Sunday, February 28, 2010
I should also say that in general I am in favor of these tea parties as have been breaking out in the US since the TARP fiasco. However, all of that aside, I have to say there is something I find rather off-putting about the idea of anything being called a “tea party” being held in Great Britain. I am generally in favor of that which is being advocated by the tea parties but, in Britain especially, could they not find an example to follow in their own history rather than borrowing from America?
This, I assure you, is not because of any jealousy on behalf of the Boston tea party (probably would have been on the other side of that little bit of vandalism) but because I hate to see European “conservatives” following the example of American “conservatives”. Liberals in the US have long followed the example of European liberals because they are further down the socialist path than America. The same could not be expected on the right for the simple reason that there is hardly any real conservatism left in Europe these days and because American conservatives can, by the nature of the founding of the country, go right only so far as the Revolutionary War will allow them.
However, real traditional conservatism came from Europe; they should have plenty in their own history to draw from that is even the more legitimate “real thing” than what the most right-wing folks in America can muster. The whole idea of a tea party in Britain sounds like something anti-war Whigs would have done in 1776 to thumb their nose at Lord North and King George; not something done by what will probably be a mostly Tory crowd in Britain today. I don’t like people who blame everything on America nor do I approve of those who wish to follow the American example in absolutely everything. Surely in the long history of Great Britain there is something in their own tradition they could adopt instead of borrowing from a group of people who were actually the enemies of Britain? I still wish them the best of course, I also wish they would do something a little more “British” and monarchial and of course I am … The Mad Monarchist.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
She was born Princess Astrid Sofia Lovisa Thyra of Sweden on November 17, 1905 to HRH Prince Carl, Duke of Vastergotland and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark. HM King Gustav V of Sweden was her uncle and her grandfathers were King Oscar II of Sweden and King Frederick VIII of Denmark. Her sister Princess Margaret of Sweden would go on to marry King Olav V of Norway, further cementing the Scandinavian royal family ties. However, the man for Astrid was the handsome young Prince Leopold, son of the “Soldier King” Albert I of the Belgians.
The arrangements were made and the couple had a civil wedding in Stockholm on November 4, 1926 followed by their formal religious wedding in Brussels on November 10. Princess Astrid was a quick success in Belgium, winning hearts all over the country with her beauty, charm and simple kindness. Together, Astrid and Leopold made one of the most handsome couples amongst European royalty. They had a great deal in common but, initially, religion did not make the list and she was expected to convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism.
It may not be often thought of today but Belgium has traditionally been a very Catholic country. Belgian volunteers went to Rome to fight for Pope Pius IX during the unification of Italy and the Belgian monarchy sent a fabulous papal crown to Pius IX afterward as a mark of their esteem. However, when Princess Astrid looked into the subject the priest told her that she should not convert unless she sincerely believed in her heart that the Catholic Church was the true church of God. Princess Astrid began doing a great deal of soul-searching and religious study and in the meantime gave birth to Princess Josephine-Charlotte in 1927. By 1930 she was firmly convinced that the Catholic Church was correct and she converted to the great joy of her married family, especially her husband and father-in-law, who were very devout in their faith. King Albert was pleased that his family now stood together in that faith and Princess Astrid told a childhood friend, “My soul has found peace”.
That same year Princess Astrid gave birth to an heir to the throne whom the couple named Prince Baudouin. In 1934 tragedy struck when the beloved King Albert I died in a mountaineering accident which thrust the Prince and Princess into the roles of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid. That same year another son (and another future king) was born and named Albert after his grandfather. Queen Astrid was a devoted mother and a loving wife. If anyone disliked her it was the snobby types of upper society who did not approve of her friendly and familiar style. However, this very warmth made her all the more popular with the common people who saw her as their own in a very special way. This was encouraged by the charity work of Queen Astrid when the country fell on hard times.
Queen Astrid helped her countrymen out in practical ways by organizing relief supplies of food and clothing to be distributed. Known as the “Queen’s Appeal” she encouraged a wave of donations that were of immediate help to the poorest Belgians. She also took a special interest in helping with issues related to women and children. All of this, combined with her great charm, beauty, down-to-earth style and noticeable devotion to her family made her extremely beloved by the Belgian people as well as her own husband and children.
It was thus the greatest of tragedies when Queen Astrid died suddenly in a car accident in Switzerland on August 29, 1935. She was only 29-years-old and though it can never be known for sure rumors soon spread that she was pregnant at the time as well. King Leopold III was devastated and the grief of the public was so great as to be palpable, which is remarkable considering the relatively short time they shared with her. A shrine was set up in Switzerland at the sight of the accident and she was buried in the royal crypt at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken. Few if any royal consorts of modern times have had such an impact and made themselves so loved and respected as Queen Astrid in such a short period of time.
Friday, February 26, 2010
With a strange attraction to crosses and falcons, you are one of the
most mysterious and unknown people in your group of friends, your community, or pretty
much any category you want to mention. You keep to yourself, but see yourself as a
knight in shining armor, ready to rescue people if they weren't so far away. Still,
people are fascinated by you if they've heard of you, which most of them
Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid
During World War I he served at the front in the Imperial-Royal Army fighting for his Emperor and his beloved Austria. During the course of the war he was taken prisoner by the Italians and endured as a POW until September of 1919. Once released he went attended university at Innsbruck, graduated and began working as a lawyer. These were turbulent years for Austria with her empire having been torn from her, political extremists causing trouble and forbidden by the victorious Allies to join with her German-speaking cousins as many in the immediate aftermath of the war wanted to do. Even then, it should be noted that this was considered largely as a means of survival rather than any lack of national pride. After the horrors of the First World War and with hardly anything of the former country left, the Hapsburg Empire gone, many wondered exactly what “Austria” meant.
Schuschnigg had a pretty good idea at least of what it meant and he joined the Christian Social Party and was elected to parliament in 1927. In 1932 Engelbert Dollfuss of the Patriotic Front appointed him Minister of Justice in his government (often labeled as ‘Austrofascism’) and later Minister of Education. The Patriotic Front supported a Catholic, corporatist Austria with a big enough vein of nationalism to make them opposed to the union with Germany. As a result they were vehemently opposed by the Nazi Party which Dollfuss tried to suppress. However, when France and Britain abandoned Italy over the seizure of Ethiopia Benito Mussolini dropped his opposition to Hitler and befriended the Nazi regime, giving Hitler a green light to move against Austria which Mussolini had previously opposed.
