Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Historical Revisionism

In a particularly boneheaded story, ABC's Diane Sawyer reported on "Good Morning America" this week that researchers possibly discovered the bodies of two of Czar Nicholas II’s children, Alexi and Anastasia.

The fate of the two royal heirs following the Russian Revolution had become the stuff of legend. After the Bolsheviks executed the Russian royal family July 18, 1918 to prevent the Romanovs from returning to the throne, the children’s’ bodies became separated from the other royal remains and disposed of in a separate location. This fueled wild stories that the two, particularly Anastasia, escaped Russia and lived a full romantic life somewhere far from the troubles of the newborn Soviet Union

Introducing the story, Diane Sawyer described the Romanovs as the "golden family" of Europe and "the most beautiful family in the world" (as determined by who, I am not sure.) In gushing over the Romanovs, Sawyer ignored a few inconvenient truths.

1. Czar Nicholas was a ruthless autocrat who insisted on full dictatorial power. In 1905, thousands of industrial workers gathered in front of the Czar’s winter palace in St. Petersburg pleading with him to respond to a petition asking that the people of Russia be given a greater voice in their government. Nicholas responded by sending his troops to fire upon the assembly, killing and wounding hundreds of peaceful protestors. Throughout his reign, Nicholas refused to give any real power to the Duma, Russia's parliament. The Czar routinely arrested and executed political dissidents and shut down opposition newspapers.

2. Nicholas and the rest of the Romanov dynasty were vicious anti-Semites. Under Nicholas the Okhrana (the Russian secret police who served as the forerunner of the KGB) fabricated the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the purported minutes of a global meeting of Jewish leaders discussing tactics for taking over the world by such evil means as promoting universal suffrage.

This tract poured oil on the already intense flames of Russian anti-Semitism. This widely accepted forgery, largely plagiarized from a published French parody of Emperor Napoleon III’s global ambitions in the 1860s, later became a virtual textbook in Nazi Germany, contributing to the murderous atmosphere of the Holocaust.

Particularly after Nicholas II's bumbling, incompetent leadership in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, the Czarist security forces distracted the masses with tales of Jewish conspiracies: claims that Jews controlled Russia’s finances and starved the country; that Jews murdered Christian babies in Passover rites; and that Jews led the treasonous Bolsheviks. At government instigation, pogroms killed thousands of Jews, all with the Romanov family's approval. If Hitler never came to power the Romanov dynasty would standout out as the world’s leading killer of Jews.

3. Nicholas II proved consistently inept in managing Russia's economy and in directing the Russian military. In the last years of his reign, the Russian economy teetered at the edge of collapse and many starved.

Under his rule, the Russians not only lost the war to Japan in 1905, but also surrendered to the Germans in World War I. The Germans so badly battered the Russian Army that soldiers mutinied against the Czar, forcing him to abdicate in 1917 and paving the way for the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution.

One gets the impression that the "Good Morning America" staff researched the story on the discovery of Romanov children’s remains by watching the 1997 animated film “Anastasia,” which portrays the Czarina’s spiritual adviser Rasputin as a wizard using black magic to foment the Russian Revolution. I guess ABC didn’t have access to Google.

It's true that executing children represents an atrocity and that Russian Revolution merely displaced the Romanovs with the genocidal Soviet Union soon led by one of history’s worst serial killers, Joseph Stalin. The later bloodshed, however, should not justify ABC’s silly portrait of a shabby, criminal regime.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to make one small, but to some significant, revision to your article. William Stanley was hung in Temple, Texas, not Tyler. He was accused of attacking and murdering members of my great-grandmother's brother's family. The people of Tyler would probably rather you didn't put this horrendous crime on them.