Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Monday, July 30, 2012
Rather than fighting foreign enemies, the Byzantines fought each other for power and external warfare was increasingly left to hired mercenaries while Constantinople became wealthy and prosperous as the hub of all trade with the near and Far East. It is ironic that, during this period of decline, the Turks, who ultimately became the arch-enemy of the Greeks, were actually invited into the Empire by the Byzantine Emperor to help suppress rebellions in the Balkans. Calling in outsiders to deal with internal enemies ultimately proved to be an unwise policy. If the assumption was that the Turks could be easily manipulated and expelled later, they were very much mistaken as to Turkish strength and determination. Unfortunately for the Greeks, once the Turks had their foot in the door, the combined powers of Christendom were never able to force them out again. One also cannot help but notice the difference with today, when Greece is so indebted and in such dire financial difficulty, that the city of Constantine was once the most fabulously wealthy city in the world. How things change. The Greeks spend several hundred years under Turkish rule but, eventually, that changed too. The Greek War of Independence attracted volunteers from across Europe and moral support from countries across the western world. The war was finally won in 1829.
In 1913, King George was assassinated by an anarchist and was succeeded by his son, King Constantine I. Due to the fact that he was the first king born in the independent Greece, and the first to be Greek Orthodox, he was proclaimed by many of his subjects as “Constantine XII” heir to the legacy of the last Byzantine Emperor. Greek pride was still alive and well. However, the reign of King Constantine I was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I in which many wanted to enter the war on the allied side in order to attack Turkey, but in which the King, knowing how exhausted the army was since the Balkan Wars, wanted to stay out of. His preference was to remain neutral but it was a neutrality that the allies did not always respect. Factions emerged, for and against the war, with some Greeks acting on their own to occupy parts of southern Albania. Pressures increased and eventually King Constantine abdicated in favor of his son and Greece did enter the war on the allied side which won Greece some more territory, though they never regained the highly symbolic prize of Constantinople. In the following war with the new secular government in republican Turkey, Greece lost some of her prior gains which caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and government turmoil, opening the era of conflict between the liberal republicans and the conservative monarchists.
A great deal of negative material has been written about Metaxas and his government, many referring to him as a dictator. However, he never encouraged the sort of cult of personality seen in most dictatorships. Everything was done in the name of the King and the monarchy was always given pride of place in national life. His aim was not to transform Greece but to strengthen the Greek kingdom, defend Greek culture and restore a sense of patriotic national pride among the people. The need for a strong country was clearly felt with the outbreak of World War II in which King George II naturally favored Great Britain and the allied powers. This caused tension with the Fascist regime in Italy and when Mussolini demanded certain privileges from Metaxas he refused and Italy invaded Greece from Albania. Mussolini had expected to make short work of the Greeks but after coming to power Metaxas had greatly strengthened and modernized the Greek military and they were stationed in the right place in excellent defensive positions.
King George II was finally able to return home but it was to a homeland torn by civil war, with a shattered infrastructure and facing economic crisis. Less than a year later George II died and was succeeded by his younger brother King Paul. In many histories today, King Paul is subject to a great deal of unfair criticism. The fact is that during his reign the Kingdom of Greece came roaring back to life with American aid from the Marshall Plan, a surge in tourism and the good relations with foreign countries established by King Paul on his many tours. During his reign, one of the few times there were no major problems with rebels but a period of peace and stability in which the people could enjoy their constitutional monarchy, Greece rapidly recovered, rebuilt and prospered. It was a great success story. But, of course, republicans never take “no” for an answer and they continued to try to encourage discord and to spread every sort of slander against the King and the Royal Family. When economic growth began to slow they were quick to point to the monarchy as the cause of the problems. In fact, King Paul had shown financial common sense and had actually cut his own salary, cut his own expenses and even handed over to the government valuable royal properties. To republican ideologues, of course, none of that mattered.
