12 Apr 2017     home | subject timeline

Confusion and Passion, 1917, 2017

A lot in the media these days about the world 100 years ago, a world of division, hate, certainty, misconception and confusion — as expressed today in comments in the media. There were a few heroes. One was the American women's rights activist Alice Paul, (google PBS, Alice Paul). There was the well meaning and devout intellectual Woodrow Wilson — with whom Paul clashed — and his phony but eventually sincere slogan "make the world safe for democracy" (bigger that "make America great again." Wilson was screwing up democracy within the United States, and Europe was headed toward fascism, Stalinist totalitarianism and more imperialist aggression. Wilson prayed on his knees daily. He is a tragic figure, to be pitied rather than praised or hated.

Another tragic and figure was Nicholas II. He in March 1917 willfully gave in to popular demand and abdicated his position as Tsar of all the Russias. Nicholas was like Wilson a devout Christian. He was a simple and humble man who had not welcomed inheriting his position. He was attached to his family, including his German-born wife, the Empress Alexandra. Russia had been at war with Germany. (It was the tsar's abdication that put into Wilson's mind that he could describe entering the war against the Germany and Austro-Hungarian monarchies) as fighting for democracy.) Among Russians was the claim that Alexandra was a spy for the Germans. Russia's provisional government saw fit to make prisoners of Nicholas and his family, in a mansion. It was pettiness. The government, believing they represented progress, ordered that Nicolas and Alexandra be isolated from one another.

Nicholas was related to the British monarch, George V (first cousins). There was talk of giving Nicholas and his family a home in England, but it came to be viewed as politically problematic. Russia's tsars were unpopular in Britain from before the Crimean War. Pettiness that is common today ruled over what have been an act of decency. Nicholas and his immediate family remained prisoners and were eventually executed by the Bolsheviks during a new civil war in Russia. The Bolsheviks feared that their enemy might use Nicholas to rally around.

Online these days is Project1917.com — great reading. Everyday a new entry matching the day and month one hundred years ago, consisting of the correspondence of international figures in politics and the arts. It aims at the humanity involved rather than the pettiness and narrow-minded name-calling that is common (among the good journalism) that one sees almost daily in the media today. What was right and wrong in 1917 is a lot clearer in 2017. Maybe just weeks or months from today we will better know whether those who have praised the Trump administration regarding last week's missile attack on the Syrian airbase deserve the derision of those claiming to know that it was foolishness. (See opinions on David Ignatius' column in the Washington Post today.) Of course, decisions not yet made will impact what happens and might color the veracity of the rival certainties.


 

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