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100 Years On – Hubris

In September 1915, Tsar Nicholas II decided to take personal control of the Russian military.  In just about any other war and with any other ruler, this might have been seen as audacious and decisive.  In a war where Russia was only able to gain tactical victories when their enemies made mistakes and a ruler as mediocre as Nicholas, this was a disaster.

Nicholas may have been trying to emulate Alexander I, who led Russian forces in the wars against Napoleon.  However, Nicholas was not his great-great-grandfather, even if he tried to use tactics that differed little from the Napoleonic ideal.  Nicholas had already had to deal with the political and cultural backlash of a military defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.  The 1905 Revolution had roots in many causes, including military humiliation.

In addition, when Nicholas left St. Petersburg to go to the front, he left his wife, the Tsaritsa Alexandra, in charge of the government.  This brought two simmering problems to a boil.  First, Alexandra was German, and resentment of her prominent position in the government caused many problems at a time when Russia did not need them.  Second, she was influenced, to say the least, by Grigori Rasputin.  Blinded by her devotion to the only man she trusted to treat and heal her haemophiliac son, she allowed Rasputin’s antics to cloud her judgement and damage her reputation, as well as her husband and his fragile government.

I’ve always wondered how things would have worked out had Nicholas listened to his cabinet and stayed aloof from the day-to-day operations of the war.  Russia would have gone through troubles, that is sure, but would things have gotten as bad as they did? Would the millions of people around the world who paid for his hubris in the next century have escaped revolutions, massacres, and Communism’s long nightmare?

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  1. Good question, and who knows what other foibles would have popped up?

    • Oh, I’m quite sure humans would have found other excuses to murder each other. It just would have been other excuses, hopefully ones that weren’t quite so efficient.

  2. Hey DB,

    It is possible that the “Red” revolution might not have happened. Lenin left Vienna to go to St Peters-burg after the Tsar abdicated and the Dumas was running the government. I think Russia would have changed…perhaps in a generation or 2. Many Russians had a love of motherland and that love can probably could have staved off some of the hard choices. Many Russians also hated rasputin and they finally killed him off…but the damage was done to the Tsar. But how the Russians would have extricated themselves from the war in the east would have been interesting.

    • Russia probably would have had a revolution, although without the leadership of Lenin, the Bolsheviks probably wouldn’t have been able to get their collective act together. I see it as being more like the revolution that Germany went through in 1918-1919. Not sure if the Tsar would have survived that, but he probably wouldn’t have ended his life in a hail of bullets in a basement.

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