Monday, March 19, 2018

The British Submarine Campaign of World War II

It is inevitable that the great deeds of British submariners in the Second World War would be overlooked by most. Their fight was not as critical as that of the German u-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic nor as single-handedly successful as the American submarine campaign in the Pacific, however, it would be wrong to ignore it. The submarines of the Royal Navy played, if not a decisive factor, certainly an extremely significant one in the ultimate victory over the Axis powers, particularly Germany and Italy. The British are mostly known, because of the world wars, as being on the receiving end of submarine warfare rather than the ones waging it and, indeed, Britain would lead the way in anti-submarine warfare particularly during World War II. Nonetheless, while the convoy escorts braving the perilous North Atlantic crossing or the warships chasing down German or Italian battleships got most of the attention, the submarines of the King-Emperor went about their work silently severing the vital arteries that kept the Axis powers functioning and their armies on the advance.

HMS Totem
Great Britain began the war with a fleet of 57 submarines, the exact same number as the Germans. The Royal Navy produced quite a large number of different classes of boats but three would be most prominent; the S, T, and U-class boats of which the most famous is probably the T-class. Like the Italians, who had a very large submarine force, the British opted for reliability rather than innovation. For instance, like the Italians, they stuck to the old-fashioned impact fuse for their torpedoes rather than the more sophisticated magnetic fuses used by the Germans and Americans. This made them less effective but, unlike both Germany and America, Britain did not have to go through a period of having unreliable or totally faulty weapons while the bugs were worked out of this new technology. Rather, the British compensated for the weaker destructive power of the impact fuses (in which the brunt of the explosion is focused away from the target) by having boats that packed a larger punch than those of any other navy. British T-class submarines were built to fire an astonishing 10 torpedoes at a time which, British naval engineers reasoned, would more than make up for the drawbacks of their fuses as well as the less advanced targeting systems of British boats. If ten torpedoes are fired at a single target, one or more will almost have to hit it.

When war broke out in 1939, British boats were deployed to Heligoland to patrol the waters off the southwest coast of Norway for German ships and u-boats. Unfortunately, this proved very dangerous even without the Germans as British submarines sometimes fired on each other, mistaking their submarines for German u-boats. Likewise, even when in their designating hunting areas, British submarines were sometimes attacked by the RAF who mistook them for German u-boats. However, the British subs did finally score their first victories with successful attacks by two S-boats. HMS Sturgeon sank a German ship in November and HMS Salmon sank a German u-boat two weeks later. The British submarines would gain a high reputation for their ability to sink enemy submarines at a time when surface ships were still assumed to be their primary targets. The Royal Navy proved that the best weapon to use against a submarine is another submarine and that fact remains true to this day. By the time the war was over, British submarines would account for the loss of 39 Axis subs.

Admiral Horton, 1940
In January of 1940 the Brits would step up their game with the appointment of Vice Admiral Max Horton to command the Royal Navy submarine force. He was a living legend in the submarine community for his fantastic record of success in the Baltic as a submarine commander in World War I. After Britain sustained her first losses to enemy action, it was Horton who ordered British boats to stay out of the shallower waters where German underwater detection gear was less effective. Horton planned to use submarine planted mines to cut off the supply of raw materials coming out of Scandinavia to Germany, which would likely force Germany to invade Norway. As it happened, the Germans did invade Norway though not for that reason. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions and bureaucratic slowness, the Germans were able to slip past the British boats and land their forces before the Royal Navy could react. Nonetheless, the British subs did get a few powerful blows in. HMS Truant sunk the German cruiser Karlsruhe and HMS Sunfish sank a 7,000-ton freighter followed by another before the day was out.

Unfortunately, even with 17 boats in the vicinity, the big game proved elusive. The prized German warships Gneisenau, Hipper and Scharnhorst all escaped attacked due to poor visibility and radio direction-finding by German shore installations which were able to direct their ships around areas where British submarines were on the prowl. This was a problem that would come up again later. There were other minor successes but the fact remains that the British submarine force had failed to stop the German invasion and the Royal Navy had been forced to rely only on the submarine force because of the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe in keeping the British surface fleet away. Likewise, operations off the North Sea coast during the German invasion of France and the Low Countries proved to be of little effect. Concentrating boats in these confined spaces had proved to be a mistake, due to the effectiveness of shore installations in homing in on their radio transmissions, the risk of “friendly fire” and the constant daylight in northern areas.

HMS Phoenix
Fortunately for Great Britain, much more success was to be found in the waters of the Mediterranean where British submarines would have their biggest impact on the war. The largest threat, obviously, was the powerful Italian navy and the extensive coverage over the Mediterranean by the Italian air force. However, due to the shortage of fuel and their industrial inability to keep up with any significant rate of attrition, the Italian surface navy would be forced to remain on the defensive. The first British submarine success in the Mediterranean was, due to confusion over their status, the sinking of a French sloop. While screening a convoy, the submarine HMS Phoenix spotted the main Italian fleet, leading to a fairly significant engagement, but the Phoenix was then sunk by an Italian torpedo boat on July 16, 1940. On the final day of the month, HMS Oswald was sunk by an Italian destroyer off the coast of Messina. As the Germans had done in the North Sea, Italian shore installations used radio direction-finding to locate the British submarine and the Italian destroyers then moved in for the kill.

Morale fell as British submarine losses continued and though successes did increase when the government in London authorized the use of unrestricted submarine warfare, the latter half of 1940 was fairly disastrous for the Royal Navy boats. While sinking less than 1% of Italian shipping to North Africa, Britain had lost nine submarines, five at the hands of the Italian navy and the rest to air attack or mines. At one point, Britain was reduced to only five operational boats in the Mediterranean. Clearly, something had to be done. Italian shipping losses had been extremely light in 1940, warships were not engaged and overall Italian superiority in the central Mediterranean had been maintained. It was a gloomy time as the British came to grips with the fact that, despite what Allied propaganda had told them, their enemy was a formidable one. However, the British did what they have traditionally done; learned from their mistakes and adapted.

HMS Upright
As with the Germans (or the Japanese for that matter), Italian underwater detection gear was not good. The British knew this and so finally came to appreciate that, other than aircraft, the primary way their boats were being located was by radio direction-finding. The British responded by ordering their subs to maintain radio silence unless communication was absolutely necessary. The British also ultimately adopted the practice of keeping their boats submerged throughout the daylight hours if at all possible, only surfacing at night. This reduced their mobility of course but also made them much less likely to be detected by lookouts on ship or shore or by patrolling Italian aircraft. The Admiralty also sent many more submarines to Malta such as 10 new U-class boats in early 1941. With a greater respect for their enemy, more care given to stealth and increased use of mines, British successes began to pick up. In February of 1941 HMS Upright attacked and sank the Italian cruiser Armando Diaz in a surface attack at night, the biggest victory British submarines had yet had in the Mediterranean.

In March, HMS Rorqual laid a minefield, sent two freighters to the bottom and then sank the Italian submarine Capponi. The same month, another British boat, the P31, made a successful attack on a large freighter using Asdic (sonar) alone, earning the commander the DSO. The following month also saw the beginning of a string of victories for the man who would be the most successful British submarine commander of World War II, Lt. Comm. Malcolm D. Wanklyn of HMS Upholder. He sank a freighter in April off Tunisia and two more on May 1, beginning what would be a very successful career, albeit a short one. Sadly, Wanklyn was killed in action in 1942 by the Italian navy but by that time had managed to sink 21 Axis vessels, earning the Victoria Cross. Because of men like him, things were turning around for the British war under the waves. In the first half of 1941 they managed to sink about 130,000 tons of Axis shipping while losing only two submarines, both to Italian minefields. Still, the rate of success was slow at less than two ships a month and of the shipping interdicted by the Allies, including the movement of Rommel’s Afrika Korps to Libya, less than 5% was lost to British submarines.

