Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Let's take a step back for just a second, and consider the phenomenon of nicknames. Throughout European history, we as a race have had a tendency to don monkiers of all kinds on important figures. Nearly every single one has been a slap in the face. Catherine the Great of Russia, who actually instituted some pretty sweet Enlightened reforms, received the lovely nickname "Madame Snake." Catherine de Medici, who impressively managed to have an important say in the politics of France from 1559 all the way to her death in 1589, was called "the Monstrous Regiment of Women." If you play an important role in European affairs and you escape without being given a sucky nickname, you have achieved a great feat.

Otto von Bismarck was nicknamed "The Pilot." Before you explode in reaction to how awesome that is, take a deep breath and try to finish reading this blog first. Imagine how many cool things someone nicknamed The Pilot can do! Maybe he flew hang-gliders around all day. Maybe he drove awesome pirate ships. Maybe he had a little Captain in him. Maybe he even sat behind the steering wheel of one of these bad boys.

Does it even matter why it was bad that Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany decided to dispose of Otto von Bismarck's services of "piloting" his country's foreign policy in 1890? It's pretty obvious that if you get rid of The Pilot, you're dumb. If you can understand that Bismarck was freakin awesome and had an incredible nickname, then you can understand that Wilhelm really screwed up. Seriously, he's The Pilot. Sweet mother of god.

This unfortunate tale goes all the way back to Napoleon, my friends. After his complete domination over nearly all of Europe ended, the balance of power on the Continent was severely disrupted. Enter Prince Metternich of Austria. To maintain peace, he and the Concert of Europe established a strict conservative dominance over all the land that previously belonged to Napoleon, and then some. With nationalism bubbling in every country and revolutions sproutin up like they were going out of style, Europe started to become a very unstable place. And then The Pilot flew down and made it all better. This guy rocks. I'm pumped up just writing about him.

An angry France wants to try to win back its losses from the Franco-Prussian War, Serbia's Pan-Slavism movement is about ready to set Europe on fire, Russia is humiliated and pretty pissed off by its terrible defeat in Crimean War, and Austria-Hungary is becoming desperate to remain a key player in European affairs, but none of this phases Otto. His Congress of Berlin in 1878 shut down Russia's attempts at expansion that would have set off nearly every European country into a hissy fit. Austria-Hungary is pleased, and agrees to the Dual Alliance (Austria-Hungary, check). Italy joins in, making it the Triple Alliance, and things were lookin pretty swell (Italy, check). And before Russia can cause trouble, Bismarck slaps down a fat Reinsurance Treaty with them in 1887 (Russia, check). Without Russia's support, Serbia becomes far less serious of a military threat, and Otto has yet again shown em who's boss (Serbia, check). The only other major powers left are The United States (just chillin a whole Atlantic Ocean away, not causing any trouble), Great Britain (splendid isolation and the guarantee of naval dominance, yo), and France (still really pissed). France is all alone diplomatically, however, and thanks to Bismarck's brilliant statesmanship and use of the Realpolitik, the French threat disintegrated as they lacked the allies to achieve anything that could have been detrimental to the balance of power.

Oh, Wilhelm. You piece of crap. Ya just needed that "place in the sun," didn't you? I'm gonna cast aside my usual tone of completely unbiased, unadulterated historical fact, and say something that could be considered more of an opinion. I hate Wilhelm II. He sucks.

In THE BIGGEST FAIL IN EUROPEAN HISTORY, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany dropped the freakin Pilot. Dropped him like it's hot. Dropped him straight on his German behind. Without his superb diplomatic abilities, it all began to fall apart. Wilhelm began by simply getting rid of the Reinsurance Treaty. With Russia now angry again, they jumped back to supporting Serbia's crazed Pan-Slavism. France was hankerin for an ally, and went straight for Russia. And just so he could be that much more of a stupid head, Wilhelm began an incredibly costly naval arms race with Great Britain, which brought them into this now world-wide conflict. The Triple Entente allied Great Britain, France, and Russia together in 1907 and Europe had officially split into two camps. World War I was a comin'. It was the end of an era, and this is the end of this ridiculously large post.

