French Second Empire gained great fame for the courage of their soldiers but still no lasting alliance with Great Britain which preferred to remain aloof. The British gained a heroine in Florence Nightingale, Russian guns to cast Victoria Crosses from, many famous poems and paintings but mostly a reluctance to get involved in such a thing for some time to come. Confidence in the military and its aristocratic leadership had been badly shaken. The Austrian monarchy fared badly, which is all the more strange as they were never involved. Austrian actions managed to leave both sides with a bad opinion of them, each felt that Austria had betrayed them. The former solidarity between the Hapsburg, Romanov and Hohenzollern dynasties was ruined forever. Meanwhile, the Prussians sat at home, sharpening their swords.

The Russian Empire obviously emerged very badly off. For very small reasons, Russia had gone into a war that proved almost ruinous and which left the empire virtually boxed-in. Under Nicholas I, Russia had reached it maximum of territorial expansion but by the Peace of Paris seemed more isolated than any major power in the world. Yet, Russia proved able to recover and carry on in a very uniquely Russian way. Czar Alexander II, renewed friendly ties with Germany and (albeit temporarily) Austria, sold Alaska to the United States so that the British in Canada wouldn’t get hold of it, expanded Russian power in central Asia and even managed to win a minor victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1877 when Turkish brutality toward the Bulgars caused their former Western European friends to turn their backs on them. However, longer-term the Crimean War caused an antagonism between Russia and Austria that would fester until the Great War that doomed them both. It also led, indirectly, to another conflict when, as Russia was shut off from the oceans in the west, Russia looked east and expanded toward the Pacific which ultimately resulted in the war with Japan that proved very damaging to the image of the monarchy at home and abroad.

Quite a lot of ‘blow-back’ for what started as an inter-Christian spat over sanctuary privileges in Jerusalem.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Monarch Profile: King Louis XVIII of France

Prince Louis Stanislas Xavier, Count of Provence, was born on November 17, 1755 in Versailles, the third (surviving) son of the Dauphin Louis and Maria Josepha of Saxony. He was the grandson of King Louis XV of France and King Augustus III of Poland. Being fourth in the line of succession, little consideration was given to him at the time that he might actually become King of France one day. However, that changed rather quickly with the death of his eldest brother the Duke of Burgundy in 1761 (another elder had died before he was born). In 1765 his father died, making him second only to his one surviving older brother, future King Louis XVI, to succeed his grandfather King Louis XV. As a child he was doted on by his governess, Madame de Marsan, and was greatly attached to her. When he began his traditional upbringing as a prince of the blood he was found to be an exceptionally bright child. Classical history and literature were his favorite subjects, he could quote Horace from memory (his favorite author), was an expert on the Bible and became fluent in English and Italian as well as his native French language. As he grew into young adulthood, he had many fine qualities but some shortcomings as the inevitable search for a suitable bride for him began.

Maria Giuseppina of Savoy
The Count of Provence, while very intellectual, never enjoyed exercise or physical activity. He did enjoy eating and there were plenty of fine, French delicacies on hand and, not long after reaching adulthood, he grew increasingly overweight. To best serve the interests of France, it was decided that he should be married to a princess of the House of Savoy and, to the disappointment of both, the choice fell on Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy, daughter of King Victor Amadeus III of Piedmont-Sardinia. The Count found her unattractive and woefully ignorant of the complex court etiquette of Versailles (the Savoy court in Turin being more simple and military-style) and though the two were married in 1771 it was several years before he consummated the marriage. There was some debate about this as the marriage of another French prince to a Savoy princess caused a bit of an anti-Italian backlash in the court between the circles of the younger princes and the circle of the Austrian queen-to-be Marie Antoinette. The Dauphin and Count of Provence did not always get along and that bitterness was dutifully taken up by their wives and respective friends at court. When the Dauphin proved unable to consummate his own marriage, many believe this prompted the Count to boast of his own bedroom exploits as a way of making Marie Antoinette jealous. Even more vindictive was the account that he announced that his wife was pregnant, before she actually was, as a way to embarrass Marie Antoinette for not yet producing an heir-to-the-throne. However, by 1774 Princess Marie Josephine (as she was called in France) did finally come to be “with child” but, sadly, it ended in miscarriages and none of the couples’ pregnancies were productive.

That same year Louis XV died and the Dauphin became King Louis XVI of France and, in the absence of a male heir, the Count of Provence was then only one step away from the French throne. Unfortunately, this did not bring the two brothers closer together but was the cause of more bitterness. The Count of Provence, with his mastery of the classics and remarkable memory, probably did not have the highest estimation of his brother’s intelligence and wanted very much to have a seat on the king’s council. As the next in line for the throne, he felt entitled to such a position but King Louis XVI would not allow it and this offended the Count a great deal. Frustrated that his talents were not being put to use, he often left the court and spent much of his time traveling around the country. Proud and ambitious, he was more relieved than happy when the King and Queen were finally able to start having children, starting with a girl. That relief turned to disappointment when a son and heir was born in 1781. Yet, he and his younger brother the Count of Artois (future Charles X) had to stand in for the boy’s absent godfather Austrian Emperor Joseph II at the baptism of the little Dauphin.