HMS Upholder
However, the British were steadily improving and were aided by two significant events; the invasion of the Soviet Union, which meant the redeployment of enemy air forces and the breaking of Axis codes which allowed the British to have up to date information on Italian naval movements. The British also very cleverly took care to move aircraft into the area of Italian convoys before the submarines arrived to make their attack so that the Axis high command would assume the RAF had spotted their ships and not catch on to the fact that their codes had been broken. This allowed for more British submarines successes going forward. In September of 1941 the boats at Malta were organized into the Tenth Submarine Flotilla and the “Fighting Tenth” would prove the most successful British submarine force of the war, though also the one with the highest casualty rate.

Having inside information on when and wear Italian supply convoys would be sailing, the British were able to post their submarines in picket lines in front of the enemy. In so doing, the British boats began to really bite into the Axis war effort, sinking four Italian troopships in a few weeks and badly damaging the new Italian battleship Vittoria Veneto which was attacked by HMS Urge and put out of action for over three months. In the second half of 1941 the British lost six submarines but received 13 new boats and in that time managed to take a significant toll on Axis shipping which was critical to the North African war effort. In the desert, logistics were paramount and when the supplies flowed, Rommel advanced; when they did not, the Italo-German forces fell back. The losses were serious enough to compel the Germans to dispatch some of their own u-boats to the Mediterranean, adding a new and dangerous foe for the British to deal with, proven when the U-81 managed to sink the only British aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, HMS Ark Royal, in November. Moreover, German and Italian air attacks on Malta proved to be devastating, eventually wiping out the RAF defenders, forcing the withdrawal of many ships and damaging three submarines.

HMS Unbeaten
Nonetheless, the British boats continued to put up a terrific fight with HMS Upholder sinking the Italian submarine St Bon in January of 1942 and HMS Unbeaten sinking the German submarine U-374 not long after. In March the Upholder sent another Italian submarine, the Tricheco, to the bottom off Brindisi. However, the Germans had developed better detection gear and shared this with the Italians to great effect. The Italian torpedo boat Circe took out two British submarines using the new gear. The Italians also made ever greater use of minefields and this, combined with the sinking of the British minesweepers, ultimately made Malta untenable as a naval base. The island was ripe for the picking, however, it was saved by German Field Marshal Rommel who convinced the high command to call off the invasion in favor of his attack into Egypt. At one point only 12 British boats were on hand in the area and the Royal Navy was more stretched than ever with the Empire of Japan now menacing the British Empire in the Far East. Many of the boats previously stationed in Malta had been transferred from Asia, which was now also under attack.

Dogged determination proved effective though and despite the reduction in numbers in April of 1942, British submarines sank 117,000 tons of Axis shipping along with the Italian cruiser Bande Nere (sunk by HMS Urge), a destroyer and six Axis submarines. It amounted to only 6% of the materials being sent to Rommel in North Africa but, due to the withdrawal from Malta, was significantly more than what the RAF had managed to intercept. British submarines were also being used to carry cargo to keep Malta alive as Italian naval forces prevented much of the surface convoys from landing their supplies. To fight back against this, British submarines were dispatched to prowl outside the main anchorages of the Italian fleet, to attack when possible but also to warn the high command of when they were moving out. The result was a fierce fight for control of the Central Mediterranean with wins and losses for both sides. However, the need for Axis air power on the Russian front gave the British some breathing room and soon more and more Royal Navy subs were posted to the Mediterranean with new flotillas organized in Gibraltar and Beirut.

HMS Urge
The British war effort was also aided by the fact that the increasingly critical fuel shortages meant that the main Italian battlefield was forced to stay in port most of the time and this, combined with the determination of British air and naval forces, meant that Malta was able to be built back up and more Axis shipping to North Africa was sunk. In October of 1942, even while preparing for the invasion of French North Africa, British submarines still sank 12 enemy ships and one destroyer. When the Axis powers began moving men and supplies into Tunsia to counter the arrival of the Americans, British submarines accounted for 16 ships lost while the RAF took out even more. Their actions were making it ever more difficult for the Axis forces in North Africa to be maintained much less take offensive action. By 1943 the Gibraltar flotilla moved to Algeria, Allied air power dominated the Mediterranean and the Axis shipping lanes were devastated with British submarines accounting for 33 Axis ships. In early 1943 the subs destroyed more ships at sea than any other force, surpassed only by Allied aircraft whose successes included ships in port.

Axis power was receding in the Mediterranean and the British boats were at the forefront of the naval victory thanks to men like Comm. J. W. Linton of HMS Turbulent who was killed in action after sinking 90,000 tons of enemy shipping and an Italian destroyer. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Comm. George Hunt of HMS Ultor sank more Axis ships than any other British submarine commander at 30 for which he earned the DSO with bar twice. Comm. Ben Bryant was similarly decorated for sinking over 20 Axis vessels as well as numerous warships. With the capture of Sicily by the Allies, the naval war was practically over but, while outpaced by the air forces, Allied submarines, mostly British, accounted for roughly half of all Axis naval losses in the Mediterranean.

HMS Tally-ho
Of course, though less extensive, the Royal Navy submarine force also saw plenty of action in the Far East though they were only able to really establish themselves from August 1943 onward. Based out of Ceylon, their primary area of operations was the strategic Malacca Straits. In November HMS Tally-ho sank a small tanker, the first victory of British subs in Asian waters, but a more significant success was the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-34 by HMS Taurus. By 1944 the Royal Navy was getting back up to strength in East Asia and more submarines were dispatched as well. In January of 1944 HMS Tally-ho, commanded expertly by Lt. Comm. L.W.A. Bennington, sank the Japanese cruiser Kuma and, despite operating in only 15 fathoms of water, managed to escape the counter-attack of its escorting destroyer. Toward the end of the war, targets became scarcer and the Japanese were forced to resort to the use of primitive sailing ships not worth the expenditure of a torpedo. So, British boats, like their American counterparts, began making greater use of their deck gun.

East Asian operations were not as extensive but could still be intense. Lt. Comm. Anthony Collet of HMS Tactician saved a downed American pilot from the USS Saratoga despite being under enemy fire from shore batteries on Sabang and with a Japanese torpedo boat bearing down on them. For this act of heroism, Commander Collet was awarded the Legion of Merit from the United States. More British submarines were dispatched to the region and two new flotillas were organized. Their impact was not negligible and by late October 1944 the British subs had sunk 40,000 tons of merchant shipping, almost 100 small craft as well as a cruiser, three submarines and six smaller warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Not too bad. The smaller British subs were also able to operate in areas such as the Java Sea which were too shallow for the larger American boats. By March of 1945 all Japanese shipping in the Malacca Straits area had been virtually eliminated.

HMS Trenchant
In the build-up to the planned Allied assault on the Japanese home islands, British submarines at least 150 small craft but still managed to find some major enemy warships to target too. On June 8, 1945 Comm. A.R. Hezlet of HMS Trenchant spotted the Japanese cruiser Ashigara and fired a spread of eight torpedoes at 4,800 yards. Five hit home and the Ashigara went to the bottom. Perhaps the last really significant victory for the British was the attack on the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao at Singapore by the British mini-sub (XE-craft) XE-3 which earned her commander, Lt. Ian Edward Fraser, the Victoria Cross. The British submarines in East Asia performed very well and took a considerable toll on Japanese shipping while losing only three of their own boats in the process. They had also closed the Malacca Straits to Japanese shipping, choking off the supplies going to the Japanese forces confronting the British in Burma.

Overall, the British submarine force made a significant contribution to the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan. Early on, they suffered some serious losses and learned some hard lessons against the Germans in the North Sea and the Italians in the Mediterranean. However, they adapted and came roaring back, taking a considerable toll on Axis warships and plaguing the supply lines keeping Rommel and his Italo-German forces in the field in North Africa. One of, if not the most decisive factor in the successful British defense of Egypt was Rommel’s lack of sufficient fuel and supplies and the British submarine force played a major part in that. Once the Mediterranean was secure, Britain was able to focus on East Asia where not much had been left by the American submarine campaign (the most successful in history) and yet, there too, the British boats played a significant part in disrupting the Japanese lines of supply and taking out several major enemy warships. The Royal Navy impact on the surface might have been more significant, and they may not get as much attention as some others but the British submarine force earned a record in battle during World War II that they can be proud of, contributing to the tradition that would carry Britain forward to the present day.