King Constantine II finally came into open opposition to Papandreou over his effort to take control of the army by naming himself defense minister as well as prime minister. The King offered to appoint anyone Papandreou might choose for the post but refused to allow him to fill it himself. Papandreou refused the offer, ultimately resigned and a succession of weak governments followed as both sides tried to enlist the support of government officials. Papandreou took the radical step of openly trying to rally the people in opposition to the King. The results were mixed but this populism frightened the other politicians and made it impossible for the King to form a stable government. All of this worked together to create a fear by members of the army that the communists would take advantage of the situation to seize power. In 1967 a military coup was launched led by a brigadier general and two colonels. Within a few hours the whole country was under their control with leading problematic politicians and subversives arrested and troops stationed outside the royal palace.
After only about a year of life the military regime came to an end in 1974 and the republican constitution was declared illegitimate. King Constantine II expected to return to Greece but, again, he was betrayed and yet another referendum was organized with the usual troublemakers in favor of keeping the republic but, most troublingly, with many supposed monarchists refusing to take a stand. Again, the outcome was less than honest. The King was not allowed to return to Greece to meet his people face to face and campaign on his own behalf. Not surprisingly the result was 69% in favor of a republic and the King has remained a monarch-in-exile ever since. Since the birth of the new republic, Greece has often resembled a power-sharing enterprise between the Karamanlis and Papandreou families. The socialists have held most political power from the beginning and over the years turned the country into a very top-heavy bureaucratic state. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union and in 2001 adopted the Euro. With easy money on loan from the EU, the Greek government plunged down the road to economic ruin as politicians bought votes by promising more government spending, more subsidies, more lavish pension plans and so on which put the country into massive debt.
Can Greece survive this current disaster? The country has certainly survived worse, however, it will require some honesty and hard decisions. The people will have to admit the mistakes that have been done, such as getting rid of the monarchy or thinking one can get something for nothing, and then press ahead with hard work and determination. It will be difficult, but it can be done. If the will exists, there is a way.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Umberto I was a "good" King, there should be no doubt, who did the best he could in all circumstances. His assassination was a tragedy for Italy and for the world as well as it was part of a trend of anarchist assassinations. Even for the United States as it was the regicide of Umberto I which inspired the anarchist assassination of U.S. President William McKinley the following year. Additionally, if he is to be criticized for using the troops in Milan in 1898, Vittorio Emanuele III should not be so criticized for not taking the same action in Rome in 1922.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Something else I love is the United Kingdom. I have good reason to. I speak English, I have ancestors buried all over Great Britain and Ireland, I studied British literature at university, I love the British monarchy, the British Empire, those great old British values of hard work, determination, ambition and stoic courage. I love the culture, I admire the great heroes of British history and the whole, long British story. The United Kingdom has a matchless record amongst the countries of the world and one that every Briton should be justifiably proud of. All that being said, as I watched the opening ceremonies on Friday night, I’m sorry, but I thought it was horrible. I kept waiting for it to get better and it only seemed to get worse and worse. There was very little about that whole ‘performance’ I could even recognize as British. I began to wonder just how out of touch I am with the mainstream of the land of so many of my forefathers. Is this how the British think of themselves? Was that display an example of what defines the modern United Kingdom? Grubby faced laborers, suffragettes, storybook villains, socialized healthcare and clips from sitcoms (some of which were American)? No bold explorers, no Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson or Captain Cook but Harry Potter, Mr. Bean and the NHS? Really? And, by the way, I have nothing against Mr. Bean, he’s very funny, but is a comedic daydream of cheating in a foot race the best way to open the Olympic games? And I really didn’t understand at all the little episode with the young couple and the salute to pop music. Were they even supposed to be British? Am I terrible person for wondering?
What was I expecting? I can’t say exactly but maybe something with Irish dancers, Welsh choirs, some Scottish highlanders, something English in the Tudor era fashion, maybe a nod to the navigators who sailed forth from the shores of Britain to plant the seeds from which sprung the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on. Of course celebrating the legacy of the British Empire would never be tolerated but when I think of celebrating the best of what it means to be British, British culture and so on, I don’t immediately think of commemorating the industrial revolution in interpretive dance following by a salute to the National Health Service, 70’s disco dancing and clips from The Cosby Show. To everyone who was impressed and enthralled by it all, I do apologize for being blunt. I hope I don’t receive the Romney treatment but in the opinion of this viewer, I can hardly come up with anything positive to say. I don’t get it. To me, it seemed awful. Just awful. Yes, the industrial revolution was a hugely important event in history and Britain led the way in that, but do you really want huge belching smokestacks as part of the opening ceremony of the Olympics? And why was Mohammed Ali there? Seriously, to me, that just seemed embarrassing. Let the man be and have his privacy and stop using him for a living history exhibit.