Man, what a mustache on Bismarck.

False Sense of Security Fail: The Maginot Line

I think this link does a fine job of prefacing this post. (see here for an explanation of that if you're curious).

The Maginot Line brings us to one of the most embarrassing events in France's history. It's quite understandable, however, why they would gear up for WWII in such a dramatically dorky fashion. The interim war period of 1919-1939 was rightfully nicknamed the Age of Anxiety, as the promises of the political leaders of the time weren't coming true. Mentally and physically scarred soldiers returned home to find that the goals they thought they were fighting for were had been exaggerated and dramatized. As the scores of worksheets that AP Euro students have to fill out will tell you, Woodrow Wilson's description of World War I as a war "against militarism and absolutism" had started to wear off, and disillusionment was all over the freakin place. In France's case, this uncertainty wasn't only held by citizens. The promises of protection and alliances that the US and Great Britain had made to France weren't being kept, and every government official in France was shakin in his or her little trendy French outfit. After some panicked treaties with Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia between 1921 and 1927, France had done little to calm itself down.

So they decided to hide. Under ground. With a bunch of big forts and guns and stuff above them for protection. Embracing the outdated trench warfare tactics of WWI, they built a pretty hefty set of defenses along the French/German border, curled up into a ball, covered their ears, and waited for all the scaredy-ness to go away. A False Sense of Security Fail was surely in their midst. They didn't bother fortifying the Ardennes Forest, which was an open path into France just north of the Maginot Line, because it was impenetrable. Completely and totally impenetrable, I promise. By this point, Hitler had become the butt head that we all remember him for being, and he had different plans for this lovely forest. To keep the French busy in their little hide and seek game, he sent a decoy force to the attack the Line head on. Then, a second force skipped on through the Ardennes Forest while third a went through Belgium and the Netherlands en route to France. Less than 4 weeks later (on June 14 1940), Paris had fallen. Shucks. Then, 12 days later, France completely checked out of WWII with an armistice treaty with Germany.

Infallibility Fail: The Syllabus of Errors

The Syllabus of Errors was probably the biggest fail the Catholic Church has ever committed in its long and illustrious tenure on this planet. For a bunch of infallible dudes, popes over the years have done some pretty stupid stuff. Lets take a little trip down memory lane to exhibit A: the Crusades. It's pretty hard to understand the logic there. "Lets send millions of guys really far away to take a piece of land from some other culture and then be colossal jerks and kill all of them for no reason - Oh wait, we FAILED. No biggie, we'll try again, EIGHT MORE TIMES." Another prime example would be the entire era of Renaissance popes - the thinking there being "Lets break every rule in the book and still be the holiest guy on earth." Then comes the oh-so-great Babylonian Captivity. "Since having the papacy in Avignon is stupid, we'll elect a new pope. What, they excommunicated each other? Didn't see that coming. Ok, we'll, uh, elect a third one! Oh great. More excommunication. Maybe we can have some councils or something to figure this out."

All this is pretty hilarious, but it pales in comparison to the syllabus of errors. Instead of learning its lesson from trying to stop the Scientific Revolution with the Inquisition, The Church repeated itself in a spectacularly idiotic way. The scene is Europe, 1864. Italy has just been unified, and the Pope isn't too happy about losing all his states. The industrial revolution is raging, and people are a lot more concerned with mass culture and politics than with religion. I mean, soccer just got invented! You can't compete with that. Anyway, with all this other stuff going on and society getting gradually more secular, Pope Pius IX is mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore. So he issues a document condemning pretty much every -ism out there, along with human reason, science, religious tolerance, and progress in general. He even goes so far as to say it isn't his responsibility to "reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress and modern civilization." Yeah that's right civilization, who needs you anyway? Among the doctrines attacked were the obvious creations of Satan, communism, socialism, pantheism, rationalism, and liberalism, but also biblical and clerical societies! Hey you, bible scholar! Yeah, I'm talkin' to you - just want you to know all your education is worthless 'cause you're wrong.