Friday, March 16, 2018

France, Jews and the Monarchy

In the recent history of monarchism in France, one of the major problems was the persistent accusation of anti-Semitism. Once upon a time, such an accusation did not mean much as no one expected anyone in France to be pro-Semitic, only pro-French and so the accusation of being anti-Semitic would have been met with as much of a yawn as that of being anti-Anglo or anti-Teutonic. However, as anti-Semitism came to be seen as uniquely despicable, the accusation became much more problematic and it has been consistently applied against the Catholic right in France, most of which was, increasingly so the farther back one looks, royalist. The current narrative tends to stem from the infamous “Dreyfus Affair” in which a Jewish artillery officer was convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island in French Guiana for passing military secrets to Imperial Germany. Subsequent evidence came forward that another man had been the spy but, in a retrial, Dreyfus was again found guilty but given a pardon and released. In 1906 Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French army.

Charles Maurras
This case was the center of the great political divide in France with the left-wing, secularist republicans supporting Dreyfus and claiming that he had been the victim of anti-Semitic bigotry by the right-wing, Catholic and royalist officer corps of the French military. So, the leftist republicans claimed that Dreyfus was innocent, the rightist royalists claimed he was guilty and the eventual exoneration of Dreyfus is widely pointed to as the decisive factor in bringing the radical left to power in France. The division remained and one of the most effective rhetorical weapons used against the growing power of Action fran├žaise, the royalist movement led by Charles Maurras, was the charge of anti-Semitism. Maurras himself had been prominent during the Dreyfus affair, referring to the French government as the “Jewish republic”. It was an accusation that fell equally on both of the feuding royalist factions in France (Maurras being a supporter of the Duke of Orleans) and, particularly in light of subsequent events in World War II, helped to marginalize the royalist movement.

Maurras had plenty of criticism for the Jews, no doubt about it, however, while this is sufficient for the mainstream to condemn him today, any thoughtful person can easily see that there is more to the story. He had just as much negative things to say about French Protestants, the Germans or Freemasons, yet no one seems to mind any of that so much. He also condemned the racist policies of Adolf Hitler which serves to illustrate where his opposition to the Jews came from. The goal of Maurras was a restored Catholic Kingdom of France, though he himself appreciated the Church more than he believed in it, and the Jews, like the Protestants or any non-French people, were not what he wanted for his Kingdom of France as they would always be a source of division and internal discord. In 1926 the Catholic Church condemned Action fran├žaise and its periodical even gained the distinction of being the first newspaper placed on the Index of Forbidden Works. Later, Pope Pius XII lifted the condemnation but this did little good as it allowed the members to claim that the previous prohibition had been politically motivated, simply opposition to a nationalist movement, while also allowing critics of Pius XII another bit of propaganda to portray him as being soft on anti-Semites (the ridiculous “Hitler’s Pope” canard).

French Action
The efforts of Maurras were really the last time, to date, that a French royalist movement was a major force in politics and had the potential to achieve victory and bring about a restoration of the monarchy. It is a terrible thing that they were undercut and were not successful, however, the anti-Semitic label is still used against them to this day and while, again, it was not so significant in the past, today it is front and center in vilifying and marginalizing this French royalist movement. To the extent to which it is talked about at all today, the main points hammered home are Maurras and the French royalists are anti-Semitic, they are untouchable, move along. That being so, it is worth taking a deeper look into the history behind all of this, because the position of Maurras and the French royalists of the early Twentieth Century was not out of step with the cause their ancestors had upheld and fought for over the many centuries previous. The Kingdom of France was and had always been an officially and explicitly Catholic monarchy and thus, inherently, the Jews were never going to be seen, indeed could not be seen, as no different from everyone else.

Some number of Jews had been present in France since the time of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire became Christian, Emperor Valentinian III put restrictions on them from holding any positions of influence but, it is often omitted, these restrictions applied to pagans as well. It was not a specifically anti-Jewish ordinance but rather part of a recognition that Rome was a Christian empire and non-Christians would not be allowed to rule over Christian people within it. This was the earliest example of the sort of problem that the Kingdom of France would have in dealing with the Jews. The barbarian tribes who conquered the Western Roman Empire took little notice of them but later they gained a sort of a special status under Charlemagne, elevated to the rank of emperor by the Pope in 800. They had some restrictions placed on them in so far as their interaction with Christians went, but Charlemagne protected them and they became quite prosperous as merchants and traders with the near east. Charlemagne, as well as his son Emperor Louis the Pious, believed that, in time, they would convert to Christianity though we know from the accounts of bishops at the time that there were concerns about their presence being at odds with the nature of a Catholic empire.

The baptism of Clovis
Undoubtedly some will be wondering why the mere presence of Jews should be a cause of concern or disunity in the Kingdom of France (since 987 under the House of Capet) but this is to fail to grasp the entire concept of what France was. It was a specifically Catholic kingdom and to be French was to be Catholic and to be Catholic was to be in communion with the body of Christ, the Church, and all other Catholics everywhere. This was the foundation of the kingdom and the highest purpose of the Catholic monarchs was to safeguard the souls of their subjects by ensuring that they were all good Catholics. Obviously, with such a foundation, it is going to be a problem to have a majority of the population which is French and who believe Jesus Christ is God, alongside a minority of people who are not French and who believe Jesus Christ was a criminal deserving of death. That is a pretty stark contrast, not a lot of room for compromise between those two viewpoints. It would inevitably cause tension and problems when a French peasant would be subject to severe punishments for denying the divinity of Christ, whereas Jews were primarily differentiated solely for this same denial.

King Robert II of France tried to solve this problem by trying to basically intimidate the Jews into conversion. He was also just as hard on heretical Christians if it matters as his goal was to have his kingdom united in one faith. The situation became worse over a correspondence between the Jews in the west with the Jews in the east concerning an upcoming Islamic offensive which resulted in the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This produced such a backlash against the Jewish population that Pope Alexander II wrote to the local Church authorities condemning any acts of violence and any efforts to convert the Jews by force. These were, however, localized events and Jews in the unaffected parts of France continued to thrive and prosper. An upsurge did come about with the launching of the Crusades and it is not difficult to understand some of the reasons why. It made little sense to a considerable number of people to be fighting so hard against a religion that considered Christ a prophet while tolerating at home another religion which considered Christ a criminal. In 1182 King Philip Augustus of France ordered the expulsion of all Jews from royal lands, allowing a grace period for them to sell the goods they could not take with them and make arrangements to move, though this did not remove them from the whole of France, simply from lands belonging to the Crown. However, in 1198, the same king allowed them to return.

King St Louis IX
This would not be the last time this sort of thing would happen. Another growing concern was financial, a topic which invariably comes up in dealing with this subject. Jewish law prohibited Jews from charging interest on loans to other Jews whereas it was permissible to charge interest, even exorbitant interest, on loans to non-Jews (like French Catholics for example). At the same time, the Catholic Church tended to frown on money lending in general which all created the perfect conditions for Jews to loan money to Christians at very high interest rates and, let us be honest, even under the best of circumstances, no one who lends money is ever popular when the loan comes due. This not only caused tension between the two communities, it also highlighted the ‘different laws for different people’ nature of the situation as well as upsetting the stability of the French economy with so many in debt to so few. King St Louis IX of France determined to do something about this situation and, as a man devoted to having a truly Catholic kingdom, was compelled to address the Jews in France on a number of fronts.

First of all, on the economic front, he tried to persuade the nobility of France to stop allowing Jews to loan money in their lands and he forbid the nobility and the Crown of France itself from borrowing money from Jews. Given the system of government that existed at the time, in which every lord was practically an autonomous ruler of his own lands, this was about all the king could do as, despite what many people think about the Middle Ages, the king could not tell a noble lord what he could or could not do on his own lands arbitrarily. He forgave the debts of about 1/3 of Christians who owed to Jews and decreed that no Christian could be imprisoned for failing to pay back a loan from a Jew. Finally, he ordered all Jews engaged in usury to be expelled from France though, it seems, this order was not entirely carried out, probably due, again, to the decentralized nature of countries at that time. Most controversially today, he also ordered the mass burning of all copies of the Talmud and Jewish holy books in Paris in 1243.

