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The Hapsburgs and Rivals Keep Europe in Turmoil

central europe

There he sat in the great hall in the German city of Worms. His bright eyes and wide forehead gave him an air of distinction. You would not quickly forget that face. Before him was gathered an assembly of high ranking nobles and churchmen from many parts of Europe. For this man was Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Archduke of Austria, ruler of the Netherlands and half of Italy, as well as King of Spain and master of Spain’s vast possessions in the New World. Yet Charles, who belonged to the famous Hapsburg family of Austria, was only 21 years old when he came to Worms in the year 1521. He had been elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire only two years before and he hoped to settle many pressing problems in conference with the assembled notables. Perhaps it was just as well for the young monarch that he could not look into the future. Perhaps it was fortunate that he could not foresee some thirty-five years of struggle within his empire. He did not know that he would be fighting French men and Italians and Turks, as well as the Protestants of his own empire. Nor is it likely that in 1521 Charles V would have believed that the time would ever come when he would gladly and freely hand over his vast powers and lands to others. Yet after a reign of 37 years Charles told another group of nobles: “I am no longer able to attend to my affairs without great bodily fatigue. . . . The little strength that remains to me is rapidly disappearing. . . . In my present state of weakness, I should have to render a serious account to God and man if I did not lay aside …

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A Time of Crisis 1960-1963


One of the sources of trouble was Cuba. In 1956 a small group of revolutionaries, led by a 29-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro, rose up against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Batista was perhaps the most brutal dictator in all Latin America. Few people believed that Castro had much chance for success, for Batista was as efficient as he was cruel and his soldiers were well armed. Within two years, however, Castro had gathered around him a large, well-organized band of guerrillas. By January of 1959, Batista had fled the country and Castro had taken power. His amazing victory seemed a triumph of democracy and he was enthusiastically welcomed when he visited the United States later that year. The friendship between Cuba and the United States soon turned sour. Castro seized sugar plantations and industries owned by American companies and the Eisenhower administration demanded that he at least pay the companies for the property he had taken. Castro answered that these companies had been mistreating the Cuban people for more than fifty years and that Cuba owed them nothing. Even more disturbing was Castro’s increasingly close ties to the Communist countries. Soon he was calling himself a “Marxist-Leninist”– by which he meant a Communist and had set up a dictatorship on the Russian model. He allowed only one political party in Cuba and permitted no opposition or disagreement. Furthermore, he made Cuba into a base for revolutionary activity against the other governments of Latin America. By 1960, Castro was about to openly join the Communist camp and soon he would be receiving substantial aid from Russia to make up for the loss of trade with the United States. A conflict had arisen between the United States and Russia over a country that was only ninety miles from American shores. Another …

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Death of a Dictator 1946 – 1953

cold war

AS THE SKY darkened over Moscow on the evening of March 5, 1953, thousands of people waited in line before a building called the Hall of Columns. Some of them wept; some carried flowers. Moving slowly and silently toward the entrance, they could see a forty-foot portrait of Premier Josef Stalin, framed in gold, which hung on the side of the building. News of Stalin’s death had been announced late that afternoon and now he lay in state in an immense room whose marble columns were draped in flags of red and black. Four days later, Stalin’s body was carried to the tomb on Red Square where lay the body of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. At twelve noon, when Stalin’s body was placed beside that of Lenin, cannon were fired in every city of Russia. Cars, trucks, busses and trains stopped for five minutes, while people repeated the phrase, “Proshe, oteytz”–“Farewell‚ father” and so the Russians took leave of the man who had ruled them for twenty-nine years. Those twenty-nine years had been among the most eventful and terrible in history, not only for Russia, but for the world. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had been industrialized. It had fought off an invasion from Nazi Germany and after the war, had established a mighty Communist empire in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. A once backward country had become one of the greatest powers on earth, but the price, in lives and liberty, had been unbelievably high. Millions of people had been killed for resisting Stalin’s program of rapid industrialization, or for disagreeing with him on political issues — or simply because Stalin had suspected them of disloyalty. The older that Stalin grew, the more tyrannical he became. In 1946, when the cold war with the West began, …

