Mir Mohammad Ali
I always wonder at the fact that those who get vast opportunities to do good for humanity do the opposite: they oppress and intimidate people with the power they chance upon. Maybe the trappings of power neutralise their senses in such a way that they become obsessed with themselves and what they self-righteously believe in.
One is constrained to infer that Mount Olympus nurtures the quality of misperception of one’s abilities and refusal to learn from examples. Those afflicted with this malady hardly have a chance of bringing about a change due to their very developed, aggressive and obstinate intransigence. It is eerie!
Such personalities need people who can massage their huge egos; therefore, an entourage of sycophants follows in their wake, a class which hovers around the powerful for self-aggrandizement. George Mikes, a humourist, mentioning one of this breed, extols him for being in the six governments all professing different ideologies. We have a surplus of these characters here. It gives one the creeps.
In my attempt to explain how these misperceptions become a reason for wanton destruction of countries and people they either rule or come into conflict with, I take the example of Kaiser William II of Germany. The more powerful the rulers are, the more deadly their mistakes. I will leave it to the readers to surmise who the Kaisers of today are.
Kaiser Wilhelm II or Wilhelm was the eldest son of Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia and Princess Victoria Adelaide Marie Louise, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England. Born on January 27, 1859, he died on June 4, 1941, and was given a burial with full military honours on the instructions of Hitler. He ascended the throne as King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany on June 15, 1888, and ruled for 30 years and was rarely seen outside a military uniform.
For over 500 years, a member of Wilhelm’s family, the Hohenzollern’s, had ruled in Germany. He too like his predecessors thought that time was immutable and they would forever rule Germany.
Naturally the certainty of his continued rule over Germany was so ingrained in his psyche that by the autumn of 1918, having lost the war, he could not reconcile with the loss of his throne. He was finally persuaded by Paul Von Hindenburg to go into exile in at Huis Doorn manor, Holland, on November 9, 1918, after Germany surrendered. He would have been tried for war crimes had not Queen Wilhelmina refused to hand him over to the Allies. During his exile, the first part of his memoirs was published in 1922 and he continued to justify his actions and deny responsibility for starting World War I.
To assess his role and to define his rule, it is necessary to look at the sources of that time, but it is also essential to remind the reader that the sources are non-German and his antagonists.
The newspaper The Age in an editorial titled, ‘A much-detested Monarch’, wrote on November 11, 1918: ‘With the abdication of the Kaiser there passes from the pageant of contemporary history one of its most detested, most remarkable and most incomprehensible figures; a figure sometimes theatrical, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes imposing; a man curiously medieval in many of his ways, delighting to strut prominently upon the stage of history, and wholly out of touch with the democratic tendencies of civilisation, a monarch whose very existence was a danger to the world.’
At all times Germany’s retired ruler was a profound egotist. ‘Only one man,’ he once said, ‘is master of the country. That am I. Who opposes me, I shall crush to pieces.’ In this spirit he ruled, autocrat and dictator. He was a versatile and vain man; his judgment of his own accomplishments was always lattering. His energy found an outlet too in the making of innumerable speeches, warlike and patriotic, and in the preaching of sermons, and also in the holding of spectacular military and naval reviews; and in addition he acted as art and musical critic, painted pictures, paid state visits, and encouraged his scientists and professors. He was undoubtedly swayed by religious feelings though his religion was egotistical. His pompous bearing was typical of a man who has decided that he is divinely chosen as the future ruler of the world, and is far above other men.
He believed in his divine right to rule and his faith in divine guidance. He used to say that it was a tradition of the house of Hohenzollern ‘to consider ourselves as designed by God to govern the peoples over which it is given us to reign.’ Uncannily our rulers too ardently believe in their divine right to rule and reiterate it often.
Winston Spencer Churchill in his book Great Contemporaries wrote about the attitudes of the courtiers towards Kaiser, “You are, ‘they say,’ the All-Highest. You are the supreme War Lord, who when the next war comes will lead to battle all the German tribes, and at the head of the strongest, finest army in the world will renew on a still greater scale the martial triumphs of 1866 and 1870. It is for you to choose the Chancellor and ministers of state; it is for you to choose the chiefs of the army and the navy. There is no office great or small throughout the empire from which you cannot dismiss the occupant. Each word you utter is received by all present with rapture, or at least respect. You have but to form a desire and it is granted. Limitless wealth and splendour attend your every step. Sixty palaces and castles await their owner; hundreds of glittering uniforms fill your wardrobes. Should you weary of the grosser forms of flattery, far more subtle methods will be applied. Statesmen, generals, admirals, judges, divines, philosophers, scientists and financiers stand eager to impart their treasured knowledge and to receive with profound gratification any remark upon their various spheres which may occur to you.
Intimate friends are at hand to report day by day how deeply impressed this or that great expert was with your marvellous grasp of his subjects. The general staff seem awed by your comprehension of the higher strategy.
The diplomats are wonder-struck by your manly candour or patient restraint, as the case may be. The artists gather in dutiful admiration before the allegorical picture you have painted. Foreign nations vie with your own subjects in their welcomes, and on all sides salute the world’s most glorious prince.” And this goes on day after day and year after year for 30 years.
Churchill then poses this question, ‘Are you quite sure, gentle reader, you would have withstood the treatment? Are you quite sure you would have remained a humble-minded man with no exaggerated idea of your own importance, with no undue reliance upon your own opinion, practicing the virtue of humility, and striving always for peace?’
He added, ‘The union of both the pomp and the power of state in a single office exposes a mortal to strains beyond the nature and to tasks above the strength even of the best and greatest men.’
Undoubtedly he was a monarch, but then too he was guided by a constitution which Bismarck had established in 1871. ‘According to the Constitution, the Empire was a federal state, its powers and functions divided between the federal government and the 25 states which it comprised. In fact, the state of Prussia dominated the Empire since the King of Prussia was to be hereditary head of the Empire, controlling civil administration through the Chancellor and the army through a military cabinet. Moreover, Prussia had 17 out of 58 votes in the Federal Council and she could thereby block any unwelcome constitutional amendments.’ Does this ring a bell, dear readers?
The Encyclopaedia Britannica assessing his character says, ‘William often bombastically claimed to be the man who took the decisions. It is true that the German constitution of 1871 put two important powers in his hands. First, he was responsible for appointing and dismissing the chancellor, the head of the civil government. Admittedly, the chancellor could only govern if he could get a majority in the Reichstag, but this limitation on the emperor’s freedom of choice was more apparent than real, because most members of the Reichstag felt it their loyal duty to support whomever the Kaiser appointed. Secondly, the German army and navy were not responsible to the civil government, so that the Kaiser was the only person in Germany who was in a position to see that the policy followed by the soldiers and sailors was in line with that pursued by the civil servants and diplomats.’
If we were to juggle with the names and places in the above assessment, we would be getting an exact description of many a Kaiser that we have seen in our own times or are at present suffering them. There are no prizes for guessing whom he resembles the most.
Undoubtedly we have our very own Kaiser Williams who would shame the real one in arrogance, self-righteousness, bluster, disconnect from reality, narcissism, vanity and conceit. Even the surrounding flatterers, the sycophants and toadies here are definitely light-years ahead of those who groveled obsequiously to confirm and groom the real Kaiser’s unrealistic self-importance and utterly disproportionate ego.
It seems that once a person becomes obsessed with the self-created myth of a ‘tryst with destiny’ and his infallibility, it is well-nigh impossible to make him see reason. What fate awaits him is always difficult to predict but one thing is certain: history has proved to be extremely unforgiving and merciless towards those who refuse to learn from it.
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published on 26 June 2007
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