Burning offensive books
This, of course, is a very prickly subject today because of “optics”. Because everything touching on this issue has been tainted by World War II, whenever people hear about Jews and Jewish books being burned they immediately start thinking of men in brown shirts with strains of the Horst Wessel Lied drifting through the air. So be it, that cannot be helped. The fact of the matter is that works such as the Talmud were contradictory, on their face, to the Christian foundations of the Kingdom of France. When your entire society is based on Christianity, on a sacred line of Christian monarchs ruling over a country known as the “Eldest Daughter” of the Catholic Church, there will be no getting around the problem of having a religious minority whose holy book describes Jesus Christ being boiled in excrement in Hell. There really is not a great deal of room for compromise or ‘agreeing to disagree’ on something like that. King St Louis IX considered having all the Jews arrested but ultimately decided against it, instead following the instructions of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 to have Jews wear badges on the front and back of their clothing to clearly mark them as a people apart. This also, today, has negative connotations but it was simply illustrating a fact which the Jews themselves clung to. They saw themselves as a people apart, not the same as everyone else and were adamant about remaining so.

King St Louis IX was also a supporter of the efforts by the Church to maintain Catholic orthodoxy throughout Christendom. France was, in fact, to become “ground zero” for what would be formalized as the Holy Office of the Inquisition after the outbreak of the Albigensian heresy in the south of France and the formation of the Dominican Order to combat it. Jews were often brought before the French Inquisition though, as the Inquisition only had authority over Catholics, it was only in cases of Jews who had converted and were either insincere (false converts) or who apostatized and returned to Judaism. This comes to the nub of the issue which is one of identity. The Jews could have, at any time, converted to Catholicism and would have been treated the same as every other Catholic in France, however, if they refused to do so, choosing to remain separate, they had little room to complain about being treated differently. The problem that the Inquisition had to deal with (as it later would more famously in Spain) was that many Jews converted, not because they believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church, but in order to improve their standard of living. Today the Church might applaud them for that but, at the time, the faith was taken more seriously and basically lying about the most important question of all was seen as a heinous crime and so a false convert or someone who converted and relapsed into Judaism was treated no differently than any other heretic. If the case was proven, they would be given the chance to repent and be forgiven but, if they persisted, they would be turned over to the secular authorities for execution.

King Philip the Fair
The actions taken by King St Louis IX were those of a monarch the Church upheld as a model Christian sovereign and an example for all others to follow. He was easily one of the greatest western monarchs of all time. However, not every monarch was a saint and while the problems caused by Jews for monarchs like St Louis cannot be denied, neither can it be denied that there were monarchs who caused problems for the Jews, not out of any desire for protecting the Christian foundations of his state but simply to enrich himself. This was the case with King Philip IV, better known as King Philip the Fair. He found himself destitute of funds and saw how well the Jews were doing and decided he could get rich quick by expelling them and seizing all their assets, which he did in 1306. However, he quickly found out that much of this “wealth” was loaned out and when his own agents tried to collect on these loans, his royal agents became just as unpopular as the Jews had been and an uproar ensued. His true motives are further revealed by the fact that, after the expulsion of the Jews failed to solve his money problems, he went after the Knights Templar in the same way, accusing them of all sorts of fantastic misdeeds as a justification for suppressing them and seizing their wealth. King Philip the Fair (meaning “handsome”) might more appropriately be known as Philip the unfair.

In 1315 King Louis X allowed the Jews to return to France with certain restrictions in place. In their absence, there had been essentially no money lending at all and so the King finally decided to have them back again but with the restriction that the interest they charged could not be excessive, that they had to wear the identification badges, could not discuss religion with French people and so on. He also stated that they were under his special protection and could not be attacked or have their property taken from them. However, the restrictions put in place were fairly quickly flouted and all of the old problems soon resurfaced. There was the people being shackled in debt, bribery, influence peddling and the civil disturbances that erupted, inevitably, from having society divided in this way. Once again, it was determined that something had to be done and so King Charles VI (perhaps best known for coming to believe he was made of glass) investigated the situation and found the Jews to be guilty of numerous and widespread outrages against their Christian neighbors and so, in 1394, ordered them expelled from France. The Jews were removed from the country and all debts owed to them forgiven.

King Louis XIV
In the following centuries, some did begin to come back to France, keeping as a low a profile as possible, however, by this point, the monarchy was well fed up with the subject and to associate with or give shelter to Jews was made a capital crime. King Louis XIV did tolerate their presence in the newly acquired provinces of Alsace-Lorraine but not elsewhere, just as he famously revoked the Edict of Nantes which had granted toleration to Protestants. The “Sun King” was very firm, despite being fairly consistently opposed by the popes throughout his reign, that France was a Catholic kingdom for French Catholics, end of story. Some still came in, some always managed to remain and as the era of the “Enlightenment” came to France, the Jews began to emerge in greater numbers and to be more vocal, usually in opposition to the existing state of affairs. King Louis XVI took a more tolerant attitude toward them than his predecessors had done, yet this was not enough to prevent the Jews from being ardent supporters of the emerging French Revolution.

In 1789 the first call for Jewish emancipation came up, with the full-throated support of the arch-criminal Robespierre, but the issue was postponed. In 1790 some Jews were emancipated and in 1791, to great applause by the revolutionary assembly, Jews were granted full citizenship as with “Muslims and men of all sects”, setting the stage for the free for all France has become now. Many were persecuted during the Reign of Terror but such was the case with many others as the Revolution began to devour its own. On the whole, they remained staunchly supportive of the Revolution and the military efforts to spread the Revolution abroad, raising large sums of money to support the war effort. Later, under Napoleon, Judaism was given recognition by the state along with Catholics and Protestants, though their clerics did not receive government support. As had been the case in England, when King Louis XVIII was restored to the throne, things had come to such a point that these changes were not undone. It was a touchy subject given that, as the Jews had been so supportive of the Revolution, they had naturally attracted the ire of the royalist counter-revolutionaries.

Revolutionary "Brotherhood"
This, then, should explain why Jews fall where they do in the context of French politics. The division carried on through episodes such as the Dreyfus Affair and the controversy surrounding the royalists of Charles Maurras. Under the best of circumstances, the Jews never fit in with the concept of a Catholic Kingdom of France and under the worst of circumstances were injurious to it. At the moment of greatest crisis, the most significant turning point in French history, the Revolution, they firmly cast their lot with the republicans and thus could not but incur the opposition of the French royalists. Today there has been some evidence that at least some have come to regret this history but, so far as I can tell, it has resulted in no dramatic political shift on the part of the Jewish community. As such, it should be no surprise, nor any great outrage, that many French royalists still oppose them. In fact, the only thing that is surprising is those who advocate for the restoration of a Catholic Kingdom of France should have no qualms about voicing their opposition to Protestants or Muslims but who often remain silent on the subject of the Jews who would, presumably, be regarded as just as unacceptable. I leave it to the readers to ponder why that may be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Buonaparte Famiglia

Even among monarchists, as well as polite society as a whole, there are two figures for whom I have more positive things to say than is generally considered acceptable; Benito Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, obviously, the topic of discussion is Napoleon. Given that he was the great bogey man of post-revolutionary Europe, I must make some disclaimers at the outset before any readers have to reach for the smelling salts. I fully agree that Napoleon was a usurper, if not technically so in the first instance of his seizure of power, certainly so after his escape from the island of Elba. I fully agree that he upset the peace of Europe and caused many and far-reaching problems for the “Old Order” that existed in the western world. I would say it is at least debatable whether he or the French Revolution itself was responsible for destroying the last vestiges of Christendom but he certainly swept up the pieces and tried to put it all back together according to his own designs and taking little to no consideration for legitimacy and hereditary, vested rights. I hope we are all clear on all of that.