The Nazis assassinated Dollfuss and Schuschnigg was thrust into power as Chancellor at a time of the greatest crisis for the Austrian state. Schuschnigg knew that something had to be done to encourage Austrian national pride and closer ties with the religious, cultural and historic roots of the nation. Obviously, many of those in the Patriotic Front thought that a return to the monarchy under the House of Hapsburg would be the way to go. Prior to his death Dollfuss had removed the constitutional ban on the Hapsburgs returning. After a monarchist rally in Vienna Chancellor Schuschnigg repealed the laws banning the Hapsburgs from Austria and, with the promise of non-interference from Mussolini, announced that it would be his right to decide on the question of a Hapsburg restoration and indicated his support of the idea.
The Nazis went ballistic upon receiving this news and it is remarkable to read just how unnaturally paranoid they were about a Hapsburg restoration. Rumors began to circulate that Austria and Czechoslovakia were planning to put the Hapsburg Emperor back on the throne, possibly with Hungary going along as well, to attack Nazi Germany. Nothing so grandiose was imagined of course but Schuschnigg did have a secret meeting with Archduke Otto von Hapsburg in which he promised that the restoration would be carried out as soon as possible; probably the following year even if this were to be opposed by the great powers.
Of course, as we know, Schuschnigg and the Austrofascist state did not live long enough to see the transition to monarchy. Hitler decided to act at once to head off the possibility of a Hapsburg return and launched his operation against Austria; tellingly codenamed “Otto”. Nazi demonstrations erupted across Austria whereas Schuschnigg was undermined by the new Rome-Berlin Axis and Italian preoccupation with aiding the nationalists in Spain. The Germans invaded Austria in March of 1938 and soon annexed it to the “Third Reich”. Kurt von Schuschnigg was arrested, kept in solitary confinement for a time and spent the rest of the war years in concentration camps before being liberated in 1945 by the US Army. He moved to America after the war where he wrote and lectured before his death in 1977.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
At the start of World War I he served in the initial campaign against Serbia and for his meritorious service was decorated with the Order of the Iron Crown and later succeeded General Oskar Potiorek as military commander of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the first Croat soldier to hold that position. He recognized the nationalist danger presented by the pan-Slavic ideas and urged Austria-Hungary to implement reforms to negate the danger. One of the ideas he put forward was akin to earlier ideas floated about the creation of a south-Slav state within the Hapsburg Empire but the Hungarian government would not hear of it. In 1916 he led the offensive into Montenegro and within a week had occupied the capital city for which he was awarded the Order of Leopold and given the Hungarian noble title of Baron of Lovcen. The following year he was promoted to Colonel General and remained in command in Bosnia until 1918.
With the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire Sarkotic was arrested along with other Hapsburg loyalists by the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia). This naturally did nothing to diminish his staunch opposition to Serbia and the new Yugoslav state. When he was finally released from prison he moved to Vienna where he continued to voice his opposition to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and cooperated with Croatian resistance groups operating in exile in Austria. He was also the leader of the Croatian Committee which would later come to be dominated by the notorious Ante Pavelic who allied with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to eventually create an independent Croatian monarchy during World War II following the Axis invasion and breakup of Yugoslavia. What the old Baron would have thought of this can only be speculated at as he died still in exile in Vienna in 1939.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Many of those who participated in the campaign in Texas would go on to serve in the Second Mexican Empire of Maximilian such as Colonel Juan Almonte and Quarter Master General Adrian Woll. Santa Anna placed his artillery and began shelling the Alamo while inside Colonel Travis sent dispatches calling for help from the colonies in Texas. Today the Texas First Lady was on hand at the Alamo to launch a new fund-raising drive. The Alamo is cared for by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a group of ladies descended from the first families of Texas, and it is worth noting in these days of rampant government spending that this "shrine of Texas liberty" has been well cared for all these years by the DRT with no money from the taxpayers and without charging admission. It goes to show how much better things can be when entrusted to those who have an ancestral bond with a cause rather than those doing a job simply because the government pays them.
When the House of Karageorgevic was overthrown in 1858 Prince Mihailo became Prince of Serbia in 1860 when his father, Prince Milos, died. Prince Milan to study in Paris. In 1868 Prince Mihailo was assassinated and the 14-year-old Milan succeeded him as Prince Milan IV of Serbia with a regent to rule during the remainder of his minority. When he came of age in 1872 he took control of the government himself where observers noted his intelligence, ambition and determination.
In light of the events in the Balkans following his life one of the most remarkable things about Prince Milan was his foreign policy in which he tried to maintain a balance of good relations with both the Russian Empire and the Dual Empire of Austria-Hungary. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 Prince Milan called for the recognition of Serbian independence in the Treaty of Berlin. In 1882, with the support of the Austrians, he was proclaimed King Milan I of Serbia.
A far cry from the way things later turned out, the new King of Serbia busied himself with improving the national infrastructure, industry and building up the military and all with the support of the Emperor of Austria. However, all of the costs associated with this buildup and the establishment of an independent Serb government led to large increases in taxation which caused King Milan to lose popularity. More people also turned against his foreign policy, blaming the problems on the influence of Austria and calling for closer ties to Russia; part of the pan-Slavic movement that was in vogue at the time.
More bad news followed with a war against Bulgaria that was a disastrous defeat, increasing economic problems and plentiful royal scandals with King Milan being known for his infidelities and a difficult divorce from his wife. However, he seemed to get a handle on the situation, enacted a more liberal constitution and then unexpectedly abdicated in 1889 in favor of his son and retired to Paris. The situation became chaotic in Serbia. The pro-Russian faction gained power and there were divisions as to whether or not the former King Milan might try to return. He finally did return as commander of the Serbian army under King Alexander in which position he was of great service.
However, the marriage of Alexander was opposed by Milan and he resigned his command and Alexander had him exiled from Serbia. King Alexander firmly placed Serbia in the Russian camp and former King Milan retired to Vienna where he died on February 11, 1901. The situation in Serbia continued to deteriorate however, and only a year after the death of his father King Alexander was assassinated in a military coup which brought the Karageorgevic dynasty back to the throne in the person of King Peter I.
Monday, February 22, 2010
An answer to Huey Newton from William F. Buckley Jr that might surprise a few people. Notice that he says if King George III had captured General Washington he would have had every right to hang him!
Other than his mother, no other woman held such a prominent position in the Yuan Empire as Chabi did and, like the mother of Kublai (a Nestorian Christian), her influence was especially felt in dealing with religion. Chabi was a devout Tibetan Buddhist and it was partly through her influence that Tibetan Buddhism became the most prominent religion in the Yuan court, though the policy of religious freedom was always maintained. Chabi also set an example in promoting a smooth transition of power when the Mongols first conquered China by taking in hand the empresses of the defeated Song dynasty when they were brought to Peking. She took care of them and ensured that they were treated with dignity and respect.