The count in his youth
By that time the Count of Provence had a mistress and his marriage had been reduced to a mere formality. As he was given no part to play in affairs of state, he withdrew and mostly stayed at home, devoting his time to his mistress and his extensive library. With his improper private life, obesity and lavish spending (his brother the King often had to settle his considerable debts) the Count of Provence could easily have been held up as a propaganda tool for the revolutionaries as an illustration of what was wrong with the French monarchy. When new taxes (on the landowners, which were nobles & clergy) were proposed to pay for, among other things, French intervention in the American War for Independence, the Count of Provence was among the “notables” who opposed this and the issue was adopted and twisted by radicals to stir up rebellion. The Count of Provence had, inadvertently, aided the enemies of the monarchy. However, later he was the only one of the Assembly of Notables to support granting more representation to the common people in the Estates-General which was being summoned which the King did agree to. When the Third Estate demanded tax reform, the Count of Provence opposed this and urged the King to adopt a hard-line and refuse to compromise.

The political situation began to get out of hand but, while the Count of Artois took his family to the safety of Turin, the Count of Provence remained at Versailles with his big brother. Despite their differences, the French Revolution brought the two brothers together and while he had not been as helpful as he could have, when it came down to it there was no doubt that the Count supported his brother and the Kingdom of France to the utmost. He remained at his side until the attempted escape by the King and Queen to Varennes in 1791. The Count of Provence and his family left at the same time, escaping to Belgium (then the Austrian Netherlands) but, of course, the King and Queen were not so fortunate and the attempt sealed their fate. Rather too early for some, the Count declared himself regent of France on the grounds that his brother was the prisoner of the revolutionaries and could not freely rule as King. It was the beginning of many long years of exile for Provence. He soon called on the other crowned heads of Europe to rush their armies to France to rescue their fellow monarch, something which certainly made things difficult for the King but, in reality, he was already a doomed man. After the regicide of King Louis XVI, the Count of Provence declared himself regent for his nephew, the child-King Louis XVII who remained in confinement at the hands of the revolutionaries (he would ultimately be left to starve to death).

In 1795, when it was learned that the little Dauphin was dead, the royalists proclaimed the Count of Provence King Louis XVIII of France. He was haunted by the Revolution and the horror would never leave him for the rest of his life but, for the time being, he had to stay ahead of the revolutionary forces to keep the legitimate royal line alive. He moved to Italy, taking up residence in Verona in what was then the Republic of Venice. He managed to get Princess Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of the late King and Queen, released but only a year later he had to flee again as the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy, eventually splitting the territory of Venice with Austria. He was forced to move to northern Germany, living in very modest conditions, until, as with Austria, political moves forced Prussia to abandon him. Fortunately, the staunchly legitimist Czar Paul I of Russia came to his rescue and offered him asylum in Latvia along with a pension (though this was never paid).

Louis XVIII tried to unite the royalist enemies of the revolutionary regime, rally the European powers and present a united front on the part of the Royal Family, which was certainly not easy. As almost all of Europe came to be dominated by Napoleon or forced to make peace with him, Louis XVIII was probably at his lowest point. Feeling he had no other choice, he wrote personally to Napoleon to try to convince him, as he had put a stop to the worst excesses of the Revolution and restored normalcy to France, to restore the legitimate monarchy. Of course, Napoleon would never do such a thing as, even as he moved to the right, he planned to supplant the Bourbons with his own dynasty rather than restore them. In return, Napoleon tried to convince Louis to renounce his own claim to the throne which, naturally, went nowhere as well. Finally, even the Czar of Russia would no longer provide safe haven to the King and he had to assume a disguise and move to Prussia in 1801, selling off personal possessions to pay for the trip. When Prussia proved unfriendly, due to French pressure, Louis returned to Russian territory as the new Czar Alexander I lifted the ban against him but was also less accommodating. The uncrowned King returned to the Baltic but planned to move to Britain as soon as possible. Later, he was advised to leave and traveled to England via Sweden.

King Louis XVIII
With Great Britain alone standing still opposed to Napoleon, it was the only option left to the Bourbon court-in-exile and the political situation also forced Louis to moderate his political position. He ceased to advocate a simple restoration of the old Kingdom of France and began to hint that some of the changes that had come with the Revolution could be retained. However, he was necessarily and increasingly vague in his statements about what France would look like were the monarchy restored. He wanted to win over those who were disillusioned with the current state of affairs but who were farther and farther removed from the old kingdom while also not wishing to alienate his core supporters, most of whom were ardent royalists who wanted a total return to the old regime. Hard times had ensured that only the most zealous royalists were left. This was a difficult balancing act but one that Louis XVIII handled quite well, saying little but just enough to reassure both sides so that they could assume he agreed with them. He finally promised that those who had gone along with the republic and Napoleon would not be punished as traitors (which would have been impossible in any event as by this point there were simply too many of them) and that confiscated lands would not be returned but that the former owners would be compensated for their loss.

When the allied powers finally defeated Napoleon and forced him to abdicate, King Louis XVIII was obviously quite pleased but also careful as he knew, if his most ardent royalist supporters did not, that a restoration was not a forgone conclusion. The French Napoleonic government tried to establish his return on their own terms but Louis was having none of that and, thankfully, the allies supported him. Unfortunately, when the time came in 1814, Louis XVIII was unable to travel immediately and so sent his brother, the Count of Artois, ahead to secure his place as “Lieutenant General of the Kingdom”. Stranded in Britain by an attack of gout, Louis XVIII had to wait while Artois went before him and acted as ruler of the country, effectively setting up his own private government that would, regardless of their intentions, be a source of division throughout the life of the restored Kingdom of France.