All of those facts not being in dispute, I think it can also be regarded as beyond dispute that he was an extremely talented man. Certainly, in terms of his role as a military commander, he was a genius on such a level as has rarely been seen in the history of the world. One could argue over his talents as a statesman but he was certainly not inept in that regard. He did, I maintain, also do some good things, if not for Europe, at least for France. It was Napoleon who ended the horror that was the French Revolution, he did restore law, order and a functioning society to the country and it was Napoleon who finally restored Church-state relations in France with his concordat of 1801 with Pope Pius VII. It did not put everything back to the way it had been before the Revolution, but it did bring normalcy to Church-state relations, did away with the worst excesses of the revolutionaries and restored the Church to an official, recognized status in France. These were, to my mind, all very good things.

Napoleon, the former revolutionary, also became, with power, increasingly conservative and the new order he envisioned for Europe was not that of the First French Republic. Whereas the revolutionary armies had marched into neighboring lands erecting republics and planting those absurd “liberty” trees, Napoleon turned these into client-monarchies with monarchs chosen from among his top generals or, more often, the ranks of his own family. The sort of European system Napoleon endeavored to create, while not ideal, is not, at least to my mind, devoid of some promise. The ideal, for most traditional monarchists, would probably be the Europe of Christendom. Unfortunately, that high-minded ideal had never really been capable of producing the unity and concerted action that it might have done. This only seemed to come close to fruition during the Crusades and, even then, was certainly not devoid of division and trouble. The European order that Napoleon planned can be seen in how he tried to make the unity of Europe a largely family affair.

Napoleon was the second son of Carlo Maria di Buonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino of Corsica. The family had its roots in the nobility of Tuscany and carried on the traditional importance attached to the family common in that part of the world. Napoleon’s siblings were; Giuseppe, Luciano, Maria Anna Elisa (Elisa), Luigi, Maria Paula (Pauline), Maria Annunziata Carolina (Caroline) and Girolamo. Those were the names they were born with, like Napoleon, they would adopt the French versions of their names and later other versions based on what countries they were ‘farmed out’ to. The idea of Napoleon seemed to be to have a core of support in and around the French Empire based on blood ties with other allied countries brought into line by either being given a ruler of Napoleon’s choice or to be bound to the Bonaparte clan by marriage with those untouched being too few or too weak to oppose the rest.

Joseph Bonaparte
Giuseppe Buonaparte (later Joseph Bonaparte) was first made King of Naples and Sicily (though he did not actually control Sicily), which country he liked and where he was fairly popular. After only about two years, and much to his regret, Napoleon relieved him of the Neapolitan crown and transferred him to Spain where he ruled as King Jose I, though he was never accepted by the Spanish as a whole and never managed to be master of the entire country. To take his place in Naples, Napoleon made Marshal Joachim Murat the king instead. Aside from being a Marshal of France and one of Napoleon’s top subordinates, Murat was also married to Napoleon’s sister Caroline Bonaparte. Aside from Naples and the French Empire, the rest of the Italian peninsula consisted of the Kingdom of Italy which crown Napoleon held himself and second only in precedence to that of Imperial France. However, to act on his behalf in the Kingdom of Italy, operating out of Milan, Napoleon appointed his step-son Eugene de Beauharnais viceroy. Luciano or, later, Lucien Bonaparte, was the most difficult brother by virtue of being the most revolutionary of the bunch. Although given important government posts, he opposed his brother making himself Emperor of the French and refused any title or monarchical status.

Elisa Bonaparte
Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte was, after some other duties and political maneuverings, made Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The idea was to have at least France, Italy and Spain all under Bonaparte monarchs with others in countries close at hand. Brother Luigi Buonaparte (later Louis Bonaparte) was chosen in 1806 to be the monarch of the conquered Netherlands as King Lodewijk I of Holland. This replaced the Batavian Republic which the French revolutionaries had originally concocted and, to the surprise of some, Louis became a fairly popular monarch. In fact, Louis took his duties as King of Holland so seriously that he ultimately became more popular with the Dutch than with his own brother. When Dutch and French interests conflicted, Louis took the side of the Dutch whereas Napoleon expected him to bow to France. This, as one can imagine, was a state of affairs that could not endure and in 1810 Napoleon removed his brother from the throne and simply annexed Holland to the French Empire. Louis would ultimately spend most of the rest of his life in exile in the Austrian Empire but, in a way, he would have the last laugh over his ambitious brother as it was his family line which would carry on the name of Napoleon into the future with his third son ultimately becoming Emperor Napoleon III of the Second French Empire.

Maria Paola Buonaparte, better known as Pauline, had a very colorful life to say the least of it. In 1797, in Milan which had just been occupied by his French troops, Napoleon married Pauline to General Charles Leclerc who was later put in command of the expedition to restore French rule over Saint-Dominque (Haiti) which had been in rebellion since 1791. Despite frequent bouts with yellow fever, Pauline engaged in numerous affairs but refused all efforts by her husband to send her home. She much preferred being the mistress of Saint-Dominque than being a subordinate in Paris, famously saying that, “Here, I reign like Josephine”. In 1802 her husband died of fever and Pauline had to return to Europe and, with the papal envoy playing match-maker, was married to Prince Camillo Borghese of Sulmona. Napoleon later made her sovereign Princess and Duchess of Guastalla but she sold it for six million francs to the Duchy of Parma. After Napoleon’s downfall, she lived in a villa in Rome as the guest of Pope Pius VII.

Jerome Bonaparte
Caroline Bonaparte, as mentioned previously, was Queen of Naples after the appointment of her husband, Marshal Joachim Murat, and frequently held power there herself as regent during his absences. The youngest boy of the family, Girolamo Buonaparte, better known as Jerome, was also somewhat problematic. After service in the navy, Jerome ran off to the United States and married an American girl in 1803, much to the outrage of his brother. Napoleon annulled the marriage when the Pope would not and eventually had the couple divorced. From 1807 to 1813 Jerome served as monarch of the Kingdom of Westphalia, a new German state Napoleon had put together which essentially served as a buffer between the French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia (or what was left of it anyway). In an effort to remake the country, revolutionary policies were implemented. Serfdom was abolished and a market economy was established, the guilds were out and the Jews were in. The country was soon depleted and officially bankrupt by 1812, hardly a ringing success by any measure.

On the continent, all of this meant that, for a longer period than most realize, Napoleon had a family network that brought about a sort of European unity. Brother Joseph was in Spain, brother Louis in Holland, step-son Eugene in northern Italy, sister Caroline and Marshal Murat in Naples, brother Jerome in Westphalia and Napoleon himself entered into a marriage alliance with the Austrian Empire by marrying Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of Kaiser Franz II. Prussia was reduced and surrounded by Westphalia to the west, the French-allied kingdom of Bavaria to the south, the French-established Duchy of Warsaw to the east, ruled by Napoleon’s ally King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, while to the north was the French-allied Kingdom of Denmark and Sweden where a Marshal of France was the new king. From 1807 to 1810 Czar Alexander I of Russia was an ally so that, for a time, the whole of Europe was more firmly united than it has probably ever been with the only major power holding aloof being Great Britain. Every continental power was either ruled by Napoleon himself, by one of his family, one of his allies or was so isolated as to be unable to do anything but go along other than the Ottoman Empire of Turkey which had a Serbian rebellion to deal with and which proved incapable of defeating the uprising by the fundamentalist Wahabi sect, making them no threat to the new Napoleonic order.

Napoleon I
Needless to say, with their origins being in the French Revolution, bad ideas spread throughout Europe with the French legions. However, there is nonetheless something to be said for it. By sheer brute force, Napoleon had done what no one else had done before; united the continent of Europe. He did end the Revolution, which was an obvious good, and was certainly preferable to the First Republic which had gone before him. I doubt any would call him pious, indeed, he seemed rather cynical about religion, but it was he who restored Church-state relations in France, had his coronation presided over by the Pope and, although it sounds odd given his character, it is nonetheless technically true that under Napoleon, the whole of European Christendom was united behind a Catholic emperor. Of course, he did it after making war on the Pope and basically taking him prisoner and, if you wanted to be really controversial, you might point out that this was pretty much how the coronation of Emperor Charles V came about but you really should not as that would be quite unfair to compare the two.

