Monday, May 25, 2015

Japan, Comfort Women and How to Lose an Argument

For those who do not know, “comfort women” is the term used to describe prostitutes who served the old Imperial Japanese Military at military brothels which were known as “comfort stations”. Originally, these comfort women were all Japanese but after the Japanese annexation of Korea they came to include Korean women as well. During World War II, as Japanese forces conquered southeast Asia, other nationalities became comfort women also. These comfort women are at the center of a long-standing dispute between Japan, South Korea and to a lesser extent Red China (they mostly do funding and let the Koreans do the public activities). Activists on the Korean side have claimed that this was an institutionalized system of sex slavery run by the Imperial Japanese Army and the Japanese government and that hundreds of thousands of women were sexually enslaved, raped and abused by the Japanese in and around World War II as a matter of official policy (an important point). Many Japanese dispute this and some quite vociferously so. However, those who do have done themselves more harm than good and, in the end, are helping the anti-Japanese crowd more than anyone.

An event that happened recently in the United States concerning this issue is a good object lesson in exactly what NOT to do if you want to be persuasive in turning people to your way of thinking. Everyone can benefit from this. It should be stated at the outset that, when it comes to the comfort women issue, there are plenty of facts and more just plain common sense on the side of the Japanese. I have spoken about this issue before (elsewhere) and have looked into both sides of the argument. The problem with the Japanese side is not so much in their facts as their presentation. So, here is the first important tip for anyone trying to win an argument or convince someone of something: know who you are trying to persuade and why. The Japanese making this argument have had a very hard time when it comes to getting their story straight. All too often they lose focus by trying to deny that Japan ever did anything wrong that they get off topic and lose credibility by trying to argue that they alone have been pure and blameless at all times. This becomes an issue when dealing with the comfort women, as we shall see. They also do not seem to know exactly who they are trying to convince of their point of view. In this case, the primary target is Americans and recent events have shown just how badly this was not understood.

In recent years, Sino-Korean organizations have erected comfort women statues in a few American cities. These have all been very leftist areas and done in cooperation with the local governments. Many in Japan were very upset by this and, originally, many Americans were inclined to side with Japan. Leftists, feminists and minority pressure groups were always on the Sino-Korean side and are never going to be anything else but most Americans, and especially conservative Americans, were inclined to side with Japan, even knowing nothing about the issue. It caused quite a stir in the news and most Americans had no idea why these statues were being set up. What did any of this have to do with the United States? No one knew, and mainstream Americans, especially those on the right, dislike immigrant groups bringing feuds from their former countries to the United States. Japan got another boost of sympathy when Korean communities in certain areas began pressing people such as the state government of Virginia to change American textbooks to rename the Sea of Japan the “East Sea” (as it is known in Korea). Japan was well placed to win such arguments. The comfort women issue had nothing to do with the U.S. and caused unnecessary divisions and ugly scenes. Many Americans disapproved.

However, then along comes a young, far-right Japanese filmmaker named Yujiro Taniyama. He decided to hand the Sino-Korean pressure groups an easy victory by making this issue America’s business when he made a very long documentary on the subject and came to debut it at Washington Central University. The result was a disaster of face-palming proportions. In looking into this person, after the fact, this should not have come as a surprise to anyone and illustrates why the far-right in Japan is their own worst enemy. They don’t know what they are arguing “for” nor do they seem to know exactly “who” they are trying to win over with their arguments. Many have tried to reach western audiences with their perspective by supporting western writers who will spread their point of view. However, this has invariably resulted in an echo-chamber in which the only people listening are the people who already agree. Examples include people like the now elderly Henry Scott Stokes from Britain and Michael Yon from America, people who criticize their own country but have nothing but praise for Japan. As one can well imagine, such views go over well in Japan but not so well in Britain or America. If, for example, you are trying to persuade people in Britain to listen to both sides in the comfort women argument, the leftists are a lost cause and for the conservative, proud British people, Henry Scott Stokes is going to offend more than persuade with his constant portrayal of Japan as the only righteous country in World War II, the “light of Asia” that liberated oppressed people from the terrible slavery of the British Empire. Yeah, that’s not going to be a big hit with proud, Queen and Country Britons. One Max von Schuler-Kobayashi is another example, a man who says he is an American (living in Japan) but who is the most virulent anti-American one can imagine. He is not going to persuade anyone in the United States of anything unless it is to view all Japanese as enemies.

When Yujiro Taniyama came to WCU to screen his film, had anyone looked into his past remarks, they would know immediately that, despite his fluency in English, he was not the right person to be making this case. Some at the university did and immediately there was an effort to put together a rebuttal forum to be held alongside the screening of his film. The title of the film alone would put people off, it was called “Racist America: The Scottsboro Girls”. One would think it goes without saying but an important tip in making an argument is not to start off by insulting the very people you are trying to persuade. When you begin by calling people “racists” or their country “racist” they tend to stop listening or will take a very negative view of anything you say after that. Allow me to describe in detail exactly what happened because, as mentioned, it was a perfect example of what NOT to do at absolutely every step.

The Scottsboro boys with their attorney
Mr. Taniyama showed up wearing an American flag baseball cap and bib-overalls. He looked like he was going trick-or-treating as a “redneck”. Right off, this will offend people who think he is a redneck and it will offend rednecks who think this foreigner is mocking them. Before screening his film, Taniyama spoke at great length, almost to the point of saying everything the film would say before it showed. He did two very damaging things; he made the comfort women issue an American issue and he insulted everyone in the United States. He also decided to make this something racial and, when looking into his past remarks, this is not too surprising as he has spoken numerous times on the “White people are all racists” theme. However, he made it still worse for himself by the title of his film alone, first by calling America racist and then by borrowing the name of the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” case from American history. This was a case in which a group of Black men were accused of raping some White women who were later found to have been lying about the incident. The title alone managed to offend both White and Black Americans.

Additionally, in this vein, his casual use of the “n-word” did not help either. He did not call anyone that, but it is not a good thing to say, especially for someone in his position. This may have been a misunderstanding but when in doubt it is best not to use such a controversial word at all. Some older Americans, for comparison, see nothing wrong with the term “Jap” anymore than they would the term “Brit” to refer to someone from Britain. However, Japanese people consider this a racist term and it would not be a good idea to go to Japan and make a speech in which you toss around the term “Jap”. It should not take much cultural understanding to know this was not a good idea. During his long speech, he also made numerous “jokes” that were sure to inflame both sides of the political spectrum in America. He made cracks about Hillary Clinton, offending liberals, feminists and Democrats as well as cracks about buying guns at Wal-Mart, offending conservatives, NRA members and Republicans. He complained about the liberal media trying to silence him, offending the left, and mocked Fox News, offending the right. His insulting remarks about the comfort women themselves did his cause no good as basically calling unfortunate, elderly women a bunch of whores just makes you look bad, not them. He also attributed opposition to his point of view to “evangelical feminists” which would offend left-wing feminists and right-wing Christians at the same time.

The result of all of this was that many people walked out before the film even started. By the time he finished ranting only 15 to 20 people remained in the room. Contrast this to the at least 200 people who attended the nearby anti-Japanese rebuttal forum, staying for the duration. Which side came away the winner is easy to see. Why was this? The Korean side played on feelings of compassion, pulled at the heartstrings and, very importantly, did not openly insult their audience. They also had a single, consistent narrative. Mr. Taniyama had some facts too but these do little good if your presentation turns people away from even listening to you and the result is that the Sino-Korean side came away looking like the innocent, sympathetic victims and Japan, the most successful East Asian country and the most venerable monarchy in the world, came away looking like an America-bashing country of anti-White racists. “Blame the racist White people” seems to be a favorite tactic of Mr. Taniyama as seen in this tweet that was brought to my attention regarding an appearance he made on the anti-western Al-Jazeera network:
This is something easy to sell in certain quarters but it is precisely in those quarters where the Japanese conservatives are never going to win any support while alienating those who ARE most inclined to listen to and sympathize with them. Know who you are trying to persuade.

