Monday, August 27, 2012

Review, Robt. Massie's Nicholas & Alexandra


I’ve just finished reading Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. Published in 1967, this book recreates history in a way that is so entertaining I watched again the movie with Michael Jayston. Both the book and movie are every bit as entertaining as fiction. Massie brings the characters to life through personal details taken from diaries and historical documents. Michael Jayston, playing the Tsar in the movie, breaks your heart.

Our sympathy goes out to Nicholas II, who seems to be hopelessly under the spell of his wife, whom he dearly loves. And she is stubbornly under the spell of Rasputin. How the Tsar and his wife could ignore overwhelming evidence that Rasputin was a charlatan is a study in people’s capacity for ignoring reality. If only Alexandra had been content to be Rasputin’s slave, but she meddled in Russia’s politics dragging down the government by insisting on officials approved by Rasputin.

Nicholas, even in his photos, looks to be a sensitive man. He is described as a man of gentle dignity. His love for his family, church and, most of all Russia, is never questioned. His heartbreak over his son’s hemophilia is well documented. How could a kind man send millions of his people to certain death for what appears to be egotistical reasons? He led Russia into two disastrous wars knowing the army had neither the equipment nor the training to fight.

Most disturbing is that Nicholas and Alexander were intelligent, well traveled, literate people. Nicholas had traveled around the world before becoming Tsar and spoke four languages fluently. I’ve had to rethink my mantra that education makes us better men and women, and the best of us are those people most educated. Nicholas was well informed, but he was unenlightened. Even when faced with massive demonstrations by Russian peasants, the Tsar failed to perceive an inkling of their hopes and dreams. Nor did these protests cause him to question himself. His courage and persistence in upholding his autocratic government can now be seen as wrongheaded and willful. Why is it not a truth that a person gains enlightenment with learning? Or said another way, why is it that a well educated person can still be ignorant?

The Tsar haunts me. It’s so hard to blame him, for he never asked to be tsar. He did the best he could. He did what he thought was right. He prayed to God for guidance and never lost faith in his God. He is all but the hero of the book and movie, until we realize that this innocent seeming man failed not only his generation, but the future of his people. But for him, Russia might have become as England is today.

Furthermore, we can’t assume we have nothing to fear from a person of goodwill. Nicholas was living proof that a “good” person (politician) is not to be trusted any more than an outright villain. 

In the end, Nicholas was a benevolent mass murderer who lost to a gang of ruthless mass murderers. Lenin and the Bolsheviks assassinated all the Romanovs who didn’t escape Russia. And that was just the beginning. Stalin probably poisoned Lenin and hacked in the skull of Trotsky and raised the bar on brutality.

This is enough Nicholas and Alexandra, even if I haven’t touched on moral implications, such as: the Tsar’s many prayers never helped him make a good decision.

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