Nonetheless, as I said, I still like the Olympics, I will put aside all of that mess and watch and enjoy the games, focusing on the athletes who have worked so hard to get where they are today. Despite all my problems with what goes on at the Olympics, I still think that is a lesson worth showcasing: hard work, discipline and determination pays off. Just don’t try to be funny. And here’s hoping the closing ceremonies will be done with a little more class than the opening show. Okay, feel free to tell me how totally wrong I am and what a great show it was, I am prepared…
Friday, July 27, 2012
Throughout 1818 and 1819 Barradas fought with the Third Division of Brigadier Jose Marie Barreiro and he won further fame for his stirring speech and heroic charge at the battle of Pantano de Vargas on July 25, 1819 against Simon Bolivar. In that incident he dislodged some 500 rebel troops with only 80 grenadiers. He was commended by his general for this but not long after the royal army was all but wiped out in the disastrous August 7 battle of Boyaca, which Barradas only narrowly survived. Afterwards, Barradas moved to Cartagena de Indias, joining the garrison there and was given command of a grenadier company from Leon. In the ensuing battle of September 1, 1820 he was badly wounded but again cited for great heroism in the face of a numerically superior foe, earning the Cross of San Fernando for his bravery. Subsequently transferred to Cuba he was given command of a line battalion of infantry when King Fernando VII, after moving to Seville, received Barradas after being restored by the campaign of the “Sons of St Louis”. It was Barradas who was entrusted with the royal decree proclaiming the restoration of the absolute monarchy to be sent to the commanders in Cuba.
Only the year before, the Mexican government has passed the “Law of Expulsion” which ordered the deportation of all foreigners in Mexico and the Spanish were particularly singled out. This greatly offended Spain and finally there was some international sympathy for taking action, particularly when the British Duke of Wellington said his country would not object to Spain attempting to regain Mexico. In the summer of 1829 Brigadier Isidro Barradas arrived in Havana and began gathering an expeditionary force of between three and four thousand men which he embarked for Mexico on July 5 in a fleet of one ship of the line, two frigates, two gunboats and fifteen transports. Many of the men assembled were Spaniards who had been expelled from Mexico and they had convinced Barradas that with just a little show of force the Mexican public would rise up to restore the authority of the King of Spain.
Unfortunately, things seemed to go badly from the start. A heavy storm in the Bay of Campeche dispersed the Spanish fleet and it took weeks for the ships to reassemble off Veracruz and one transport with 400 troops had to divert to New Orleans for repairs. When they finally moved off Cabo Rojo near Tampico the heavy seas made it almost impossible to land the troops. After scouting the area the Spanish finally put ashore and had a minor clash with a Mexican patrol on July 31 near Pueblo Viejo. Meanwhile, at Tampico, a Mexican army was assembling under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Although he lacked the numbers to launch an immediate assault, Santa Anna besieged the Spanish army at Pueblo Viejo. Despite what Barradas had been told the Mexicans did not rise up in support of Spain and the army of Santa Anna only grew stronger while the Spanish forces were weakened by fever, endemic in the coastal lowlands and exacerbated by the dwindling supply of food and clean water. Barradas held on, hoping for rescue or some political shift in Mexico but it was to no avail. Finally, on September 11, 1829 General Isidro Barradas had no choice but to surrender to the combined forces of General Santa Anna and General Manuel Mier y Teran.
