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We’re offering The Last Czar: Anatomy of Catastrophe, for free today, before we pull it and wrap it into the larger Shit Doesn’t Just Happen books.
It is 1917. The world’s population is roughly 1.86 billion, although the First World War, the War to End All Wars for the glass is half full people, is taking a chunk out of that. J.R.R. Tolkien begins writing The Book of Lost Tales; in the U.S. imprisoned suffragettes from the Silent Sentinels are beaten in what became known as the Night of Terror; the first Pulitzer prizes are awarded; Mata Hari is arrested for spying; John F. Kennedy is born; a race riot in St. Louis leaves 250 dead.
And in Russia, the last Tsar, Nicholas II, abdicates on the 15th of March, changing the course of history and our present.
While I’m using that specific date in my novel coming out next month, Ides of March, I’d already done research on Nicholas II, trying to understand how his personality and decision-making (or lack thereof), that led to the downfall of the Russian Empire. Using my Rule of Seven, with Seven being the abdication, I listed the Six Cascade Events prior to that:
- Nicholas wasn’t properly trained to lead his country.
- The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for Russia, and Nicholas II in particular.
- Nicholas’ attempts at reform hit a middle ground that pleased neither side.
- Bloody Sunday, where troops fired on marchers, was a spark that would lead to revolution.
- His wife, Tsarina Alexandra, alienated many Russians, particularly her reliance on Rasputin.
- World War I was an utter disaster for Russia, and especially Nicholas when he took personal charge of the Army, something he was not prepared or equipped to do.
One man’s lack of leadership changed the course of history and dictated the fates of millions. It still affects us today. Can we say: Putin?
The rise of the Soviet Union out of the ashes of Tsarist Russia is one of the most significant developments in the past century. Lenin, Stalin, purges, the spread of communism, the Cold War where we came perilously close to nuclear war; all were a result of Nicholas.
There were numerous cascade events spread out over decades, but a recurring theme of Nicholas II is the lack of decisive leadership along with little strategic political or military planning. He spent much of his reign reacting.
Leadership, or the lack thereof, affects many, from the troopers of the Seventh Cavalry who went to their doom to the estimated 50 million ‘unnatural deaths’ suffered by Russians under Stalin. The latter of which was a direct result from Nicholas’ failures.
For more information and detail, download the book. For free. What always amazes me is so much history that’s new to learn. The Russo-Japanese War is a good example; where at Port Arthur the Japanese launched a surprise attack prior to the official declaration of war, catching the Russian fleet unaware. That sound familiar?
It is said, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And we do. Over and over.
Sign up for my newsletter here and get a free eBook, the first in my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy.
And Time Patrol: Ides of March is a little over a month away. I send Doc on the mission to the Alexander Palace, to the Tsarina and her five children, where he has to figure out how the Shadow had planned to change our history on the 15th of March 1917. It turned out to be a rather wicked mission, since the Time Patrol’s job is to keep history the same. Thus, in essence, he is condemning those four young girls and boy, along with their mother to their fates. What he has to struggle with is: what is he changes things? What if he allows the Tsarina to talk her husband into not abdicating on that date? How could that possibly change history? Would it be for the better, or for the worse?
I’ve had that as a mantra for many years: Want to really get to know someone? Put them in crisis. This is one of the reasons Special Operations training across the board is non-stop crisis and stress. Little food, sleep deprivation. Constant high standards to be achieved. Physical stress. There’s an array of factors that can be thrown at someone to test them.
I fast-forwarded through most of the Superbowl (I was binge watching Shades of Blue, which is surprisingly good–I’m just a boy from da Bronx) and would catch up in between every episode.
I’m a big fan of key moments. Tipping points. In books and shows, I always look for the core idea in one sentence of scene. In events, like the Superbowl, I look for a single moment. Maybe it was just me, although I was slightly surprised the announcers focused on it for the time but I don’t see much on it today, the key moment was when the Panthers fumbled with about four minutes to go. Cam Newton moved for the ball, then he literally pulled back. When they reversed the angle, you can see what he saw: looked like one of those big Denver defensive linemen had the ball just about in his grasp.
The ball squired out, right past Newton and the Broncos got it near the goal line. Essentially, game over. Newton didn’t do what every player is supposed to do when there’s a fumble: dive in and fight for it.
The key is that Newton didn’t make a conscious decision to pull back. That was instinctual. A good quarterback needs good instincts. To me, that was a bad and telling instinct. I’m not saying he’s a bad quarterback; he was the league MVP. But I think his terrible attitude at the press conference afterward was because he had a moment of enlightenment because of that play; I think he’s smart and he knows. I actually think it will make him a better person and player if he takes it to heart. With the game on the line, he pulled back.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes; some instinctual. Those are the ones that take a lot of work to change. But we can change them. It’s a question of never quitting, being aware, and being willing to change.
The other night my wife and watched a two part series on Bernie Madoff. Richard Dreyfuss did an excellent job portraying him. I kept trying to figure his personality out. Both for practical reasons, but also as a writer. Psychopath? Maybe. Sociopath? Pretty much if not psychopath.
The guy is actually happier in prison. My wife said that about him a long time ago, since she keeps track of everything. I mean everything. She reads the entire NY Times every day. Every article. She is constantly reading, fiction, nonfiction, whatever.
I remember when it all happened, during the financial meltdown. One of the most interesting parts is when he rants about how he’s just a smaller piece of the larger thing called Wall Street, which is all a Ponzi Scheme. And he has a point. Too big to fail? And it’s still going on. People making billions who actually produce nothing of substance. They just move numbers around, making sure most of those numbers go their way.
Even when his son killed himself and his wife finally cut him loose (only after he was in jail and then his mistress wrote a book!), he seemed okay.
Ponzi schemes have been around as long as there has been money. It was very interesting to learn that U.S. Grant was bankrupted by a Ponzi scheme (before they were even called that). His son linked up with a banker and Grant backed them. When it collapsed, he was destitute. This, also in conjunction with learning he had fatal throat cancer, led him to do something he didn’t want to. Mark Twain had been after him for a long time to write his memoirs. Now, destitute, and facing death, he didn’t want to leave his wife with no means. So he began writing. Despite being in constant pain, often feeling like he was choking, Grant wrote at a tremendous pace, sometimes hitting 50 pages a day. He and his wife moved up from NY City to a cottage and he would be propped in a chair while he worked. Often, soldiers who’d served under him would come up and “pass in review” paying homage. He finished the memoirs five days before his death. I read his memoirs while writing my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy and found Grant to be an intriguing character, but more on that some other day.
In a way, we see both extremes of the effect of money. On one hand we have Madoff who didn’t care who he destroyed in his desire for money. On the other, we have Grant, who put his dying effort into looking after his wife.
I don’t think it was a matter of simply greed for Madoff. His father going bankrupt, the cancer that ran in his family, the opportunity given the greed of others, etc. All came together for a perfect storm. One thing to remember is that it was the small investors, many who had no idea their money was with Madoff via other funds who were hurt the worst. Also, those who kept getting returns that were so out of the norm for so many years, never questioned things as long as they were getting their money.
And here’s my Ponzi scheme– sign up for my email list here and get the first book of the Duty, Honor, Country series: West Point to Mexico, free.
Wait– I’ve got to answer this phone call from Rachel at Card Services!