Thursday, March 31, 2011

Looking Over Our Shoulders At History ~ Part 1

A few nights ago I watched a film called "Nicholas & Alexandra".   It was the tragic story of Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia, set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. It was an inside look into the private lives of Nicholas and his wife Alexandra, their daughters and son, the decisions made during their reign, and the eventual execution of the entire family.

The movie had several storylines: The Tsar, Tsarina and their life being the focal point.  But it also carried a storyline following the poor and starving of Russia which were a majority of the population.  It also portrayed to some degree the rise of a socialist and then communist government.

I decided to write this post because the same cycle that was happening in the movie, I see happening in our very own country and lives.  Yes, there are many differences, but I noticed some similarities.  History always repeats itself.  If we do not learn from the past mistakes then we will have to learn from our own experiences.  I know for myself, I would rather learn from the mistakes of others then have to learn them myself.  
The Tsar & his family (from the movie "Nicholas & Alexandra".

 Nicholas ulitimately wanted to be a family man.  He truly loved his wife and children, but as the ruler of Russia he had obligations to the people.  His "obligations" however were far from what the people needed.  He was a weak man that did not understand the people's needs nor did he try to understand them.  He believed God had placed him in his postion and that everyone else would believe the same thing and love him for everything he did. 

 His wife Alexandra was from Germany and was the daughter of the Duke of Hesse and grandaughter to Queen Victoria.  Alexandra was the opposite of her husband.  Strong-willed and determined, she too loved her spouse, but often bullied him into making decisions.  She was unpopular from the very beginning, coming from a German background and not Russian, as well as being the number one advisor in her husband's life.  She believed as her husband did that they, as the royal family, could do nothing wrong and that God was on their side in everything.

The Tsar & his family (This is a picture of the real family)
 Nicholas had inherited a nation undergoing enormous changes. The industrialisation of Russia was starting to create serious social problems in the cities which the authorities were not dealing with – and probably could not deal with. The speed of industrialisation, financed by French and other European money, had developed a momentum of its own. Therefore, Nicholas had inherited, in 1894, a nation that may well have rebelled without the input of Lenin and other revolutionaries.  
The people had been used to living under the rule of Nicholas' father Alexander III.  A man who was domineering and when he decided something, drove at it with an unstoppable force.  He was a determined and harsh man.  What would Alexander have done in such a situation as Nicholas found himself in? At least he would have been decisive even if his decisions may have been wrong. Nicholas simply could not be decisive.

Russia went through two wars while Nicholas was ruler.  The first, Russo- Japanese War (1904-1905) was almost unavoidable.  Russia was expanding and as the expansion moved it came into conflict with Japan's ambitions for China and the Asian mainland.
Nicholas approached the war with confidence and saw it as an opportunity to raise Russian morale and patriotism, paying little attention to the finances of a long-distance war.   While commands and supplies came from St. Petersburg, combat took place in east Asian ports with only the Trans-Siberian Railway for transport of supplies as well as troops both ways. The 6,000-mile track between St. Petersburg and Port Arthur was one-way and it took a long time for anything to get to the front lines.  The Japanese soon annihilated the Russian fleet causing even more hardships. 

 Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory. Many people mistook the Tsar's confidence and stubbornness for indifference. 

 As Russia continued to face defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew.  The Russian people had lost many young men and did not want to continue the war.  Some of Nicholas' own family encouraged him to negotaite peace.  It was not until the 27–28 of March 1905 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to pursue peace.

With the defeat of Russia by a non-Western power, the prestige and power of the government and the authority of the autocratic empire was brought down significantly. Defeat was a severe blow and the Imperial government collapsed, with the ensuing revolutionary outbreaks of 1905–1906. In hope to frighten any further contradiction many demonstrators were shot in front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg; the Emperor's Uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was killed by a revolutionary's bomb in Moscow as he left the Kremlin. The Black Sea Fleet mutinied, and a railway strike developed into a general strike which paralyzed the country.[1]  Tsar Nicholas II, who was taken by surprise by the events, was angry and bewildered.
Instead of listening to the people and finding out what they wanted and helping them, he ignored them and blamed his advisors and generals for the lack of control over the people.

What he failed to see or hear was the hungry, starving people, who had no work or were not payed enough to support a family.  The rest of the world was moving forward, while the Tsar and his family continued to live in a fairy tale world of peace and love in the confines of their own home. 

Many other things happened that caused Nicholas to be labled "Bloody Nicholas".  He appeared to the people to be indifferent, uncaring and oppressive.  The loyalty that he may have won through attentiveness to the people and their needs was lost through his inability to make decisions, taking advice from his wife rather than his advisors, not doing anything to help the people and his unfailing belief that God had decided that he was the best ruler for Russia and what he decided (or what his wife decided for him) was the best way.

