Tag Archives: Russia

The Path to Statehood: Hawaii and Alaska

erupting lava during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

by Rick Bretz

The Hawaiian Islands’ volcanic eruptions generating the long stream of hot lava is analogous to the extended years and upheaval it took to join America as a 50th state.   As the lava flows in nature’s effort to reclaim territory, many of its citizens and towns are seeing their houses and roads taken over.  This island paradise that has become a vacation spot and tourist destination surrounded by the Pacific Ocean is a stark contrast to Alaska, a frosty, just as remote scenic territory due north.

 

Alaska was a state that nobody wanted and many government administrators and elected officials  thought Secretary of State William Seward’s venture to purchase the Alaska territory was ill-advised at best.  The newspapers at the time called it “Seward’s Folly.”

snow light sky winter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hawaii, in contrast, was not only wanted, but literally taken over with the Island Queen Liliuokalani under house arrest in the palace.

Why would the American government want the territory and the Islands as part of our eventual United States?  The answer is found in that both were sought after for the same purpose and yet for a couple of different motivations.  The United States government purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars.  At the time, the treaty to purchase Alaska seemed like wasted money but the purchase ended the presence of Russian influence  in North America at the time.  Russian influence allegedly would revisit us later in the form of hacking, spying and social media posts during our 2016 elections.

Later, the 1896 discovery of Gold in the Yukon and its strategic importance during World War II in the Pacific Theater vindicated William Seward’s push to purchase the territory which began before the civil war.  Alaska became the 49th state a few months before Hawaii on January 3rd, 1959.

Alaska’s significance remains strategically important but today the state is well known for the large number of reality shows situated there from “Deadliest Catch”, “Gold Rush” and “Ice Road Truckers” to “Alaska State Troopers”. Who knew when Congress approved the purchase of the Alaskan territory that it would be a boon to the television entertainment industry in the 21st Century and make several Alaskan citizens relatively wealthy from something other than gold mining?

Hawaii took a divergent path that centered on what can be called, “the protection of the good old American dollar.”  Specifically, the influence of plantation owners and their wanting to protect their financial interests from the rise of the Hawaiian Monarchy.  The United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands in 1897 at the urging of the American plantation owners.  This annexation was in the form of a takeover as the Queen Liliuokalani was put on trial before a military tribunal, forced to relinquish all claims to the Monarchy and imprisoned her.  This just because she wanted to exert some power as as a monarch. This power threatened European and American land owner however so these men literally asked the United States government representatives to call in the Marines.

https://www.iolanipalace.org/history/queens-imprisonment/

The financial interest was the primary reason for the forced annexation of Hawaii but it also served a military strategic importance for naval bases.  Along with several other islands, such as Guam, the Philippines, the Kwajalein Atoll and Alaska, the annexation gave the United States a presence in the Asian theater.  This first line of defense proved vital at the outset of World War II.  The Hawaiian Islands had citizens that came from many countries other than the United States, like Japan and Portugal.  Hawaii became the 50th state a few months after Alaska on August 21st, 1959.

Why so long of a wait for Alaska and Hawaii statehood?  As with everything that the government does, it comes down to power and what the current political landscape at a particular time, as in Southern Democrats who didn’t want civil rights legislation passed. The number of democratic and republican votes in congress figured in the decision.  The racial mixture of each state and Alaska’s low population figured in the long wait.  The economic advantages with Alaskan oil reserves and Hawaii’s tourist industry added to the attractiveness of having them as states.  In the end, the political issues and resistance from certain groups in Hawaii were overcome and the territories became states.

Becoming a state can take a long circuitous route as the Puerto Rico effort to become one shows to everyone following it. The status of statehood depends just as much on political concerns as the financial ones.  The original 13 colonies had a  significant issue to overcome on their path to become a member the select group of the United States of America-the war to gain independence from the crown.