As to the facts of the matter at issue, comfort women were, by and large, sex workers and not sex slaves. Some were not, some were abducted and some were treated viciously and they deserve sympathy. However, to argue that the comfort women system was part of some government-organized sex slave business is completely untrue. Mr. Taniyama quoted a few university historians (from a country he called racist) to back this up but it would not convince many people. Nor is it necessary as simple common sense would tell most people, if they can be persuaded to listen, that Japan would not be able to forcibly abduct and confine 200,000 women while at the same time fighting a world war. It is not an argument, in my view, Koreans should make (as they are most often associated with it). Koreans were not the only comfort women, Koreans served in the Japanese military and availed themselves of the services of the comfort women the same as the Japanese did. Japan issued an apology for this in the past and paid reparations to the Korean government for this, in fact to the President of Korea who was the father of the current President of Korea. I just don’t think it is a good or healthy subject to try to make into an international issue, just from a Korean perspective. Any country should desire to be respected rather than pitied and, to me, no one connected with this issue comes away from it unsullied.

It would have been better, certainly for Japan, if this had remained simply a Korean-Japanese issue but people like Mr. Taniyama succeeded in making it an American issue as well. This is where controlling your message and keeping focused comes into play. First, he made it an American issue by blaming it on “American racism” which was not smart. Secondly, in an effort to spread the blame around, he asserted that American forces made use of comfort women after World War II. Which is true, though they were not Koreans, they were Japanese prostitutes that the government recruited to basically take care of the American occupiers to prevent them from raping decent Japanese ladies. There was some of that, as there always will be. However, Mr. Taniyama and many on his side often hold up as evidence an American army report from 1944, during the war obviously, that stated that the comfort women were prostitutes or “camp followers” (of which there is a long tradition) rather than sex slaves. That would be a compelling piece of evidence were it not for the fact that these same people accuse the American government and military of being flagrantly dishonest and deceptive and of using comfort women themselves. It undermines their own argument that the U.S. report, made during war time, must have been true since they would not have lied in Japan’s favor since they also claim that the U.S. did lie about everything bad they say Japan did and that they were using comfort women as well. By trying to make the U.S. military complicit in the act, they also give the U.S. a good motive to say that the comfort women were sex workers rather than sex slaves. You can’t have it both ways.

The truth is that most comfort women were sex workers just as there are sex workers today and all through history. It is also true that some were not, some were forced into it by elements in the military and treated horribly. Some Japanese have admitted this and expressed deep sorrow over it. However, the question of the willingness of the women involved to work at comfort stations is a difficult one. Even for those who were paid and given good treatment, most women in the sex industry, then or now, are not there entirely willingly. No little girl says she wants to be a hooker when she grows up. They deserve sympathy and not insult. Many, then as now, are forced into prostitution by poverty, family pressure or other reasons. During the war, some were forced in by the military but it was not a matter of official policy. Some people in Japan have made this case in the west and made it very well. The best example I have seen, about 98-99% perfect I would say, was Mr. Yoshihisa Komori who was interviewed on CNN by an obviously skeptical Fareed Zakaria in 2007 (you can watch the interview here). He did almost everything right. He did not insult his audience, he did not show contempt for the comfort women nor did he deny that some were abducted and abused and that he was very sorry for that and what happened to these unfortunate women. Still, he calmly related that this was not part of an official policy and that Japan was being held to a different standard than other countries. He said, basically, that it was a terrible wrong that had been done, Japan was sorry for that and paid reparations for it but it was not official policy, not something to condemn all Japanese for all time over. And he was perfectly correct.

The days of friendship I value most
Since then, Mr. Komori has been rather frustrated that his side of the story has not taken hold in America or other western countries. Part of the problem is that the excellent work of several gentlemen like Mr. Komori can all be undone by the antics of one Taniyama and those like him. For the Korean side of the argument, as I have said, I don’t think this is something that serves them well to make an issue of, they were as complicit in what went on as the Japanese in those days when Korea was part of the Japanese Empire. However, for the Red Chinese it is a very transparent effort at undermining the Japan-U.S. alliance which blocks their desired expansion. Certainly they will never be able to grab the Senkaku Islands as long as the alliance is in effect. But, as stated at the outset, if you are going to have a debate, it is important to keep in mind your ultimate purpose in the debate and toward this end many Japanese on the far-right score own goals. They revert back to a World War II mindset in which America is the enemy, “White” people, Europeans and European-Americans are all racist imperialists and they do a better job of undermining the alliance than the Red Chinese ever could by such outdated and one-sided rhetoric. If the goal of Red China is to break up the U.S.-Japan alliance and isolate Japan from friendly western countries, these people and their western supporters are being a great help to them. And, of course, the more sensational, the more media coverage.

It is also important to understand who is most likely to be receptive to your point of view and hear you out. In the United States (and the United Kingdom and probably others) there is a very tight bond between the radical feminists and the far-left. This had led to the Democratic Party campaign accusing their Republican opponents of waging a “war on women” and this has only increased with the latest presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton. Obviously, the American left is not going to want to hear anything that Japan has to say about the comfort women issue. It also doesn’t help that we have known since the Bill Clinton administration that they have received large donations from the Red Chinese. However, for all of these reasons, conservatives in America would be all the more likely to listen to and understand the Japanese side of the argument. However, that potential for cooperation is destroyed by going off into other issues, anti-American statements and accusations of racism. It is also the right in America that most believes in opposing Communist China and supporting Japan, yet this can easily be undermined by anti-American, anti-western or anti-White people in general statements from people on the far-right in Japan and their western spokesmen. It does no one any good but those who are the real enemies of both Japan and America and even Europe.

All would be better advised to follow the example of the Japanese Imperial Family. His Majesty the Emperor has never hesitated from expressing his support for proper, healthy patriotism in Japan, flying the flag, singing the anthem, honoring forefathers and the sacrifices of those who have served their country and august monarch. He has also never hesitated to express regret for the war, a very sublime attitude to take; no accusations, no recriminations, simply sorrow that such a horror ever happened and resolution that it not happen again. Earlier this year, on the occasion of his birthday, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince said, “I myself did not experience the war…but I think that it is important today, when memories of the war are fading, to look back humbly on the past and correctly pass on the tragic experiences and history Japan pursued from the generation which experienced the war to those without direct knowledge.” Many took this as a criticism of the far-right but it is simply good, sound, wise advice. Do not ignore misdeeds but do not wallow in guilt and recriminations. Do not cover up and do not exaggerate, be truthful, reflective and learn from the past. Terrible things did happen during the war and practically no one escaped with clean hands but a tragedy is something to be remembered solemnly and not used as a club to beat innocent people with today. His Majesty the Emperor and the Imperial Family, as always, set a matchless example that all others would do well to follow.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Greek Demands for Compensation Today

Although it is off-topic for this dusty, little corner of internet, having recently talked about Greece in World War II it seemed relevant to also say a few words about the recent demands by the Greek government for further reparations payments from the Federal Republic of Germany which, so far, the German government has not taken seriously. In my view it is not something the Germans should take seriously and, for once, I suspect most of world opinion is on my side in that. Coming as it does at a time when Greece, having spent itself into ruinous debt by a succession of leftist governments so that no one now regards them as a good credit risk, most see this as a transparent effort to force more money from Germany rather than putting their own fiscal house in order. I should also say that, in my view, most cases of reparations payments have seemed unfair to me as they rarely involve the government which actually committed the crimes in question being the ones forced to pay up. This is certainly the current case in regards to Greece and Germany. That might as well be the first issue to be addressed.

The current Hellenic Republic is demanding reparations from the current Federal Republic of Germany in compensation for crimes committed by the former Nazi State of Germany against the former Kingdom of Greece. In other words, the Greek republic is today demanding payment from a government which has done them no harm. Putting aside the issue of the governments involved, only a very few (and ever shrinking) number of people alive in Greece today ever suffered from German occupation just as very few Germans are alive today who were anything more than innocent children at the time of the invasion and occupation of Greece. There is no obvious justification then for the German people of today being expected to pay for wrongs which were committed by their grandparents or great-grandparents to a Greek population which has, for the most part, been born long after such wrongs were committed. That the Greek people suffered under the German occupation is not in question nor is it doubted that many Greek people are still suffering today but those Greeks who are suffering today have only their own governments and, more often than not, their own electoral choices to blame for that.