General Barradas remained in France for the rest of his life, having a son there and living in quite poor conditions. Yet, as King Fernando VII was on his deathbed, Barradas wrote him a last letter, asserting his innocence of the charges against him and pledging his loyalty to the King and his daughter Princess Isabella. After the King died the Carlist faction tried to enlist the support of General Barradas but, though he was somewhat sympathetic, refused to break his oath of loyalty to the new Queen Isabella II. He died in Marseille on August 14, 1835 after a lifetime of service to his King and country only to end it the victim of lies and injustice.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
In East Africa the German settlers established large plantations while others established a beer brewery in China (a tradition that continues today). However, in the early days, there was definitely a brutal element to German occupation, which is not uncommon when new peoples encounter each other. German civil and military officials wanted to set up orderly and efficient governments and immediately begin development. They had little time for dealing with natives and when the German presence was attacked colonial armies were deployed to eliminate all opposition. The most brutal of these were the expeditions against the Herero in German Southwest Africa and the Maji Maji in German East Africa. The armies sent to suppress these rebellions showed little mercy, if any, and all too often their brutality is all that is remembered today. It would be unfair, however, to use these incidents to paint the German Empire as a whole in a negative light. When the German public learned of the details of what had happened they were outraged and registered their anger in the next election which almost brought down the government. This had the effect of bringing the colonial administration to have a change of heart and from then on the native populations would be dealt with in a much more humane way.
The Germans made it official policy to care for the natives under their protection, made forced or any unpaid labor by natives a criminal offense and genuinely determined to look after their welfare. The natives could be advised but never coerced. Slavery was wiped out, ranches and farm communities were established and both native Africans and German settlers profited from the development. Schools were established as were hospitals and rural clinics. Missionaries were also ever hard at work, converting the natives with varying degrees of success and building new church communities. Research laboratories were established, many plantations having their own, to develop new methods of pest control and new fertilizers to increase livestock and farm production. In China, the little town of Tsingtao became a model city with broad streets, German-style housing, electricity, a modern sewage system and purified drinking water. No other area in China had a higher concentration of schools or a more widely educated populace than German Tsingtao. Even the ardently republican Sun Yat-sen referred to Tsingtao under German rule as “a true model for China’s future”.
The German East African army was innovative by the extent to which they integrated German and native African troops in the same units. They found that including a greater ratio of Europeans in African units increased their overall effectiveness by combining the tactical training of the Germans with the knowledge of the terrain and survival skills of the Africans with the result being a highly effective combat force which prevailed over everything the Allies threw at them. Prior to the war, agreements had been made to try to keep Africa uninvolved due to the fear of colonial officials from various countries of the effect on the African populace of seeing Europeans killing each other and using Africans to kill other Europeans. However, General von Lettow-Vorbeck was not about to sit idle and he determined to fight an aggressive war and force the Allies to divert an inordinate amount of men and material to use against him that could have been more decisively employed in more vital areas such as the western front. In that, he succeeded brilliantly and was able to survive for years, totally cut off from outside assistance, displaying a remarkable ingenuity in fabricating what was needed and sustaining his army almost entirely from living off the land and captured enemy stores. It remains one of the most astounding campaigns in military history and one marked by exceptional humanity and gallantry on both sides.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
nd Foot Guards. As he grew older his parents expected him to follow a career in the Royal Navy and eventually become the Lord High Admiral. However, after volunteering in 1740 the Duke found that he didn’t care much for life at sea and instead decided to devote himself to the army. In 1741 he was made colonel of the 1st Foot Guards and began his formal military career. During King George’s War he saw his first action in Germany, having been promoted to major general in 1742 and posted there. He was with his father at the victorious battle of Dettingen where King George II became the last reigning British monarch to lead his troops on the battlefield. Cumberland was wounded in the leg and promoted to lieutenant-general afterward.
In 1745 he was given the top command of the allied British, Hanoverian, Dutch and Austrian forces gathered in Belgium. Full of youthful aggression and with little experience, his first impulse was to throw caution to the wind, invade France and march on Paris. Fortunately, his advisors were able to dissuade him from such a suicidal move and instead he moved his forces to relieve the town of Tournai which was being besieged by the great French marshal Maurice de Saxe. The result was the battle of Fontenoy, a hard blow to Cumberland and a historic victory for France. Being up against Marshal de Saxe, Cumberland was quite simply outmatched. Numerically each army was about even but de Saxe was one of the great captains of the age and a greatly experienced military man having previously served under the likes of Peter the Great and the brilliant Eugene of Savoy. During the battle the Duke of Cumberland showed great determination but also a single-minded fixation on seizing the town of Tournai, ignoring the danger to his flanks and failing to take some basic precautions. The defeat could be attributed to his own personality and his inexperience. The allied army was badly mauled and Cumberland was forced to retreat to Brussels. Ultimately, this disaster for British arms inspired the exiled Jacobite court to decide that the time had come to strike down the House of Hanover and restore the Stuarts to the British throne.