Ultimately, this episode of enforced European unity did not last, and perhaps could not have done so given the very ideas of the French Revolution that it enabled to spread. However, whether one takes it as good or bad, it was certainly remarkable and quite unprecedented. Had Napoleon not overreached, had this new order endured, can we imagine how history might have evolved? It is hard to imagine someone with such restless ambition as Napoleon retiring to a quiet life and with all of Europe, with the possible exception of Great Britain, pulling in the same direction, that seemingly impossible things might have been accomplished. It would be easy to picture Napoleon resuming his conquests with the a massive pan-European army that would liberate the Balkans, Constantinople and the Holy Land, which might then press on into Persia and India. Who knows how far they might have gone?

In closing, just to reassure all of my good, traditional, monarchist readers, yes, Napoleon was a usurper, yes, he upset the peace of Europe and yes he spread some pretty terrible ideas wherever he went. What is, I think, nonetheless important to point out was his drive and his audacity. Look at what he accomplished, think what more might have been accomplished and all because someone had the nerve to try. One, little, Corsican upstart did all of this and only because the impossible did not exist for him; he just did it. Great and seemingly impossible things can, actually, be accomplished but only by those who try. Napoleon dreamed of a Gallic-Roman empire with himself as the new Charlemagne, uniting Europe with his own family to lead in one common direction. For a time, and longer than I suspect most people realize, he did exactly that and in so doing, left behind a wealth of lessons on what to do, what not to do, and what can be possible. It is, I think, a subject worth pondering.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Accidental Lessons from Hollywood on Monarchy

The 1939 film "Juarez", a biopic of Mexico's most famous president, is well worth looking at for monarchists, even if that seems odd. Juarez is upheld as the 'Abraham Lincoln of Mexico' and this point is driven home hard in the film to the extent that Juarez is rarely seen on-screen without a portrait of Lincoln in the background. It is a love letter to Benito Juarez and makes no apologies for that. However, it does not vilify Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota either. Being all about deifying Juarez, it certainly is against the monarchy and their very presence in Mexico, however, it spares the idealistic couple and focuses its wrath on the French Emperor Napoleon III. From the perspective of this film, Napoleon was the real villain, a wicked tyrant on a mission to eradicate democracy and republicanism in the New World whereas the handsome young couple, Maximilian and Carlota, are pitiable dupes; good people tricked into an "evil" enterprise by a manipulative Frenchman. Because of this, the Emperor actually comes off as a rather sympathetic figure. For a broad overview of the film, you can read a review of it here.

For me, one part of the film, two scenes, really stand out as being worthwhile, though they will be of most benefit only to those who know their history and in light of the events of our own time. In the first, Emperor Maximilian comes to meet with the captured rebel General Porfirio Diaz in his prison cell, in an effort to convince him to take a message to his president, offering to make Juarez the Prime Minister of the Mexican Empire. Emperor Maximilian has some very good lines as he makes the case for having a free and liberal society with a benevolent monarch at its head as a sort of safety valve. He presents such a good case that he seems to have won Diaz over and convinced him that the Emperor is a man of sincerity who wants the same things for Mexico that Juarez wants and Diaz goes to deliver this message to the President along with his offer to make Juarez his premier and allow him to run the government of Imperial Mexico. The next scene is Juarez, with kindly bemusement, listening to the naive, young general who has been duped by Maximilian. Juarez then starts preaching the republican gospel to Porfirio and showing him the error of his ways.

This scene, coming after the heartfelt speech of Emperor Maximilian in the previous one, is enough to make any monarchist who is familiar with the history of republicanism, and Mexico in particular, roar with laughter at how Hollywood inadvertently shows just how painfully wrong Juarez was in all of his speechifying on the glories of democracy. In the first place, they make much about the constitution that Juarez wrote, however, any honest historian of the period knows that Juarez himself violated the constitution he wrote on numerous occasions. Part of what makes constitutions ultimately worthless is that they can only do good if they are adhered to voluntarily, which could be done without them, and they have no power on their own to prevent anyone from violating them. Even the United States is proof of that and it has a record better than most republics in that regard.

Juarez explains to poor, ignorant, Porfirio that Maximiliano duped him. When Diaz explained how honest and sincere the Emperor was, Juarez responds that, "virtue is a powerful weapon in the hands of an enemy" which is meant to sound "wise" but is absurd if you think about it for more than a second. It essentially says that Maximilian is wrong regardless of whether he is wicked or virtuous. He says that the unbridgeable gulf between himself and Maximilian is "democracy" and that this is the right of men to rule themselves. He explains that since a man never rules himself into bondage, freedom flows from democracy like the rivers flow from the mountains, just as naturally and serenely. This is, of course, quite hilarious given that Mexico itself democratically voted itself into bondage more than once. The PRI, for example, held tyrannical control over Mexico for the better part of the last century. Yet, the current President of Mexico was the leader of the PRI, voted back into power after a break of only two non-PRI presidents. It is also extremely laughable in the context of Juarez, a man who came to the presidency not by election, speaking to Porfirio Diaz who would go on to lead a rebellion against Juarez, then run for president himself, winning on the promise that he would serve only one term, only to then rule as dictator of Mexico for the next 35 years!

It is quite a howl that virtually everything Juarez and Diaz talk about in these scenes as being the major problems of their country; too much land owned by too few, a privileged elite prospering while the masses are impoverished, freedom of speech being suppressed, even selling out to foreign influences (such as the French) are ALL accusations made by many against General Diaz himself during his hold on power from 1877 to 1911 (with a small break in there). At the end of the scene, Juarez says, again -so profoundly, that when a monarch misrules, he changes the people but when a presidente misrules, the people change him. A perfect ending really, given that the liberal-democratic leaders of North America and Western Europe are doing precisely what Juarez said the wicked monarchs do, they are changing out their peoples for a new batch that will keep them in power. Irony doesn't begin to describe it. And yet, what is the final cherry on top of this heaping bowl full of republican hypocrisy? The fact that Juarez, the native Mexican fighting against an Austrian Emperor, was played by Paul Muni, real name Friedrich Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund, a Jew from Galicia in what was then Austria-Hungary. So, yes, instead of giving the part to a Mexican actor, Benito Juarez was played by an actor from Austria.

Oh Hollywood, you really are too much sometimes...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Democratic Farce, A Personal Account

Yesterday was the nation's first primary, right here in the state of Texas. This is not usually the sort of thing I bother with but many have argued that local elections are the most important of all and, regardless of that, I had a cousin on the ballot who would be very cross if I didn't drag my bones to town and vote for him (he's bigger than me). So, I went to town, marched into the parish hall and voted in the Democrat primary. They "warn" you on the ballot that you must be a registered Democrat to do this and are not allowed to vote in any other primaries (meaning the Republican one). You may have already noticed the first absurdity in this farce we call the democratic process. Why on earth would someone as radical-far-right-wing reactionary as yours truly be voting for the most leftist of the "two" American political parties? The short answer is; because they are the only game in town. The longer answer is; because demographics have consequences, even more than elections as it turns out. If you want democracy, these are the facts you are going to have to deal with.

Even in the supposedly "deep red" state of Texas, which everyone regards as a bastion of conservatism, pretty much all the urban areas are solidly Democrat and pretty much anywhere up to and including 100 miles of the Mexican border is also solidly Democrat and I would fall deep within that particular area. Because of the demographics of where I live, the vast majority of the population votes Democrat in every election, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter who is on the ballot. This has been the case for so long that the Republicans do not even bother to run candidates anywhere near where I live as it would simply be a waste of resources. This area is lost to them, they know it and they know it is not coming back. Because of this, you also have to be a Democrat in order to run for local office and appear on the ballot. This applies to my cousin who had to run as a Democrat despite being to the right of Rush Limbaugh. If you're not a Democrat, don't even bother trying. So, where I live, thanks to demographics, you have the "freedom" to vote for the Democrat...or the Democrat when it comes to local elections.