Secondly, the selective nature of this demand for reparations makes it appear to be more an attempt at moral blackmail than a genuine quest for just compensation. As was mentioned in the previous article on Greece in World War II, most of the country, for most of the war, was under Italian occupation and the acts of cruelty committed by the Italians against the Greeks were few and far between. Additionally, part of Greece was also occupied by the Bulgarians and there were many acts of cruelty meted out to the Greeks in that zone of occupation. However, we only see the current Greek government demanding reparations from Germany and not from the Italians or Bulgarians; perhaps because neither of these countries have the money to give that the Germans do? There were also numerous acts of barbarism committed against the Greeks by the Greeks themselves during the war and in the civil war that grew out of it. These were invariably committed by revolutionary organizations, many of them communists, whose acts of resistance were what often prompted the reprisals by German forces for which the Greeks are now demanding reparations.

That brings me to the third point which is that one of the complicating matters in terms of war-time guilt in cases like this is the role played by collaborators. This was also the case in Greece where republican General George Tsolakoglou declared the monarchy abolished and set up the “Hellenic State” which collaborated with the Axis powers occupying the country. He was followed by two other collaborationist leaders, the last of which did not collaborate as much as the Germans were soon forced out of the country. It was this government which paid the so-called “war loan” to Nazi Germany for which the legitimate Greek government later demanded reparations. It was also this collaborationist government which helped the Germans in requisitioning supplies from the already hard-pressed Greek population which resulted in the “Great Famine” in the winter of 1941-42 that cost about hundreds of thousands of Greek lives. Their suffering was immense but some Greeks were complicit in that suffering along with the Nazis and the ring-leaders did not face all that harsh of a punishment. Tsolakoglou was convicted of treason but never executed, he died of disease three years after the war still in prison and his successor fled the country to Nazi Germany, was arrested by the Americans who handed him over to the Greeks who first sentenced him to death but then reduced that to life in prison and then reduced that. He was released in 1951 and died peacefully at home a decade later.

Does this seem like justice? It was certainly a far less harsh fate than befell Hitler, Mussolini or Tojo. For the record, the actions of collaborators does not, in my view, negate the suffering of other people, the vast majority of whom opposed the occupation forces whether they actively resisted or not. However, I do think that it should lessen the “victim-hood” status of such countries where there was widespread collaboration with the side later deemed to have been the guilty party. There are other examples of this, in fact far more troublesome than that of Greece I would say. In France, for example, the level of collaboration with the Nazi regime was far more extensive than most realize and was something that the post-war French government of Charles DeGaulle tried very hard to hush up and forget about in favor of a new narrative of unrelenting resistance to the Nazis to help rebuild French national pride. However, certainly the most egregious example must be that of the Indonesian dictator Sukarno who extracted a huge amount of reparations from a defeated Japan even though he himself had been a Japanese collaborator during the war. In short, he demanded and received compensation for crimes committed by the Japanese occupation forces in his country which he himself helped them to commit!

This latest Greek demand for compensation is also a case of double-dipping and hypocrisy. Although, again, the current Greek government is certainly not alone in trying to run this scam, using guilt to try to coerce a country to pay more than once for wrongs committed in the past. In 1960 West Germany paid the Greek government 115 million D-Marks in compensation for the crimes committed by the Nazis in Greece during the war. The Greek government has since claimed that this was not supposed to be the final amount but in 1990, prior to re-unification, East and West Germany signed another agreement with the Americans, British, French and Russians in which these countries renounced all rights held in Germany, allowing for reunification and for Germany to become a united country with the same rights and obligations as any other. It was supposed to be a return to normalcy and an end to the World War II punishments against Germany.

Keeping that in mind, when the Greek government recently demanded a whopping $303 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany in war reparations, the Germans pointed to the aforementioned agreement with the U.S., U.K., France and Russia which was called the “Treaty on the FINAL Settlement with Respect to Germany” (my emphasis) and that this had concluded all such matters and further reparations would not be discussed. The Greeks objected to this on the grounds that they had not been party to any such agreement. The Germans responded to that objection with the simple statement of fact that Greek involvement was irrelevant as Germany had surrendered to the Americans, British, French and Russians -not to the Greeks. Therefore, these were the only powers that Germany had to deal with in regards to what happened during the war. This is where the hypocrisy part comes in and, under the circumstances, it is rather funny.

The German response to this objection, by Greece, was that it was irrelevant as Germany had not been beaten by the Greeks and had not surrendered to the Greeks but was beaten by the Americans, British and Russians and so had surrendered to them. What is comic about this answer, and why the Greeks have nothing to say about it, is that this was exactly what the Greeks themselves had said in World War II. To over-simplify for the sake of brevity; while the Greeks were fighting the Italians at the front door the Germans had come in by the back door and taken them from behind. When the Greeks surrendered they were very adamant and very dramatic about specifically surrendering to the Germans and not the Italians who they said had not beaten them. As a result, Germany controlled the process and Italy was unable to annex any of the territory Mussolini had wanted for the Third Roman Empire. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, the German republic had caught the Greeks in a technicality of their own making by pointing out that Nazi Germany had not surrendered to Greece and thus had no need of satisfying Greek demands.

Finally, it is extremely doubtful that the Greeks will receive any of these new reparations that they are demanding. The German government has said it is a settled subject and if they do give the Greeks any money it will be because they choose to and not because they believe Greece is legitimately entitled to it. Almost everyone that I have talked to about this subject immediately came to the same conclusion, that this was simply a dishonest way of trying to force more money from the German bank that would loan them no more. It is a ridiculous proposition and the Greek politicians who came up with it have only hurt the image of their country on the world stage by putting it forward.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Greek Monarchy in World War II

The Second World War was the latest in a series of disasters which had befallen the Greek monarchy in the Twentieth Century. The man in charge, King George II, had already known his share of trials before the war began. During World War I he had followed his father, King Constantine I, into exile when the republican Venizelos had deposed him and placed Alexander on the throne to abandon neutrality and join the Allies. After the death of King Alexander an effort at republicanism was defeated when a plebiscite restored the monarchy in time for a war with Turkey, one of the many after-shocks of World War I. It was a disaster for Greece and forced King Constantine to abdicate in 1922 when his son succeeded him as King George II. However, the republicans were still scheming and only a year later George II was forced to leave the country after an attempted royalist coup failed. There was another republican effort and chaos in Greece as factions battled each other for power, the King looking on from a distance.

The communists were key players in this struggle and their revolutionary plots would bedevil Greece for many years to come. Coup followed coup, governments rose and fell at startling speed until finally order was restored in 1936 with the authoritarian regime of the staunchly royalist General Ioannis Metaxas. King George II backed Metaxas and approved his legislation banning political parties, abolishing the previous constitution and establishing a new regime which Metaxas called the “Third Hellenic Civilization”. Others referred to it as the “Fourth of August Regime” for the day that the de facto dictatorship was formally established. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, law, order and a new type of peaceful normalcy returned to the Greek kingdom. Today, the Metaxas regime continues to be a source of controversy as to how it is labeled. Outwardly, many then and since have viewed it as being of a kind with Fascist Italy, Nationalist Spain or Nazi Germany (though even among those there were considerable differences which the mainstream today tends to ignore).

However, despite the symbols, the uniforms, the nationalism and so on, the regime of Metaxas was most of all the product of necessity. Greece had stagnated from so many years of turmoil and in-fighting, the Greek position in Europe had plummeted and the country was in bad shape. Metaxas was authoritarian without question, suppressing dissidents, censoring the media and so on but it was all done to correct this downward spiral. If General Metaxas was a dictator, he was not a bad one. There was no cult of personality around Metaxas, loyalty was reserved for King George II. There was no effort to remake society really but rather an effort to revive Greek culture, Greek traditions and support the Greek Orthodox Church. Enemies were political and those singled out were those who had proven their treasonous tendencies in the past. There was no effort at setting up scapegoats, no racist legislation, no persecution of Jews. If Adolf Hitler admired Metaxas, it was of no great importance. Metaxas deferred to the King and there was no doubt that King George II viewed the Nazi regime with disgust and was, from start to finish, staunchly sympathetic with the Allied nations, particularly Britain.