Notable Links:

https://www.alaska.edu/creatingalaska/downloads/Statehood-for-Alaska.pdf

http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/25769

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/alaska-purchase

https://www.english-online.at/history/alaska-and-hawaii-at-50/alaska-hawaii-at-50.htm

http://statehoodhawaii.org/2009/05/12/the-statehood-plebiscite/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaii

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-puerto-rico-learn-hawaii-180963690/

 

 

 

The Top Eight Government Putschs, Coups, Overthrows, or Coup D’états

Big Three at the Potsdam Conference in Germany...
Big Three at the Potsdam Conference in Germany: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Harry S. Truman and Generalissimo Josef Stalin, seated in garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick Bretz
Not having power for some people is too much to bare. So they go after it even if it means they have to take it away forcefully. There are not many bloodless coups. Power is too much of a drug for people to stand by without a fight. Even if taken peacefully, the people who had the power will pay some kind of price, either with their lives or with humiliation by the conquerors. No one can forget the sight of Mikhail Gorbachev being ordered around by Boris Yeltsin at the podium after he was forced to step down in the early 90s.

With the arrival of March, a couple of events come to mind. One is St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of St. Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The other being the Ides of March, March 15th. Besides being an old world celebration day it also known as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated at the base of the Statue of Pompey in 44 BC. This thought brought up the idea of other overthrows that have occurred in history and how important they were to the rest of world order.

The United States federal government has been stable  since George Washington took office (arguably since the Articles of Confederation) because we have a somewhat organized election that begins a disciplined series of events culminating in the inauguration of the next President of the United States. Some countries never achieve this process resulting in violence and destruction.
Here are eight coups that have, in my view, significantly reverberated across the globe.

Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a r...
Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a result of the Cuban Revolution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. 1959: Fidel Castro overthrows Batista.
This one is number one on the list because it almost caused two countries to launch missiles at each other a couple of years later. The  Cuban Missile Crisis might be one cause that began the whole 1960s free love, live and let live, drugs are fantastic thing in the sixties.  They probably figured, “Well, if the governments are going to send missiles at one another at any second, and we don’t have a say in it, we’ll have fun while we can.”  In addition, the United States is still dealing with the consequences of Fidel Castro ruling Cuba more than 50 years later with the trade embargo, travel restrictions and a Cuban constituency in Florida that can influence elections.  Besides that, there’s the Cuban cigar thing.

2. 1804: Napoleon Bonaparte becomes Emperor of France by a coup d’état.
Once Bonaparte came to power, he waged war all across Europe and with Britain. This is high up on the list due to Bonaparte inflicting war and destruction across Europe until the Russian winter stopped him along with his own ego.  Russian winters taught Bonaparte a lesson that Hitler forgot or refused to take into account more than a century later.

Royal Russian family (LOC)
Royal Russian family (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

3. 1917–March: abdication of Nicholas II of Russia in favor of the Russian Provisional Government.
Call it an abdication, but Nicholas II didn’t give up the Czar title willingly and would have kept it if he had had an avenue to remain on the throne.  Arguably his track record as a ruler wasn’t the best.  He oversaw the economic and military collapse of his country as well as executed his political opponents. He persecuted the Jewish people inside Russia and generally made poor decisions domestically and on foreign policy.  So, Vladimir Lenin had his chance but didn’t survive long enough to keep Josef Stalin out of the dictator seat.  Instead, the over throw eventually led to a corrupted, paranoid communist government, Josef Stalin, bad decisions during World War II, an arms race, an Iron Curtain, a Berlin Wall, missile launch sites in Cuba, the edge of total annihilation from nuclear weapons, and several billions and trillions of dollars on both sides used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

4. 1792- by the National Convention against King Louis XVI of France, the French Revolution.
The difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that those in power after the US revolution didn’t go around with a guillotine lopping the heads off the aristocracy, creating domestic terror throughout the land.

5. 1969–Sep 1st: Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrows King Idris I of Libya.
A country gets the wrong guy in; it could take more than 40 years to get rid of him. This dictator is on here due to his sanctioning, supporting, and harboring terrorists who executed one horrible event, the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. This Libyan dictator was a thorn in many government’s sides, including several Middle Eastern countries.