Chabi did a lot of little things to help her husband. Always practical, she was something of a fashion designer, coming up with a new style of wide-brimmed hat sleeveless tunics for Mongol troops serving in warmer, southern climates which the Mongols, used to the frozen steppes of the north, were not accustomed to. She never lost her habits as the daughter of a nomadic people who had to make efficient use of scant resources. An example of this is her organizing the ladies of the Mongol court to spin used bow strings into cloth rather than see them go to waste.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
With regular troops from Buenos Aires and the Montevideo militia Liniers managed to defeat Beresford and force his surrender after two days of fighting. In thanks Liniers was named commander-in-chief of the local Spanish military forces and lieutenant-viceroy. In 1807, when the British invaded again Liniers joined with future rebel leader General Manuel Belgrano in forming a junta that imposed martial law, deposed the sitting viceroy and after withstanding a long siege defeated the British forces led by General John Whitelocke who surrendered on July 5, 1807.
In May of 1808 Santiago de Liniers was formally appointed Viceroy of the Rio de la Plata by King Charles IV of Spain in which post he served until August of the following year being beset by political enemies, revolutionaries and a slew of problems. The Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata was soon beset by the famous May Revolution, the first step toward the Argentine wars of independence. Liniers was very popular with the local Creole population (native born people of Spanish blood) but unpopular with the Spanish-born elites, partly because of his French ancestry, and he made more enemies for his staunch support of the Spanish Empire and his opposition to the regime of Joseph Bonaparte. The Junta of Seville replaced Liniers with Don Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros but by the time he arrived the junta had fallen, the throne had changed hands and few accepted the new viceroy -thus starting the May Revolution.
A revolutionary junta was set up and in 1810 Liniers was involved in a monarchist plot to topple it but, that having failed, ever loyal, he launched a counterrevolution from Cordoba, Argentina to restore the authority of the Spanish Crown. However, despite the admiration Liniers held for his victory over the British, most in the area supported the revolution and his forces were bedeviled by sabotage and numerous desertions. Finally General Francisco Ortiz de Campo was able to defeat Liniers but, being a comrade of his from the days of fighting the British, he refused to have the blood of the celebrated Liniers on his hands. Mariano Moreno had ordered his execution for treason (against an illegitimate government of traitors -typical revolutionary hypocrisy) and so it was left to Juan Jose Castelli to do the deed. Santiago de Liniers was executed at Cabeza de Tigre, Argentina on August 26, 1810 -killed by revolutionaries for his loyalty to King and country.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
In short, I thought the role was atrocious. Catalan actor Jordi Molla was given the part and played it well (he is a talented actor which few would deny) but the figure on screen had seemingly nothing in common with anything we know about Philip of Spain. The casting of Molla seems an odd choice. I have often heard that, an actor must have sympathy for his character, even if a villain, to play the part well. In this case, based on the interviews he gave, Molla seemed to have nothing but contempt for his character and that seems to show on screen but is also, perhaps, not surprising coming from a liberal actor who does not seem to have much respect or affection for the two things that King Philip loved and respected above all else on earth; namely Spain and the Catholic Church.
Philip II is portrayed as such a one-dimensional character as to be downright cartoonish. Flanked by whiskery monks and constantly clutching a rosary he creeps about his castle alternating between shouts and whispers calling his enemy a “whore”. He shrinks back from sunlight and is ever in the shadows and always dressed in black. Designed to be the picture of a religious radical he is constantly using the words of a crusader but takes his spiritual direction from a candle in his room; if it burns calmly upright God is pleased but if it flickers God is angry. Obviously it would not take an extremely intelligent person to realize that simply shutting the windows would ensure everlasting Godly favor using this method of divination!
Then there is the numerous historical inaccuracies, made, I suppose, to simply add to the villainy of the character, but all quite untrue. Philip was not flooding England with assassins and the whole myth of murdering priests has really become tiresome and should be put to rest. Even when something accurate is shown; such as the extent to which Spain was deforested to build the “Invincible Armada” one wonders whether this was done for the sake of accuracy or simply as another way of vilifying Philip II by portraying him as being an anti-environmentalist! On the whole, even if their aim was to make Philip look as evil as possible they still failed. The portrayal was so simplistic, so one-dimensional that he comes off looking more silly than truly threatening.
The movie was meant to be a glorification of Elizabeth I of England and fair enough. But it should not be necessary to slander the name of Philip of Spain to glorify Elizabeth of England. Consider if the shoe were on the other foot? For Spain, the reign of Philip II was their “Golden Age” to a large extent and at least somewhat today and certainly before the wave of liberalism and secularism crashed in Spain the memory of King Philip II was honored just as much and as fervently by the Spanish as the memory of Elizabeth I is in England.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Like many such emperors in the east his exact origins are unknown. He was born in the southern Balkans, sometime between 400 and 500 AD to the Latin-speaking family of the soldier-turned-monarch Emperor Justin I. As his father grew too old to rule Justinian became consul in 521, commander of the eastern Roman armies and in 527 succeeded as Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Coming from humble origins he was known to be a rather open and easy-going man but distrustful of the nobility. He was extremely ambitious and energetic and granted a high degree of authority to his consort Empress Theodora. He appointed wise men to put the empire on sound financial ground and availed himself of the very talented general Belisarius.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
He was born on October 31, 1922, Halloween, appropriately enough for someone as adept at being in costume, to King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Sisowath Kosawak of Cambodia. He was educated in the best traditions of French colonialism in the Khmer capitol of Phnom Penh and Saigon as well as having some military training in France later on. Contrary to popular opinion, Cambodia fared rather well under French control and the royal family actually enjoyed a greater income than their nominal superiors in the imperial family of neighboring Vietnam. When Sihanouk was only 19 his grandfather, King Sisowath Monivong died and he was named King of Cambodia in 1941. This, of course, was during World War II and the rising dominance of the Empire of Japan in East Asia. The young King Sihanouk, though always something of a Francophile, became more nationalistic and called for Cambodian independence from France, which went hand in hand with the state interests of Japan which occupied Indochina after the fall of France in Europe. A declaration of independence was even issued in 1945, under Japanese auspices, but this ended with the defeat of Japan soon after as it did elsewhere in Indochina. That same year the Emperor of Vietnam abdicated in favor of the communists and Laos seemed ready to fall to because of the loyalty that monarch felt to France. King Sihanouk, however, stuck by his nationalist guns and went into exile in Thailand in May of 1953, proclaiming that he would not return until France granted Cambodia her independence.