Metaxas' party flag
When World War II erupted in Europe, Greece remained neutral but the King was prepared to step in and help the Allies if needed. The danger was the Kingdom of Italy. Despite early Italian support for Greek independence, tensions between the two countries had been deteriorating for years. Independent Greek forces had been driven out of Albania in World War I by the Italian army. In 1923 an Italian general and three aides were murdered in Greece with the government refusing any apology or compensation, prompting Italian retaliation. The Greeks demanded that Italy give them the Dodecanese Islands, after the Italian occupation of Albania, the Greco-Albanian border disputes were taken up by Rome. When Metaxas fortified the border with Bulgaria, which was tied by marriage to the Italian Royal Family, Italy took this as a hostile act. Enemies of the Fascist regime in Italy could also find safe haven in Greece which did not go unreported by the Fascist secret police. Things were tense but Metaxas was relatively confident that the good relations with Germany would prevent any direct action from Mussolini.

However, Metaxas was not taking anything for granted. He had already considerably modernized the Greek army and he began to build it up further to be prepared for any eventuality. That would prove extremely important very soon. Italians worried that the Greeks were planning an attack on Albania while their forces were concentrated in North Africa for the invasion of Egypt. After the fall of France, German forces also handed over to Italy captured messages from King George II of Greece offering Britain and France the use of Greek facilities such as air and naval bases should they need them. Finally, in October of 1940, an ultimatum from Mussolini arrived in Athens. The Duce demanded that the Greek government allow Italian armed forces free movement through Greek territory. It was a pretext and nothing more, no one in Rome expected Metaxas of all people to agree to it and he predictably refused. Within a matter of hours, four Italian columns began the invasion of Greece. However, despite the outward confidence of Mussolini, it was the Greeks who were much better prepared for this war.

Italian troops in Greece
Everything about the Italian invasion of Greece was wrong. It was the wrong time of year, cold and wet, in the wrong place, with the Greek army well placed in the rugged mountains and against the wrong enemy as Mussolini had underestimated the Greeks while overestimating his own strength. The result was an Italian invasion force that attacked a larger Greek army with the benefits of a superior position, superior knowledge of the ground and internal lines of support. After some initial success the Italian invasion quickly ground to a halt and the Greeks began to counter-attack, pushing the Italians out of Greece and advancing into southern Albania. When the British offered assistance, Metaxas confidently turned down the offer and promised that the Greek army would soon be marching down the streets of Rome. That was a mistake. As the Greeks advanced their advantages shifted to the Italians, their forces weakened and Italian reinforcements poured in to stabilize the situation. Their offensive ground to a halt as Italian troops repulsed their assaults and began to organize their forces for a more sober and serious offensive. Greek forces also took a severe pounding in the air war and King George II was obliged to ask the British to send all available assistance.

This turned out to be a major mistake for the Allied war effort. In North Africa, British forces were severely depleted in order to reinforce a hopeless battle in Greece. Most would not even arrive in time to participate in the battle. In the spring of 1941 the Italians launched another offensive that began to push the Greeks back, though losses were heavy and the gains were light. However, the coup in Yugoslavia that took that country out of the Axis and into the Allied camp prompted German intervention. Because the Greeks had concentrated all of their divisions on the Albanian border to stop the Italians, the Bulgarian border was almost totally undefended and it was from there that the Germans struck. The result was the swift defeat of the Greek forces and on April 23 King George II relocated to the island of Crete. When that position came under attack by German airborne troops, he was forced to relocate again to the safety of British headquarters in Egypt. By April 20 the Greeks had surrendered, the troops were given very honorable terms in recognition of how hard they had fought and most of Greece came under Italian occupation.

Germans occupy Greece
Mussolini had originally planned for a limited victory with Italy annexing only the northwest coastal region and some additional Aegean islands with Greece being compensated by being given the island of Cyprus from the British, whose defeat he also thought was impending. Only if things went much better than anticipated would the conquest of the whole country be considered and, of course, thing went much worse than the Duce had expected. In the end, Greece was occupied with Italy being responsible for most of it, Germany taking over some areas and islands in the east and Bulgaria obtaining a southern coastline. Ultimately, Italy never annexed any Greek territory. Churchill had blundered in undercutting his forces in Africa but he had nothing but praise for how hard the Greeks had fought, famously saying that, “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”. However, for the Greeks, their suffering and struggle had only just begun. Those in the Italian zone of occupation were better off but those living under German occupation fared far worse and were the victims of numerous atrocities. Also in the Bulgarian zone there was a great deal of brutality resulting from the long history of bitter rivalry that characterized the Balkans.

Resistance movements, of course, emerged and they tended to be dominated by communists and other revolutionary republicans who saw this as their great chance to seize power with the King and Metaxas out of the country. King George II did not stay in Egypt long where he was made to feel unwelcome by the pro-Italian King Farouk and so he moved on to England. Regular Greek forces continued to serve alongside the other Allies in the Middle East theater of operations. At home, acts of resistance, first against the Bulgarians and then against the Germans, provoked harsh retaliation. Meanwhile, similar to what happened in regards to other countries in the region, the British government, seeing the preponderance of leftists among those fighting the Germans, pressured King George II to form a government-in-exile that was more to the left, casting off those who had been serving him when the crisis began. As a result, only two members of the Metaxas regime were left in the new government. However, Britain did stand up for Greece when dealing with the Soviet Union that expected to take control of the whole Balkan peninsula when the war was over. While the rest was consigned to the Soviet sphere of influence, Greece would not and the British stuck to their guns on that score.

King George II in Egypt
However, unlike areas in which Britain did not take such an interest, as German fortunes fell, the concern became less about combating the Nazis and more about which power would replace them as King George II and the Greek government-in-exile seemed to have so few supporters on the ground. Fortunately, those supporters were there and the Greek resistance increasingly grew into yet another Greek civil war. The violence was intensified in 1943 when the Kingdom of Italy sought an armistice. Some Italians were immediately taken prisoner by the Germans (and many were massacred) but a great many turned their weapons over to the Greek resistance fighters and some even joined their ranks. An anti-communist resistance did begin to arise as the war was clearly drawing to a close and Greeks, as well as the British supporting them, became more concerned that the end of hostilities might bring a soviet dictatorship being forced on Greece. Nonetheless, the Allies still tended to pressure the King to stay away from those who had previously held power in the Metaxas regime for no other reason than the cosmetic similarities it bore to their current enemies and the very liberal worldview the Allies were supporting.

It was an unenviable position for King George II to be in. While being publicly celebrated in London and Washington DC, he was obliged to name Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens to the post of regent in 1945 and he proceeded to appoint a mostly republican government. By this time the British had cleared the Germans out of Greece and the King had been rather forced to agree to yet another plebiscite on the future of the monarchy when the war was over. However, a rival communist government was also set up in Greece and so, as the Germans retreated, outright civil war erupted between the Greek royalists and the communists, backed of course by the Soviet Union. King George II was beginning to suffer poor health and the turmoil and suffering of his people took a heavy toll. Already his wife, Elizabeth of Romania, had divorced him, being unable to cope with the stressful life of the Greek monarchy and being increasingly sidelined he was forced to settle down in England and simply await the results of the struggle at home. Finally, in 1946, World War II having ended, the plebiscite was held and the communists boycotted it, allowing the royalists to sweep to an easy victory.

King George II addresses the U.S. Congress
In the autumn, King George II returned to Greece to a gutted and looted palace, a country in ruins and a public that was war-torn and bitterly divided. This was not the first time a Greek King had returned from exile nor was it the first time that a public referendum had resulted in maintaining the monarchy. However, that very repetition weighed on him. The enemies of the Crown were intractable and continuously resorted to treason and subversion at every opportunity. Indeed, the civil war continued in spite of the referendum, the communists adhering to their own soviet government and within six months, broken in health and spirit alike, King George II died on April 1, 1947. He was succeeded by his brother Paul. He too was sick with typhoid fever and his health as well as the situation in Greece prevented him from attending the marriage of his first cousin, Prince Philip, to Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain. Fortunately, things were set to improve, at least in the short term, though it is still a tragedy that King George II, who had endured so much in his life, was not around to see it.