The Duke of Cumberland did not pursue them too closely as he was still trying to gather together as large an army as possible. The Jacobites still had some fight in them as well, which was proven at the battle of Falkirk where the Jacobites defeated General Henry Hawley. However, that was the last Jacobite victory and their defeats were much more numerous. The Duke of Cumberland pursued them out of England and across Scotland, allowing his enemies to be worn out by hunger and privation before cornering them at Culloden Moor. On that famous battlefield the Jacobites launched their last, desperate attack and were completely annihilated. In the aftermath, Cumberland had wounded men shot and launched a campaign of pacification that was shockingly brutal with many Scots being killed indiscriminately, homes burned, livestock killed or confiscated and large areas of the country simply devastated. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” had escaped but Cumberland had his revenge on those left behind. In most of Great Britain and the colonies Cumberland was cheered as a great hero, their deliverer from “Papist tyranny” and their savior from the “Jacobite Menace”. However, in the highlands, his cruelty toward the defeated earned him his lasting nickname of “Cumberland the Butcher”. It was fully deserved.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Monday, July 23, 2012
In 1821 King Vittorio Emanuele I abdicated, leaving the throne to his brother who became King Carlo Felice. However, he was, at that time, in Modena and so it was Prince Carlo Alberto who had to act as regent until he returned. That year a revolutionary movement took up the tricolor and demanded a constitutional monarchy as well as Savoy leadership in a movement to unify the states of Italy into one kingdom. Prince Carlo Alberto was sympathetic to these ideas and granted the first Piedmontese constitution. The very traditional and conservative King Carlo Felice, however, was certainly not and as soon as he returned to Turin he revoked the constitution, cracked down on dissident elements and sent Prince Carlo Alberto to join the French royal forces in Spain that were fighting to restore the absolutist King Fernando VII to his throne, hoping this would help put his priorities in order.
King Carlo Alberto went to work immediately, tearing down the internal customs borders in his kingdom to advance a free economy. Although sympathetic with some of their nationalist aims, he also suppressed the conspiracy of the adherents of Giuseppe Mazzini because he would not tolerate republicanism or anything which threatened the monarchy. As his later actions would prove, this was not out of any desire for arbitrary power on his part but because King Carlo Alberto (wisely) believed that republicanism would only divide and weaken a country, leaving it vulnerable to attack by more powerful neighbors. He was determined to defend the rights and freedoms of his people but realized that a monarch was necessary to do so rather than placing the freedom of the people at the mercy of self-serving political representatives. Rather, he looked to the examples of the constitutional monarchies of France and Belgium where traditional structures were preserved and individual rights were respected. In his model, however, the role of the monarch would be much more central and carry more authority in the political process.
Things came to a head with the Revolutions of 1848. It was in that critical year that King Carlo Alberto earned his “magnanimous” title by enacting the constitution that would serve throughout the remaining years of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as well as throughout the life of the Kingdom of Italy; the Statuto Albertino. Previously he had remarked that it was his desire for the liberation of Italy that caused him to oppose a constitution but when it became clear to him that this movement was the way of the future, he adeptly got out in front of it and earned the respect and admiration of his people by codifying in law their rights and representation in government while reserving final authority for the King. The Italian tricolor became the new national flag of Piedmont-Sardinia with the arms of the Savoy Royal Family as its central motif. Absolutists from Madrid to St Petersburg condemned the King for taking this action, taking the side of the reformist movement, yet the communist revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels singled out King Carlo Alberto as their greatest enemy. The absolutists, they argued, were discredited but Carlo Alberto had robbed the revolutionaries of their greatest propaganda weapon by making himself the champion of the freedom of his people.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Not even one hour had passed before I started to hear the ‘talking heads’ bring up the need for stricter gun control, added security at theaters, questions about how the alleged killer was raised, questions about whether the movie itself was related to the murders (and why the alleged killer referred to himself as “the Joker” (it was a Batman movie if you haven’t heard]) and if the film industry bears any blame for what happened. This really annoys me. More than that, it disgusts me because it seems to relate to what I think is one of the most devastating root problems that exists today. What happened in Colorado is the fault of NO ONE but the one who pulled the trigger. That’s it and that’s all. Anything else takes away from the one and only person who should bear all the guilt for this tragedy. Stop harassing his parents, stop harassing his old professors and stop trying to blame Hollywood. Some people are just evil and some relatively good people just snap one day and do horrible things. No law can ever or will ever prevent that from happening.