France granted this request in November and King Sihanouk returned but did not remain long on the throne. Having tasted some of the political spotlight, he wanted more, and decided to abdicate so as to play a more active role in politics. He surrendered his throne to his father, King Norodom Suramarit and became the prime minister of the newly independent Cambodian kingdom in 1955. When his father died in 1960 he was elected head of state but remained still simply Prince Norodom Sihanouk, though three years later he changed the constitution to make himself head of state for life. Of course, during this time conflict was already raging in neighboring Laos and Vietnam, but Cambodia remained officially neutral, at peace and prosperous. Sihanouk was extremely popular among the rural peasants of his country, mostly very religious people who treated him almost like a god, giving him credit for everything from the prevailing peace to the good weather and high rice production. However, they had the benefit of being uninformed as to his rather irregular private life.
In his younger days Sihanouk had quite a playboy reputation. He had seven wives during his life, legal and illegal. He lived in rather extravagant luxury and was known to entertain foreign dignitaries with extremely raunchy pornographic films from France. He made some movies himself, which he wrote, directed and starred in and all of which were focused on the glorification of Cambodia. He kept up all of the mystical pomp and ceremony of his office and yet in person, with his public, he was quite informal, even familial and could seem quite humble. Along with the role of mystical god king he was able to play the part of familiar, paternal, monarch. Whether this was genuine or simply the act of an extremely astute politician we will probably never know. His political activities were not always prudent but they always seemed to work out, for him at least, in the end. He was, for instance, a very early and vocal critic of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Also, despite his royal position, he crossed ideological lines in his foreign relations. The former nationalist made friendly overtures to the conservative President Charles DeGaulle of France and was even a close friend of the murderous Chairman Mao Zedong of communist China. He visited the Soviet Union, establishing at least good relations there and often spent time as a guest of the notoriously oppressive communist regime in North Korea. He seemed adept at identifying those players who held strong cards and cozying up to them.
In 1969 U.S. President Richard Nixon launched secret B-52 bombing raids on Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army posts in Cambodia. Sihanouk was not informed but neither were the many in the American military or the Congress. Contacts also began to be made with more American friendly figures in Cambodia who opposed the neutrality of the Sihanouk regime and the blinking at the presence of communist Vietnamese forces in their country. To many it did not seem that Prince Sihanouk was neutral at all but was passively favoring the communist forces in Southeast Asia. This attitude was further supported when it was learned that King Sihanouk had actually agreed to the establishment of communist Vietnamese bases in his country and to allow communist China to move supplies through Cambodia in support of the North Vietnamese operating against the U.S. and South Vietnam.
There were riots in Phnom Penh against the Vietnamese presents and people claiming to support the United States. When Sihanouk was questioned on this he dismissed their sincerity. According to him these people were only seeking money from the United States and did not care about the future of their country. As he put it, these people were, “more patriots for dollars than for Cambodia”. Nonetheless, it was a very serious situation. When Sihanouk went on vacation to Europe, the Soviet Union and China in 1970 his enemies in Phnom Penh decided to act. Former Prime Minister General Lon Nol seized power in a coup; declared Norodom Sihanouk deposed and sentenced him to death in absentia. He did not change the form of government though, in fact his Deputy Prime Minister was a prince of the royal family, and promised to take a hard line against the communists. Immediately he began receiving secret U.S. aid which would increase and turn into public support in the future.
During this time, Sihanouk was still in China visiting Chairman Mao. He naturally denounced the actions of Lon Nol and pledged to resist his new regime at any cost. The King became chief of state of a government in exile in Beijing and in one of his most crucial moves, one that would have lasting consequences for his country, went on the radio and told his people to go to the jungle and join the Khmer Rouge. This gave a huge boost to the communist guerilla movement and they soon stepped up their attacks. Lon Nol retaliated as best he could with his military expanding rapidly with American support and atrocities were committed by both sides. The outside war also spilled into the country as the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) launched raids into Cambodia against the communist strongholds there. In a very controversial move President Nixon also authorized an American incursion into Cambodia to attack VC and NVA bases along the frontier. King Sihanouk, still in China, denounced all of these actions and promised to fight to the last until his throne was recovered.
In October of 1970 Lon Nol took the final symbolic step of abolishing the ancient Cambodian monarchy. The prosperity and peace of the early reign of Sihanouk was gone and the economy was in shambles. The army of the Cambodian republic was strong though, if rather amateurish, thanks to American financial support and there was real support for the republic among those who opposed the Khmer Rouge, the presence of the Vietnamese communists in their country and those who felt that solidarity with America would be to the great benefit of the Cambodian people. However, the countryside was still full of devoted adherents of King Sihanouk and even in the cities slogan supporting him were often scrawled on the walls. With the arrival of the Lon Nol republic, war also became a reality. In 1971 North Vietnamese forces hit Phnom Penh for the first time, wiping out the small Cambodian air force.
The United States stepped up with more support for Lon Nol and in many ways it was only American air support and American dollars that was keeping him in power and his government functioning. By early 1971 when South Vietnamese forces launched an ultimately unsuccessful attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the neutral Kingdom of Laos it seemed that all Indochina was officially at war and third options were disappearing. One was either with the communists or with the Americans. Corruption among the Cambodian army also cost the United States dearly with inflated supply requests and fake soldiers. At the height of its existence roughly a quarter of the entire Cambodian military existed only on paper with dishonest officers pocketing the American money sent to pay these imaginary troops.
In 1973 their communist opponents got another big boost when, for the first time, King Sihanouk returned to Cambodia and entered the Khmer Rouge territory in the deep jungle. Around the world communist media showed the video of the chief of state in exile embracing the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, including one not many thought significant at that time, one Saloth Sar who later became known to the world as Pol Pot. However, Norodom Sihanouk was under no illusions about the flattery and obeisance given to him by the Khmer Rouge. He understood their politics perfectly and knew that he was only a figurehead. He once admitted that, “when they gain power, they will spit me out like a cherry stone”. Still, he intended to use them as they used him but given his knowledge of the situation, one wonders what he was using them for. The Khmer Rouge leaders also understood the situation perfectly and trained party members and the cadre leadership that they should not believe in King Sihanouk. They knew the people believed in him and that is why it was necessary to keep him as the front man, but the party leadership could not believe in him because, as they stressed, at heart the revolution and Sihanouk are enemies that cannot be reconciled. Their tactic of using the King was working well. Thanks to the support of King Sihanouk the Khmer Rouge grew from 3,000 to 60,000 members in three years. This would prove crucial later on as many confess on both sides that the Khmer Rouge could never have succeeded without King Sihanouk backing them.