By 1947 the British were no longer led by Churchill but by the leftist Clement Attlee who started decolonization and moving Britain in a socialist direction. Supporting Greece against communist insurgents was something Britain was no longer capable or, under the current government, very willing to do. The United States of America, from 1947, then became the major supporter of the Greek royalists with President Harry Truman pledging all necessary support for King Paul. Predictably, the communists in Greece began portraying the King and any loyal government of being puppets of the United States, playing on popular anti-American sentiments. Queen Frederika of Brunswick, a zealous anti-communist, was also singled out for particular attack by the treasonous press, some days attacking her for her German background, other times for her close ties with America. Eventually, however, under the steady leadership of King Paul, the civil war ended in a victory for the Greek royalists, peace returned and the economy began to recover. The republicans, as ever, did not go away and, once again, bided their time for another crisis to take advantage of in order to seize power. They would eventually get their chance and the world is free to view how Greece has fared under their rule.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Philippines and Monarchy

The Philippines, as we know it today, came into being as a result of the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 under the leadership of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães), the first to circumnavigate the globe (though not him personally but I assume most know the story) and the man who first laid claim to what became the Spanish East Indies, which included The Philippines. Now, that statement alone may offend some people (what doesn’t these days?) but it is nonetheless true. Of course, the history of the islands we call The Philippines goes back much farther but it was not one country but a multitude of minor warring states, small factions and segments of other larger powers. It was the Kingdom of Spain that grouped together and organized as one political entity what eventually became The Philippines and who contributed to the unique blend that makes up the modern Filipino culture. The multitude of other contributors are all important but, in all that happened for the roughly three hundred years that Spanish monarchs reigned over The Philippines, the country would be something very different if none of that had ever happened. It certainly would not be what it is today. One of the things that is most unique and most admirable about The Philippines is the strength of faith there. It is the only majority-Catholic country in the region and Roman Catholic Christianity plays a central role in Filipino history.

King Philip II of Spain
Obviously, the Spanish monarchy was deeply involved in this. At the time of the arrival of Magellan, when the Spanish flag was first planted on Filipino soil, the King of Spain was Carlos I, better known as Emperor Charles V (“of the German nation”). The arrival of Magellan coincided with the outbreak of the Catholic-Protestant split, begun by Martin Luther, that divided Christendom (or at least the Catholic part of a Christendom already divided between Orthodox and Catholic Christians). As Protestantism spread across Germany and northern Europe, Catholic, and particularly Spanish Catholic (as Spain was then the most powerful Catholic country) footholds in places like America and The Philippines became extremely significant mission fields. Ultimately, this more or less worked and about as many new Catholics were converted in places like Central America and The Philippines as were lost to the Church of Rome to Lutheranism. In The Philippines, as was common with European colonial expansion, the Spanish foothold began with the arrival of Magellan and his alliance with an existing local state against a neighboring enemy. In the case of Magellan, this resulted in a military adventure that ultimately cost him his life but other Spanish expeditions followed that claimed and eventually gained control of the islands for the Spanish Crown and it was Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who, in 1543, named them The Philippines in honor of King Philip II of Spain, Felipe II being the son and successor of King Carlos I (aka Emperor Charles V).

It was not until 1570 that the Kingdom of Manila, on the island of Luzon, was taken and it became the capital city and has remained so ever since. Until 1821 The Philippines were, within the Spanish empire, categorized with “New Spain” which was centered on what is today Mexico. It is interesting to note that Mexico was thus the Spanish colony most connected to The Philippines (in terms of trade and communication) and long after The Philippines were parted from Spain, the contribution of Mexico to the Allied cause in World War II, which consisted of the 201st Squadron (the “Aztec Eagles”) was in driving the Japanese out of The Philippines in 1945. The two countries have a unique connection. However, while Spanish forces were still expanding their control over The Philippines, threats of domination by another power were almost constant due to the key location of the islands astride the South China Sea trade routes. The powerful ruler of Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, demanded that they become vassals of Japan but, of course, Spain was having none of that and Lord Hideyoshi was not in a position to do anything about it. There were attacks by the Dutch and the Portuguese on The Philippines, all basically fighting for control of commerce in the region and there was a very dangerous series of attacks from China. These invasions were not on the part of the Great Ming Empire but rather a notorious Chinese pirate named Limahong who tried to carve out his own pirate-kingdom in the islands. He managed to dominate some of the local rulers in eastern Luzon and attacked Manila but ultimately the Spanish and Filipino forces defeated him.

Empire of Brunei flag
The struggle of the Spanish in The Philippines could also be seen in the context of the larger war between Christian and Islamic forces in which Spain played a key part (North Africa, Malta, Lepanto, Vienna etc). The Empire of Brunei (yes, the tiny state was once an empire) had spread Islam in what would become The Philippines, replacing the earlier religious beliefs of the old states which had been most influenced by Indian culture (like much of Southeast Asia). Spanish and Filipino Catholic forces were thus fighting Islamic states in The Philippines at the same time Spanish and Austrian troops were battling Islamic expansion in Europe and the Mediterranean. However, the lack of political unity meant that the Islamic petty monarchies in the archipelago meant that they fought each other as much as anyone else and this enabled the Spanish to ultimately defeat all of them. In 1578 Spain declared war on Brunei after the local monarch, Sultan Saiful Rijal, refused an ultimatum from a Spanish envoy from The Philippines to allow Christian missionaries into his territory. The Sultan hoped to block the spread of Catholicism in The Philippines as well as to prevent Spain from gaining control of the local trade routes. In the resulting War of Castille, fought mostly by Filipinos on the Spanish side, the capital of Brunei was captured but the Catholic forces were decimated by disease and had to return to The Philippines.

My own tinkering -NOT an actual flag
Brunei still regards this as a great victory but it prevented Brunei from gaining control of Luzon and ended the largest foreign supporter of the Islamic forces still fighting the Spanish in Mindanao. The Spanish Governor-General of the time, Don Francisco de Sande, also worked to disestablish the large Spanish encomiendas (similar to feudal estates) where exploitation of the Filipinos was not uncommon. He enacted a law forbidding Crown appointees from owning such encomiendas. At one point, Spanish forces were so successful that footholds were established in the Maluku Islands of what is now Indonesia and on Formosa (what is now Taiwan) but these later had to be abandoned due to the threat of a Chinese attack on The Philippines themselves. Over the years, despite some alarms, Spain was able to protect The Philippines successfully from outside attack and to maintain control and protect commerce and communications throughout the many islands. This, however, points to one of the great misunderstandings of modern Filipino history or, at least, how it is told in relation to Spanish colonial power.

No people, whoever they are, enjoy being ruled by outsiders and there were plenty of examples of injustice on the part of Spain (and later the United States) for the Filipinos to have legitimate grievances over. However, while many today may not wish to acknowledge the fact, The Philippines were simply never presented with an option of being independent or subject to the colonial rule of a foreign power. The islands were not united, were not one country or one people before the Spanish and even if they had been, were too sparsely population because of rampant tropical diseases to ever be able to survive on their own. Thus, the only choice The Philippines ever had was which imperial power was going to have jurisdiction over them. If Spain had not ruled The Philippines, someone else would have and that fact was clear at the outset of the colonial period and would reoccur throughout Filipino history.

British King George III
Along with occasional attacks by Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese raiders (which decreased over time until stopping altogether) the Spanish were employed in suppressing numerous local rebellions over the centuries. Sometimes, such rebels could find outside support but of the sort that only would have resulted in a change of flags over the capitol building in Manila rather than actual independence. One often overlooked example was the British seizure of Manila in 1762 during the Seven Years’ War (that’s the French & Indian War to Americans). The Spanish government did not even know it had happened until the war was over. British troops operating out of India invaded The Philippines and captured Manila within 10 days from the surprised garrison. So, from 1762 to 1764 The Philippines were actually under the reign of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland before being returned to King Carlos III of Spain after the war when the peace settlement was arranged. The British had promised considerable support to anti-Spanish rebels led by Diego Silang (and later his wife who led the rebellion after Diego was killed). Diego Silang led an uprising and was rewarded with the rank of a local governor by the British Governor-General but the British never secured control of all of The Philippines and were effectively bottled up in Manila, unable to send him the promised troops and the rebels forces were crushed by the Spanish and pro-Spanish Filipino forces. Even if they had been successful or if the treaty negotiations had gone differently, it would not have meant independence for The Philippines but only that the Union Jack rather than the Cross of Burgundy would have flown over Manila.