For anyone in an area such as this, who is a typical American conservative, it means you will be allowed no part in choosing who the candidate should be for the party you are certain to be voting for in the general election. This actually annoyed me somewhat this time as I would've liked to vote against George P. Bush just to be on the record about that, however, I could only vote for who is Democrat opponent will be and because of the demographics where I live that vote will count for absolutely nothing as it will be a proverbial drop in the bucket, a single grain of sand on the shore. I should probably also point out that the vast majority of Democrats on the ballot, again, because of the demographics of the area, had no opposition. They were not running against anyone, so it was really a waste of paper at the very least. For those keeping score, that means that you have a "choice" of only one party and a "choice" of only one candidate. I suppose those leftist protesters who are always chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" might have a point, because what goes on at the polls in my area certainly doesn't look like democracy. The damning thing about the entire liberal model is that none of this is out of order, it is all perfectly legal.

Being well acquainted with this farce, I long ago stopped taking any of this seriously. The liberal model is supposed to be well-informed voters making sober decisions based on the merits of the candidates and their own rational self-interest. Human nature, however, doesn't work that way and so you get what we have in south Texas which is tribal voting. And who can say it shouldn't be? With a "choice" between candidates that each belong to a party I despise, neither of whom, in most cases, I know anything about and do not care to, why not simply vote for the name that sounds most similar to my own? You cannot realistically say you expect otherwise. Deep down, everyone knows this I think. Imagine, for example, a voter in southern California who is a Vietnamese-American. The candidates on the ballot are:
   - Alfredo Gutierrez
   - Pedro Ramirez
   - Juan Gonzales
   - Nguyen Van Sam
   - Alberto Garcia
Do you really think there is much doubt about which one he is most likely to vote for? It is a farce, a farce designed to fool people into thinking they have greater control over the government than they would with, oh, say, a king for example. After all, where I live, as you can see, demographics make all the difference and that demographic change was one which neither myself nor any previous generation here was ever asked to vote on. That, I think, says it all.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Is America at Fault for the State of Mexico?

This question came up some time ago, attracting a string of insults directed at your humble mad man for daring to suggest that the Mexicans are responsible for the sad state of Mexico, just as Americans are alone responsible for the sad (in other ways) condition of the United States. Recently, I was pushed on the subject again and it does seem to come up more and more lately and I have no doubts as to why. Immigration is possibly the most contentious issue in America today and the leading source of immigrants to the United States is Mexico, and has been for some time. With one side demanding open borders or, basically, no borders at all; and the other demanding to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it”, this is obviously something people can get worked up about. The idea that America is at fault for the state Mexico is in has become the argument of last resort for the American advocates of open-borders. First, they denied the problem, arguing that the border was secure and that illegal immigration to the U.S. was practically non-existent. Then, they had to admit that it did exist but that this was not a problem but a benefit. When pressed for evidence on this point, they now often take a sort of punitive view of it, essentially saying that “we” ruined Mexico and so must hand over the United States in compensation. VIVA LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS DEL NORTE!

You could call this the, “you break it, you bought it” approach to international relations. The United States ruined Mexico and so now owns Mexico and the wellbeing of all Mexicans is the responsibility of the American people and their elected representatives. This may be good policy for the local five and dime but it is obviously absurd as national policy as it would condemn almost everyone guilty against everyone else, an endless cycle of victim-hood pandering. As it happens, it is also untrue, at least if one considers the population of Mexico capable of reason and responsibility. Because, that is what this all comes to; responsibility. Are the Mexicans responsible for their own decisions or is the United States responsible? This is important because, the ‘America First’ crowd does have to swallow a hard fact about something the ‘blame America first’ crowd is not entirely wrong about. This is that, if you consider the several most pivotal moments in Mexican history, the United States was consistently on the side of the leftists or the revolutionaries or the “progressives” as you please to call them. This is simply a fact of history.

The “blame America” crowd will say that this was part of a concerted effort to keep Mexico weak, impoverished and helpless. Others will no doubt say that this was the work of ideologues who believed they were helping Mexico, who wanted to push for policies which were long established in the United States to work their “magic” on Mexico. Things like an American-style constitution, republicanism, states rights, separation of church and state were all things American agents pushed for in Mexico. Now, if these were all inherently bad ideas that brought Mexico to ruin after slowly adopting them over time, one would have to wonder why the United States, which had them longer, is not in the same condition as Mexico? All the same, whether these ideas were good ones or not (and, just for the record, almost all of them were not), America would still not be responsible unless the United States alone forced Mexico to embrace them against the will of the Mexicans themselves, assuming they have free will of course which seems to be up for debate at the moment.

This issue matters to us here because at least two of the pivotal events in which the United States came down on the wrong side of Mexican history involved the two efforts to establish a local monarchy in the country. The U.S. was ambivalent toward the first and openly hostile toward the second. However, in every case, the U.S. was backing existing Mexican factions. In fact, this predates the existence of Mexico as an independent country. The land-grabbing schemes by ambitious Americans toward the Spanish empire were invariably done in conjunction with Mexican revolutionaries. The 1812 invasion of Texas associated with former U.S. Army Lieutenant Augustus Magee was a joint expedition. Magee himself had been recruited by the Mexican revolutionary Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara who was the original leader of the enterprise. He executed the local Spanish officials and he declared himself president of Texas. The 1819 filibuster invasion of Texas was, likewise, formed through the partnership of Dr. James Long and Jose Felix Trespalacios, an anti-Spanish, Mexican revolutionary (who, by the way, was released from prison by Emperor Agustin de Iturbide, given rank and eventually made governor of Texas).

All of these schemes failed and Spain had been doing a good job at keeping Mexico within the empire until bitter divisions in Spain itself caused the traditional conservatives in Mexico, led by Agustin de Iturbide, to make common cause with their former republican, revolutionary enemies, to break away from the Kingdom of Spain. The result was the short-lived First Mexican Empire. In explaining why this empire was so short-lived, the “blame America” crowd point to the U.S. envoy to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina, a man with extensive experience in Europe, particularly the Russian Empire and South America. He actually had accepted the rank of general and fought against the Spanish in Chile. He was also a Freemason, a strong supporter of the Monroe Doctrine and firmly convinced that liberal republicanism was the answer to the woes of Latin America. Was he truly to blame for the downfall of Iturbide? Hardly. If a single American envoy was sufficient to bring down the First Mexican Empire, any strong gust of wind could have done the same. His influence was damaging to be sure, but not decisive.

The embrace of Iturbide & Guerrero
Poinsett established ties with Mexicans already ill-disposed toward Iturbide, encouraged the further spread of (Scottish rite) Freemasonry and was no doubt a malign influence on the country. However, the division in Mexico between the imperialists and the republicans, the animosity between the uneasy coalition of the former royalist Iturbide and the republican revolutionary Vicente Guerrero, joined later by the man who would become the first Mexican president, Guadalupe Victoria. All of this long predated the arrival of Poinsett and ensured that the Mexican Empire rested on a very unstable foundation. The revolutionaries had been unable to win against the royalists in their drive for independence. Events in Spain, however, prompted the Mexican conservatives to break with Spain and join with the revolutionaries in seeking independence with the plan being that they would be in charge and have a Mexican monarchy that retained all of the best aspects, as they saw them, of Spanish rule. As it turned out, however, the revolutionaries, who had failed to drive out the Spanish, basically used the Mexican conservatives to do it for them and then, promptly, turned on the conservatives to bring down their empire and create the Mexican republic that the revolutionaries had always wanted.

Poinsett did not create the division between Guerrero and Iturbide, he did not create the many factions that forced Iturbide to take strong measures to rule the country, he did not introduce Freemasonry to Mexico (a false claim often repeated, it had existed in Mexico since at least the previous century), he did not force Iturbide to raise taxes on his core supporters, he did not win the battles for Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna against the forces of Iturbide and he did not force the officials to abandon Iturbide when Santa Anna approached. He certainly had nothing to do with the Central American republics breaking away nor was he holding a gun to the head of Iturbide, forcing him to recall Congress and present them with his abdication. Indeed, many have puzzled ever since why Iturbide gave up and went into exile when he did when so many Mexicans demonstrably remained supportive of him. Poinsett certainly did not help the situation, he was certainly not impartial and what influence he did have was negative. However, it would absolutely absurd to credit him with bringing down the abortive monarchy of Iturbide rather than the long-standing animosities and rivalries of men like Guerrero, Victoria and Santa Anna.