In 1973 the U.S. stepped up the bombing campaign to counter the increasing communist activity by both the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge used this to recruit more support for their war against Lon Nol, telling people that the U.S. meant to destroy the entire country. That July, the bombing campaign in Cambodia became public in the United States, four years after it had started. The Congress was outraged and the very first calls were made for the impeachment of President Nixon. The bombing campaign was halted and the Cambodian republic was left on its own to confront the Khmer Rouge who began their offensive against Phnom Penh with the new year of 1975. At the outset of the campaign they had 80,000 soldiers and besieged the city, firing rockets and artillery into the city on a daily basis, which was filled with some two million refugees who had fled there to escape the American bombs and Khmer Rouge attacks. As all roads and rail lines were cut, the city and the perimeter outposts began to starve.
To help the Cambodian people and get around Congressional restrictions the U.S. military chartered civilian planes to fly food and ammunition into Phnom Penh under heavy communist fire but supplies continued to run low. The Mekong River was also a lifeline, carrying both vital supplies and luxury items but by March most of the boats had been sunk by the Khmer Rouge and no further efforts were made. Khmer Rouge rocket attacks went on and on, day after day and conditions grew worse. In one area republican troops were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. Casualty figures skyrocketed and the local medical facilities were overwhelmed; in fact the Cambodian army had less than 20 surgeons of its own. Disease and famine gripped the once abundant countryside and foreign doctors flew in voluntarily to help deal with the humanitarian crisis. On April 1, 1975 Lon Nol was advised to leave by the United States who hoped that this might enable them to come to terms with King Sihanouk. However, the monarch turned guerilla was not the one making the decisions and the Khmer Rouge were not about to start negotiating now when victory was already in sight.
Quite apart from any talk of peace, the Khmer Rouge took this as a sign that the Lon Nol regime was about to collapse and they boldly broadcast death lists of all those they considered traitors who would be killed once they were in power, all done, at this time, in the name of the beloved King Norodom Sihanouk. Their assumptions were correct and on April 12 the United States began evacuating all remaining American personnel by helicopter to a fleet in the Gulf of Thailand. Most of the native officials, however, refused to leave and knowingly or not sealed their fate. Less than a week later the airport was overrun by Khmer Rouge guerillas and the following day the communist forces moved into Phnom Penh. They tried to put on a benevolent front and appealed to all republican officials to meet with them so they could work in cooperation with the new regime. Those naïve enough to answer this call were slaughtered to the last man. Using the threat of an imminent American bombing campaign (which was a lie, the U.S. had no plan to bomb anyone in Cambodia) the Khmer Rouge frightened the public into evacuating Phnom Penh completely within two days. They had won the war, the country belonged to them and they prepared to put their fanatical policies into effect, yet they owed it all to King Norodom Sihanouk.
For the moment, King Sihanouk remained as head of state but Pol Pot was the man in charge and he set about on his campaign to remold Cambodia into a communist, rural utopia with disastrous consequences for the Khmer people. The name of the country was changed to Democratic Kampuchea and all government services were abolished as was the currency and all class distinctions. Pol Pot did not, like most communists, create a cult of personality around himself; he remained a shadowy and unseen figure, known only as Brother Number One. The cities were emptied at gunpoint and the entire populace was relocated to the countryside and forced to work in the rice fields. Pol Pot wanted a nation of peasant farmers with no distinctions of any kind. Buddhist monks were massacred; all educated people were massacred so that there would be no intellectual elite. Anyone who showed affection for a spouse or children or parents was executed; in the new state all men were brothers and all women were sisters. Anyone who wore glasses was killed, anyone critical of the regime or with any ties to the outside world was killed. The sick, disabled or retarded were all killed. All foreign minorities were killed. Many, many more starved to death or were worked to death in the countryside.
On April 4, 1976 King Sihanouk was officially removed as head of state, just as he had predicted and was placed under house arrest in the palace complex with the rest of the royal family. In light of what else was going on in the country they were lucky to even be left alive. Also in Phnom Penh the Khmer Rouge established its infamous torture prison at Toul Sleng, known as S-21 were hordes of Cambodians were tortured before being taken to the killing fields and beaten to death; many were buried alive. Pol Pot had created, in many ways, the most pure communist state of any revolutionary. Liberal intellectuals elsewhere commented that Pol Pot had gone so far to the left he had almost met up with the extreme right in his effort to revert Cambodia back to the agrarian Khmer empire it had once been with himself in the role of the old Hindu god kings. In any event, the result was one of the worst genocides in human history as upwards of two million Cambodians, roughly a third of the entire population, was killed or died of starvation or disease at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. King Sihanouk could only look on from captivity as his people were devastated by the very forces he had enabled to assume power.
The Khmer Rouge, an ally of Red China, was also an enemy of Communist Vietnam and eventually, with relations between China and Vietnam becoming openly hostile, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia with the intention of overthrowing the Khmer Rouge slave state. The former King Sihanouk was sent by the Khmer Rouge government to New York to denounce the Vietnamese invasion before the UN. He did not, however, return but rather than going into exile in a free country opted instead to stay with his old friends in the communist dictatorships of Red China and North Korea. He tried to distance himself from the tormentors of his people, yet at the same time he again expressed his willingness to join with the Khmer Rouge to resist the Vietnamese invaders who soon occupied much of the country and forced the Khmer Rouge back into their old jungle strongholds.
In 1982 Sihanouk became president (not king) of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in partnership with representatives of his own royalist party, Funcinpec, the Khmer National Liberation Front (later the Buddhist political party) and the Khmer Rouge. This group, unlike the forces with Pol Pot, engaged the international community and continued to denounce the Vietnamese occupation but expressed a willingness to allow other foreign forces into the country to restore the situation. Amidst increasing international pressure the Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, leaving behind former Khmer Rouge member and Vietnamese ally Hun Sen in power over a puppet government called the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. It did not take long for negotiations to begin between the coalition under Sihanouk and the government of Hun Sen who finally signed an agreement in 1991. That November Prince Sihanouk returned to Cambodia, now under UN direction to prepare for national elections to be held to determine the form of government the liberated Cambodia would take. Khmer Rouge forces under Pol Pot remained in the deep jungle, but aside from minor raids they had ceased to play any role in national life.