Queen Isabel II statue, Intramuros
In 1821, with the independence of Mexico, The Philippines seemed to be under the jurisdiction of the Viceroy of New Spain and were from then on under the direct oversight of the government in Madrid. The royalist struggles in Spain between the Carlists and Cristinos also reached all the way to The Philippines though not in a violent way. In the 1850’s the people of Manila donated money to erect a statue of Queen Isabella II of Spain which was placed in what is now Lawton Plaza in 1860 (what was then near the Alfonso XII theatre). This statue became very symbolic of the monarchy in general in The Philippines. In the “Glorious Revolution” of 1868 Queen Isabella II was overthrown and a very liberal Governor-General of The Philippines was appointed named Carlos Maria de la Torre (according to one source he had been a Carlist but, if so, his politics must have changed dramatically). He wanted all traces of the former monarchy removed and ordered the statue destroyed, however, the man entrusted to do the job was a loyalist and hid it away instead. Although he proved to be exceedingly popular with the local population, the Governor-General was replaced with Rafael de Izquierdo y Gutierrez in 1871, appointed by the new Italian King of Spain Amadeo I. He preferred the “iron fist” to the “velvet glove” of his predecessor.

Prince Yamagata Aritomo
Insurgents rose up again and began to increasingly become better organized and more politically astute during what would prove to be the last years of the reign of the Spanish Crown over the Philippines. What has become known as the Philippine Revolution began and only intensified as the years passed. Yet, not every agent of the King of Spain was harsh in his dealings with the Filipinos. Governor-General Ramon Blanco is an example, a man who tried to be lenient with the rebels. However, local conservatives forced him out of office and when the rebel leader Jose Rizal was killed by royalist Filipino troops the former Governor-General took his sword and sash and presented them to the rebel leader’s family as an apology for their loss. Yet, again, no government recognized the Filipino rebels and during this time of difficulty for Spain there were numerous other powers that envisioned taking The Philippines for themselves. The two who seemed most eager were the Empires of Germany and Japan. In 1894 Prince Yamagata Aritomo, later Prime Minister of Japan, offered the Spanish 40 million pounds sterling to sign over ownership of the archipelago to the Japanese. During the Spanish-American War, the German East Asian Squadron kept a close watch on the conflict at Manila in case any opportunity should present itself for Germany to step in and take control of the Philippines.

The child King Alfonso XIII would be the last monarch The Philippines would ever have. Unrest continued to grow, aided in no small part by the number of people from Latin America who came to the islands whether in private occupations or in government positions, bringing with them a background in republicanism and opposition to Spain. Despite the best efforts of the Queen-mother, acting as regent, in 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States, mostly over American support for the rebellion in Cuba. The Philippines was a place hardly anyone in America had ever heard of or thought about. Yet, during the war it stood out as an inviting target. Spanish control had been pushed back practically to the walls of the old city itself, (known as Intramuros) in Manila. After a brief battle, mostly a show for honor’s sake, the Spanish surrendered and, so to speak, tossed the Americans the keys as they were leaving. The Spanish flag was lowered, never to be raised again and, to the frustration of the Germans and Japanese, the United States stepped in as the new colonial power, the Spanish being paid about $20 million for their lost territory.

King Juan Carlos in the Philippines
That was the end for monarchy playing a national part in The Philippines. The rebel government of Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence (as a republic) the same year the Spanish-American War started but neither the U.S. nor any other power recognized his government and after American troops were attacked by Filipino rebels it was the start of another brutal counter-insurgency campaign. The only other brush with monarchy that The Philippines would have was during World War II when the country effectively became a colony of the Empire of Japan. Though a collaborationist regime was in nominal control there was no doubt that the Japanese were really in charge. Yet, oddly enough, The Philippines is probably the only country that counts itself amongst the Allies that regards its collaborationist regime as being legitimate, something the Japanese have always pointed to as proof that the Filipinos remain fond of their time within the Empire of Japan (the situation would be similar to the King of Norway recognizing Vidkun Quisling as a legitimate prime minister for comparison). Shortly after the war, as a republic of course, The Philippines finally became an independent country.

Queen Sofia during her most recent visit to The Philippines
Fortunately, relations between The Philippines and the Spanish monarchy have improved since the colonial era. In 1974 Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia, on behalf of the government of Generalissimo Francisco Franco which they were soon to succeed, visited the Philippines and were received by President Ferdinand Marcos. The statue of Queen Isabella II, which had narrowly avoided destruction in the 1860’s had been put on display again in 1896 at the Malate Church in Manila. It was blown down by a typhoon in 1970 but five years later, on the occasion of a visit by King Juan Carlos, it was restored and put on display again, this time at the Isabel II gate to Intramuros where it still stands today as an illustration of the restoration of friendship with the Spanish monarchy. Members of the Spanish Royal Family have visited a number of times since, Queen Sofia making her fourth visit to The Philippines in 2012. Ties between Spain and The Philippines have increased over the years but solely in the areas of history and culture rather than politics with the only active royalist presence in the islands being those attached to the Islamic former states that pre-dated Spanish rule.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mystery and Treachery: Bulgarian Monarchy in World War II

World War II changed Bulgaria more than any other event in Bulgarian history. It certainly brought about the biggest change ever since the era of Turkish rule and the modern, independent Bulgaria that came into being after. The war changed many countries and, also like many others, Bulgaria never really wanted anything to do with the war. The monarch of Bulgaria, King Boris III (or officially “Tsar”), hoped to sit out the conflict, watching from the sidelines. However, the country was, perhaps inevitably, caught up in the cataclysm. As with several countries, it started out as a member of the Axis powers but later joined the Allied nations before the conflict was over. There were a great many divisions inside Bulgaria concerning the war. Some wanted to join in, others did not. Some favored the Axis, others favored the Allies. The story of Bulgaria in World War II is the story of a monarch who tried to walk a very thin line to do what was best for his country in a dangerous time as well as the story of a people who were naïve and that naivety cost them their freedom at the hands of the country that had once liberated them. This is that story.

Crown Prince Boris w/ Marshal Mackensen in WW1
As with almost everything involving World War II, the roots of Bulgarian problems go back to World War I in which Bulgaria, as one of the Central Powers, was defeated and forced to cede territory and pay reparations. Crown Prince Boris served in the First World War and with distinction but the loss had a destabilizing effect on the whole country. In 1918 King Ferdinand I was forced to abdicate and King Boris III came to the throne of a country which was impoverished and seething with resentment. The communists and the Agrarian Union wanted to abolish the monarchy, there was a military coup, a series of assassinations, assassination attempts and terrorist attacks as well as a brief war with Greece in the early years of the reign of Boris III. The country desperately needed peace, calm and order but there were many factions eager to cause trouble. The communists wanted a revolution and a socialist republic while many in the military wanted a dictatorship to wipe out all troublesome elements. There were also those who, naturally, wanted to regain what had been lost as a result of their defeat in World War I and during the inter-war years in Europe there were plenty of examples to follow.

Under similar conditions, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party had come to power in Italy. Political divisions were eliminated, law and order was restored and, as everyone knows, even the trains ran on time. More recently, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seemed poised to assume total control over Germany. They too promised to end the threat of communist revolution, civil disorder and a redress of grievances from World War I. Many Bulgarian military leaders took inspiration from all of this and, shortly before Hitler did come to power in Germany, they led a successful coup in 1934 that effectively made Bulgaria a military dictatorship under Colonel Kimon Georgiev, leader of the Zveno or “link” organization that called for a union with Yugoslavia. King Boris III was reduced to being a ceremonial figurehead but that situation was not to last long. The Bulgarian monarch was not the sort of man to allow himself to be sidelined and do nothing about it. The following year he organized a royalist counter-coup that ousted Georgiev and replaced him with the monarchist General Pencho Zlatev as prime minister. Later, a civilian but still a loyal monarchist, Andrei Toshev, replaced him.

Queen Ioanna & the King wearing Italian decorations
For the moment, the situation seemed to be under control and a sense of normalcy seemed, at least, to be returning. King Boris III presided over a period of peace and increasingly prosperity that lasted for about five years, until the onset of World War II. The King was very much in control of things and he is due the largest share of credit for how well Bulgaria did in that time. Parliamentary government was restored but without the divisive political parties that seemed to be nothing but trouble. However, the monarchy still had its enemies, kept down but still there, biding their time. The great accomplishments of Boris III kept them sidelined, to their frustration. In 1930 he had married Princess Giovanna of Italy, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III, giving the country some much needed color and celebration after so much hardship. In a meeting suggested by King George V of Great Britain, King Boris III met with King Alexander of Yugoslavia and worked out a reconciliation after tensions arose between the two countries over Macedonia. Everything seemed to be good in Bulgaria and only set to get better when the war intervened.

