The only thing new in this world

Dennis Warden

As a purveyor of the written word it is understandable that I love to read. After newspapers I prefer to read books on history. I recently found a quote by Harry S. Truman that helps me explain my desire for history books. “The only thing new in the world,” Truman said, “is the history you don’t know.”

To me a good history book is educational and entertaining at the same time. Often history is more exciting and unbelievable than stories on fiction. The writer who gives us stories of fiction has to take the reader into a make believe world and make the them believe that this story could happen.

A book I recently finished was entitled “The Lost King of France — A true story of revolution, revenge and DNA,” by Deborah Cadbury

Most of the history books I have read deal with World War II. Something caught my eye at the local library and I picked this book up and could not put it down.

The main point I learned from this wonderful book was the ends do not justify the means. The story revolves around the many possible deaths of Louis XVII, the younger son of King Louis XVI of France and his queen, Marie Antoinette.

His full name was Louis-Charles Bourbon. He enjoyed a charmed early childhood growing up in the palace of Versailles. At just 4 years-old he became the Dauphin, heir to the most powerful throne in Europe when his older brother passed away.

By his ninth birthday he had lost everything.

The French revolution started with the destruction of the Bastille in 1789. A short time later the royal family was forced into prison.

As a means to the ends, King Louis XVI was put to death by the guillotine in 1793 under false charges. Marie Antoinette met the same fate later that year when she was accused of counter revolutionary acts and trumped up charges of incest with her son.

More than just royalty died from the guillotine. According to Wikipedia between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, there were 16,594 official death sentences in France, of which 2,639 were in Paris. That’s an average of over 45 per day.

The revolution even turned on itself when, over a fight for power, several leaders were accused of treason and beheaded.

There was one thing the revolutionary leaders could not do. They could not execute a young boy. So, the presumed King of France, Louis XVII, was treated to unspeakable horrors and allowed to die in the Temple prison in 1795 at the age of ten after spending eight months in solitary confinement. During those last eight months he had no human contact, no light in his room and no place to relieve himself but his dark cell, which was never cleaned.

The revolution succeeded in two things, eliminating the Bourbon Monarchy and killing thousands of its citizens in a period known as the rein of terror. The revolution’s purpose was to form a republic, it ended with Napoleon becoming dictator. 

Did the ends justify the means? I think not.

In our current society I believe we have too many people who believe the ends does justify the means. To come to that conclusion you only need to look at the means they use, most of which involve violence.

Consider instances in the past couple of years where college protestors turn violent to shut down speeches on campus by those they oppose. 

Our country was founded on the principles of free speech. It’s that principle that allows anyone to protest. But when you use violence and threats of violence to silence your opposition you take the risk that one day that same reasoning could be used to silence you.

Also it has come into fashion to intimidate and threaten anyone in public that you don’t agree with politically. This is another dangerous road many are on that will lead to violence and death if not curtailed soon.

Maybe they should spend more time reading a good history book and learn something from our past.

If you love history like I do, I give this book two thumbs up. It brings to life a period I had not paid much attention to.

On a final note, after Marie Antoinette was beheaded they found a letter she had written to her son specifically urging Louis-Charles never to seek revenge for what had happened. “Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I emphatically repeat: ‘that he never seek to avenge our deaths.’” 

What an extreme example of forgiveness.