Allegory of Louis XVIII rescuing France
When King Louis XVIII was able to return, he was greeting by cheering crowds of war-weary people. Although the King was happy to enjoy his own again, he did not take it to heart. The memory of the Revolution was still with him and he knew the mobs who cheered him could turn on him in an instant. For the sake of peace and order the allies did insist on France becoming a constitutional monarchy and King Louis XVIII was willing to oblige. He produced the Charter of 1814 which represented his best effort at a compromise between the old Kingdom of France and post-Revolutionary France. There would be democracy but with a very limited franchise. Catholicism would again be the state religion but the old religious laws and privileges would not be back. There would be a representative government, enumerated rights and freedoms but, it was made clear, these were gifts of the King who reigned by the grace of God. In short, he would give the moderate liberals at least what they wanted but on his own terms. It was a limited monarchy but built on a traditional foundation. All things considered, it was probably the best that he could have done. The republicans, of course, were not happy (nor were the Bonapartists) and the royalists were not best pleased either, partly because the initial rule of Artois had raised their hopes too high but the rightful king was back, his sovereignty was based on “divine right” rather than the “rights of man” and the tricolor had been replaced with the Bourbon white flag and golden lily.

Louis XVIII signed the Treaty of Paris, which aimed to go easy on the French in order to smooth the way for the restoration to more firmly establish itself. Unfortunately, it seemed that the King had scarcely got the throne warm when Napoleon escaped from exile and landed on the shores of France. At first, Louis XVIII was not too worried. The problem was that most of the army was Napoleonic veterans greatly attached to their former chief and even those units that had been disbanded had been allowed to retain their arms. One unit after another sent to confront the Corsican conqueror collapsed conspicuously into his clinch. King Louis XVIII did not panic but he was extremely worried as Napoleon swept into Paris and declared himself emperor again. The King felt very fortunate that the Bourbon monarchy had been given a second chance and was very concerned that, lost again, would not be given a third. He moved to the border and then finally crossed into Belgium (then part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands). Whether he would ever see France again was an open question. Czar Alexander I of Russia openly suggested that Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, might be given the throne instead, if and when Napoleon was defeated.

King Louis XVIII
This was a very sore point with King Louis XVIII who certainly did not get along famously with his cousin the Duke of Orleans, managing to tolerate him only out of a desire to present a united Royal Family to the public. They were really not all that different in terms of practical policy but the King could not forgive the part of the Orleans family in the Revolution and, unlike his cousin, could not countenance the idea of a monarch reigning by public approval rather than by the grace of God. Both were agreed that a limited monarchy and moderate policies were best but, to use a touchy word, it was a matter of legitimacy that most separated them. For Louis XVIII the source of his authority and legitimacy had to come from God alone and while he was willing to share power, he was unwilling to do so on any other basis than that it pleased him to do so. To put it another way, he would give a constitution but would not be given a constitution. Fortunately for the King, Napoleon was decisively defeated at Waterloo and the allies agreed that Louis XVIII would resume his reign, though the restrictions placed on France were much harsher than they had been before. Some French politicians even asked for an imported monarch, undoubtedly hoping for one who would be entirely in their power but, most crucially, the Duke of Wellington staunchly supported Louis XVIII.

This time, there were more reprisals on the part of the royalists but it is certainly understandable given how false and ungrateful their enemies had been recently. For his part, King Louis XVIII took no part in these activities but undoubtedly had little sympathy for the victims. He pressed on with trying to make his original constitutional settlement take root, this time taking a firmer hold of the army and purging it of Napoleonic elements who had proven their disloyalty. He also sought to uphold the principle of monarchial legitimacy by sending French troops into Spain in 1823 where rebellion had risen up against the Bourbon King Fernando VII. However, the King did not last long after that. His health had grown worse and worse and he probably suffered from even more ailments than we know of. He had become so fat that he lacked the strength to even hold his head up and had to have a cushion placed on his desk when he was in his office. His bitterness towards the Duke of Orleans never went away though he also feared that his immediate successor, Artois, lacked good sense, both for being too stridently reactionary (in his view) and being too friendly with the Duke of Orleans.

King Louis XVIII
After a long, painful decline King Louis XVIII of France passed away on September 16, 1824 at which point his younger brother became King Charles X. He was the last French monarch to die as king and pass the crown to his successor. All in all, King Louis XVIII receives much less credit than he deserves. Certainly, his personal behavior was often less than ideal and he could have been of more help to his older brother in the build-up to the Revolution. However, he always had the right priorities and while he escaped the guillotine, he suffered a great deal and carried on with remarkable skill and determination in carrying the torch of traditional French monarchism in the darkest of times. He was very intelligent, very practical and, unlike some, had a firm grasp of what was realistic and what was not. He understood, very well, that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Bismarck later said) and he skillfully steered a course that took account of the Revolution and the empire and what impact these had on France without sacrificing the fundamental values of the traditional French monarchy. He was never the sort of monarch who would attract admiration but he was probably the best man for the job at such a difficult time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Complaining About Colonialism

When it comes to popular trends in values, opinions and perceptions, there is no doubt that old school colonialism or imperialism is one of the most widely condemned. It can be condemned with ease and enthusiasm because bashing the colonial empires of yesterday is about as fashionable these days as bashing Nazis, climate change skeptics, the United States or people who think the Bible is true. It’s fun and almost everyone does it. On a global level, bemoaning colonialism is something that all of the “cool kids” are doing. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I refuse to join this trend no matter how fashionable it may be. There were certainly many negative and shameful aspects of colonialism/imperialism but there were also positive aspects as well. However, anti-colonialism has become its own industry these days and, quite often, former colonial powers themselves are the biggest supporters of it. Some do it because they seem to enjoy wallowing in guilt and self-flagellation while others do it because they just want to be popular and deny their own colonialist history entirely. Colonialism/imperialism is today often seen as equivalent to racism, even as being irreversibly entwined. This, I think, is wrong and misleading but it highlights just how far removed from reality the modern, popular perception of colonialism/imperialism has become. Why should we care? Because the most prominent and successful colonial powers were monarchies or were republics who inherited colonial empires from their monarchial predecessors.