6. 1936- by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña.
Generalissimo Franco was the picture of opportunism. He helped put down an earlier coup when it didn’t benefit him. Became a leader for the 1936 coup that led to a civil war. He assumed power and remained there for almost 40 years. As I stated earlier, once you get some of these guys in, it is difficult to get them out. He died in 1975. He had economic successes, but it doesn’t make up for the torture and human rights abuses.  He kept power through censorship, imprisonment, forced labor camps, death sentences, and other political means. When it was beneficial to him, he moved his foreign policy towards the Italian and German fascist leaders prior to, and during, World War II. After the war, he maneuvered his political diplomacy toward the United States and NATO because he knew NATO wanted to stop the spread of communism.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. 1909-The Young Turk Revolution breaks out in the Ottoman Empire against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
This is one coup that actually meant a great leap forward for a country. This coup led to an eventual Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turks.  The father of modern Turkey is revered in his country. If it is possible to take a country and drag it into the modern world, that is what Ataturk did. He pushed through economic, social, and cultural reforms while creating a secular government. He was instrumental in separating Islamic Law from government. He mandated that Islamic Law be limited to the practice of religion while the government would use secular law.

8. 1971-Military in Uganda led by Idi Amin overthrows government.
This dictator’s regime was characterized by ethnic killings, corruption, nepotism, and according to most human rights groups, between 100 and 500 thousand people killed. Besides being arrogant and astonishingly brutal to his enemies, he started a war with Tanzania in 1978, the Uganda-Tanzania War. This war led to his fleeing the country and eventually landing in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.

The Demise of 3 Kings

Posted by Rick Bretz

Today’s headlines reveal that once a dictator has power they are reluctant to give it up.   I submit to the court of history as evidence the countries of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Haiti, and many others. You can’t blame them.  As Mel Brooks said in his movie The History of the World, Part I, “It’s good to be King.”

The three stories of one Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and two Kings, England’s Charles I  and France’s Louis XVI can be reduced to isolated adolescences and lack of situational awareness in their homelands.  This isolation continued into their adult lives and created a stubbornness and sense of entitlement. Their refusal to understand the plight and basic needs of citizens and the nobility forced their enemies to take action.  The lack of leadership at crucial times gave their enemies the chance to strike and force a surrender.  In all three cases, the revolutionaries that captured them felt it necessary to execute them so that they would not be a living symbol for their supporters.  In two cases, King Louis XVI and King Charles I were beheaded.  In the case of Tsar Nicholas II, he was gunned down along with his entire family. Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette,  also met the executioner’s guillotine.  When there are wars, lack of basic needs like food and shelter, and general unrest, it can force people to desperation and revolution.  History’s lesson for these three rulers from the genetic lottery is that their lofty stations in life didn’t necessarily mean safety from scheming enemies.

SIMILARITIES

Charles   I-England Louis   XVI-France Nicholas II=Russia
Executed Executed Executed
Lacked   situational Awareness Lacked Situational   Awareness Lacked Situational   Awareness
Isolated Upbringing Isolated   Upbringing Isolated   Upbringing
Unsympathetic   Captors Unsympathetic   Captors Unsympathetic   Captors
Unwilling to Compromise Power Unwilling   to Compromise Power Unwilling   to Compromise Power

England’s King Charles I

Oliver cromwell imrpisoning king charles I
Oliver cromwell imrpisoning king charles I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King Charles I of England ruled during the years from 1625 to January 30th, 1649.  It was during his reign when Puritans and Catholics began leaving England due to religious persecution.   He also kept dissolving parliament (3 times) so that he could run things his way within the first three years of his rule.  This forced him to raise funds by other forceful means. What really got him trouble was creating enemies within the nobility.   Due to wars with Scotland and Ireland and creating tensions within the religious communities, he was on a collision with powerful groups. Eventually, civil war began in 1642.  The Royalists were defeated in 1646 due to the Parliament’s alliance with the Scott’s.  Charles surrendered to the Scott’s who handed him over to Parliament.  He escaped to the Isle of Wright in 1647 and a second Civil War began and was finished within a year.  Parliamentarian General Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists.  Charles was captured.  The conquering parliamentarians decided that the country would never have peace if the King continued to live.  Cromwell and his associates put the King on trial, found him guilty of treason. He was executed  outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London on January 30th, 1649.