In the aftermath of all this, most factions of European society ignored the church. Protestants got ticked off, Liberals got even more secular, and even a lot of Catholics rejected it and turned to Modernism, a way of doing exactly what the pope said not to do - reconciling religion with modern society. Finally, the Lateran II accords of the '60s updated Church doctrine to somewhat normal views (The Jews were collectively absolved for the killing of Christ, for example). The current Pope has described Lateran II as beneficially "counter-syllabus."However, since all popes are technically infallible, all that junk still stands. Go figure.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

St. Helena: Comeback Fail

Napoleon Bonaparte was pretty freakin sweet. Throughout the course of his 15 year dominance over France, the total number of "wins" that he racked up definitely outnumber the total number of "fails." The same could probably be said for Robespierre. Nevertheless, we have here a pretty massive fail on Napoleon's part. The story begins in Corsica, where Napoleon was born to a low level noble family. After a rather high class military and intellectual education, Napoleon's gigantic ambition sent him to France, where he landed the position of Lieutenant in the French army. His exceptional work in a battle for Toulon against the British and his stone-cold-badass achievement of bringing the crazed Parisian mob to a halt (seriously, the "wins" just keep adding up) earned him some major street cred, and the French government decided to assign him the daunting task of invading Britain. He decided to go for Egypt first, messed up pretty badly, and ran away. When he returned to France, his terrific ambition kicked in again and he had his eyes set on taking over the already weak French Directory. A single coup d' etat later, and we have Napoleon, the first consul. Here's where the "wins" start flowing in, folks. A near complete domination over Europe established Napoleon as the first modern dictator ever. Hell yes, bitches. Just as things were looking up, however, they started to fall apart. The Russians' refusal to accept Napoleon's Continental System, a blockade on British trade (that rhymed), led to a very costly war for his Grand Army, and once his forces were weakened, Napoleon's entire empire began to crumble.

But wait. Napoleon Bonaparte isn't done kicking ass. After all the countries that he had previously dominated finally got rid of Napoleon and banished him to Elba (a small island off of Italy), he made a really, really gnarly comeback. "Soldiers of the fifth regiment, I am your Emperor...If there is a man among you who would kill his Emperor, here I am!" shouted Napoleon to a group of troops ready to kill him upon his return to France. Instead of killing him, this brilliant display of awesomeness put Napoleon right back on top. Yet again, however, it wouldn't last. What could have been a gigantic Comeback Win turned out to be a huge Comeback Fail. His forces were defeated again by a combined Prussian and British army, and Napoleon was banished St. Helena, this time for good.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Flagellants: Priorities Fail

The Black Plague must have sucked. Big time. It was spread by rats who had fleas that carried the disease, and it spread like a crazy motha. Reaching Europe in October of 1347, it went from Italy to France, and then to Spain by the end of that year. By the end of 1348, it had passed through Germany and into England. Then, in 1349, it hit northern Europe, followed by its spread to Eastern Europe in 1351. All this time, the plague was freakin messin shit up. People had fevers, a lot of ugly swelling, and bleeding BENEATH the skin (yuck). 50 to 60 percent of everyone that got the Plague died. That's a lot, dude. In total, Europe lost 25 to 50 percent of its total population. And all of this mayhem was coming in the 14th century, a time of huge amounts of ignorance to any type of medical knowledge (see "Science Fail").

The Flagellants, however, can give us a laugh or two in this time of suckyness. Their beloved church had no answers for this devastating epidemic, so they decided to go it alone religiously. Their logic was the bomb: Everyone is dying because God is mad at us. Because God is mad at us, we should walk around from town to town half naked and whip ourselves all day long. Couldn't ask for a bigger priorities fail.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Robespierre: Suicide Fail

Maximilien Robespierre came to power during the radical stages of the French Revolution, and is pretty much wholly responsible for the fact that they were the most radical time periods of the Revolution. After the increasingly powerful Jacobins started to become upset with how moderate the Nation Assembly was turning out to be, they decided they had had enough (double had, LOL). The Paris Commune, a radical group composed mainly of Jacobins, rose in power and eventually overthrew the Legislative Assembly (the government that the Nation Assembly had established). The National Convention was set up (yes, they decided to use National in the name yet again), and was heavily dominated by people adhering the the opinions of the Jacobins and the Paris Commune. After executing the king and going to war with Austria, they had successfully screwed up France, and chaos ensued.