This irritates me especially because it is proof again of just how little individual responsibility is left in modern society. How many years ago now was the Genovese case? Have things gotten any better? I don’t doubt that things may come out that might help explain somewhat why this person did what he is alleged to have done but I don’t want anything to in any way take away from his own personal responsibility for the horrible crime he committed. I don’t like the way his father was hounded from his home to the airport on his way to Colorado. It’s not his dad’s fault that he did what he did. I don’t care if he had the world’s greatest dad or the world’s worst -he was a grown adult who made his own decision and one of those decisions was to gun down tens of innocent people. The guilty party is the guilty party and there the list should end. I really have no patience for the whole ‘the movie made me do it’ or ‘society made me do it’ or ‘the music made me do it’ or ‘the video game made me do it’ or ‘my overbearing parents made me do it’ or any of the other of countless excuses that always come out at times like this.
I still want everyone to know that I am certainly under no illusions as to the effect that the media and the entertainment industry has on society. I like some pretty violent and horrifying movies myself, but there are some that even I think cross a line. There are at least a few that I’ve simply heard about that I am convinced would destroy the soul of anyone who watches them. I’ve never been in favor of censorship in my life but, in recent years, I have had to change that position because of some very extreme cases. We should endeavor to have a healthy society after all. What we cannot do is blame the actions of one person on anyone else or in any way lessen their guilt and individual responsibility by trying to make the responsibility shared. If I do wrong there is no one to blame but myself. I do the crime, I do the time. Likewise, if I make a dumb decision, no one should be forced to help me out of a mess caused by my own stupidity. I shouldn’t have to bail you out for your mistakes either. If you have friends or family that want to help you out, fine, but you cannot blame me for your mistakes which is what you are doing if I am forced to help you out of them.
No one seems to have any grasp at all of individual responsibility these days. Even among those one would think would be the greatest champions of it, we do not have unanimity. There are relatively few in this day and age who champion individual “rights” but there are fewer still who stand up for individual responsibility. Everyone wants the “rights” but not many seem to want the responsibility. For example, why do so many libertarians and (all) Objectivists/Randists support abortion? They say it is because they support individual “rights” and individual choice but it seems to me that by supporting abortion you are supporting individual irresponsibility. Being stupid and getting pregnant are individual choices but getting an abortion is just a medical way of escaping the responsibility of your own actions and choices you already made. One side of the political spectrum tends to throw all individualism out the window but even on the other side of the scale, everyone seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. No one wants to be responsible for their own actions and these days we seem less and less forced to do so.
For example, just take the film everyone was seeing at this theater where the tragic mass-murder took place. Notice how many young children were among the victims? Some were extremely young. What were they even doing there? Personally, I was shocked to find out the movie was rated PG-13 and even more shocked when I looked it up and found that the previous “Dark Knight” movie was also PG-13. Aside from the original movie with Adam West (my first Batman), I don’t think any of the Batman movies have been suitable for small children. If I had children, I wouldn’t let them watch stuff like that at such a young age. But, of course, how many parents are simply willing to abdicate their responsibility to the MPAA to determine if something is okay for their children to watch? I don’t think I’m being too extreme when I say that I think we should each be responsible for what we do. I don’t think we should we are all responsible for everything and I don’t think we are all responsible for nothing. I don’t think we should be called upon to be responsible for or care about everyone but we should at least care about how family and those immediately around us. That’s all.