Elections brought the royalist party to power, but Hun Sen remained the most powerful force in the country thanks mostly to the influence of communist Vietnam. The elections restored Norodom Sihanouk to the throne as King of Cambodia in 1993 but Hun Sen soon began a long reign as prime minister. This was a new constitutional monarchy which everyone seemed able to live with. Most people felt comforted by the presence of Norodom Sihanouk on the throne, expressing his support for democracy, and the communists and their Vietnamese backers remained peaceful so long as Hun Sen continued to be the one holding actual power. Sihanouk began to suffer from failing health just as his reputation in the worldwide community started to mend. In his early days he had been a well regarded figure for his commitment to Cambodian independence and peaceful neutrality. He suffered when word got out of his secret agreements with the communists and his support of the Khmer Rouge. Their atrocities did a great deal of damage to his legacy but now he was able to be the face of a new, liberal and, supposedly, democratic Kingdom of Cambodia.
Due to his failing health, King Sihanouk was often in China undergoing medical treatment, but he still remained a very dominant figure in national life. Simple people who visited him at the palace were never turned away and never lift without a gift from the king. He jumped into the world wide web and still has the most popular website in Cambodia. Unlike western constitutional monarchs he is not shy about giving his opinions on various subjects. His political views carry weight but even some of his most devout supporters were shocked when he openly announced his support for homosexuals being given the right to marry, even though there had not been much demand for it in Buddhist Cambodia. He had often been at odds with the government and in 2004 went into exile in North Korea and later China in protest to the oppressive actions of the Hun Sen regime and the political infighting between the major parties. In October of that year he shocked his countrymen by announcing his abdication, which left Cambodian officials scrambling to find a replacement.
One week later the Crown Council voted his son, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, in as king but with his father retaining most of his government powers as senior king or, as it is most often translated, as King Father. He remains to this day a widely respected and revered figure in Cambodia, though as a constitutional monarch his significance had somewhat decreased among the upcoming generation of younger Cambodians. In the wider world he remains a controversial figure, admired by some and despised by others. No one, however, can deny his political talent, his ability to survive and his ability to weather the most terrible storms and always come out on top. Some attribute this to talent and foresight while others chalk it up to a total lack of real principles. Whatever is the case, he has been the dominant figure in Cambodian politics since the end of World War II and the most constant face in Southeast Asia from that time until the present. He has seen his country through good times and bad times and it will take some perspective after his death to look back and determine whether his influence was altogether benevolent or not. Certainly his support for the Khmer Rouge and the popularity his presence gave to them will cause a great many people to consider him a villain forever, but among his own people, his reputation will likely be as one of the great kings in their ancient history, whether deserved or not.
After a long period of worsening health, King-Father Norodom Sihanouk died in Beijing at the age of 89 on October 14, 2012, still the most controversial but most well known and ever-present figure in the last century of Cambodian national life.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Today, Ninety Six, South Carolina is a small, quiet town; an average picture of the American deep south. However, in 1781, Ninety Six was the most prominent settlement in the backcountry of South Carolina; a frontier outpost that was the center of military activity in the region. On May 12, 1780 Crown forces under Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton had captured the vital port city of Charleston, South Carolina in one of the most stunning defeats suffered by the American revolutionary forces during the war. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis was left in command with the aim of marching north in a campaign to restore the southern colonies to Crown control and rally the many loyalists of the region to fight alongside the British.
In embarking on this operation, Lord Cornwallis divided his army into three columns which were to secure Camden, Augusta and Ninety Six. British and loyalist forces secured the post and established a garrison there at the stockade fort. Lieutenant Colonel John Harris Cruger, himself an American loyalist, was placed in command. When Major Patrick Ferguson and his loyalist forces were beset by rebel troops at King's Mountain, Ferguson called on Cruger for help but all of his messengers were intercepted. Ferguson and his force were annihilated with many of the survivors being massacred by the revolutionaries. Nevertheless, Cornwallis continued his advance north. Garrisons were left at Charleston, Camden, Augusta and Savannah as well as Ninety Six to hold South Carolina. The area was left under the overall command of the capable Lieutenant Colonel Francis, Lord Rawdon.
The Crown forces soon came under renewed attack by revolutionary forces under General Nathanael Greene. Supported by the notorious rebel guerilla leader, Francis Marion a.k.a. the Swamp Fox, Greene took a position on Hobkirk's Hill near Camden. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Lord Rawdon attacked Greene and defeated him in a hard fought battle. Although he had been victorious, Rawdon had taken heavy losses which could not replace. He therefore decided to pull back and conserve his forces around Charleston. Soon, in the face of unrelenting rebel pressure, every Crown post in South Carolina had fallen to the enemy with the sole exception of the small loyalist garrison at Ninety Six.
Realizing that the position would be nearly impossible to hold under the circumstances, Lord Rawdon sent orders to Lieutenant Colonel Cruger to evacuate his forces to Charleston. However, rebel troops intercepted all of his messages and without any other orders, Cruger grimly determined to defend Ninety Six to the last in the middle of a sea of revolutionaries. With only 550 men, consisting of loyalist provincial troops from New Jersey, New York, South Carolina loyalist militia and black pioneers, Cruger constructed an earthen star fort on the opposite side of the village of Ninety Six as the stockade fort with his soldiers and slaves borrowed from farms in the vicinity. The fighting between the rebels and loyalists had always been fierce, and everyone in Ninety Six knew they could expect little mercy at the hands of the rebels if they should be taken alive.
On May 21, 1781 General Greene arrived with about 1,000 men. Despite having the loyalists greatly outnumbered, Greene knew from the new fortifications that a direct assault would be all but impossible. In an attempt at psychological warfare, a New Jersey loyalist recalled how Colonel "Light Horse Harry" Lee paraded the Crown prisoners they had taken at Augusta with flags revered and mocking music to humiliate the prisoners and intimidate the loyalists in Ninety Six. However, his tactic had the opposite effect and the display only encouraged the loyalists to resist all the more rather than surrender and become objects of ridicule for the rebel forces. The fact that most of the men in Ninety Six were loyalists who were only too aware of the rebel atrocities against other loyalists, harassing civilians and slaughtering prisoners and wounded men, also instilled in them a resolve to fight on long after many other soldiers would have reasonably given up.
General Greene decided to lay siege to Ninety Six and enlisted the help of his Polish engineer Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko who supervised the sappers in building several approaches and parallel trenches to encroach upon the star fort. The loyalists were quite amused on one occasion when Kosciuszko bent down to inspect a mine and was wounded in the buttocks. Both sides suffered mightily in the intense heat and hard conditions. The clay was very hard to dig through and the Crown forces began to suffer from lack of water. The loyalists tried to dig a well in the middle of the star fort but without success. At first, the rebels were brazen enough to try entrenching a mere 70 yards away from the Star Fort. Colonel Cruger quickly sent troops out to attack the work party and drove them off, taking all of their tools. Taught a lesson by this, the next entrenchments were started at a wiser distance of about 200 yards. On June 3, the revolutionaries finished their second parallel. The Ninety Six garrison was forced to send out slaves, stripped naked, to bring in supplies under the noses of the rebels who could not see them in the darkness among the many felled trees.