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War in Korea 1945-1953


Although the cold war was the most important fact in the politics of the post-war world, few persons could have foreseen that it would lead to fighting in the small, remote country of Korea. Yet, as small and remote as it was, Korea had a strategic location. It was near three large powers — Russia, China and Japan — and the Japanese said it “points like a dagger at the heart of our country.” The Japanese won control of Korea in the Russo-Japanese War and by 1905 they ruled it as part of their empire. During World War II, the Allies promised that “in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” When Japan surrendered, they agreed that Russian troops would occupy Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel and American troops would occupy Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. A provisional government would then be set up and after a period of no longer than five years, Korea would govern itself as an independent nation. The occupation of Korea was carried out as it had been planned, but the United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on a provisional government. Each set up a provisional government friendly to itself and in 1947 the United States brought the dispute before the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly decided to hold elections in Korea, but the Soviet Union refused to allow United Nations representatives to enter its occupation zone. Elections were held outside the Russian zone and in 1948 the Korean Republic was established in South Korea. The city of Seoul was made the capital and Syngman Rhee was elected president. Thirty-two nations, including the United States, recognized the new government; the Russians and “their supporters did not. Instead, the Soviet Union helped to set up a new and separate …

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“My Struggle”

mein kampf

When Hitler was discharged by the army in 1918, he found an altogether different Germany from the one he had known before the war. It was no longer ruled by a kaiser. The Socialists had taken over the government, but the Communists were active and calling for a revolution like that of Russia’s. After some fighting, the government succeeded in putting down the Communists. Their leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were killed and the communist threat died down, at least for a time. In 1919, after elections, a coalition — a combination of various parties — led by the Socialists, took control of the government. It set up a republic, which was called the “Weimar Republic,” because the government first met in the city of Weimar. A constitution was adopted and it looked as though Germany was on the way to becoming a real democracy. There were too many people in Germany who had no use for democracy. Germany had long been a militaristic nation and the army had had enormous power. Its officers longed to regain that power and they were supported by the judges and officials whom the republic inherited from the old government. The army began to spread the story that it was not to blame for losing the war. Germany should have won and would have won — if it had not been for the Socialists and the other politicians who wanted to set up a republic. They had plotted against the army, they had “stabbed it in the back.” They were responsible for Germany’s defeat‚ for the signing of the harsh Versailles Treaty, for all of Germany’s troubles. The story was not true, but millions of Germans were ready to believe it. Like Hitler, they had been shocked by their country’s surrender and they …

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Stalin Succeeds Lenin 1924 – 1939


AFTER THE PEACE with Germany, Lenin had hoped for a breathing spell which would give him the chance to build up his backward country. Instead, there had been civil war and it left Russia worse off than ever. Although the government had taken over all the industries, they were producing very little. A way had to be found to give the people the necessities of life, especially food. To do this, Lenin proposed to put into effect something he called the New Economic Policy, soon known as NEP. While large industries would remain in the hands of the state, small businessmen could operate on their own and peasants could sell farm products to the consumer. To many people, including some within his party, this seemed like a return to capitalism. Lenin denied it. He said that NEP was only a temporary measure to allow the country to get back on its feet. Besides, Marxism was not a set of rules to be followed blindly. Marxists must always adapt themselves to the circumstances of life. In spite of the opposition, Lenin succeeded in winning support for his plan and the New Economic Policy was in effect from 1921 to 1928. Food remained an urgent problem. Crops were poor in 1922 and there was famine in the land. Several million persons died of hunger and the number might have been greater if aid had not arrived from the people of the United States. Even so, the New Economic Policy was working out well. Conditions were beginning to improve and in 1923 the Communist party approved the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The U.S.S.R., also known as the Soviet Union, included Russia, the Ukraine, White Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Lenin was in poor health and in 1922, after his …

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Peace-and Civil War 1917 -1924


SPEAKING BEFORE the Congress of Soviets on November 8, the second day of the November revolution, Lenin had said, “We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist order.” Constructing any kind of order in a vast country like Russia would not be easy. The Bolsheviks had won the support of the soviets, but could they win the support of all Russia? As a matter of fact, not all the people in the country known as Russia were Russians. The tsars had gathered in under their rule many territories. On these territories lived people of many different nationalities, each speaking a different language. Could the Bolsheviks mold them all into one socialistic state? A number of political observers believed that the Bolsheviks would be unable to hold the power they had gained. The test was the elections for the Constituent Assembly, which began in late November. Before the revolution, the Bolsheviks had demanded a Constituent Assembly. Even before they saw the results of the elections, however, they lost their enthusiasm for it. They had still less enthusiasm when the election returns were in. The Bolsheviks won only 175 out of 707 seats. The largest number of seats went to the Social Revolutionaries, who won 410. The Bolsheviks solved the problem by using soldiers to break up the Assembly when it met in January of 1918. Lenin later excused this action by saying that it was a time of crisis and that any government would have done the same to hold its power. Whether or not this was true, one thing was certain — there was no longer any democratic way to end the Bolsheviks’ power. On top of this, the Bolsheviks took control of the press and set up a secret police. One of the biggest problems now facing the Bolsheviks …