Europe before WWI
 The outbreak of war on August 1, 1914 found Russia grossly unprepared. Russia and her allies placed their faith in her army, the famous 'Russian steamroller'.  Its pre-war regular strength was 1,400,000; mobilization added 3,100,000 reserves and millions more stood ready behind them. In every other respect, however, Russia was unprepared for war. Germany had ten times as much railway track per square mile and whereas Russian soldiers travelled an average of 800 miles (1,290 km) to reach the front, German soldiers traveled less than a quarter of that distance. Russia's heavy industry was still too small to equip the massive armies the Tsar could raise and her reserves of munitions were pitifully small. With the Baltic Sea barred by German U-boats and the Dardanelles by the guns of Germany's ally, Turkey, Russia initially could receive help only via Archangel which was frozen solid in winter, or via Vladivostok, which was over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) from the front line. By 1915 a rail line was built north from Petrozavodsk to the Kola Gulf and this connection laid the foundation of the ice-free port that eventually was called Murmansk. [2]

Russia was not prepared for war.  From the time it declared war in August of 1914 to the summer of 1915, Russia's total losses amounted to 1,400,000 killed or wounded, while 976,000 had been taken prisoner.  As the battle front came closer to home for the Russians, chaos became rampant among the people.  German bakeries, factories, private homes and estates were ransaked by the mobs of scared and angry people.  Their anger, however, soon turned towards the government, especially towards Alexandra because she was German.

As Russia took defeat after defeat, Nicholas decided he should take command of the army himself. This was an unwise decision, as he soon became personally associated with the losses at the front.  In reality the move was largely symbolic, since all important military decisions were made by his chief-of-staff General Michael Alexeiev, and Nicholas did little more than review troops, inspect field hospitals, and preside over military luncheons. [3]

Cut off from public opinion as he sat in his HQ at the front lines, he could not see the dynasty was in decline.
When Nicholas went to the front lines to take the position of Commander in Chief, he left his wife Alexandra in charge of the domestic issues and the capital.  Her background as a German and other things however, made her less credible to the people and the authority that the dynasty had diminished.

As the government failed to produce supplies, there was mounting hardship creating massive riots and rebellions. With Nicholas away at the front in 1915, authority appeared to collapse (Empress Alexandra ran the government from Petrograd from 1915), and the capital was left in the hands of strikers and mutineering conscript soldiers. Despite efforts by the British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan to warn the Tsar that he should grant constitutional reforms to fend off revolution, Nicholas continued to bury himself away at the Staff HQ (Stavka) 400 miles (600 km) away at Moghilev, leaving his capital and court open to intrigues and insurrection. By early 1917, Russia was on the verge of total collapse. The army had taken 15 million men from the farms and food prices had soared. An egg cost four times what it had in 1914, butter five times as much. The severe winter dealt the railways, overburdened by emergency shipments of coal and supplies, the final blow. Russia began the war with 20,000 locomotives; by 1917 9,000 were in service, while the number of serviceable railway wagons had dwindled from half a million to 170,000. In February 1917, 1,200 locomotives burst their boilers and nearly 60,000 wagons were immobilised. In Petrograd supplies of flour and fuel all but disappeared. War-time prohibition of alcohol was enacted by Nicholas in order to boost patriotism and productivity, but instead damaged the treasury and funding of the war due to the treasury now being deprived of alcohol taxes. [4]

 The people were starving and riots were taking place.  Mobs were breaking into shops and stealing food.  Nicholas was receiving incorrect information and believed that his wife was still in control, so he ordered the police to take firm steps against the people.  There was no police force to obey his orders.  The few that remained were ill armed, under equipped, and under fed.  Some of the army units that were in the city that were told to fire on the protesters, refused to do it.  One in particular was the Volinsky Regiment which fired their guns into the air rather than at the people.

The day after the Tsar gave the order, the Volinsky Regiment mutinied and was quickly followed by the several other regiments and guards.  By nightfall the 60,000 soldiers had joined the revolution.  The provisional government asked for Nicholas' abdication.  Faced with this demand that was echoed by his  Generals, deprived of loyal troops, his family in the hands of the provisional government and fearful of unleashing a civil war that would open the way for German conquest, Nicholas had no choice but to abdicate for himself and his son.

There is so much that happened after his abdication, that I will not record it all here.  However, five months after the abdication the family was sent to Siberia.  Supposedly to protect them from the rising tide of the revolution.  Two months after being sent to Siberia, the Provisional Government was taken over by the Bosheviks ( Bolsheviks were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903. They ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.). 

The family was soon moved again and this time to their final destination.  A little town called Yekaterinburg.  They were treated like prisoners, put on soldiers rations and were given no respect.  The Tsar and his family truly believed that they would eventually be rescued by people still loyal to them.  However, on the evening of July 16/17, 1918, the family was woken up and moved to another part of the house.  I'm afraid the ending of this story is not pleasant.  Present with Nicholas and Alexandra, were their five children, the family doctor and three servants.  The room they were put in was adjoined by another room that held ten assasins.  All of them were cruelly and horribly murdered.

I realize this is not a happy ending or an encouraging or uplifting post. I knew what the ending of the movie was going to be, yet I was still horrified to see it happen. And yet, I couldn't believe the almost imaginary world they were living in.  How could they not see the horrific conditions their people were living in?  How could they not see their country falling to pieces right before their very eyes? Why could they not listen to the people and hear their cries for help?

When I finshed watching the movie, I realized that there were in many ways a resemblance of how Tsar and his family viewed the situations going on around them, to the way we often times view things.  What things do we often times think others will take care of instead of taking care of it ourselves?  How many times are we angered by a situation and yet do nothing about it?  How often do we see a need and then not do something about it?........................

 1. wikipedia
 2. ibid
 3. ibid
 4. ibid

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