Combining imperialism and racism has become so common today that it is usually taken for granted. However, just a moment of dispassionate thought will reveal how ridiculous it is. First of all, the argument itself is racist because it is always directed at the colonialism/imperialism of Western Europe and (later) the United States. As if Western European Caucasians and their offspring are singularly capable of this evil while all others have only ever been their hapless victims. This, of course, is blatantly untrue. For one thing, the European colonial empires of recent times were very seldom established the way the popular imagination thinks they were, which is to say, evil White men with guns conquering primitive peoples of different colored skins and taking control of their land. Which is not to say that such things never happened but it was certainly not ‘standard operating procedure’. The British, for example, never “conquered” India nor did little Belgium ever “conquer” the whole of central Africa. Many of these colonial enterprises come down to a simple question; are international agreements valid? Countries make choices, sometimes they make bad choices and sometimes they are forced by circumstances to choose between the least of two bad options. This is something that has happened to all peoples all throughout the course of history. Yet, not all are viewed the same today.

Merriam-Webster defines “colonialism” as “control by one country over another area and its people”. Obviously, by that definition, colonialism is something which almost everyone has engaged in at some point or another. Why does it seem that guilt and blame only seem to be focused in one general direction? At one time, almost the whole of Asia and half of Europe was controlled by the Mongols. Everyone seems to have gotten over that. In southern Africa, the Zulus under King Shaka were quite the colonial power as were the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mexico. European history is filled to bursting with examples and yet Europe always seems to be held as the instigator of colonialism rather than being subject to it. For a very long time Greece was controlled by Turkey, most of Poland was controlled by Russia, for about 800 years most of Spain was under the control of foreign powers. Somehow though, no one expects modern-day Spain to be demanding reparations from modern-day Morocco. Does Russia send foreign aid to Finland, consumed by guilt over the years of Russian control over the Finns? European peoples have often been the colonial subjects of other European peoples and even non-European peoples such as the Moorish rule over Spain, the Turkish rule over the Balkans or Mongol rule over Russia. Europeans never had a monopoly on colonialism.

Sometimes, the efforts to blame current problems on the legacy of European colonialism reach farcical proportions. One good example today is Libya, where the former Kaddafi regime was particularly adept at extorting money from Italy based on fashionable anti-colonialism. If there were problems in Libya due to the legacy of colonialism, should the Italians really be held to blame? After all, Italian rule over Libya lasted a mere 32 years whereas Turkish rule over Libya lasted 360 years! Who reasonably would have had the larger impact on the region? Libya is also one of a number of examples of colonial powers being falsely accused of conquering countries which are countries today but were not so at the time. Similar cases can be seen in Italian rule over Libya, American rule over the Philippines or Japanese rule over Taiwan. Each were a case when one country went to war with another country and was ceded territory in the peace settlement after which local rebel forces had to be subdued. Was this right or legitimate? Again, that would, I suppose, depend on if you think any international agreements hold validity. It would certainly be a chaotic world if they did not. Countries make agreements and have to abide by them or face the consequences, which could be economic, military or simply being shunned because no one trusts you to keep your word. Sometimes, they are obliged to make “unequal” agreements but such is the way of the world and constantly crying over it is very tiresome. It has happened to virtually everyone at some point.

Perhaps one of the most infuriating things about empire-bashing, for me at least, when the perpetrator is a republican is how much rank hypocrisy is on display. For example, today Red China is very fond of bashing old style imperialism while ruling over Tibet, Manchuria, parts of old Mongolia and hoping for more. They influence the governments and exploit the resources of numerous African countries, have bought up land and influence in Latin America and have taken control of a huge chunk of Iran. All oil in that part of the country belongs to China, they police it, they decide who gets in or out and the Chinese have said that any attack on Iran (or at least that part -they were probably intentionally vague on that point) would be considered an attack on Chinese territory. They are an “empire” in all but name. Playing in a rather different ballpark, we have the United States, which has also often been quick to criticize colonialism while flirting with being a colonial power but usually being something that is not quite colonialism but often seems worse. The United States tends to refrain from ruling other peoples but reserves the right to smack them around if they do something Washington DC doesn’t like. Why not just rule the place themselves? Because they’re not “colonialists” of course, that’s un-American! Whatever one chooses to call this, it certainly has not been a beneficial policy, least of all for the U.S. itself. However, having to play pretend to keep up the anti-colonialism charade is common to a number of countries around the world.

One of the most active but least effective monarchies engaged in this today is Japan. On the one hand, there is the self-hating leftist crowd in Japan that is quick to confess to any crime, apologize for anything and condemn all that has gone before them. They and their kind are a major reason why so many formerly great powers are slowly disappearing. However, then there is the always entertaining radical-right in Japan. It is rather hard to take any of these people too seriously because they constantly seem to be trying to persuade someone of something but are unsure of exactly what or of even who they are struggling to convince. Many have attached themselves to the anti-colonialism trend, claiming that Japan was the champion of anti-colonialism, the liberator of East Asia from colonial rule and the harbinger of freedom and independence for the Far East. To do this they must, of course, deny that the Empire of Japan was ever a colonial power which, naturally, no one with any sense and access to a history book is ever going to believe. Whether they actually believe such nonsense themselves is anybody’s guess, it may simply be part of their on-going effort to convince the world that they were right in World War II and everyone else was wrong by portraying Japan as the enemy of colonialism, something which is very popular today. They did the same thing in the Cold War when (more sensibly) anti-communism was much more popular by claiming that the Japanese war effort was all about fighting communism (they were anti-Red before anti-Red was “cool”). That having fallen out of fashion, they are more likely these days to highlight Japanese forces who actually joined communist terrorist groups to fight French or Dutch or some other colonial power after the war was over. Hating “whitey” is just as popular in Japan as Western Europe.