On June 10 the revolutionaries finished their third parallel, which brought them within musket range of the Crown defenses. The fighting increased but the loyalist canon fire did a good job of holding off the rebel troops. In an effort to neutralize the Royal Artillery, on the night of June 13 the revolutionaries built a 30ft log tower, as they had done earlier in a tactic used since ancient times, upon which to place their infantrymen to fire down on the Crown gun crews. However, the move was not entirely successful. Nonetheless, on June 17 the loyalists had to abandon the stockade fort and Colonel Cruger began to worry that his end was in sight. Fortunately, his appeals for help were able to get through, though General Greene was able to intercept information that Lord Rawdon was then marching to the relief of Ninety Six with 2,000 Crown troops. Faced with this news, General Greene decided that he would have to attack Ninety Six before Lord Rawdon arrived. Greene ordered the notorious guerilla leader Thomas Sumter to intercept Rawdon, but the Crown forces eluded him and continued toward Ninety Six unhindered.
On June 18, at noon, Colonel "Light Horse Harry" Lee occupied the stockade fort west of town with his legion. General Greene then attacked the star fort from the third parallel under cover of artillery fire. However, the 10-12ft thick earthworks proved to be too strong for the rebel artillery. In preparation for the assault, General Greene sent 50 men forward with axes to cut through the obstructions and sharpened stakes surrounding the fort. Men with hooks sliced through the sandbags on the parapets and Colonel Cruger, desperate to ward off the attack, sent troops into the ditch surrounding the fort where fierce hand-to-hand fighting broke out as revolutionary and loyalist Americans struggled for control of the approach to the fort.
It was vicious combat, but with his advance troops faltering, General Greene planned to launch a general assault in a desperate effort to overwhelm Ninety Six. However, on June 19, Greene spotted cannon fire from the hills to the east. Lord Rawdon was announcing his imminent arrival which encouraged the loyalists under Cruger to fight on and demoralized the revolutionaries. Having already taken heavy losses and facing the prospect of being crushed between Cruger and Rawdon, General Greene decided to take his exhausted and bloodied army and retreat. On June 20, before daybreak, Greene slipped away across the Saluda River before Cruger and Lord Rawdon could give chase.
With Lord Rawdon in Ninety Six and Greene safely away, both sides could take stock of their losses. Lt. Colonel Cruger and his 550 loyalists had lost 27 men killed and 58 wounded. Greene, on the other hand, suffered much more. Out of the 1,000 men Greene brought to Ninety Six he lost 58 men killed, 70 wounded and 20 missing. However, in spite of inflicting such a costly defeat on General Greene, Lord Rawdon still had no intention of trying to hold Ninety Six indefinitely and by the next month the Crown forces had abandoned the post and taken up a more compact position on the coast. Loyalist families followed the troops, knowing from first-hand experience the persecution they would endure at the hands of the rebels without Crown protection. The siege of Ninety Six stands as a testament to the divided loyalties among all Americans at the time of the Revolution and the extreme brutality this encouraged. The loyalists forces inside Ninety Six fought with a determination born out of the knowledge that they were not just fighting for a cause, but fighting for their lives and their performance was brilliant and heroic.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Classified as light cavalry the Hackapell were normally protected only by a helmet and a steel breastplate or leather armor. This enabled the quick movements and lightning fast charges that they were famous for. They excelled at sudden, surprise attacks, raiding enemy camps and were often used for scouting and reconnaissance work behind enemy lines. Armed with a sword and a brace of pistols they would attack at full gallop, fire their first pistol at 20 paces, their second at 5 and then use their sword once upon the enemy. They were extremely well trained and even their horses were part of this, being taught to kick, stomp and bite at the enemy while in close combat. Their horses, much like those of the east, were small but sturdy and nimble.
During their most famous period of service the Swedish royal army included three cavalry regiments from Finland and their reputation was so fierce during the 30 Years War that prayers have been found in Catholic Churches in Germany asking for divine protection from the terrible Finnish horsemen. A march written for the Hackapell became so famous that German military bands still make use of it today. The image of the Hackapell also had great symbolic importance for the newly independent Finland as an honored part of their history they could point to for modern generations to emulate.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
A happy Year of the Tiger to everyone! Chúc mừng năm mới!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
1952 - Oslo, Norway: The VI Winter Olympics, opened by Princess Ragnhild of Norway, daughter of King Olav V.
1972 - Sapporo, Japan: The XI Winter Olympics, opened by HIM the Showa Emperor of Japan.
1988 - Calgary, Canada: The XV Winter Olympics, opened by Governor-General Jeanne Sauve
1994 - Lillehammer, Norway: The XVII Winter Olympics, opened by HM King Harald V of Norway
1998 - Nagano, Japan: The XVIII Winter Olympics, opened by HIM Emperor Akihito of Japan
2010 - Vancouver, Canada: The XXI Winter Olympics, opened by Governor-General Michaelle Jean
The very first modern Olympic games were opened by King George I of Greece in 1896. The 1908 summer Olympics in London were opened by King Edward VII and the next games, held in 1912 in Stockholm, were opened by King Gustaf V. After the interruption of World War I the games of 1920 were held in Antwerp and opened by King Albert I of the Belgians. In 1928 Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands opened the games in Amsterdam. This was the first time the head of state had not opened the games but the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina was upset that she had not been consulted about the scheduling of the event and so refused to cut her Norwegian holiday short to open the games. Tokyo would have been the next host city but World War II interrupted the competition. The next games were held in London in 1948 and were opened by King George VI. The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia and were opened by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1964 Tokyo was the host city and the Showa Emperor (Hirohito) opened the games. Queen Elizabeth II opened the games for the first time in 1976 in Montreal, Canada. In 1992 King Juan Carlos I of Spain opened the games in Barcelona. In 2000 the Olympics were held in Sidney, Australia but, for the first time for summer games held in a monarchy a royal did not open them with that honor going to Governor-General Sir William Deane. The last time a reigning monarch opened the games was the 1998 Winter Olympics opened by the Emperor of Japan.
Friday, February 12, 2010
To give westerners a little context on this, consider that when the first Emperor of China came to the throne Hannibal had just become commander of the armies of Carthage, the Ptolemy’s ruled Egypt and the Roman Republic had just built its second circus. Carthage would rise and fall, Egypt would fade from the ranks of the great powers, the Roman Republic would become the Roman Empire, rise, divide, fall, come back as the Holy Roman Empire, rise, fragment and fall, the Ottoman Empire would rise, nearly conquer Europe and then fade into the background while all the while the succession of Emperors in China continued. Dynasties rose and fell but there was always a “Son of Heaven” on the Dragon throne until this day in 1912.
