November 4, 2006
Last evening I watched a 3+ hour movie on DVD. It depicted the internal and external struggles of the leader of a country whose elite was living high on the hog and the poor were out of the loop – ignored, left to fend for themselves, with nothing but taxes and work to look forward to.
This leader was weak, and, buffeted and pushed and manipulated by the people surrounding him, he made disastrous decisions concerning government appointees, how to handle the people (who were beginning to demonstrate and strike) and finally, war.
These poor choices led to his being thrown out of power, replaced by a charismatic leader who promised an end to war and prosperity for the people, not just the ruling elite close to the seat of power.
The movie? “Nicholas and Alexandra,” a sober look at the events leading up to the toppling of the Romanov dynasty during WWI.
The political events unfolding at the time of the Russian Revolution reminded me, like a slap in the face, of what is happening in America right now.
The parallels, of course, are not exact – Nicholas, after all, was a Czar, and Czars were the believed to be anointed by God to rule. BUT – apart from that, the playing out of events during those violent and tumultuous times was a stark reminder of what can happen when the people of a country are, for whatever reason, disempowered and held captive to the whims of an unstable and unresponsive government.
Nicholas’s response to the chaos and poverty of the lives of the working class mirrored George W. Bush’s dismissal of the disenfranchised left to save themselves as best they could in post-Katrina New Orleans. In Russia, the poor looted bakeries and granaries to feed themselves and their families. In New Orleans, those left behind looted – some for profit, but many to survive until other help arrived.
Nicholas’s pride kept the Russian military fighting the Japanese for control of Korea. Although his troops were being slaughtered, he ordered them to keep fighting at Port Arthur and other remote battle sites. Japan eventually forced Nicholas to accept peace on its terms, and the people did not forget their dead and maimed, sacrificed in large part to bolster the ego of a Czar attempting to emulate the Czar who preceded him – his father, Alexander III.
When the wisest of his ministers advised Nicholas to pay attention to the demands and needs of his people, Nicholas’s response was to order a harsh crushing of those who dared to speak out. He continued to act and speak as an autocrat, accountable to no one but God. George W. Bush’s responses to the people’s dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, the inept “leadership” of the people he has continued to support in his administration, his dismissal of the will of the people in all matters in which his views and theirs diverge, are very like those of an autocrat.
The people’s “savior” in WWI Russia was Lenin. Why was this tyrant so warmly embraced by the Russian people? Because he initially gave them what they has been asking Nicholas for – peace. He put an end to Russia’s disastrous involvement in WWI, after millions of Russian soldiers’ lives had been sacrificed in a war his own military leaders had advised him to end.
We, therefore, must learn a lesson from Russia’s history. We must listen carefully to what those who would have us elect them to lead our government are saying. Let us not embrace the first demagogue to mouth what we want to hear. Rather, let us probe, let us discover as much about the men and women who would lead us as we can. Let us examine their pasts, their corporate connections, those to whom they “owe” favors and preference. Let us educate ourselves, so that “we the people,” rather than “they the rich and powerful,” will actually elect representatives who see, hear and act on the will of those for whom they govern.
© 2006 RC deWinter