Trying to deny that Japan was a colonial power is, of course, absurd and none of their arguments hold up for an instant. For example, some will claim that Korea was not *really* a colony of Japan because it was annexed to Japan as part of the empire, just like Honshu or Hokkaido. However, they cite Hawaii as an example of American colonialism even though Hawaii was annexed as well and became a state in the Union. France made Algeria a part of metropolitan France, just as French Guiana is today and no one would consider that this erases their status as colonial subjects, past or present. Were that true, Britain would today be a greater empire than the United States and I doubt anyone looking at a map would buy that argument. As mentioned before, Japan also claimed to be “liberating” the Philippines from American colonial rule which is rather at odds with the fact that Japan came to control Taiwan in exactly the same way that the United States came to control the Philippines. If the one is legitimate, the other must be as well. However, for those who do accept the reality that Japan was a colonial power there is also the argument that it was simply the only one which was humane and benevolent while all others were cruel and oppressive and thus deserving of being destroyed. This is popular with those who like having their egos massaged but of course it discourages monarchist solidarity in a big way. Sadly, it is far from uncommon.

Not a few monarchies have fallen prey to this unhelpful way of thinking and one of the most prominent is the biggest colonial power of all: Great Britain. The mentality that, “all empires are bad, except our own” is one that has done considerable damage to the monarchist cause around the world. The area where this caused the earliest and biggest spread of republicanism was in Latin America with the Spanish colonial empire being the loser. Being quick to uphold the British Empire as benevolent, the Spanish empire was portrayed in the British press as harsh, backward and repressive. Britain supported the independence movements in Latin America that led to the birth of a whole crop of new republics, mostly out of a commercial desire to end the Spanish monopoly on trade with South America and gain a foothold for British business interests. This anti-Spanish empire mentality lasted to the very end when Great Britain, virtually alone among the European powers, supported the United States in the Spanish-American War. The result has not been good for the monarchist cause nor even for the cause of Britain. The United States quickly became the biggest business partner for Latin American countries and one of them in particular continues to bedevil British territorial sovereignty in the Falkland Islands. Spain, it should not be forgotten, did itself no favors with almost constant internal unrest in the homeland making holding on to the empire nearly impossible but British attitudes and actions certainly didn’t help and aided in the demise of the Spanish empire.

The antagonistic attitude toward the German Empire was also not ultimately helpful either. Germany had, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, become the third leading colonial power in the world but World War I saw it all brought to ruin. In the aftermath, Britain reached its peak in imperial size but it also planted the seeds for the ruination of the British Empire as well. Now, before anyone starts to get any anti-British ideas about all of this, the British attitude was certainly understandable even if it was not beneficial. The British really were pretty darn good at the colonial empire game and if you were going to live in a colony, you had a much better chance of living well in a British colony or former colony than in any other. Looking at modern Taiwan and South Korea, one could say much the same about Japan (though few would care to as they are certainly not fair to their fellow colonial powers). The lists of the top economic powers by GDP invariably include the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada and Australia all of which were formerly part of the British Empire. No other colonial empire is so well represented. Smaller holdings such as Hong Kong and Singapore also have records of immense success on every level. That’s all true and it’s all great and it is something that the British and their former colonies can be proud of. Being proud of achievements, however, does not necessitate tearing down others in comparison! It also tends to make people look ridiculous when countries like Australia (because I’ve noticed they’re very good at it) bash Britain all the time. Look around you Aussies, you came out of the empire pretty well off.

Part of the reason why I long for more pan-monarchist solidarity on this front (aside from it being a good idea in an of itself) is that most of the anti-colonial sentiment today comes from a very common and dangerous foe. In the past there may have been other reasons (often rivalry) but today it is predominately due to Marxist thinking, part of their whole egalitarian, progressive, everything-in-the-past-was-bad mentality that furthers their cause of wanting to tear down any vestiges of tradition and try something “new”. A number of monarchies have actually been destroyed by this. A perfect example is the Empire of Ethiopia (“Take Two”). Emperor Haile Selassie was an outspoken advocate of ending European colonialism in Africa (even while he extended Ethiopian colonial rule over Eritrea) but failed to grasp that these movements were predominately backed by communist forces. In the end, European colonialism did collapse in Africa, often replaced by communist dictatorships and Ethiopia itself fell victim to communist revolutionary forces that destroyed the monarchy and brought poverty and starvation. And anyone who thinks that the end of “traditional” colonialism in Africa has meant the end of African people being ruled or exploited by foreign powers is fooling themselves. In some ways it is worse now than in the past since, when colonialism was overt, the colonial power had to maintain law and order and keep people safe. Today, as long as the mines are productive, few people seem to care if Africans are displaced by civil wars or wiped out in genocides.