France’s King Louis XVI

Queen Marie Antoinette of France and her husba...
Queen Marie Antoinette of France and her husband King Louis XVI. of France with their first child Princess Marie Therese Charlotte of France, 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis the XVI got into trouble by not having the necessary leadership qualities to understand the social and political climate of the period.  He preferred hunting rather than sitting in his office trying to figure out budget concerns and other political matters.  He relied  heavily on the court member’s advice.  In addition, his treasury secretary’s financing part of the American Revolution reduced the funds or canceled out any savings from the reforms the King approved.  His laissez-fair attitude got him trouble with parliament, the nobility and his subjects.  Once the debt got to be unmanageable the King tried to tax the notable or privileged classes.  The assembly balked at that demand.  The King sent troops to Paris to force his will.  This was the spark that ignited Bastille Day, where the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789.  The royal family was confined to Paris in Tuileries Palace a couple of months later.  They tried to escape but were recaptured.  At the time, France was at war with Austria and Prussia. Marie Antoinette’s was the daughter of an Austrian royal family.  The Austrian’s made it clear that should any harm come to Louis and his family, they would march on Paris.  Louis’s communication with the Prussian’s infuriated the revolutionaries.  After the family’s  imprisonment in the Temple in August of 1792, incriminating  evidence was used to try Louis XVI in January of 1793.  He was found guilty and guillotined on January 21, 1793.

Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas was unprepared for managing a country as large a Russia when he assumed power in 1894.  He mistrusted a majority of his ministers and was

English: Photo taken by A. A. Pasetti of Tsar ...
English: Photo taken by A. A. Pasetti of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, near age 30, at St. Petersburg, Russia, 1898. Français : Photo de Nicolas II de Russie, prise par A. A. Pasetti en 1898, alors que Nicolas II a 30 ans. Русский: Фотография A. A. Pasetti царя Николая Второго, в возрасте 30 лет в Санкт-Петербурге, 1898 год. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

influenced by his wife Princess Alexandra.  He got off to a bad start when he tried to gain more land by getting into a war with Japan over Manchuria.  This resulted in a humiliating defeat on land and sea.  This provoked riots and demonstrations due to poor economic conditions in Russia. In January 1905, Russian troops fired into a crowd who were demonstrating for reforms.  This event forced a change. The Tsar, in order to keep power, accepted a constitution and a ruling government body called the duma. This enabled the middle class to have more say in government affairs.  However, the Tsar still had his secret police to stifle radicals. This held off the inevitable, but with the start of World War I in 1914, the Tsar made an unwise decision.  He went to the front to lead the Russian Army . The Army was experiencing heavy losses and with each one, the blame was attributed to the Tsar.  Combine that with food shortages, high inflation, suppression and general unrest, Vladimir Lenin had the chance to strike.  In 1917, widespread demonstrations in Petrograd, combined with the Tsar’s loss of support from the Army,  Nicholas II abdicated the throne. After the end of World War I, a civil war began between the Bolsheviks and the anti-Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik’s moved the royal family from place to place until Lenin gave the order to execute the whole family.

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Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great

The two powerful women featured in this comparison are significant because they knew how to assess their situation, develop influential followers, and then create a plan of action. In fact, few men in history have been so effective at gaining power and then keeping it for as long a period as these two women.  Readers may note that one difference between the two seems to be that Catherine the Great had a more positive influence on her country than the Empress.  However, the Empress Dowager Cixi had to use her power behind the curtains, influencing decisions within the Emperor or Regent’s power structure.

Similarities

Empress Dowager Cixi

Catherine the Great

Ruled Manchu Qing Dynasty and expanded her   power Ruled Russia and expanded its boundaries
Outmaneuvered Existing Power Elite Outmaneuvered Palace Power Elite
Instituted Social Reforms Instituted Social Reforms
Wielded Power within Family Wielded Power within Family
Held Power for Long Time Held Power for Long Time
Suppressed Rebellions Suppressed Rebellions
Live long life for her day Lived long life for her day
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowage...
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) by Catherine Karl in late 1890s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tz’u Hsi or Empress Dowager Cixi (November, 29 1835 – November, 15 1908)