At first, King Boris III declared neutrality. There was no real consensus as to which side Bulgaria should join if it did fight. The King famously said, “My generals are pro-German, my diplomats are pro-British, my queen is pro-Italian and my people are pro-Russian.” However, the war crept ever closer and the Axis powers held out a number of temptations to win Bulgaria over such as reclaiming lost territory from Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece. At first, Hitler did not ask for Bulgarian involvement in the war but simply the right to establish bases for the German air force in Bulgaria and for German troops to move through the country in order to get at actual enemies like Greece and Yugoslavia. The King agreed and, at first, everything seemed to work out. Bulgaria gained territory without actually having to fight. However, things would change dramatically in the pivotal year of 1941. In that year Hitler launched the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. Alongside the Germans, Finns, Italians, Hungarians and Romanians would participate (as well as smaller units from countries as far away as France and Spain) but Bulgaria refused to take an active role in any hostilities against Russia. Needless to say, Hitler was not best pleased.

King Boris III in World War II
The Bulgarians had long regarded Russia as something like a big brother. A fellow Orthodox, Slavic country, the Russian Empire had come to their rescue when they were being oppressed and persecuted by the Turks. The Russian Empire was largely credited with making Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Turks possible and the Bulgarians did not forget that. However, the Russian Empire was a world apart from the Soviet Union and perhaps too few people in Bulgaria fully realized the importance of that distinction. In time, to their terror, they would find out all too well. Aside from refusing to take part in the war against Stalin, King Boris III infuriated Hitler in other ways as well such as his staunch refusal to allow the deportation of any Bulgarian Jews from his country for Nazi labor or death camps. So as not to infuriate Hitler to a point detrimental to his own country, Boris III did agree to join Germany in declaring war on Great Britain and the United States (Hitler had actually declared war on the U.S. immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, saving FDR the trouble of trying to explain to the American people why they needed to go to war with Germany after being attacked by Japan).

The United States was rather shocked by this, having no animosity toward Bulgaria and having previously refused to declare war on the country in World War I. Everyone believed that the Bulgarian declaration of war was the result of German pressure and so held off from retaliation. However, FDR finally decided that the situation demanded a response in kind and so, belatedly, declared war on Bulgaria in the summer of 1942. The following year, Sofia would be bombed by Allied air forces. However, Bulgaria was also in a difficult position with her Axis partner Germany. Hitler had been content to allow Bulgaria to sit out the war against Russia at first but in 1942 the tide began to turn and the Nazi dictator became increasingly difficult to deal with. In August of 1943 he demanded that King Boris III come see him and on that visit the Fuhrer launched a verbal tirade against the Bulgarian monarch demanding that he make a greater contribution to the Axis war effort. For hours Hitler ranted and cajoled but, after returning home, King Boris III remarked that he felt he had been successful in his resistance and keeping Bulgaria free of German control.

The worst of allies
However, one of the enduring mysteries of World War II emerged a couple of weeks later when King Boris III died on August 28, 1943 at the age of only 49. Officially the cause of death was listed as, “a thrombosis of the left artery to the heart, double pneumonia and a cerebral congestion” but not everyone was buying it, including the late tsar himself. He had returned to Sofia on August 17 and seemed to be fine. He took a week off, did some mountain climbing and it was not until four days after his returning that he began to complain of dizziness. By August 23 he was feeling worse and began to suspect that his staunch resistance to Hitler’s demands had prompted the Nazis to slip him a dose of slow-acting poison. Shortly after this he began vomiting and within days was dead. Many people to this day believe the German dictator assassinated Boris III. Yet, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Hitler, while certainly not being above such methods, did not have a record of poisoning people; the Nazis were usually not so subtle. Also, on the flight back from Bavaria the King had complained that his oxygen mask had malfunctioned and, in the days of non-pressurized cabins in airplanes, flying at such a high altitude with faulty breathing equipment may have been to blame. However, enough questions remain to allow room for speculation.

For the Bulgarian Royal Family, the death of Boris III was the beginning of the end. It was also in 1943 that the King of Italy had dismissed Mussolini and sought an armistice with the Allies. This made the Germans all the more suspicious of the Bulgarians whose queen was the daughter of the King of Italy they considered a traitor to the Axis cause. She, Queen Ioanna (as Giovanna was called in Bulgaria), her daughter and her six-year-old son recently proclaimed King Simeon II were effectively prisoners in their own home at the hands of the Germans. However, even that was not expected to last long with the German forces on the Eastern Front crumbling and the Soviet Red Army pushing ever closer to the Bulgarian frontier. The Queen devised a plan to escape with her children to Syria, via Turkey, with a regency council holding power under Prince Kyril. There was never a chance to pull it off though. In 1944 the Red Army marched into Bulgaria after treacherously declaring war on the country that had gone to great pains to avoid giving Russia any cause for offense. Their advance was not resisted and opposition groups, the Agrarian republicans, communists and the “link” rose up against the monarchy at the same time, taking advantage of the situation. The regency was disbanded and (a year later) all its members were executed. About 200 would die in the overall purge.

King Simeon II of Bulgaria
World War II was over but the suffering had only just begun for Bulgaria. One thing was made abundantly clear to them: the Soviet Union was not their friend. The following year a referendum was held, under the guns of the Russian Red Army, which produced an overwhelming majority in favor of abolishing the monarchy and establishing a socialist republic. The boy-king, his mother and sister were all promptly exiled without little King Simeon II signing an instrument of abdication. No one seemed to think about it and it allowed Simeon II to assert his legitimate status as King of Bulgaria while in exile. For Bulgaria, their first republican dictator was a Soviet citizen, their first republican constitution was a direct copy of the Soviet constitution of 1936. Religion was banned or severely restricted, thousands were massacred and any dissent was brutally suppressed. Bulgarian leaders fought for power but the winner had to be approved by Moscow. All of this was a legacy of World War II as was the fact that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria petitioned to join NATO and was accepted in the fifth enlargement in 2004. Naturally, Russia was offended by this but the roots of the decision go back to the fact that Bulgaria had been invaded and brutalized by Russian forces when previously no other people had been more pro-Russian than the Bulgarians. The western Allies had their own acts of betrayal but for the Soviet Union the case of Bulgaria was probably the most treacherous act, simply because the people had been so sympathetic to Russia and Bulgaria had been so adamant to take no hostile action against the Soviet Union. Having plenty of company in the ranks of the betrayed likely does little to lessen the pain.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Monarch Profile: King George IV of Great Britain & Ireland

HRH Prince George Augustus Frederick was born on August 12, 1762 the first of fifteen children born to King George III and Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Within days he was given the title Prince of Wales and as he grew up he fit into what seemed to be a pattern for royals of the House of Hanover and British monarchs in general with eldest sons having an antagonistic relationship with their parents as well as the way monarchial parents and royal heirs seemed to alternate between those who held firmly to traditional family values (George III, Victoria, George V) and sons who lived a ‘playboy’ lifestyle (George IV, Edward VII, Edward VIII). While his father was the first Hanoverian monarch in Britain who was faithful husband, was very disciplined, upright, frugal and so on, the Prince of Wales began to show opposite characteristics as soon as he reached adulthood. As soon as he gained the first degree of freedom from his parents, he showed a great fondness for food, drink, women and lavish living. However, like others that would come after him, these qualities did not make him terribly unpopular with everyone. He had qualities that were to his credit as well and was known to be a charming, likeable fellow.

As a child, the Prince of Wales proved himself to be a quick study and very bright. He would be the second Hanoverian monarch to speak English as his first language but he was also proficient in German, French and Italian. He was witty and a great conversationalist, the sort of man who seemed able to talk easily with anyone about anything. He had an informality that put people at ease while, in his younger days at least, a regal bearing that impressed people. His appearance was to change dramatically over the years but in his youth few failed to remark on how handsome he was. Tall, dignified and charming, he had a presence none could forget, only lady (a mistress) remarking on, “the grace of his person, the irresistible sweetness of his smile, the tenderness of his melodious yet manly voice”. However, his fondness for drink and over-eating left him increasingly overweight by his mid to late thirties. Earlier than that his high living and over-spending left him heavily in debt and thus increasingly at odds with his very frugal father. By the time he was fifty years old the descriptions of his appearance were the total opposite of what they had been in his youth. He could charm women and in the company of men could easily seem ‘one of the boys’ but when it came to the tensions with his father, he could display a cruel streak. Aside from his lifestyle, father and son disagreed over politics as well.