That is one reason why I cannot bring myself to join the ‘condemn all colonialism’ crowd. There was certainly much in the old system that was bad, at times even horrific but I see nothing wrong and even much potential for benefit if people today would drop old prejudices and make new agreements openly and honestly. If a country requires protection or some sort of assistance, I see nothing wrong with coming to an agreement with another country to provide these things in exchange for something else, like an exclusive trade deal or use of some territory or something. However, my primary point here is that monarchists should really know better than to be “shooting inside the tent” on this subject and that everyone who likes to moan and groan and claim perpetual victim status for being a former colony should get over it and stop the pity party. You used to be ruled by someone else? Sorry, that doesn’t make you special. It’s happened to everybody and your people probably did it to some other people at some point so let’s all act like big boys and girls and stop trying to cash-in on past misfortunes. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Beware the Ides of March

On this day in 44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar, duly elected Dictator of the Roman Republic, was assassinated by a group of conspirators. Read my thoughts on the assassination here and a profile on Julius Caesar here.

It was a dramatic sign of how far fallen the Roman Republic already was, striking down the greatest leader of the day because his success made others fearful of him. His murder set events into motion which led to the founding of the Roman Empire and, oddly enough, the conspirators, fearing a potential king, created a dynasty of emperors.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Did World War II Doom the Italian Monarchy?

It seems a very simple question. Did World War II doom the Italian monarchy? Italy entered the war, lost, and the monarchy fell. Surely the answer is, “yes”. Yet, it is not quite that simple. What if the Kingdom of Italy had won the Second World War? Would it still have fallen? The end of the monarchy did not coincide with defeat in the war as in Germany or Austria in the first war. In fact, it survived a short time after the war was over. There is actually quite a diversity of views on this subject. Some critics of the monarchy state with absolute assurance that republicanism was inevitable and that the reign of the House of Savoy was doomed no matter what happened. Others, think that the monarchy was doomed in 1921 when the Fascists came to power and that, after that, it was only a matter of time. Still others do make the case that the monarchy always held the upper hand up until Italy entered the war and that this was the critical mistake that ended any hope of monarchy surviving on the Italian peninsula. Losing a war, particularly in the age of “total war” such as the world wars certainly brought down many monarchies, most younger than the House of Savoy but which, outwardly at least, seemed more secure. However, there was certainly significant support for the monarchy remaining even after 1945. That the republicans had to resort to chicanery to squeak out even a narrow victory in the referendum is proof enough of that.

Mussolini & his monarch
The first issue to look at is whether the Italian monarchy was on stable ground before the war. More than one historian has asserted that it would only the outbreak of war that prevented the Italian monarchy from being abolished even earlier. Benito Mussolini had been, for most of his life, a socialist and staunch republican who only lately embraced the monarchy and was viewed by not a few as being insincere in that conversion (rather like his baptism in the Catholic Church which was viewed almost universally as something purely for show and political convenience). There are a number of comments and actions on the part of the Duce to reinforce this view. As far as actions go, his attempt to take control of the succession (no doubt to disinherit Prince Umberto of Piedmont who was disliked by the Fascists) prompted a confrontation with the palace and Mussolini, ultimately, had to back down. An attempt to assassinate King Victor Emmanuel III in 1928 was blamed on republicans in the Fascist Party and Mussolini was clearly uncomfortable at public functions when he had to surrender pride of place to the monarch. According to Mussolini himself, his regular meetings with the King were “cordial but never friendly”. Yet, as insulting as Mussolini could speak about the King and monarchy, when the two met he was always respectful and polite.

Although he complained about having to deal with the monarchy such as when Hitler visited the country (and Hitler, who was adamantly opposed to monarchy, warned Mussolini that the Royal Family was against him and that the monarchy should be abolished at the first available opportunity), the Duce always seemed willing to make use of the monarchy as a dynastic tool for the advancement of Italian interests. When the so-called Austro-fascists sounded him out about the possibility of restoring the House of Hapsburg he made no objection and even spoke of another Hapsburg-Savoy dynastic alliance to cement the ties between Italy and Austria. During the Italian intervention he also proposed Prince Amadeus, Duke of Aosta, as a potential Spanish monarch (as his ancestor had briefly been). The King disliked this idea and, no doubt to his relief, Franco turned it down. Yet, there were other confrontations when Mussolini tried to interfere with the army, confrontations which the King always won such as the proposal to abolish the carabinieri (the prestigious and very royalist military police) and another to fuse the army and the MVSN (the Fascist militia or Blackshirts). Were these simply efforts to expand the much-boasted totalitarianism of the regime or part of an on-going anti-monarchist agenda?

Re-Imperatore & Duce
Not long before the war, Mussolini was heard more than once to say that he would get rid of the King and the Pope as well when the time was right. Some suggest that it was only the outbreak of war that prevented this from becoming reality. However, could Mussolini have abolished the monarchy if he had really wanted to? In 1938, when many viewed Mussolini as being at the height of his power and prestige, some observers noted that the monarchy remained just as popular if not more so. In the anonymous darkness of the cinema, watching newsreels, crowds were silent when Mussolini appeared but cheered the King when he came on the screen. It may have been the fact that the monarchy was keeping pace with or even surpassing his own popularity that prompted his occasional republican outbursts. This would mean that while he may have increasingly wanted to get rid of the monarchy, the facts which most encouraged this feeling were also those which would prevent his ever making good on his threats. In terms of monarchist sentiment, the highest echelons of the Fascist Party were being won over by the King just as many were grumbling about the leadership and decisions of the Duce.