Friday, July 20, 2012
In 1800 Marie-Claire met the man she would one day marry at the grueling siege of Jacmel. Her heart went out to the poor, starving and suffering people of the city and she arranged a meeting with one of the besieging commanders, Jacques Dessalines, to persuade him to open a few roads so that she could bring some relief to the people. Dessalines agreed to this and Marie-Claire led a group of humanitarian volunteers (mostly women and children) into the embattled city carrying food, clothing and medical supplies. Wasting no time on formalities she helped prepare the food right on the streets to immediately feed the wounded and starving masses. The people were grateful and Marie-Claire was an instant celebrity, an angel of mercy who would never be forgotten. Dessalines would also not forget her and on October 21, 1801 the two were married. One cannot help but wonder how much choice she felt she had in the matter as no two people could be more dissimilar. She was elegant, friendly, warm, forgiving, patient and the very picture of compassion. Her husband was flamboyant, bombastic, capable of quite extreme cruelty and a habitual philanderer. However, Marie-Claire never made a scene and even legitimized and cared for as her own the numerous children her husband sired by other women.
On October 8, 1804 (after the massacres were finished) Jacques Dessalines was crowned Emperor Jacques I of Haiti and Marie-Claire was crowned Empress alongside him at the Church of Champ-de-Mars. It was hoped that this would be the start of a new and glorious era for an independent Haiti but for Marie-Claire, her time as Empress would be all too fleeting. The Emperor tried to keep the plantations in operation without slavery (they were the only source of wealth on the island) but the harsh measures he had to employ to do this left many feeling like little had really changed and their remained bitter divisions in the upper echelons of the new government. Soon a conspiracy was underway and after only two years on the throne Emperor Jacques I was assassinated in a coup in 1806. Empress Marie-Claire, re-titled Dowager Princess, who had only ever tried to do good for those around her, was cast aside and almost forgotten, living in poverty with precious little of the kindness she had shown being returned.
All these years later, in a way that was certainly not possible in their own lifetimes, Emperor Jacques I and Empress Marie-Claire have become something of an idealized couple. As the first emperor, Jacques I is today again revered in Haiti as a national hero and one of their founding fathers with few remembering his less pleasant actions. Empress Marie-Claire is remembered, rightly so, for all of her admirable qualities. They are often presented in popular art as a happy and ideal couple. This, of course, was far from the truth of the matter but by all accounts Empress Marie-Claire deserves all the praise and admiration she receives for her kindness, compassion and blind mercy to all those in need, toward anyone who suffered for any reason.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I have often said, when asked about this issue in the past, that if you are in Thailand and go around speaking derogatorily about HM the King, the lese-majesty law will be the least of your worries. You will be wishing for the police to show up and arrest you just to save you from the beating your likely to take from the ordinary people who admire and revere their beloved King and would not tolerate anyone defaming him no matter what laws existed about it. Of course, that in itself is something alien to most western countries. The leftist media elites particularly cannot even fathom the idea of a people being so devotedly loyal to their monarch that they would take great personal offense at any disrespectful words being directed at him. Mocking and ridiculing royalty has become so common in the west that it is simply expected at this point. That is a shame. Not only is it shameful, it is harmful and Thailand is actually quite correct to keep (and enforce) lese-majesty laws.
In virtually every modern monarchy the reigning monarch is expected to be a national symbol and a source of unity, a figurehead that everyone can get behind and support regardless of political faction or party. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. It should work. After all, if a monarch has no power to influence or enact legislation, there is no legitimate, practical reason for any faction to have a problem with them. They are supposed to be a living symbol of the nation as a whole, its history and culture and if you find something so vague as the nation as a whole objectionable, you’re probably what would be classically defined as a traitor. However, we know that many people still do object to this; they’re called republicans and they will ridicule and verbally attack the monarch in any way they can in order to advance their agenda. They are not punished for this and feel not the slightest guilt in the hypocrisy of using the very rights and freedoms their monarch provides them to attack the monarchy itself. By not enforcing laws that protect the dignity of the monarchy and allowing anyone to mock and ridicule the sovereign the monarch is robbed of their ability to stand as a figure of national unity. The Kingdom of Thailand understands this but relatively few in the west seem to.