Probably more out of an urge to rebel and assert his independence from his father rather than genuine ideological agreement, the Prince of Wales openly associated himself with the very leftist and even anti-monarchial opposition leader Charles James Fox. During the American War for Independence, Fox and his clique openly took the side of the rebels, condemning the King and parading about in the blue and buff colors of the continental army. If the Prince of Wales only associated with Fox as a way to annoy his father, Fox likewise had little genuine use for the Prince as well. He disliked monarchy altogether but saw in the Prince of Wales someone he could use to gain power and who could be duped into helping him wreck the political establishment in Britain. However, the Prince of Wales was not the dupe Fox thought he was, as would be proven in due time. First, however, the Prince had to get through his first, really serious, scandal which arose from his love life. Yet, it was not because of the succession of mistresses he had but rather one woman who was actually one of the best things to ever happen to him and who just might have changed the course of his life.

The woman in question was Maria Fitzherbert, who was five years older than the Prince and a Roman Catholic. Where all else had failed, she actually succeeding in altering his habits. A very upright woman, she firmly refused to be his mistress. This put the Prince in a difficult situation as he was totally smitten with her and would do anything to have her. Maria made it clear that the only way that would happen is if they were properly married in the eyes of God. So, the Prince of Wales grabbed a churchman from debtor’s prison (promising him a bishopric when he became king) and had him married to Maria Fitzherbert. This may have made them husband and wife in the eyes of God (and they lived as such after that) but according to British law in had no validity as the King had not consented to the marriage and there was certainly no way he would have ever given such consent for the heir to the throne to marry a Catholic. For the Prince of Wales, he genuinely loved Maria but he was not a faithful man and soon left her for his next mistress (Lady Jersey). However, the fact that he went through a religious marriage with Maria would cause him problems for some time to come.

When the Prince of Wales did legally marry it came about not because of romance but because of his mounting debts. The King was absolutely opposed to any increase in his allowance because of his lavish spending. However, Parliament finally agreed to cover his debts if he would settle down and get married. So, in 1795, he agreed to marry his cousin Caroline of Brunswick. It was hardly a match made in Heaven. Bride and groom were repulsed by the other and the Prince was drunk at his own wedding (perhaps the only way he could go through with it). After the birth of their first child early the following year, a daughter, the two lived apart. Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales was becoming more critical to national life as King George III began to show signs of madness, actually the first symptoms of porphyria. As the behavior of the King became more erratic, more looked to the Prince of Wales for leadership. Yet, for some, the Prince seemed all too eager to snatch power from his father. He did himself no favors by associating with the opposition, mocking the King, spreading embarrassing stories about him and even speaking (though surely not seriously) about a sort of palace coup to seize the royal powers for himself. Despite rallying for a time, eventually the mental state of the King became such that he had to be set aside and the Prince of Wales was appointed regent to act on his behalf in 1811.

With his achievement of power, the Prince of Wales did not immediately become the creature of the Whigs as many had expected. The Tories continued in power and continued the vigorous prosecution of the war against Napoleon. He presided over the War of 1812 with the United States, signed the peace ending that conflict and he saw Napoleon finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. So central did that battle become to the British national narrative that the Prince Regent seemed to genuinely convince himself that he had actually been present on the field that day, which of course he was not. The final peace achieved at the Congress of Vienna saw the British Empire in a very strong position with new footholds around the world and the elevation of Hanover to a kingdom. In 1820 King George III passed away and, at 57, the Prince Regent came to the throne as King George IV. The occasion was marked by what was probably the most lavish and grandiose coronation in British history. Although some groaned about the huge expense, the people enjoyed the occasion and the grand style of George IV symbolized a British Empire that had emerged victorious from the French Revolutionary Wars and was growing around the world.

There was plenty of criticism during the rather short ten-year reign of King George IV for his personal habits, his spending and his interference in politics. That, however, should be kept in perspective. The criticism of his personal life was mostly accurate but his political meddling was mostly due to incorrect assumptions based on his previous association with the Whigs. In fact, he largely stayed out of politics and the era of royal involvement in government seen during the reign of his father stopped and the era of royal non-interference had begun with George IV (or resumed from the first two Georges). However, that fact alone meant that when he did involve himself in political matters, particularly to carry on certain policies of his father (such as blocking Catholic emancipation) caused it to stand out more than it should have. There was also more to the man than the drunken glutton portrayed in the press. Many consider him the most intelligent of the Hanoverian monarchs and, when he was sober, he could demonstrate his knowledge, wit and uncanny memory.

Surely the greatest contribution made by King George IV was in his great sense of style. He left the country far more grand than he found it. Many of the most famous landmarks of Britain are attributable to King George IV. Whereas his predecessors had lived more simply in the German style, George IV seemed more reminiscent of the great patrons of the arts from the Stuart era. He restored Windsor Castle and rebuilt the Royal Lodge (lately the home of the Queen Mother). Brighton Pavilion was probably his most grandiose architectural achievement, built in an Oriental style it had Near Eastern exteriors, Chinese interiors and it still stands as a monument to the cosmopolitan nature of the British Empire. It also turned Brighton from a largely overlooked community to a major holiday center. The King stayed there often and after 1800 lived again with Maria Fitzherbert who still regarded herself as his wife, in the eyes of God if not in the eyes of the law. Although not often known, she did help him considerably, nursing him back from a stomach ailment and managing to get him to cut down on his drinking. Whenever they were together she proved to be very good for him. His unstable legal wife, Caroline of Brunswick, had left the country to live a rather scandalous life in Italy only to return at the time of his coronation to claim her place as queen. She was turned away at the doors of Westminster Abbey and died in 1821. He had tried to divorce her but was told that to do so would throw into the public much about his private life that would do no one any good. So when Caroline died she at least died fairly popular with the public who had no idea of what she was really like, having most of the same disgusting habits as her husband but without anything like his winning personality.

During his reign, King George IV moved considerably to the right from where he had been in his rebellious youth when aligned with Fox. Once the responsibility of royal leadership was fully on his shoulders, George IV realized that the type of ideas espoused by Fox would lead to anarchy and the sort of revolutionary chaos seen in France. Because of this, the Whigs viewed him as a traitor to their cause and would never forgive him for it. However, he was not the sort of man to put up much of a fight in the political arena. By the time he was actually King, with a lifestyle that had aged him beyond his years, he preferred to avoid confrontation whenever possible. As a result, he often promised one group his support on a certain issue only to fail to give it when it seemed there would be resistance. This left him with an untrustworthy reputation that caused most to try to avoid him. He was secluded most of the time but when he did make public appearances he could still awe a crowd with his magnificent fashion sense and showed that he could still display the regal bearing and dignity of his youth, despite his increased years and even more increased waistline. He could still win people over and, while often discounted, his highly choreographed visit to Scotland (the first such royal visit since the Stuart era) did help bring the United Kingdom more closely together.

In the final years of his reign, as his health declined, George IV seemed to be increasingly out of touch with reality. He devoted his time to planning further even more grandiose building projects, none of which were to ever see fruition. He might also talk at length about his imagined exploits at the Battle of Waterloo where his imaginary role became ever greater and more heroic. He also became much more religious at the very end of his life and that end finally came on June 26, 1830 at the age of 67 at Windsor Castle. Despite all the criticism of his habits and private life, he had not been a terrible monarch even though he was certainly not a great one. The tragedy is that he could have been so much better. He had the intelligence and he had the presence to make for a great monarch but he lacked the discipline and work ethic. As it was, he seemed to be marking time until he was succeeded by his younger brother the Duke of Clarence (King William IV) who himself is often seen as a placeholder until the accession of Queen Victoria. He had many faults but his reign was certainly not a disaster and, if nothing else, George IV at least left behind a country with a few more beautiful buildings and a finer sense of style because of him.
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