After Mussolini, there was no more elite group among the Fascists than the “Quadrumvirs”, men who had led the ‘March on Rome’ in 1921; Michele Bianchi, Emilio De Bono, Cesare De Vecchi and Italo Balbo. Of these, Bianchi was dead by 1930, De Bono and De Vecchi had always been staunch monarchists and only joined the Fascist bid for power after Mussolini endorsed the monarchy and even Italo Balbo, previously an ardent republican, had become a monarchist after becoming disillusioned with Mussolini’s leadership. Balbo, like the King, had been particularly distressed at the decision to ally with Nazi Germany. Count Dino Grandi, president of parliament and a member of the Fascist Grand Council also remained supportive of the monarchy and increasingly dubious in his attachment to Mussolini (he would ultimately raise the motion in the Grand Council to restore the King to his full powers, thus removing Mussolini). Given all of that, and the fact that the army remained staunchly royalist, later proven by the fact that only one Marshal of Italy followed Mussolini in his Nazi-backed puppet republic in the north after 1943, would indicate that even if there had been an effort to abolish the monarchy before the war it almost certainly would have failed disastrously.

Prince Umberto & Mussolini
So, if the war did not save the monarchy; did the war doom the monarchy? Would it have made a difference if Italy had won or lost in the course of the war? There are quite a few mentions in histories of this period that Mussolini, who never liked having to share public acclaim with the monarchy during moments of triumph, wanted to abolish the monarchy and take the supreme position for himself. Such people point out that, had World War II ended in an Italian victory, it would have been the perfect time for Mussolini to carry out such ambitions. As usual, there is some circumstantial evidence to support such an idea. Mussolini seemed very determined to allow no high-profile royal figures to have the chance to achieve any military glory. He had kept Prince Umberto out of the Abyssinian War and, though he was commander of the initial invasion of France (which was far from successful anyway), never allowed him to command any major military operation. Kept out of the campaigns in North Africa, Greece, Yugoslavia and Russia, Prince Umberto was forced to spend most of his time inspecting second-line forces in Calabria. It is at least possible that this was part of a plan on Mussolini’s part to make sure that he received all the credit for victory if Italy had managed to win.

Yet, again, even if that had been the Duce’s plan, it may not have been successful. For one thing, Mussolini was never able to have the purely Fascist military victory that he always longed for. The invasion of Abyssinia is illustrative of this. The original commander was Emilio De Bono who (though a staunch monarchist) was one of the Fascist Quadrumvirs and the Blackshirt legions were set to play the dominant role in the fighting. However, De Bono’s cautious advance was taking too much time and he had to be replaced by Marshal Badoglio who was seen at least as being more the King’s man as a traditional Piedmontese army officer (though, oddly enough, De Bono was probably more attached to the monarchy in fact than Badoglio was). The MVSN is often wrongly considered the Italian equivalent of the German SS but, in fact, it would have been more similar to the SA. It was a militia, not an elite force and mostly consisted of men who were “weekend warriors” rather than professional soldiers. Even then, by the time of World War II, many of its commanders were monarchist former army officers rather than committed Fascists.

Marshal Giovanni Messe
During the course of the war, even while Mussolini kept the Savoy princes from important commands, the army continued to be dominated by men loyal to the King before they were loyal to the Duce. In Africa, early on, the most successful commander had been the Duke of Aosta who certainly would not have backed any attack on the monarchy. During the height of Axis success in North Africa the Italian commander was Marshal Ettore Bastico who put loyalty to the Crown before the Fascist Party. General Mario Roatta, commander of Italian forces in the former Yugoslavia, though regarded as an unsavory figure by many, remained with the Badoglio government rather than Mussolini after 1943, an indication of where his ultimate loyalty was and in Russia the Italian commander was General (later Marshal) Giovanni Messe who, aside from being probably the most capable Italian commander of the war, was a staunch monarchist who even got involved in politics as a royalist after the monarchy was abolished. Furthermore, during the course of the war, regardless of his motivations, Mussolini had continued to make use of the monarchy such as by going along with the elevation of the Duke of Spoleto as King of Croatia. This would certainly have complicated matters if there had been any post-war move against the monarchy by Mussolini.

Given how many monarchists remained in positions of authority in government, even within the Fascist Party itself, as well as the prevalence of royalist sentiment in the army, it is hard to see how Mussolini could have abolished the monarchy even if Italy had won the war. Part of the problem, for the Duce at least, with the royalist figures such as De Vecchi, De Bono, former leader of the predominately royalist nationalist party Luigi Federzoni (who was also on the Grand Council) was precisely that Mussolini had appointed them all to high positions. Previously, he had stated that there would, in the future, be “another” Fascist revolution and this time, “without contraceptives” (taken by most to mean casting aside the monarchy and Church) and that he was “plucking the chicken feather by feather to lessen its squawking” (referring to his diminishment of royal powers) which could certainly be added to the column of evidence that Mussolini intended to move against the monarchy at some point. However, if part of that “plucking” involved the removal of royalists from positions of power, particularly non-military officials like those mentioned above, it would have been all but impossible to do without destroying the Fascist myth of the Duce as the man who was “always right”. After all, if Mussolini is never supposed to make a mistake, how could he purge such men at the very highest echelons of the Fascist state without admitting the he had been spectacularly wrong on numerous occasions over so many years?

Victor Emmanuel III
The whole thing would have revealed just how empty was the oft-repeated boast that Mussolini had made Italy a totalitarian state. It would have shown that despite decades in power, neither the government or the army were purely Fascist and absolutely loyal to him. It would have also hurt his “always right” line of propaganda simply because Mussolini had kept the monarchy in place for so long. His slights against the monarchy were always out of public view and the public never saw the Duce being anything but formal and correct towards the King so as to maintain the image of the “diarchy”. It would have shown him, in dramatic fashion, to be a liar and a hypocrite. Of course, we can also see what happened when Mussolini did turn on the monarchy after 1943 and the result was a shambles. With only the Nazis and die-hard republican Fascists supporting him, he was forced to back peddle and try to reach out to the radical leftists. This, of course, did him no good as they continued to view him as the socialist “heretic” they always had since his split from them over World War I. Had he been Duce of a country victorious in war, he certainly would have had a much stronger position to do as he pleased but it is hard to see how he could manage to pull off such a dramatic break with the past as abolishing the monarchy without destroying his own reputation in the process.