Tz’u Hsi is a testament to not underestimating someone who is small in stature and comes from a modest background.  She held power as a regent or as a

defacto ruler of China for 47 years until 1908, when she died.  Born in 1835, she began her rise to power as the Emperor Hsein-Feng’s concubine. Since she produced the only heir to the Emperor, her power increased exponentially until she achieved Imperial Concubine status and then Noble Consort, second in influence only to that of the Empress. She gave birth to their son a couple of years before the emperor died.  Her son became Emperor Tung-Chih.  Since he was too young, at five years, to make decisions, Tz’u Hsi was given the power with two other partners.  She soon became a force in this triumvirate.  The Empress gained power when she talked military leaders and ministers into supporting her after the 8 regents selected to run the government alienated them.   She was persuasive and influential.  According to many scholars, despite pushing through reforms such as instituting foreign languages in schools and creating the Chinese Foreign Service Office, she also had a reputation for corruption and amassing a huge fortune and accumulating wealth. She used the country’s revenue funding for her own pleasure.  She retired from office in 1889.  Nevertheless, all decision-making ran through her for approval until her death.  The new emperor wanted to clean out corruption in China’s government but Hsi didn’t want this to happen so she took the power of the regency again and confined him to the palace.  In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion forced her to flee Peking and accept the peace agreement.   Toward the end of her life, she changed her mind and worked to eliminate corruption in government the best she could at her advanced age. The Empress Dowager Cixi died in Peking on November 15, 1908, a day after the real emperor, Guangxu.  The Empress Dowager is known for political maneuvering, accumulating wealth, and instituting reforms.  She is also remembered as the most successful concubine in history.  After she evaluated her circumstances and assessed her friends and enemies, she acted without hesitation. It seems her years as a concubine weren’t wasted. She understood the personalities working around the family dynasty and the Forbidden City so that when she moved, she knew who to rely on and who were her enemies. In that time, one false step would have meant death.

Catherine the Great or Catherine II (Born Sophia Augusta Fredericka) May 2, 1729-November 17, 1796

 Since history is written by the living or the victors, the fact that Catherine II became known as

Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in t...
Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple Devoted to the Godess of Justice, by Dmitry Levitsky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Catherine the “Great” is a testament to her leadership and reforms during her reign as Russia’s Empress Consort of all Russians.  History’s timeline does not record many people with “Great” after their names.  So she must have been doing something right while serving as ruler of “all” Russians.  She gained power through her understanding of the personalities around her in the royal palace.She came to the Russian Palace from Prussia as a political union to strengthen the Russian-Prussian alliance.  Her wedding to Peter III and her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy  as well as her ability learn the Russian language endeared her to citizens and won her favor in the royal family.  After her  spouse Peter III’s succession to the throne, the new King made several poor decisions that alienated the his advisors and military leaders.  These decisions were siding with Prussia’s King Frederick the II and wearing the colors of Austria for his uniforms.  His eccentrities alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated, showing political savvy beyond her years.   Six months after assuming the throne, Peter III left Catherine in St. Petersburg and that’s when her supporters decided to remove Peter III from power, arrest him and put Catherine in the position as leader of Russia.  Eight days later, Peter III was murdered in prison by Alexei Orlov, the brother of Gregory Orlov, a supporter of Catherine.

Catherine the Great’s ability to cultivate supporters within the nobility, military and government leaders served her well early by consolidating her power until time developed her own reputation.  Catherine, like Peter the Great, believed in Western influence and culture as a way to further Russia’s stance in the world.  She believed in education and opened schools for russian girls to further their studies.  In addition, Catherine expanded the Russian Empire after victories against the Ottoman Empire so that the country had access to the Black Sea.  She was also a champion of arts and culture as well as finance reform.  Catherine the Great died from complications from a stroke on November 17, 1796.

One thing can be stated about the Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great, they knew how to move within houses of power.  Once they were in a position to gain power, they used their political savvy, intelligence, positions in the royal hierarchy, and their supporters’ willingness to help them, to achieve goals.  If any of those aspects had not been present, historians or the victors might have written a different story.

What do you think?  Write a comment or suggest any other people to compare.