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Rasputin and War 1914-1917


THE TSARINA Alexandra was a religious woman. That was why she was immediately interested in Rasputin, when he was introduced to her in 1905. Rasputin was neither a priest nor a monk. He was a starets, or Holy Man. There were a number of such Holy Men in Russia at that time. They left their homes and families to wander about the country, living on charity and devoting themselves to religion. Often people came to them, hoping to hear words of wisdom and advice on how to conduct their lives. The tsarina, too, felt the need of someone to give her advice and words of wisdom. She was troubled by the problems of the tsar; she kept urging him not to give up any of his power and then there was her fifteen-month-old son. He was the tsarevitch, the prince who would someday be tsar — if he lived. For he suffered from hemophilia, a hereditary disease that prevented his blood from clotting properly. Even a slight wound might cause him to bleed to death. THE HOLY MAN Rasputin became a frequent visitor to the palace. It turned out that he had a strange ability to soothe and comfort the tsarevitch and make him forget his pain. Some people said that he hypnotized the boy. At any rate, Alexandra came to believe that her son’s life depended on Rasputin and her faith in him grew from day to day. With his long beard and his long hair that reached to his shoulders, Rasputin did indeed look like a Holy Man, but the life he led had little to do with holiness. He had an enormous appetite for food and drink. It was no secret around the palace that he spent many a night in wild, drunken parties, staggering home early …

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The 1905 Revolution


SOME DAY there would be no tsars, but there was little sign of that during the last years of the nineteenth century. Alexander III still held Russia in a firm grip. When he died in 1894, his son Nicholas II came to the throne. Nicholas was twenty-six years old. He was a handsome young man and a few months after his father’s death he was married to a German princess. They were in love and it looked as though Nicholas would be a popular ruler. His reign began badly. In 1896, a great crowd gathered on a field in Moscow to celebrate his coronation as tsar. It was the custom to hand out little presents, such as handkerchiefs and cups, at these celebrations. Afraid that there might not be enough for everyone, the crowd surged forward. When mounted police tried to hold back the crowd, men, women and children were pushed into ditches and two thousand persons were killed. To make it even worse, that same night the tsar and the tsarina, his wife, danced at a ball held at the French embassy. People grumbled that the tsarina was a foreigner who had no feeling for Russians and the tsar was not much better. Nor did the people like the tsar’s reply to a message of congratulation from the officials of a town near Moscow. The officials said that they hoped “the rights of individuals and public institutions will be firmly safeguarded.” Nicholas answered that he would support the principle of absolute rule just as firmly “as it was preserved by my unforgettable great father.” It was plain that under Nicholas the Russians could expect no greater freedom than they had had under Alexander III. There would be no civil liberties, no better treatment of the peasants and of minority …

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Blood on the Snow 1855 – 1905


IT WAS a Sunday in January of 1905 and snow lay on the ground and rooftops of St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia. Although winters were cold in this northern city and it seemed like a day to sit indoors before a warm fire, many people were hurrying through the streets. About 200,000 men, women and children gathered in huge crowds, their breath making puffs of vapour in the frosty air. Soon they formed processions and began marching across the hard-packed snow. As they tramped along in ragged lines, they sang the national anthem, “God Save the Tsar.” Many of them carried icons-religious paintings — or pictures of their ruler, Tsar Nicholas II, whom they called “the Little Father.” The processions started from various points of the city, but they all moved toward the same place — the tsar’s Winter Palace. Yet, this was no celebration, no festival, no holiday. The marchers were not parading for pleasure. The city’s metal workers had staged a four-day strike for better working conditions, such as the eight-hour day. To teach them a hard lesson, their employers had then shut down the shops, completely cutting off their pay. Now the workers were going to the palace to ask the help of the tsar. At the head of one of their processions walked Father Gapon, the priest who was their leader. He would present petitions to the Little Father. So the people marched under the heavy winter sky, singing their country’s song, holding up the icons of their saints and the pictures of their ruler, but the Little Father was suspicious of his children. Afraid that they might rise up against him, he had called out his soldiers and left St. Petersburg. As the processions drew closer to the centre of the city where the …

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