The scattered groups opposed to the imperial system had very little in common (which would ultimately lead to decades of anarchy among feuding warlords) but most agreed on racial xenophobia; hatred of the Manchurians was all they agreed on in many cases. It is, therefore, ironic that Sun Yat-Sen, who believed himself entitled to leadership in a post-imperial China, waved the Han nationalist flag while spending much of his life in the United States and coming back to China with a hunchbacked American lackey in a ridiculous uniform clanking with worthless medals who expected to become military commander of the new republic. All the ideas expressed were foreign and foreign advisors were never far from even the most rabid sounding nationalists.
Sun Yet-Sen even went to pay homage to the tomb of the last Ming emperor simply because he was the last Han monarch to rule China before the Qing dynasty came to power and Manchu and Mongol princes assumed the places of importance. However, we should not be too surprised at this. The same man who railed against the decadent Manchu court was a flagrant philanderer, the same man who called for freedom and democracy was an absolute autocrat who would have nothing to do with any organization or party he did not control and the same man who berated the widespread corruption of the late Qing period presided over a provisional government that set a new standard in graft, nepotism, cronyism and corruption of every kind.
On the other side of the thick walls of the “Great Within” the boy Emperor did not really know what monumental event had taken place either. Nothing much changed in his daily life and inside his Forbidden City he was still treated as the Lord of 10,000 Years, partly because not everyone was convinced all the sudden changes that had taken place would be permanent. Most elites tried to keep a foot in each camp and for the Manchurians and traditionalists at least there was still hope that after the novelty of the republic had worn off the people would come back to the system they had known for thousands of years. This was only the beginning of the troubles modern China would face, but it all started with the end of the imperial era, the end of the Great Qing, 98 years ago today.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Needless to say this person thought that any constitution would be better than none. However, I countered by pointing out that it is impossible to codify justice, humanity and good government and that, even in so successful a model as the United States (as this person first pointed out) constitutions either become an ignored formality or a bloated, oppressive bureaucracy at the hands of power-hungry politicians. I said it was with good reason that the Russian Tsars for so long forbid a constitution because they had seen the countries which implemented them and, from their point of view at least, none had done well. They wanted no politics, no political parties, no factions and ideological disputes dividing and hardening their people. The Tsar could rule with the human touch while any constitution inherently cannot.
The republican (a very conservative and Christian individual) then asked if that was the only option in Tsarist Russia; unfettered democracy or dictatorship. I responded that the Tsar would not have seen himself as a dictator anymore than the patriarch of large family would view his own authority as dictatorial. This good Christian then tried to get ahead of me saying that it would have to then depend on whether the Emperor served the best interests of his people or simply his own. I put a question in response, ‘Do all parents truly serve the best interests of their children?’ Although the vast majority do, naturally and without prompting, yet there are those parents who are cruel to their children. Still, any good society would never think of violating the ‘Divine Right of Parents’ to raise their children as they see fit. It was conceded that I might have a point there and so the discussion ended.
Now, I am not trying to advocate for absolutism here (nor am I attacking the idea), as has often been stated I would prefer even the most toothless of monarchies where they are for at least having the benefit of a head-start in rebuilding over revolutionary republics. However, I do think that one of the key components of monarchies and what makes even an absolute monarch far different from a dictator is that familial bond which unites a traditional monarch to his or her people in the way that no appointed dictator or strongman who claws his way to power ever could.
For truly, is not every parent an absolute monarch over their own children? Would they not rightly object to any effort by a government or a legal code to interfere with how they manage their household or raise their children? Parents naturally do their best for their children because they are their own and similarly, in a way no politician ever could, monarchs do what is best for their people because they are *their* people, bound to them by blood, history and sacred tradition. Some might still dismiss this as condescending paternalism but is a cold political machine that sees people merely as nameless numbers, units, poll results to be manipulated or interest groups to turn against each other for their own benefit preferable? I suggest not.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Eventually she met Justinian, a general in the army of the Eastern Roman Empire, and became his mistress. Justinian loved her fiercely despite her background and raised her to patrician rank. He was drawn to her rustic simplicity, her pale, petite figure and her captivating eyes. He finally married her and showered her with affection and lavish gifts. In 527 Justinian became Augustus of the East Roman Empire and Theodora was crowned with him as Empress. While he was absorbed with his goal of regaining the entire Roman Empire she dealt with religious matters and was determined to promote a monophysite patriarch of Constantinople. Justinian was Orthodox of course but he gave Theodora considerable powers and neither was said to make a move without the consent of the other, ruling more as partners than sovereign and consort.
In relations with the Church in the west she helped orchestrate the elevation of Pope Vigilius on the understanding that he would favor her beliefs. However, once installed on the Petrine Throne he had a change of heart and refused to change anything. In a rage Empress Theodora had him arrested and brought to Constantinople, but he never gave in and eventually outlived the Empress. In the east her courage and decisiveness were instrumental. It is no exaggeration to say that by her leadership she saved the throne of her husband during the Nika riots which threatened to topple Emperor Justinian.
Together with her husband Empress Theodora oversaw the rebuilding of Constantinople into one of the most spectacular cities in history. She helped in the building of hospices, churches and refuges for the poor. She is also credited with influencing new laws to protect women, making rape and kidnapping capital offenses, no matter if the woman was noble or common born. Women could not be forced into the entertainment industry or prostitution and could not be put in prison for debts. Instead they were to be placed under the supervision of religious women to work off their debt. This was necessary because of the rape and abuse women often suffered in prison. She cracked down hard on prostitution, buying the freedom of many girls herself, meting out harsh punishment to their captors and setting up establishments to help them get back on their feet in legitimate ways.
Empress Theodora died of cancer on June 28, 548 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. Emperor Justinian was extremely distraught by her loss and continued to work for religious unity between the monophysite and Orthodox camps. Her religious policy could be seen as damaging but her willingness to work within the established framework has also been pointed to as something which kept the east and west from separating sooner. Nonetheless, what can be said of her is that she was a pioneer of sorts in the fair treatment of women and it is largely thanks to her that women in the Eastern Empire had more rights than those in any other part of the world at the time. She was a beloved and valued consort to one of the greatest monarchs of the Byzantine Empire and during whose reign Constantinople came about as close as she ever did to fully recovering the glories of the old, united, Roman Empire.