Robespierre then jumped in so he could, well...ensue more chaos. The National Assembly established the Committee of Public Safety to attempt to restore some type of order, and they placed Robespierre right on top. He pretty much just did whatever he wanted to. On his orders, huge amounts of people who were deemed not nationalistic enough were executed in the streets of Paris with the handy dandy Guillotine, a weird ass new calender was invented, the cathedral of Notre-Dame was converted to the Temple of Reason, and, to sum things up, France basically erupted into even more mayhem.

It was this blatant use of terror that achieved Robespierre extreme amounts of awesomeness. You may think it impossible, but it eventually proved to be too much awesomeness. Robespierre's peers in The National Assembly were scared that he would eventually start killing them too, so they turned against him and decided to put him on the guillotine. In a last second effort to die with dignity, Robespierre attempted to shoot himself in the face, but missed. What a loser. He ended up knocking half his face off, living through it, being guillotined, and earning a Suicide Fail.

Louis XVI: Monarchy Fail

It must have been tough to be a Louis. The pressure of living up to number 14 was probably a lot to deal with. Look at him up there on that horse. What a man. What a SUN KING. Not to mention how awesome those kicks are that he's rockin there.

None of the other Louis-s could come close, and this can clearly be seen in the portraits painted of them. Louis VIV's eldest son, Louis, was nicknamed the Grand Dauphin of France because he was really fat. The eldest son of this Grand Dauphin, known was Louis Duke of Burgandy, brings to mind the Breeding Fail that was Carlos II with his less-than-attractive appearance. Louis XV, Louis XIV's successor, was way too girly. This finally brings us to Louis XVI, who took the throne after Louis XV. He kinda looked like a chubby penguin.

Louis XVI came up pretty darn tootin short of Louis XIV's legacy. The French people were done living within the confines of the brutal Estates system by the time he rolled around. The First Estate Estate (important clergy members, stinkin rich, don't pay taxes) and Second Estate (nobles, stinkin rich, don't pay taxes) were reaping the benefits of their lavish lifestyles while the Third Estate (pesants, artisans, townspeople, etc, stinkin poor, pay all the taxes) were working to provide those benefits for them with very little reward.

We have the Americans to thank for getting this Monarchy Fail started. Without their revolution against Britain and the accompanying French military support, the French throne wouldn't have plunged into a huge debt. After the failure of two consecutive Director-Generals of France (Jacques Necker and Charles Alexandre de Calonne) to solve this financial problem, Louis XVI made a bold move and assembled the Estates General for the first time in 175 years. In doing so, he fundamentally weakened the power of French throne, and our Monarchy Fail had officially begun. The angry Third Estate seized this chance to finally break out of their oppressed state. However, their calls for voting by each individual of the parliament went unheeded, and voting by Estate was heeded instead. Lots heeding was going on. Instead of giving up, the Third Estate delegates heeded on over to a Tennis Court, declared themselves the National Assembly, and promised to keep meeting until they had written up a new constitution for France. Shortly after, an unexpected win by the underdog Parisian mob during a revolt at the Bastille legitimized the Third Estate as a dangerous political force. Louis XVI was now forced to recognize the National Assembly, and the Monarchy Fail gathered some speed. The new constitution that France ended up with didn't please everybody, however, and a new, more radical political group named the Jacobins rose in power. The National Assembly set up the Legislative Assembly as the new government of France in 1791 only to have it overthrown by these new radicals, and their first order of business brings us back to Louis XVI for this Monarchy Fail's grand finale.

It's regicide time, y'all! The Jacobins had set up the National Convention as the new government, and two political associations had formed within it. The Mountain faction supported Louis's execution, while the Girondon faction supported the opposite. Needless to say, the Monarchy Fail was complete when the people of France rejoiced in seeing Louis's head swing right off his body.