In the chaos that followed, Mexican history was subsequently dominated by several figures in succession, between intermittent contests for power. There was Santa Anna, then Benito Juarez, then Porfirio Diaz and finally the decades long tyranny of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). As far as Santa Anna is concerned, he was a vain, duplicitous and cruel man but, nonetheless, was in his time practically the only option for a patriotic Mexican to support. His downfall, again, can hardly be blamed on the United States. The Anglo-American colonists in Texas had originally been supportive of him and, under the leadership of Stephen F. Austin, loyal to the Mexican government. When another filibuster invasion was launched in 1826, the Fredonian Rebellion, Austin rallied his colonists to fight against them in support of Mexico. Later, when tensions rose, culminating in the outbreak of the Texas War for Independence, Austin again urged his fellow Texans to demand their constitutional rights but remain loyal to Mexico. He had supported the candidacy of Santa Anna and went to Mexico City to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the crisis in 1834. He was arrested and thrown in prison for more than a year without ever being charged with a crime or given a trial. It was only after that that Austin agreed that war was the only solution.

As it happened, Austin, Colonel Travis of Alamo fame and General Sam Houston all had at least one thing in common with Santa Anna; they were all Freemasons. In any event, the United States was hardly out to ‘take down’ Santa Anna. Poinsett, still around at the time of Santa Anna’s defeat by the Texans, had previously been an ardent supporter of his. He lived in the United States for a time and when Mexico and the United States went to war over the Republic of Texas voting to join the U.S. it was the American government that plucked Santa Anna from exile and returned him to Mexico. The idea was that he would arrange a peace favorable to American interests. Instead, he led the war against the United States but ultimately failed. Yet, even this, the one time the United States actually dominated Mexico, controlling its ports and occupying its capital, might have been avoided if not for the inadvertent aid the Mexicans themselves gave the Americans.

Battle of Buena Vista
The Mexican-American War is a fascinating conflict (one I have tried to come up with an excuse for covering here but to no avail) and not at all the way most people think. Today, because of modern attitudes, it is portrayed as an overpowering America crushing a poor, weak, Mexico under its boot heel, a sort of armed parade with battles fought like the occasional swatting of gnats. In fact, the American victory was no sure thing and not easily gained at all. Mexico had a far larger army than the United States, many combat veterans, a cavalry rated by European observers as among the best in the world and they would be fighting defensively on their own ground with the Americans considerably outnumbered in every engagement. The battles were extremely hard fought and most American victories were narrowly won. Some battles, such as San Pasqual in California, were Pyrrhic victories, the Battle of Monterrey, while technically an American victory, was actually more like a stalemate. Under Santa Anna himself, at the Battle of Buena Vista, the U.S. forces were excruciatingly close to being totally defeated and routed from the field. Yet, the fight at Buena Vista ended in an American victory because of the internal divisions among the Mexicans themselves. Santa Anna received word that an uprising was under way in Mexico City and he quickly broke off to deal with this unrest in his capital.

Had it not been for the internal divisions of Mexico, Santa Anna might well have defeated the Americans and won the war. Similarly, it was Santa Anna, restored to power by the clerical party, who sold more land to the United States (the Gadsden Purchase) before he was overthrown by the group that soon coalesced around Benito Juarez. In the next major fight, which was probably the most decisive in Mexican history, the United States was more involved than probably at any other point and this was the fight between Benito Juarez and the French-backed Emperor Maximilian, each of whom offered very distinct visions of how Mexico should be organized and what the future of the country would be. The United States was, from the outset, very clearly on the side of Juarez and absolutely opposed to Emperor Maximilian and French Emperor Napoleon III. However, because this struggle coincided with the American Civil War, there was nothing the United States could do about it until late 1865 and forward. From that point though, the U.S. did everything short of massive military intervention which proved unnecessary anyway.

The United States applied pressure to stop the Austrian Empire from reinforcing Mexico and to push Napoleon III from withdrawing French military forces from the country. The U.S. then sent Juarez every type of assistance from logistical support, loans, weapons, ammunition, equipment, uniforms and even allowed several thousand U.S. Army soldiers (predominately Black troops) to “desert” to Mexico to fight alongside the Juaristas. All of this certainly helped Juarez to win, however, the fact remains that it was the U.S. supporting *Mexican* opposition to the French which had been there from the beginning. It was not the U.S. Army which took city after city, not the Americans who besieged Maximilian at Queretaro and it was not an American firing squad that sent him to his eternal rest. In fact, the United States wanted Juarez to spare Maximilian as their whole narrative had been that he was a puppet ruler, the hapless dupe of the sinister Napoleon III and thus not responsible for everything that had gone on. It also happened he was a genuinely kind and well meaning person but Juarez would not be dissuaded and Maximilian was shot by the Mexican government just as Iturbide had been shot by the Mexican government decades earlier.

If, therefore, Mexico is in a terrible state because of the downfall of Iturbide and Maximilian in turn, it cannot be the responsibility of the United States of America. The U.S.A. had next to nothing to do with Iturbide, preexisting forces obviously brought him down as his reign lasted less than a year. Likewise, with Maximilian and his downfall, the United States certainly helped Juarez but it is an obvious, logical fact that this was only possible because Juarez was there to help. His faction and the conservative faction had been battling for decades. Juarez had won, then the French came in to support the conservatives and Juarez lost, then the French withdrew and America helped Juarez to win. But, that is the point; that the U.S. helped Juarez and those Mexicans who followed him, not that the U.S. took down Maximilian themselves and gave Mexico a republic and forced them to submit to it. On the contrary, despite his efforts to totally sell out Mexico and effectively make the country a U.S. protectorate (which offer was turned by the U.S. by the way), Juarez is still upheld by the vast majority of Mexicans as a great, national hero; the plucky, little Indian who defeated the “evil” Austrian Emperor and his French invaders.

The surrender of Maximilian
To look at it another way, to say the U.S. is to blame for this is to say that, “the Devil made me do it” is a valid defense and, going further, that the Devil didn’t even make me do it but assisted me in doing it at my own request. I doubt such a defense would hold up before the Almighty and it does not here either. Even aside from Juarez and his faction, there are numerous other factors that one would have to discount entirely in order to say the U.S. is responsible. In the end, one of the key factors in bringing down Maximilian was one of his original supporters: the Catholic Church. After he refused to restore their all of the Church’s property and make Catholicism the only legal religion, the Church turned on Maximilian and for more information on that, those interested can look back at this article on The Catholic Church and the Mexican Empire. Who do you suppose had more popular support among the Mexican people in 1866, the Catholic Church or U.S. President Andrew Johnson? The answer seems obvious. It is not very different to those who blame the U.S. for the rise of the P.R.I. tyranny in Mexico, mostly based on the U.S. brokering the negotiations that ended the heroic Cristero Rebellion in 1929. However, setting aside the support of American Catholics for the Cristeros and the safe haven given to fleeing Mexican bishops in the U.S., it is simply absurd to believe that the U.S. government was responsible for the terms of the cease-fire, for both sides agreeing to it and that the U.S. had more influence in bringing this about than the hierarchy of the Catholic Church itself which even went so far as to excommunicate those Cristeros who refused to lay down their arms.

The bottom line for all of this is the issue of free will, which exists for nations as well as individuals. The people who push this line, as stated at the outset, generally fall into two categories; they either wish to blame America as a justification for open borders or because they think Mexicans are simply irresponsible people who cannot be held accountable for their own decisions. It is certainly not my position that America has been blameless in all of this, far from it. The difference is that America is to blame for what America does, not for what Mexico does and the state of Mexico is the responsibility of Mexicans, not Americans just as the state of the United States of America is the responsibility of Americans and not Mexicans. It is all the more pertinent if America has been consistently in the wrong in the entire history of U.S.-Mexico relations. “The Devil made me do it” is not a valid defense, just ask Eve, and, to quote a line from a famous film, “Who’s the more foolish; the fool or the fool that follows it?”
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...