That, however, was never an option though as Italy lost the war and so the only question left is whether losing cost the House of Savoy their crown. It certainly made a huge difference. Contrary to the popular perception (based mostly on World War II), losing wars was not something Italians were used to. Ties between the military and the monarchy were old and strongly held but, prior to World War II, Italian military operations had been overwhelmingly successful, from the war in Abyssinia, the intervention in Spain, the pacification of Libya, World War I and the war against Ottoman Turkey. The Italian military had been extremely over-hyped by Mussolini but given the recent history, the stunning losses in World War II came as quite a shock to the public and as a terrible morale blow to the royal army in particular. Of course, we know that losing the war did not automatically bring down the monarchy but there were several key points about the loss that certainly undermined the monarchy and left it in mortal danger. Examples include the German alliance, the Salo Republic and the blundering of the Allies. There was also one way in which Mussolini himself actually benefited the monarchy, albeit inadvertently.

Italian Co-Belligerent Force soldiers
The problem with the German alliance was that Germany was not willing to cut ties and allow Italy to sit out the rest of the war. It was German intervention which caused the resulting Italian civil war within World War II that proved so damaging to the Italian nation on every level. The 1943 armistice was supposed to take Italy out of the fighting but because of the German reaction the country was forced back into the conflict on both sides, the Italian Social Republic forces fighting with the Nazis in the north and the Italian Co-Belligerent forces fighting with the Allies in the south. To the extent that ill-will towards the monarchy did arise in the Italian military, this was almost invariably the cause. Even some of those who put loyalty to the King first still felt very bad about suddenly being called upon to fight their former allies alongside those who had previously been their enemies and who had stripped Italy of all its pre-war possessions, even those gained long before the Fascists came to power. This was one of the major blunders of the Allies which went a long way to damaging the monarchy and destabilizing Italy. The Allies, trying to cling to their “unconditional surrender and nothing else will be accepted” strategy basically gave Italians who wanted to end the war absolutely no encouragement and every reason to go on fighting. Yet, with every passing day, the German grip on Italy grew stronger and so the need for some level of at least cooperation from the Italians became more and more imperative. The result was a situation that benefited no one.

Another problem caused by the Germans and their Salo puppet state was that it provided a huge shot in the arm to all the most anti-monarchy elements in Italy. It attracted the most diehard Fascists as well as attracting even more leftist opposition. Communist partisan guerillas were rampant and could count on strong backing from the Soviet Union. Inevitably, some aid from the western Allies to other non-communist partisans found their way into communist hands. So, while anti-monarchy elements gained a stranglehold on northern Italy thanks to the state of affairs caused by Germany, in the rest of the country, short-sighted Allied policies did nothing to bolster the monarchy which was the best defense against a communist takeover of Italy. Were it not for this confused situation and the Allied occupation there may well have never been a referendum at all. Finally, Mussolini inadvertently helped the monarchy by the previously discussed efforts of him to keep the Royal Family out of the war as much as possible. He did this because he did not want them to share any of the glory but, as it turned out, it meant that they could not be blamed for the ultimate defeat and most of the military remained loyal to the monarchy. This is evidenced by the efforts taken to keep as many members of the armed forces as possible from participating in the referendum by its republican organizers.

Did the war play a major part in the downfall of the Italian monarchy? Undoubtedly, and if Italy had stayed out of the war the monarchy would likely still be here. However, I don’t think the war doomed the Italian monarchy. Those who wanted King Victor Emmanuel III to abdicate, which he proved reluctant to do, was mostly because he had been too long associated with the Fascists rather than the war, though it was certainly unpopular, particularly after all hope of victory was lost. If the Allied Control Commission had not been so unrealistic in their demands on the Italian government, things might have been very different -but of course they would not have been there in the first place were it not for the war. It is also true that the part played by the Allies in the lead-up to the referendum is often exaggerated, after a certain point (certainly after the first post-Fascist elections brought so many communists to power) they took a “hands-off” attitude, refusing to hinder or help either side. They certainly did harm the monarchist cause overall, but probably not as much as some (seeking a convenient scapegoat) like to think. The war did not doom the Kingdom of Italy but losing the war certainly made the fall of the monarchy possible and probable yet not inevitable.

If Italy had stayed out of the war, the monarchy would almost certainly have survived. There were too many monarchists in high places to make abolition of the monarchy in any way easy. If Italy had won the war, the monarchy would probably have survived, even with Mussolini triumphant, it was still too interwoven with the fabric of society and the regime to get rid out without trouble and a great deal of embarrassment. If, upon exiting the war, Germany had stayed out of Italy, it certainly would have made the retention of the monarchy more likely. If the Allies had enacted a coherent policy towards the Kingdom of Italy which was seeking an armistice, the monarchy could have survived. If Italy had been given some tangible benefit for joining the Allied cause, the monarchy might have been saved. It, of course, also goes without saying that if the Allies had behaved differently and if the referendum had been conducted fairly and by impartial authorities the monarchy could have been saved. I dislike saying so but if King Victor Emmanuel III had abdicated and left the country at the time of the defeat, it may also have made preserving the monarchy easier. As it was, the Fascist era and World War II managed to at least make possible the downfall of one of the oldest Royal Families in the world so that, for the first time in over a thousand years, there was no patch of ground over which a Savoy reigned.
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